We keep tabs on everything from the best toystores to the best newsletters.
We have been at pains to tell companies all the self-defeating things they
do to achieve recognition from investors. In
“If You Believe in Yesterday, Your Stock Will Not Act Like Tomorrow,” we
lay out some of the myths that companies believe in and act upon in their
dealings with the stock market. But we did not deal with the worst thing
companies can do to themselves: giving quarterly or yearly financial
guidance to investors is nothing short of suicide. Sooner or later, you
won’t make your numbers and Wall Street will savage your stock. Sooner or
later, the shareholder suit mills such as
Lerach, Coughlin will go after a chunk of your assets, claiming you
deceived investors and traded on your own behalf. In an attempt to meet the
highflying targets you have set out, you will sell products at low prices
and fail to invest for the long term. The reasons for not giving financial
guidance are so numerous and so obvious that it’s hard to imagine why
companies fall in this trap. But, of course, analysts, like reporters, are
lazy and want their work done for them. Better for them if you make a fool
of yourself by putting out predictions and then they can put out long
scripts on why you may and why you may not make it.
At long last some sober citizens at the Business
Roundtable and the CFA Institute have come out with an impressive document
that examines forecasting. Simple to say,
“Breaking the Short-Term Cycle” instructs companies, “Give It Up.”
Focus on the long term and communicate about the long term. We have spent
considerable energy with our clients here and abroad for several decades
teaching them how to do just that. Basically we have shown companies how to
devise and communicate very long term goals: everyone is clear that they are
goals and that performance may deviate sharply from the goals from year to
constructed an impressive
list of long-termers who have given up quarterly forecasting. One
caveat: we have missed many companies who have also given up this addiction,
and a few have taken up the habit again after becoming forecast-free. At
any rate, an impressive list of enterprises have given themselves breathing
room and greater capacity to manage their businesses in the right way by
fighting off the tyranny of quarterly forecasts.
Journalists Worth Reading.
Some people are a joy to read, and many of the others are a trudge,
prompting you to say, “Why did I read that?” Even the best of newspapers or
magazines are lucky to get one or two people who make the cut. The New
York Times sort of invented good food writing and good restaurant
reviewing with Craig Claiborne, and yet it has not found anyone of his
caliber since. Finding a persona who can write and who has judgment and who
focuses on substance: it is simply serendipity. One newspaper recently
passed over a journalist for its top job, and so, thank goodness, he is
writing columns again, simply outclassing every other scribe on the paper.
We have looked over the lists newspaper nabobs nominate to sundry halls of
fame: most of the honorees are terribly pedestrian. It’s a miracle that
cream occasionally rises to the surface. We hope you enjoy the following
guys and gals as much as we do:
Caro. We often forget that this marvelous historian and
biographer came off the New Brunswick Daily Home News and Long
Island’s Newsday. But he has the journalist’s predilection to tell
the whole story, leaving nothing—and we mean nothing—out. What he picks
are politicians who have clearly made a giant difference in American
society, because they will stop at nothing to move their plans along. So
his subjects have been Robert Moses, who paved over New York City with
cement and, in effect, instructed the nation that highways are the
American route to eternity, and Lyndon Johnson who showed us that you “get
along by going along.” You’d say that Caro has a passion for
authoritarian, well-meaning, and simultaneously corrupt individuals who did us proud and/or did us in—who knows. His picks are interesting,
because Caro himself has a genial, hardworking, ethical demeanor: he
is not afraid to continuously make his point, but, unlike his subjects, he
clearly does not push people around. Somewhat to his wife’s chagrin
and as part of his next chapter on Johnson’s career, the man who must
pursue every detail next intends to go and live in Vietnam, where he will surely
capture details about the Vietnam War that have escaped all those who have
come before. Caro is a relentless reporter who fairly presents all sides
of his subjects, but perhaps never quite makes up his own mind about
them. For a good account of him, see Scott Sherman’s “Caro’s Way” in the
May/June 2002 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. Also learn
a bit about Caro at
www.robertcaro.com, perhaps paying special attention to the Kurt
his titles include:
1. Malcolm Gladwell. We have previously
written about Mr. Gladwell under Big Ideas, Item 21. He is author of
The Tipping Point, a book that had a whirl a year or so ago.
Though it was a trendy affair about how trends happen, we don’t think it’s
his top stuff. Gladwell is prolific and has written about everything
under the sun. Visit his website
www.gladwell.com and read everything he has written, because each
piece gives you some major insight into the complex architecture that lies
behind all the ordinary stuff in our lives, whether he is talking about
retailing, dieting, or 40 other things. A Canadian, he is the son of a
mathematician who wins awards (See his entry in Slate magazine for
November 19, 1999) and a writer. All 3 I think—Canada, mathematics,
writing—explain Gladwell to us. He denies understanding the mathematics
of his father, but I think it can fairly be said that he bemusingly
applies rhetorical algebra to ordinary existence to see if he can solve
for the unknowns. He does a heap of writing for the New Yorker,
one of a stable of writers who are pretty good at explaining stuff and who
have saved the magazine from trendy or ideology-stuffed editors who tend
to take the magazine down side streets.
Solid State Stuff. We have already posted rankings of
the states according to fiscal performance, as prepared by the Fraser
Institute. See Best of Class, item 126L. Gradually we are finding other
state rankings that are of some interest. Kaiser looks at health throughout
the United States, where you can learn, for instance, that Hawaii has the
lowest number of deaths per 100,000 people, and the District of Columbia the
most. Generally states in the West and a few in the North have a longer
lifespan whereas you will depart early in the South and in the Southwest.
Morgan Quitno Press (www.morganquitno.com)
is making a living publishing directories showing which states are best or
worst in a number of categories. Connecticut is the smartest; New Mexico is
the dumbest. Minnesota is the most livable, Mississippi the least.
Mississippi won another award: it is the unhealthiest, while Vermont comes
in as the healthiest. North Dakota is the safest, and Louisiana the most
dangerous. Who knows whether Morgans rankings are correct. We suspect the
Fraser and Kaiser tabulations will help you spot the right place to live.
London Pubs. We found the ones we treasure listed here, so
it is a trustworthy list: www.pubs.com.
Put together by Paul Keating, an ITN cameraman, it even includes a pix or
two besides detailed information, so its worth a look. He does supply enough
of a description to tell you whether any one drinkery is worth the visit.
And if you are just touring, he has done a handy trick of naming the pubs
that are near some of the famous sites.
Magazines. Well, we have not found 10 good ones but we promise to keep on
trying. What’s more, the good magazines have an awfully hard time making a
living which means that our choices below are imperiled unless and until
they restage themselves economically with other types of sponsorship. Two
of our picks, The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, were
big winners at the recent National Magazine Awards 2002. Here is what we
have so far; it’s in no particular order because none of these picks stand
out over the other.
This is much more cosmopolitan in its approach than the city in which it
is based, Washington, D.C. See our longer description of it at
Best of Class.
For a think tank magazine, it is distinguished by the real diversity of
its authors and its topics, which range well beyond the conceptual
thickets on which policy wonks feed.
Paris, but now from New York City, of course. We are not even sure you
have to read this magazine's current contents, but we know for certain
that you have to look at its archives. Since its founding in 1953, all of
America's literary figures seem to have worked their way into its pages.
Its marvelous website reminds you of those little green parks you see in
New England communities where a World War I memorial commemorates all of
the soldiers who died in The Great War; likewise, the Paris Review
celebrates all its literary heroes of the last half of the 20th century.
Pay particular attention to its pleasant little history, solid proof that
writers could teach the ad world a thing or two about branding.
The Atlantic Monthly. Along with Harper’s, you thought this
magazine was going to bite the dust, but somehow it got revived. It is
very uneven, because it normally does one topic very well, and then the
rest of the magazine is so-so. When the topic is right—the next age of
small point-to-point aircraft, our national asthma epidemic, or something
on next generation warfare—the magazine is very good. When the magazine
thinks it is a monthly newspaper reporting on the ins and outs of the
Afghan war, it is an abject failure (several of the new younger editors at
magazines occasionally get carried away thinking they are daily
journalists). We suspect the magazine should do a better job of tapping
into New England where it is based and into doing a better presentation
job on poetry where it feels it has a franchise.
Scientific American. We were reminded of how good this
publication is when we read an archived piece on quantum computing.
Either you will find two pieces you like in an issue, or you will find
nothing at all. This is a magazine that needs an ever-more creative
relationship with the web, which, after all, was created to share the
results of scientific research and could easily be used to expand the
reach and audience of the publication. Watch out, however, for balance in
this magazine. John Rennie, the editor, gave a long, one-sided hosing to
Danish scientist, Bjorn Lomburg. Rennie published several critical pieves
of Lomburg, who has come up with some environmental views that are very
unpopular in the scientific community. The commentary is very polemical
rather than discursive.
Mercator’s World. We happened on this magazine quite by accident
and are surprised that it is not more widely known. It is not just for
map buffs; it will give you an education on everything from mapping in the
world wars to Samuel Pepys as cartographer or the like. In other words,
you get a heap of history with your maps. Plus you will find your way
around the map world, discovering all the shops and map compulsives of
The New Yorker. The cartoons are not quite as funny, and the
one-topic issues, when they occur, are deadly. But The New Yorker
is back, thank goodness, after an unhappy tenure under an English chat
editor. An occasional new experiment is worthwhile, even the ones that
fail such as the abortive financial news page which never quite manages to
get its arms around any topic. Curiously the best stuff is about
medicine, often by Boston doctors who know their stuff. Plus Malcolm
is always welcome whatever he chooses to look at.
The Economist. Remember as a kid when you read Time
magazine every week and thought you were getting the real stuff? It is a
hash now, so you have to read The Economist, which pretends to be
English, but is as much American as it is UK. The best part of the
magazine is the briefest: the back of the book where it does science,
books, culture, and the like. It’s there that you learn something is
happening in Iranian cinema or in some other unlikely part of the world.
Next comes business and finance, with politics a very weak third. The
Economist does very long surveys which need a lot more work to be
successful, though recently it surprised us with a very good treatment of
the long-term inertia in Japanese society which, clearly, is not going to
change without a rude shock from the outside world. It’s a curiosity that
the British do a better job in their magazines than in their renowned but
often inadequate newspapers. The Economist is a jewel based
on a host of wonderful stringers spread about the globe who seem to
operate very much on a shoestring but who get lots done.
We're coming across more best and biggest lists, some of which even promise to be helpful.
As you know, there has been a lot of emphasis on finding the best prices for things
on the Internet, rather than attending to quality. We hope that, in time, the
quality gap will be closed so that we can begin to find, on a worldwide basis, the mostus
for the leastus. For now we think these rankings will help. We expect
eventually there will be a worthwhile Michelin for everything--not just restaurants in
p. Turner's Bests.
Turner, a programmer for Yahoo, has put up these book, movie, and music
best lists. In each of the 3 areas, he has put up 20 or so best
lists—Random House on books, the Grammies, etc. Some lists are even
valuable: the Newberry Awards tell you pretty good books to get your
youngsters. Probably the film list can help you if you are off to the
video store and you are not sure what you want to watch tonight. These
lists are not refined, but you may pick up a few ideas when you are
trying to break out of a rut. See
NationMaster.com is moving to become the champion of the country
rankers, looking at a wide number of variables and also allowing one to
group countries in all sorts of ways for comparison.
n. How Countries Stack Up. Professor
Suzuki at the European Institute of Japanese Studies, Stockholm School of
Economics, has patched together these rankings of all the major European
and Asian countries, but including a few small countries at the margin.
He ranges over education, health, economics, etc., with subcategories on a
host of factors. You will find much of what you expect—the United States
ranks high in terms of the percentage of the population that has completed
secondary education, but low on scientific, reading, and mathematical
literacy, from which we might infer that our schools may not be too
effective. But there are surprises—who knew that Luxembourg had such a
high density of mobile phones? See
m. Ranking Economic Freedom.
The Fraser Institute, up in Vancouver (www.fraserinstitute.ca)
ranks the nations of the world every year through the prism of laissez-faire market
orthodoxy. It's not clear that more freedom, thus defined, buys you a better
economy, but this exercise does tell you a few things. City states (Hong Kong is #1
and Singapore #2) have a large stake in free markets, without which they cannot
exist. You want to watch out for nations where freedom has plummeted over the last
thirty years, such as Germany, Belgium, and Central American countries such as Costa Rica,
Panama, and Nicaragua. Spectacular improvements in some -- Chile, Bolivia, the
United Kingdom, Ireland, and a few others -- merit attention by investors.
l. Ranking the States and
Fiscal Performance Index 2001. This is how you learn whether your state (or
province) is fiscally responsible--or not. Massachusetts, Nevada, Ontario, and Texas
get high marks for controlling spending and taxes. Oregon and California are at the
bottom of the totem pole. We were surprised that North Carolina came in at number 38
out of 54, all contributing to its current fiscal jam and slowing economy.
k. Root Beers Taste-Off.
Matt Bergstrom--don't know the man--offers here the Great American Root
Beer Showdown. Boylan's, of ginger ale fame, has a lot of winners, including
this site's top-rated root beer at 4.50 points. IBC, our favorite thirteen years
ago, is damned with faint praise, but still gets a high 3.46 rating. In general, the
Midwest seems to produce the most winners. We need a sociologist to tell us why the
cornbelt is so rooted.
j. The Hundred Funniest
Movies. This list proves that rankings should never be calculated by
self-interested insiders. Asking 1500 Hollywood types to rate movies is like having
financial analysts rate stocks. The list may be starry-eyed but it is not stellar. Airplane
and Young Frankenstein had their many moments, but they are simply not all-time
funnies. From our biased point of view, The Thin Man movies and Raising
Arizona should have been much closer to the top. But whatdya gonna do?
Not the Consumer Price Index, but rather the Corruptions Perceptions Index of Transparency
International. Finland is the best and Nigeria is the worst--not too many surprises
there. Nevertheless, there are a few surprises elsewhere, with Mexico, China, and
Argentina one-half to two-thirds of the way down the list, behind some magnificently
corrupt countries. Go to www.gwdg.de/~uwvw
and click on 2000 Index. (Update: The 2001CPI is now available at http://www.transparency.org/documents/cpi/2001/cpi2001.html#cpi.)
h. Top 100 Books in Libraries.
There are too many management-genre books here, which makes us fear for our
librarians. Naisbitt makes it twice. Peters is all over the place, and so is
Bob Woodward. Conclusion: libraries, like our intellectuals, are largely prisoners
of the present. See www.oclc.org/oclc/press/19991005a.htm.
Thirty Artists. Artcyclopedia,
which tracks 7,000 artists, tells us who is hot now by seeing which artist gets the most
visits on its website. You can also see which posters are selling well, which may be
more important. For the popularity stats, see www.artcyclopedia.com/mostpopular.html.
f. Ranking the Presidents. 78
imaginative academics were polled for this survey of the Federalist Society and the Wall Street Journal. Washington is #1, Lincoln
#2, and FDR #3. See www.opinionjournal.com/hail/math/math5.html.
e. Ranking Marketing Journals.
But by academics, so don't necessarily rush to look at this site.
d. Supercomputers. Go to www.top500.org. This rates computers by GFlops and
shows you who owns them.
c. Looking at websites. Be
careful of www.gomez.com, since Gomez is a website
consultant. If the truth be known, there are probably only fifty good websites
around, but these fellows would have you believe they are breaking out all over.
While this guide will not really help you find quality sites, it will help you build a
better site by showing you what's judged to be acceptable now.
b. Decorators and such in New York City.
See The Franklin Report (www.franklinreport.com),
which has already created waves among interior decorators and home craftsmen in Manhattan.
Like the Zagats (lawyers in their other lives), whose guides on restaurants now
cover the nation, Ms. Franklin is an emigre from investing banking, I believe, who also
uses a consumer-report approach to weed out shoddy craftsmanship and overcharging in the
home trades. If students at some universities can rate their professors, why can't
we rate every profession and trade, since licensing bodies have proved totally derelict in
carrying out this kind of task?
a. Decent toilets. See besttoilets.com, which now covers twelve major U.S.
cities as compiled by David Vogue from New York City. How vital this is! In
New York, many of the great bathrooms of the past have disappeared. Philip Morris
has displaced the old East Side Air Terminal--always a good stop in an emergency.
The showers of Grand Central, where New Yorkers could primp for job interviews,
have gone the way of all good things. Incidentally, we recommend the Crescent
(Hotel) in Dallas.
Best Free Email Newsletters. We are on the lookout for email newsletters that have the ring of quality, are free, and
add to our store of wisdom. Generally they are short, reasonably literate, and
dont have a particular axe to grind. Often they just present data, but some
deal in insights. A few follow. We will be adding to this list.
10. The Scout Report.
The Scout Project at the University of Wisconsin
captures a huge amount of internet information for all users and also puts
out a report telling us about new finds in the area of math, science,
etc. Here you can read lots of items that show up much later in the
popular science press. See
9. Singapore Extra.
The Singapore Government puts out "Bites of the
Week" each week, and it gives you a good idea of what people are focusing
on on that special island. Admittedly, this is government thinking,
but in Singapore, the citizens think about what the ministers think about.
As you can see, everybody has economic recovery on the agenda.
Subscribe at http://www.sgnews.gov.sg.
Good, miscellaneous spot news about mini-trends in technology by John Gehl and
Suzanne Douglas. One sponsor, incidentally, is Research
Libraries Group, which deals with digital archives of universities, national
libraries, and cultural societies here and abroad.
We previously have talked about Steve Talbot's love/hate relationship with
technology. (See Best of Class, item 50.) It worries him,
but, of course, he's a computer guy. We enjoy the fact that he's now given up
conversing by email. Just like Bill Joy at SUN or all the plasma physicists we know
who are upset by atomic power. But his wandering newsletter is read by everybody and
has tremendous impact. Lately he has been wrestling with globalization gone astray,
a topic now brought to a white heat by Duke professor Michael Hardt, who has tried to lay
a neo-leftist theoretical foundation for all the clamor against technology and economics
of global forces. Co-author, with Italian Antonio Negri, of Empire,
he is now read and talked about in universities around the world. See The New
York Times, July 7, 2001, pp. A15 and A17. Subscribe to Netfuture at www.netfuture.org.
News. The folks at New Generation have been dealing with bankruptcies,
turnarounds, and distressed securities for quite a few years, not only as publishers but
as money managers. The interesting thing about their new site is that it has vastly
increased their audience not only reaching financial audiences and bankruptcy
professionals but also financial managers in corporations across the land. To get
their daily newsletter, simply go to www.bankruptcydata.com and follow instructions.
From Nikkei Business, this covers enough of the headlines in Japan, China, Taiwan,
Singapore, etc. to keep you abreast of the real players in computerdom, networking,
telecommunications, etc. Often an early flag as to what will happen in U.S. markets.
To subscribe, go to www.asiabiztech.com.
Global Province Letter. This is a weekly update as to
whats new on www.globalprovince.com,
with trends in business as well as other trends in culture, fashion, health, etc. that are
expected to change the rules of business. To subscribe, click here.
Newsletter for Web Editors. Davenetics, at www.davenetics.com, may sound like something put
out by the Scientologists, but it is actually an Internet headline collector that also,
conveniently, includes a list of sites you can go to for Web news. If you are
responsible for building content at a substantial website, you will want to get on its
daily list. An acquaintance involved with the Internet at the New York Times put us on to this one. The only
downside, of course, is that virtually all the media sites on the Web are strategically
flawed, so here you will not find a way out of that media morass.
Diabetes E-News Now! The American
Diabetes Association offers both consumers and health-care professional newsletters,
which carry everything from recipes for diabetic cooking to prevention tips in __ to
diabetes. It is most useful for those wanting to keep track of all the ways America
is raising awareness of this growing scourge on our society. See www.diabetes.org/emaillist2.asp to
subscribe to the various newsletters.
Kindlmann's Archives. Peter J. Kindlmann-- consultant, Yale professor,
Director of Undergraduate Studies--issues a thought or two a week on everything from
quarks to Lady Hamilton's Portrait to mumbo jumbo, all depending on what new idea has come
his way. He's a new product guy in electrical engineering, but he's interested in
all the issues surrounding "the sensible application of technology." See http://jove.eng.yale.edu/mailman/listinfo/eas-info.
Fly-Fishing Books. We will be adding to this list. It is about both fish
and fishing. To our embarrassment, we don’t know where we got some of these
names; they have been hanging out in our files for a long time, so somebody
is due a lot of credit:
Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis. Howell Raines. William
Morrow, 1993. We bought a bunch of these books on remainder and sent them
to friends. Howell Raines has been at the New York Times an
awfully long time, spent a good spell as head of the editorial pages, and
now resides in the top job as executive editor at the behest of the
publisher. Raines demonstrates what he is about in this fun book and
shows as well why he made it to the top of the Times, why he is
pretty good as head of the paper, and why he was not as good as the head
of the opinion slot. This is a pretty conventional fellow, good at
telling a story or two, who knows how to play with people rather than
think deep thoughts. The book has a lot about crappies and trout, but it
has more on the social mix of fishing, whether chatting about Hoover,
fishing with George Bush, or going on about Richard Blacock, out of the
State Department, who becomes sort of fishing mentor to our hero. This is
an easy read by a guy who shows up at fishing holes and knows all the
right trappings, expressions, people. We know (because we have read
elsewhere) that he is passionate about fishing but here we feel like we
have met the guy who perfectly plays the role of the perfect fisherman.
As executive editor, Raines is a populizer who brings in a common man
story to exemplify big events and who includes more popular culture on the
Times pages than we found there heretofore. He has a nose for the
hot story, not necessarily the important idea. Hence, his midlife crisis
that never is resolved. He’s good at fish stories.
Red Smith on Fishing. Doubleday, 1963. He
was the great civilized sports writer, and we have not found another like
him. (Out of print. Try locating a used copy at
The Fly Fisher’s Reader. Leonard M. Wright. Jr. Simon and
Schuster, 1990. Short stories.
The Compleat Angler. Izaak Walton (and Charles Cotton).
Stackpole Books, 1653, 1998, with innumerable editions inbetween. This,
of course, is the high literature of fishing texts, famous not only for
its illustrations but also for its witty and eloquent depiction of a
gentleman’s five-day fishing excursion. Absolutely a must-read.
Fisherman’s Fall. Roderick Haig-Brown. William Morrow, 1964.
The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide. Tom Rosenbauer. Lyons Press, 1988.
Fishing Came First. John N. Coal. Lyons Press, 1997.
Trout Bum. John Gierach and Gary LaFontaine. Fireside Books,
Trout Madness. Robert Tarver. Fireside, 1979. Judge, writer,
and great Michigan fisherman.
2. A River Never Sleeps. Robert Hague-Brown.
Nick Lyons, 1946. (Out of print. Try locating a used copy at
Early Love and Brook Trout. James Prosek. The Lyons Press,
2000. Prosek does love and trout here. Also, though, he has done a
few beautiful books which we will have to list later, including his
illustrated history of trout. This guy has a way of making life seem
idyllic, just right for summertime.
Catalogs. We look at their design or editorial merit, not the
goods. We are just beginning to think about catalogs, because an inordinate
number pour through our mail slot. A few tantalize. The point of this
entry is just to look at their design or editorial merit—without judging the
goods. Please understand then that we are neither recommending for or
against the purveyors cited here: we are simply telling you to enjoy the
catalogs in their own right. We are reminded, incidentally, of a wonderful
account of the pre-war life of a couple off on a lark in the Caribbean.
They built their own house and other buildings, freely using the Sears
Roebuck catalog for all sorts of fixtures. Not only did they frequently
order merchandise, but the catalog pages also doubled as a source of toilet
tissue. The Sears catalog, sadly, has long disappeared. Sears is just
buying Lands End, and we hope it does not do in that catalog, which has
occasional amusing snippets.
Avenue. Wonderful Saks Fifth Avenue has stumbled in recent years, and it is
still having a bad patch. But if it can smooth its management processes, it
will be worth it, since it provides the only pleasurable shopping experience
for discriminating women in some parts of the country. Despite its
operating troubles, Saks has gotten its catalogs very right and pulled ahead
of the competition. Its Spring Preview 2006 features an array of
wonderfully photographed exotic ladies done up in the clothing of all the
tres chaud designers, put against a “due South” (South Carolina)
backdrop for those wanting to escape the cold. The images of the women fill
out each page, making each seem bigger than life. (See original entry
3. Dooney & Bourke.
Bourke makes fancy handbags and a bit of other leathery stuff. It and
others have learned that the way to put a premium on such goods is to
display them in exotic settings. Dooney, in its catalog, does this as well
or better than anyone. We are looking at Spring 2003 which is set in Laos
this year; Southeast Asia is all the rage in many catalogs. Perhaps it was
just last year that a wonderful Morocco was featured. Of course, you might
ask yourself, “With these kinds of settings, who needs purses?”
2. Lands End.
www.landsend.com. This catalog could be better designed, and a lot of
the clothes lack a graphic sense. But, like the wares of L.L. Bean, the
goods of Land’s End have a certain Midwestern integrity, sometimes lacking
in the sharper looking items from the smartest houses. But the reason for
looking at the current catalog (and a darn smart merchandising idea) is the
cover pix of Rosie the Riveter as well as the fictional memoir from her on
pages 27-29. The June 2002 catalog celebrates the American spirit with
enough panache that we can say that it is clever, appropriate, and a bit
heartwarming. So much of retailing consists of striking just the right
note. And Rosie fans are referred to a West Coast website in her honor at
1. The J. Peterman Company. As
you know, J. Peterman has risen from the dead after the collapse of his last
enterprise. We now have Owner's Manual No. 8 , Summer 2002, in hand. His
new catalogs are far better than his old ones, although those were also
good. The pix make every product look great. But it is the prose that has
all the fun. Read, for instance, his opening comments under Philosophy:
"People want things that are hard to find. Things that have romance, but a
factual romance, about them. … Clearly, people want things that make their
lives the way they wish they were." You can get started on the website
www.jpeterman.com but make sure you do get the actual catalog.
have become somewhat tiresome big businesses. Half Barnum and Bailey,
one-quarter auction house, and one-quarter rent-a-hall for blow-out art
extravaganzas, they are less and less places to contemplate works in
tranquility, works that aspire to speak eternally and universally. Still,
there are other kinds of museums, where you can linger and rest. Often
former residences of well-to-do families, they have now becomes homes for
everybody. They're as much about atmosphere, feeling, and environment as
they are about precious collections. Sometimes, in fact, it seems a shame
to waste such places on art and crafts, when the parts are only a
distraction from the whole. Over time we will list here musees you
visit to get away from it all, not to get with it. Good places to go AWOL.
Pacific Asia Museum. We
wish we had visited this museum because its stupendous online collection of
its offerings is immensely attractive. Its
Visions of Enlightenment: Understanding the Art of Buddhism is a
wonderful introduction to Buddhism and Buddhist art. And it embraces
Western graphic interpretations of Buddhism. Or one can explore
Nature of the Beast: Animals in Japanese Paintings and Prints , where
the work of Edo period artists is caught in screens that would enhance
anyone’s imagination and contemplation. Pacific Asian Museum. 46 North Los
Robles Avenue. Pasadena, California 9110l. 662-449-2742. We suspect we
might stop here on the way to the
Huntington and never quite make it to that wonderful institution. To
bolster their presence in the modern world, other museums will be forced in
time to be equally imaginative in their use of the Internet. (1/18/06)
For original entry in Best of Class, click
Sanxingdui Museum. Read more about this museum at
Two Rivers. We
hear that both the museum and its collections are gems, more than worth the
stop for anyone with a serious interest in archaeology. Going to Sichuan
takes one into the interior of China, an arena that will now merit more of
our attention economically and politically.
When the sun
gets piercing in San Antonio, there is nothing like a retreat to the McNay,
which is nicely buried in a residential area you may miss because it is well
away from the madding crowd. You can read more vividly about the museum
at our San Antonio's Best Small Art Museum. The art
collections here are almost incidental to the household, to the lovely
tiles, and to the collection of theater effects. Older than Dallas or
Houston, San Antonio is certainly the most civilized city in Texas, and this
museum conveys the graciousness and the Hispanic accents that are inherent
here. The most pleasant eating club in town is also in an old residence,
perhaps an ideal prelude to a lazy visit to the McNay.
The Frick Collection.
Don't be put
off by the Frick's unwieldly website, which is often hard to reach and which
includes an over-complex, hard-to-use virtual tour of the collections. The
museum itself is still wonderful relief after you have taken in
its overwhelming, over-peopled neighbor, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. We
recommend just hanging about the pool of water, which gives solace in
spiritually arid New York. Others will remark upon the concerts. Obviously
an ambitious management has tried to busy up the place, but it ever retains
its charm. The Frick Collection. 1 East 70th St., New York, New York
Mrs. Jack's Place: The Gardner Museum.
If you are
just going to one, this is it. But first read about the patroness in
Mrs. Jack: An Autobiography of Isabella Stewart Gardner by Louise
Hill Tharp. Then visit the website at
http://www.gardnermuseum.org/, which, unlike many museum sites, is easy
to use and comfortably informative. The Gardner is a little worse for wear,
what with funding problems and a burglary or two. But, as you wander, you
can still imagine Mrs. Jack’s goings on there, transporting you to an
earlier time when Brahmins dreamed of bringing Europe into their lives.
Boston has a raft of good museums, but the best ones seem to surround you
with history, more than collections. The Gardner Museum. 280 The Fenway,
Boston, MA 02115. Telephone: 617-566-1401.
Louisiana. About 35 kilometers north of Copenhagen, the Louisiana
Museum of Modern Art is in a lovely setting beside the water, looking across
to Sweden. It houses a fine collection, adjoins a lovely sculpture garden,
and mounts several worthy modern shows each year. We first visited at the
end of the sixties, a hurried end to an afternoon, yet we did not feel
rushed even at the close of a day.
suffers from that relentless passion to expand, but remains pretty because
it is situated in a park, the legacy of the Louisiana estate about which we
intend to learn more. Proudly, the directors say the park overcomes the
"museum fatigue" which has been known to overcome all of us, that feeling of
surfeit and enervation that attacks all visitors to museums.
Museum of Modern Art. DK-3050 Humlebaek. Telephone: 45-4919-0719.
Walt Disney has gone to pot, TV kills off any show that
has a touch of wit, and the movie theaters veer between blood thrillers and
carnality. Nevertheless, there are plenty of films on tape that
might not pass all the good censors yet add up to a good time for the whole
family. We have put these that follow to the vote, and they have
passed the test. More will be added....
The Palm Beach Story.
Nobody knows about Joel McCrea anymore, or the marvelous Preston Sturges who
wrote and directed this 1942 delight. Throw in Claudette Colbert, Rudy
Vallee, and Mary Astor—and you are in for a devil of a good time. Vallee
was a crooner, saxophonist, and comedic actor in real life whose eccentric
air is an excellent foil for all the humorous doings. McCrea and Colbert
play a New York couple who are not getting by on his meager earnings as an
inventor. She takes off to Palm Beach, with the idea of leaving him so that
he can focus on becoming a success without the burden of supporting her.
But love triumphs: they get rejoined and, at the last, his invention looks
like it will get backing and go to market. The movie’s packed with terribly
witty lines, which means you can watch it with your eyes closed and still
have quite a giggle. Imagine putting your marriage back together in Palm
Beach. Later, incidentally, McCrea mostly did Westerns, rode horses on his
ranch, and put away $50 million or so—it’s more fun to see him in the
lighthearted Sturges movies. (See original entry on
The Philadelphia Story (1940). This 1940 George Cukor charmer makes
Philadelphia seem a great deal more fun than it is. One likes
everybody—James Stewart, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Ruth Hussey, and all
the large supporting cast. Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) is about to marry
the wrong fellow, but a lot of hijinks and a little booze get her out of it
and re-married to her old husband. The fellow she dumps is a pompous
stuffed shirt, someone you could imagine having to get away from in Main
Line high society. Later this movie was restrung as the musical
High Society with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in Newport. Both are
as much fun, though there’s a little more serious meaning in this original
which lends ballast to the comedy. This is theater, while High Society is
just a movie. (See original entry on
Phorpa (1999). When you go into your video store, there is a very good
chance the counter people will recommend the wrong soccer movie, sort of a
ninja soccer comedy. Phorpa (translated “The Cup”) is much more
moving, and definitely provides bemusement for the whole family. Emigres
from Tibet, the monks here in the reaches of India at Chokling Monastery
deftly show the innocent allure of a global culture for young people
released from Tibet. The novitiates cannot resist the pull of the World Cup
in soccer. At the same time we see this little society hold onto Buddha and
that for which they stood in the old country. Director Norbu has
credentials both as a filmmaker and teacher of Tibetan Buddhism (www.siddharthasintent.org/Pubs/Phorpa.htm).
It is based in
general on a true story. Also read relevant commentary in Gentle Voice
about the movie (www.siddharthasintent.org/gentle/GV11-3.htm).
(See original entry on
Four Weddings and a Funeral. A hit and made on a shoestring.
Everybody from Episcopal priests to soccer moms will find this flick
inappropriate, but it's a pretty good celebration of love. And it's
got one of the finest on-film readings of an W.H. Auden poem one can
Goldfinger. The early Bonds with Sean Connery as 007 rise to
the top of the rankings. We particularly miss Gert Frobe and Odd Job.
Bond is never our of fashion, as evidenced by the fact that Corgi -- the
collectible toy maker -- still turns out 007 incarnations.
Father of the Bride. For once, we're not suggesting the
original version. Here we go for the over-the-top versions (I and II)
with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton. Martin Short as Franck earns extra
points from all of us.
North by Northwest. A bunch of Hitchcocks and a bunch of
Grants could make it on to this list. But little remarked Eve Marie
Saint (also in On the Waterfront) helps make this a classy and comic
thriller. And then there's James Mason and a touch of Walter Pidgeon.
Nobody forgets the scene in the cornfield where the cropduster threatens to
snuff out Cary Grant.
Much Ado About Nothing. Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel
Washington, and a host of other half greats joyously take us through romance
to jealousy to love ever after. (The abysmal acting of Keanu Reeves is
only a minor blight.) This movie is even good for breakfast if you
fear the day will be pedestrian and lacking in comradeship.
Waking Ned Devine. The whole of a town wins the Irish Lottery,
sort of. This comic experience awakens a sweet village from its
Crocodile Dundee. There are at least three episodes where
Dundee stops predators (natural and human) dead in their tracks.
Neither the bush nor New York City can daunt our Australian hero.
Fawlty Towers. John Cleese and his band of hellians will leave
you in stitches as you see them abuse their guests and get into all sorts of
jams at their hotel in Torquay. Any episode will substitute for the
wonderful raft of radio comedies that used to make Sunday evening a joy in
Auntie Mame. Auntie Mame is Rosalind Russell, and all the
imitators who have tried this part should be ashamed of themselves.
She is proof that no one who lacks the spirit of adventure and a taste for
the colorful can educate children.
The Quiet Man. John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. Pugilist
John retires to Ireland and finds a lass who can bring out his boisterous
side. Wayne's comic war with the brother-in-law (Victor McLaglen)
provides a barrel of laughs.
Cool Runnings. John Candy and his band of Jamaicans put
together an unlikely bobsled team that wins, in spirit, the world
competition in Canada. (See more on
Best of Class.)
The Thin Man. William Powell and Myrna Loy made six of these
detective giggles, and they are all great. The detective marries well,
drinks his martinis with panache, but never quite manages retirement,
getting involved with yet more murders and more zany characters. Our
only regret is that Powell and Loy never married in real life, since they
seemed divinely suited to one another.
Toystores. Chasing about the nation, we have looked at all the toy stores that the media
praise. Well, the stores they laud are as humdrum as the current FAO
Schwartz, a wonderful store that has been lobotomized by the current owners.
We have a couple, not on the charts, for you to inspect (we will be adding
to this list). For original entry, see
Attache List (December 1997, pp.74-83). Back in 1997, toy
collector Barry Janoff put together a fine toy store list for Attache,
a fine airline magazine Pace does for U.S. Airways, this issue dating
back to when that always troubled airway still had dreams of grandeur
aloft. We’ve been to many of the stores, and they are of mixed
quality. But each provides entertainments for the toy fancier in all of
us. They are: Archie McPhee, 35110 Stone Way, North Seattle,
Washington 98103. 206-545-8344.
www.mcphee.com. McPhee is a very fun provider of toy kitsch and has
a dribs and drabs catalog that proves it. Classic Toys, 218 Sullivan
Street, New York, New York 10012. 212-674-4434. We hope this still
exists: it’s a little mysterious den on a side street down in SoHo and
could have been wiped out by rising rents.
www.classictoysnyc.com/home.php. Le Petit Soldier Shop, 528 Royal
Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130. 504-523-7741. This should be all
right since it was in the quarter. It has some beautiful hand-painted
figures, and, as is the case here, enough wares are in the window to
hint at its ambiance.
www.lepetitsoldiershop.com. Nashville Toy Museum, 2613 McGavock
Pike, Nashville, Tennessee 37214. 615-883-8870. It’s a little hard to
tell the current status of this museum, but at least you can get a
www.over50.org/nashvillemuseum.html. It’s probably more of a train
store now. Star Wars Collectible & Old Tyme Toy Store, 6159 N. 9th
Avenue, Pensacola Florida 32504. 904-857-1343. This store seems to
have moved so do some checking before you venture there. Sullivan’s,
3412 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20016. 202-362-1343.
Actually this was a pleasant, run-of-the-mill store. Toy Joy, 2900
Guadeloupe Street, Austin, Texas 78705. 512-320-0090. The late hours
here make it a thing to do after a bite in Austin. It looks like a
http://tspweb02.tsp.utexas.edu/webarchive/07-17-01. Toys & Co, 803C
Friendly Center, Greensboro, North Carolina 27408. 910-294-1114. This
is actually a rather typical mall store, but with more inventory than
you will find at many North Carolina locations. Interestingly, it has
spread to a number of locations in the Piedmont and onto the coast.
U.S. Toy Company/Constructive Playthings, 208 West 103d Terrace, Leawood,
Kansas 66206. 913-642-8247.
www.ustoyco.com. This shop and its many sisters had an educational
tilt, its CEO once a preschool teacher, but it has since become all
things to all people. The Wound & Wound Toy Company, 7374 Melrose
Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90046. 800-937-0561.
www.thewoundandwound.com. Full of tin cars and other action toys.
Incidentally, U.S. Airways and America West are merging, with the new
leadership coming from America West executives. (10/19/05)
We have it on the word of Forbes that this 200-year plus store in London
is worth the visit, although we cannot remember for sure whether we liked
the store or not. But it is the sort of place you have to visit once
anyway because it is a colossus. Besides, how can we resist visiting what
claims to be the finest toyshop in the world? See
www.hamleys.co.uk. Hamleys. 181-196 Regent Street. London.
our very faithful readers reports that there is a very big downside to the
renowned Hamleys. He says, "I have been to Hamleys three times. It is
always overcrowded, and it has a poor selection and absolutely horrible
service. Three episodes of unresolved frustration." Well, we suppose you
still have to go, though you may also leave very fast.
Le Petit Soldier.
Soldier is ground zero for strategic warriors of all ages. Ranged amongst
the military medals, uniforms and antique pistols are battalions of
beautifully hand-painted miniature soldiers from the time of the Greeks
and Romans to the present day. We spied a legion of generals and other
leaders: Julius Caesar, MacArthur, Robert E. Lee and Mussolini to name a
few. But among the thousands of troops, we were most enchanted by the
colorful Louisiana Tiger Zouaves, in blue-striped pantaloons and red
fezzes. Owner Dave Dugas knows his stock intimately and is not averse to
trading war stories if business is slow. Contact: Le Petit Soldier Shop,
528 Royal Street, New Orleans. Telephone: 504/523-7741.
2. WoodShop Toys. 320 lst Avenue
South, Seattle at Pioneer Square. 1-888-624-1763. Owned by Douglas Norwood,
a.k.a Top Dog, this store has a unique selection of most everything, so don't be fooled by
the wooden toys name. He claims he is "Often a circus, always a zoo."
This fits because his specialty is folkmanis puppets, darn cute animals of
reasonable dimension that also happen to be puppets. We found Doug lending voice to
Chuck the Dog when we visited--so we bought Chuck the Dog. Doug's father Willis
started the store in l972. Now Doug divides his time between his child life at the
store and his six- and two-year olds at home.
1. Oz. 1977-1 Main Street.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina. 1-828-295-0770. This is probably the only really
charming shop in Blowing Rock, a wonderful tourist mecca where the stores have taken to
kitsch. We found Jim Thirtle busily putting more stuff on the shelves, pained a bit
that he did not have enough room for all his new discoveries. Suspended in the air
was a vintage Roadmaster bike; on one side, a fair number of tin toys. He and Iris
claim to have all sorts of "needful things," which, I presume, are all needed by
the Thirtles. A retired contractor from Florida, Jim obviously thinks you can only
get it truly right when you construct fantasies.