Waiting around for definitive ‘proof of harm’ won’t keep us safe anymore

“Further studies are necessary to determine if _________ is indeed harmful to human health.”

“There is no definitive evidence to suggest that _________ has negative consequences.”

How often have you read something like that in the news? To me, it seems like every day.  When it comes to testing, the gold standard has always been the randomized, double-blind study. The problem is that these studies often cost millions of dollars and take years to execute and analyze.

The crisis we face today is that potential threats to human health are cropping up at an exponential rate:  in our food supplies, in our water supplies, from electromagnetic radiation,  from the myriad medications we take.  Over time, the number and frequency of these potential threats will continue to increase. Randomized, double-blind studies simply can’t keep up with this onslaught.

The conventional wisdom is that we should accept that all of these “advances” are harmless until they are proven otherwise. We should leave it to the corporations that stand to profit from the sale of these products to design, implement and analyze the testing and to assure us of  safety.

There is a strident orthodoxy to the conventional wisdom that defies reason.

Vaccines, for example, are all commonly lumped together into one giant ball of virtue that can do no wrong.  Since vaccines can do no wrong, the more vaccines you take, the better off you will be.  If you question this orthodoxy in any way, you will be widely dismissed as an evil, nutty person who hates children.

The measles and mumps vaccines have been used for decades. We know that they are effective and very safe. But question the logic of vaccinating a pre-teen boy with a $360, three shot Gardisil treatment for HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, and people will get very angry at you. Why? Because vaccines are always good and never bad.

Besides, Gardisil hasn’t been proven to be harmful. 

Cell phone radiation hasn’t been proven to be harmful. GMOs haven’t been proven to be harmful. Move along. There is nothing to worry about.

Ironically, one of the oldest known drugs, marijuana, is the latest medical cure-all to grab the headlines. As legalization efforts sweep the nation, a whole industry is sprouting up to capitalize on this.

Not too long ago, a study suggested that marijuana can cause “structural abnormalities” in the brains of young people. The study’s authors were careful to say that “further study is necessary” to conclude whether this means actual brain damage takes place. I’m going to go out on a limb as say that “structural abnormalities” are enough of a red flag to be concerned about what pot does to developing brains. As marijuana goes mainstream, this is a serious public health problem.

We just can’t wait around for “further studies” anymore, with marijuana or any of this. The onslaught is too great. The double-blind study is too little, too late.  We need to integrate information from multiple sources and make informed hunches. We need to rely on common sense. Finally, we need to be skeptical whenever an organization or entity that has a vested interest in the sale of a product, whether direct (revenue) or indirect (campaign funds), dismisses our questions and concerns about its safety  based on all that we know.

This is the new reality.  The scientific method still matters. But a gut check just might end up saving your life.



Junk News Goes Mainstream at Boston.com

So today on the front page of Boston.com, near the top, is a story titled, Lefties are apparently having better sex. The prominent placement of the story made me think we might have something here. Having worked at Boston.com for quite a long time (1997 – 2006) and also being left-handed, I thought it would be worthwhile to click on the story to learn more. Boy, was I wrong.


The story cites an online, unscientific survey conducted by a sex toy manufacturer who just happens to be peddling a sex toy “that claims to ‘give the North paws a little taste of the South paw sex drive’ by stimulating a right-hander’s underused right-side of the brain by clenching a vibrating ball in their left hand.”


My, how the mighty have fallen.  I’d rather read a National Enquirer story than this drivel. At least you know where you stand with the National Enquirer. With Boston.com, I’m just not sure anymore. After all, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt used by the site. It’s part of a recent pattern. Call it the Upworthification of mainstream news.

Pageviews are like crack, I know from personal experience. It’s addictive to see those numbers go up. You start looking at them every day. Then every hour. Than a few times an hour.  But the eyeballs-equals-dollars formula was proven to be a failure a decade and a half ago. Besides, it’s one thing to whore yourself out with “cutest puppy dog” or “Halloween baby” photo galleries to get the numbers to go up. But to post fake news?

Next time I’m thinking of clicking on Boston.com link bait, I won’t. Moreover, I’ll probably miss real stories just because I have reason to doubt their truthfulness. Truthiness just isn’t enough to hang my hat on.

Finally, I curse Upworthy and the countless misleading, hyperbolic headlines it has spawned in its wake.

That is all. </rant>



Checkmate, Ford: ‘Cadillac Man’ Goes Down in Flames

Ford just came out with a brilliant parody in response to Cadillac’s perversely obnoxious “Poolside” ad. The Cadillac spot features a self-satisfied materialist leisurely lolling around his mansion boasting smugly about how he owed it all to hard work. Ford’s ad features an earnest young black woman talking about how it’s important to “try, try” to make the world a better place. Cadillac Man makes me want to take a shower. Ford Woman makes me proud to be a human being. Well done, Ford!

When it comes to businesses, can we stop calling what they do ‘social media?’

What businesses do is “digital marketing.” It is not “social media.” There is nothing at all social about a business using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest to generate revenue. They aren’t trying to be your friend. They are trying to make money. That’s what businesses do.
Microsoft Word - web 2.0 logos.doc

Perhaps they are using social channels to provide a special offer to you, or to talk about their product or service in a way that makes it seem different and better than the competition. They may also want to share their expertise with you, to show you that they know what they are talking about in case you are interested in purchasing their product or service now or in the future.

If you go to a car dealer and the salesperson is super-friendly and super-helpful, is he being social? Nope. He is being a good salesperson. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. On the contrary. Good, honest salespeople make life better for consumers.

But being “social” means visiting with friends and family, and interacting on an honest, human level with no strings attached. It does not involve commerce. It does not involve brands. There is no quid pro quo. Being “social” is not about selling, it’s about living. There’s an important distinction.

Why most reporters hate most PR people, and 10 ways to fix the problem

Reporters get pitched lousy stories all the time. The sad truth is that most people that work in PR have never been on the other side of the pitch, so they have no idea how awful it is to hear the following: “Hi Tim, do you have a few minutes to hear about a product launch?”


No, I do not have time. No, I do not care about your lousy product.  And if you continue to bombard me with emails saying it’s the best/first/newest, it’s not that I will care less. I will actively despise you.

In conventional, bread-and-butter PR (i.e. 95 percent of the industry), the law of numbers takes precedence. Get me hits. Don’t be concerned about what these hits will do for the company, or if they serve any purpose, or help meet any objective. Pretend it will matter, and tell your client the same.  Smile and dial, spray and pray.

This is a brutally soul-sucking endeavor for several important reasons. Why? Reporters will hate you for it. These PR pitches and the people who are responsible for them are like swamp gnats.  The reporters tries to wave the gnats away, either by checking caller ID or not answering email, and they still keep coming at them.  Burning a bridge with a reporter is a cardinal sin in PR.  Repeatedly pitching dumb stories to reporters is the most efficient way of doing it.

And another thing, it doesn’t do a company any good. Sure, there will be a few pats on the back around the office, with people saying, “Well gee, look, WidgetBiz Today picked up our story about our new product!” This is more of a vanity play than something that will actually result in any practical benefits. Why? Because chances are, very few of your potential or current customers read this drivel. If you weren’t in PR, would you? Of course not.

How do you help your reporter and help your client at the same time? It’s pretty basic, but here you go:

1. Define your business objectives. What are your goals for the PR program? What are you trying to achieve? What’s the vision for a year from now? Where do you want to be? It’s incredible how little attention is given to this by typical PR flacks, because it’s the most important part of the program.

2. Define your product and company messaging. This, too, is often glossed over in traditional “law of numbers” PR, even though it’s a critical element of a strategic program. Most just plunge into an account without giving a moment’s thought. Putting thought and care into messaging enables a company communicate clearly about itself and how its products and services fit into the marketplace, and this helps the reporter.

3. Define your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Why are you trying to reach them? With B2B technology products, in some cases it may make more sense to reach out to the business side, in others, the technology side.  Each case is unique.

4. Define your media target list. Who are your target reporters, bloggers, and outlets? Follow them on Twitter. Use an aggregator like Feedly to follow the outlets that matter. Read, read, read. Get to know who they are, how they write, what they like to write about. You don’t want to pitch reporters who aren’t a good fit, because it won’t do you any good, and they’ll hate you for it.

5. Don’t pitch crap. Pitching donkey dung burns valuable bridges that can never be rebuilt. Acknowledge that straight product pitches almost always suck, and make sure you tell your client early in the process.

6. Answer this question: “How does my company help people?” The best stories reporters love are about people, not products. Case studies are a beautiful way of doing this, and reporters usually love them – or at least they won’t hate you for sharing them. Form and protect relationships with partners and customers who are willing to talk to the media.

7. Follow the trends. Fitting into a larger trend story makes both your client and the reporter look great.  Your client becomes part of a larger conversation and is featured in a story that people are likely to actually read – not usually the case with product launch stories.  Equally important, the reporter doesn’t look like he’s whoring himself out to a single company with a lousy, one-source story.

8. Reporters love it when people read them. That’s why they do what they do. Follow up with reporters after they write something that’s relevant to your client space, but ONLY IF YOU CAN HELP THEM.

9. Consider picking up the phone, but ONLY IF YOU CAN HELP.  Have you heard of this invention called the telephone? It’s a way of conversing with somebody in real-time regardless of geographic location.  Mornings are usually better.  It’s usually best to follow up on a story that they’ve recently written. Know what you are going to say beforehand, and keep it BRIEF.

10. Never, ever pitch on Friday afternoon. Morning pitches Tuesday through Thursday are best. Enough said. This may seem a trite simple, but the point is that reporters are people too. They have lives, friends, families, trials and tribulations.

Lazy reporters ignore all PR, no matter how compelling it might be, because it’s just easier and less work that way. It’s a waste of time and energy even trying to pitch these slackers. Bad PR flacks think only of hits, not business objectives. Hits, not reporters. Hits, not truth. These are the ones who give the industry the bad name that it so often (and unfortunately) deserves.

On a positive note, good reporters actually like and respect good PR people – and visa versa – because we can help each other do our jobs better.

What’s not to love about that?

A Key Difference between the Seventies and Today: William Shattner & ‘Rocketman’

At the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards, William Shattner performed Elton John’s song, “Rocket Man,” in spoken word while smoking a cigarette … and no one in attendance apparently thought it was funny enough to laugh out loud. I have to believe that many people in the audience wanted to laugh, but they didn’t, not so much because it would have embarrassed Shattner, but because it would have embarrassed them. Today we are so conditioned to be voyeuristic that life can seem like a movie to be watched and critiqued. Thanks to our collective post-doctorate levels of mass media consumption, we have become expert observers and shamelessly outspoken analysts. This performance today would result in spasms and waves of loud and uncontrollable laughter.  The man who immortalized Captain Kirk is laughing all the way to the bank in 2011, with an estimated net worth of more than $1 billion thanks to his role as a self-mocking pitchman for Priceline.com. Now Shattner is in on the joke, and it’s paying off. 



You Have More in Common with Strangers than You Know

I find this short film by Luke Rudkowski to be very moving. He asks random people on the New York City subway some pretty heavy questions about life, success, what it means to be happy, and the meaning of life itself. Their answers are powerful in their wisdom and humanity. 

I appreciate the opportunity to talk to strangers because it almost always makes me feel a lot better about the human race.  You’d think we were all selfish, cold-hearted cretins by the way people are portrayed in the market-driven media, or by how “success” is so commonly and erroneously defined. People who get rich by driving banks over cliffs, or by building nuclear reactors that cut corners on safety, or by peddling pharmaceutical concoctions they know cause more harm than good  – these are deemed “the winners” when materialism is the measure and “selfishness pays” is the message. The fact is that most people don’t buy this garbage. We are naturally inclined to care about each other. In our hearts we know the true measure of success, of what it means to be human. It’s a pretty simple formula, and people everywhere are much smarter about this stuff than we sometimes realize. 

We’re all spinning around on the big blue ball at the same time and occasionally it overwhelms me how close we all are in time and space, no matter who we are or where we live, regardless of whether we know each other or not.  

Go ahead, just ask anybody on the subway. There are heroes all around us. 




Have You Heard? McDonald’s Is the New New Deal

In case you haven’t heard, we have a new jobs program in the United States. It’s called McDonald’s.

The fast food giant will hold its first national hiring day April 19 to fill 50,000 openings at its restaurants nationwide. The company says it is making a concerted effort to add staff as its business improves and as more of its restaurants stay open 24 hours a day.

Wall Street cheered the news on Monday, bidding the company’s stock up more than half a percent.

Perhaps traders were thinking that now with the McDonald’s jobs day and its dollar menu, the welfare state can be completely demolished altogether.

Most people in the US are still struggling to get back on their feet after what’s often been described as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, but differences between the Great Depression and the Great Recession remain stark.

Bankers of that jumped out of skyscrapers as they came to realize that fortunes can come and go in a flash. Bankers of 2011 jump up and down with joy after winning huge bonuses, comfortable with their delusions that they are the best and the brightest of their generation, that their entrepreneural spirit and hard work got them where they are today.

Back then, it was “easy come, easy go.” Today it’s “easy come, easy come.”

In reality, anybody who has made money over the past ten years from one of the many institutions that received billions of dollars in bailout money is on the winning end of the biggest single welfare program in US history, the Wall Street bailout.

Whether or not they actively participated in this Ponzi scheme, they have certainly benefited from it.

These financial institutions were utterly wreckless in how they “invested” money, using leverage of 40 to one and spending it on mortgage derivatives they knew were crap. (Similarly wreckless leveraging was made illegal after the crash of 1929, only to be brought back to life by one of Wall Street’s favorite presidents, Bill Clinton. After the so-called Wall Street “reforms,” 40 to one leveraging remains alive and well.)

The people at the institutions who did the “investing” certainly knew better. They knew that securitized subprime mortage derivatives should not be rewarded with A ratings. Nevertheless they made huge profits off of this scam for years, because they knew they would never be held personally liable, proof that it’s possible to be completely lawful and completely unethical at the same time.

Under Franklin Roosevelt we had the New Deal. Today, we have McDonalds.

In this new Feudal Age, 400 people control 50 percent of the wealth in our country. It’s a shocking figure. Even more dismaying is the widespread belief  that this is due more to intelligence and hard work than to nepotism and cronyism.

Contrary to popular myth, democracy and capitalism are not different words for the same thing, nor is enormous wealth frequently the result of either hard work, planning or frugality. It is more often than not inherited by people who did nothing virtuous to earn it aside from joining sperm and egg. 

The perpetual myth of low inflation is one of the most outrageous, longest living wool-over-the-eyes tricks ever played on a population.

Certainly you are able to purchase television sets and other electronics made overseas at historically low prices. You are able to drown your economic sorrows in a tsnunami of free and low cost media.

But the cost of the things that are most critical in the pursuit of happiness  – housing, health care, higher education – has never been higher, nor have these costs risen so quickly in so short a time.

In the 1930’s, Roosevelt’s New Deal demonstrated that the democracy and laizzez-faire capitalism are not in fact one and the same. The capitalists of the day hated Roosevelt, yet he was still elected and then relected by landslide margins four times in a row. 

Historical revisionists like to argue that the New Deal kept the economy from growing as fast as it would have with laissez-faire capitalism. But growing for whom? And if it’s just for the top 400 or 4,000, or 400,000 or 4 million, who the hell cares?

People are struggling across the land just to make ends meet, and it’s been like that for a long time. The opium of the masses is online media these days, but even when opium was legal, back in the gilded days of the robber barons, there was still outrage.

Where is the outrage today?


News: Two Boys, Age 11, Sneak Out of Homes, Walk into Green Room of Rock Band and Hang Out

Hey kids, video games are fun. But real life is funner. Kids used to do all sorts of crazy stuff back in the days before video games, just to pass the time. Anyone who was there knows that kids of the seventies, the children of the original Me Generation, were pretty much left to their own devices. Assuming you survived, it makes for more interesting stories than the one about hitting a record score on “Call of Duty: Black Opps” that today’s kids will bore their children with twenty years from now. 

My buddy, who I’ll call Mark, was one of those wholesome midwestern boys who got away with a lot of shit but never got into any real trouble. Apparently quite a few of these characters exist. 

Mark really, really liked Steppenwolf in a way that smart eleven-year-old boys totally geek out about stuff they love. Back in the early seventies, Steppenwolf was going to play in the very same wholesome midwestern city where he lived. So in an earnest, wholesome sort of way, Mark decided to go see them. But unlike kids of today, Mark didn’t have to worry about “negotiating”  with his parents about a rock concert. Why not? Because it never dawned on him to consider telling them in the first place.  

Kids these days go to rock concerts with their parents all the time. But back then, it didn’t happen. Couldn’t happen. Might as well have been illegal, and it was a lot more fun that way.

If your parents were hip, they liked jazz. If they talked about stuff like France and Shakespeare, they listened to classical music. No parents liked rock and roll. but they didn’t really hate it either. They just didn’t notice.

Sure, they might have been a bit “concerned” about the older teenagers down the street with the greasy long hair who listened to that loud music and probably smoked drugs for all they knew. But being the Me Generation, parents of the seventies were too busy focusing on themselves to really care much either way, which was just fine by us kids.

Anyhow, back to Mark and those innocent days of yesteryear. Mark and his young friend Larry carefully mapped out their Steppenwolf adventure in a matter-of-fact kind of way. According to the plan, on the night of the concert the two young boys would say goodnight to their moms and dads, enter their respective bedrooms, wait a few minutes, and then quietly sneak out of their houses to meet at a bus stop a few blocks away. (Back then, kids knew that parents tended not to “check in” on their kids once the door was closed. In the seventies, parents actually enjoyed being adults and valued the opportunity to forget that they were parents whenever possible. And more power to them.)

The night finally came. The rendezvous was successfully executed.

Exuding confidence, the two youngsters boarded a city bus that took them to the arena downtown where the Steppenwolf concert was about to get underway.

The air here smelled peculiar, but the kids couldn’t put a finger on it since they had never seen marijuana and barely even knew what it was. Pot might as well have been heroin or acid. It was all the same to them. The suspicious teenagers down the street who Mom worried “didn’t seem to have any college plans” seemed like choir boys and girls compared to this crowd, who looked like hippies out of an old Hawaii Five-0 episode. But instead of robbing banks and swatting at violent hallucinations, these young men and women were just talking and laughing and by all appearances having a good time.

The boys wait patiently in line to purchase their tickets. Finally, it’s their turn. 

“We’d like two tickets to the Steppenwolf concert,” Mark asks in a polite prepubecent voice.

The two kids get a double-take from the gruff guy with missing teeth in the ticket booth, but there isn’t an official rule against kids going to rock concerts. And a guy selling tickets to a Steppenwolf concert in the seventies has better things to do than give a shit about it either way. So in they go.

Children are literal about stuff. When Mark and Larry decided to see Steppenwolf, they meant they are going to SEE Stephenwolf. You know, sit down and talk with the band. When they arrive, it’s still early and the concert isn’t going to start for a while. So the two boys walk down the isle to the stage and scamper up the stairs like a couple of chipmunks all the way to the green room.

Roadies are everywhere and a couple of big guys are at the door. Mark and Larry walk right past them. The roadies do a double take but figure the kids must be with the band. Rock stars have a lot of kids in the seventies. Kids they don’t even know about.

Bingo. The boys are inside the green room. Musicians and groupies are everywhere. Pre-concert energy in the air. The kids take it in for a few moments.  Lead singer John Kay is talking to someone. Suddenly, his eyes meet Mark’s.

“Everybody be cool!” Kay shouts. Suddenly, there is complete silence.

Kay walks up to the boys and hunches down.

“What are you two doing here?” he asks.

“We really like your band and we wanted to come talk to you and hear your music,” Mark exclaims politely.

More silence. And then …

“We’ll that’s just great,” Kay says with a big smile. “Come on over here and sit down!”

Kay proceeds to talk to Mark and Larry about the songs they like (“Born to be Wild, Magic Carpet Ride), plays some licks and shares a few laughs with the boys. After ten or fifteen minutes, he says, “the concert is going to begin pretty soon, so you boys should go get to your seats now.” The kids thank Kay and the rest of the band and head back down the isle to their seats.

Mark and Larry have fun listening to all their favorite music at the Steppenwolf concert. What a great time, they tell each other. They grab the bus home, part ways and sneak back up into homes and bedrooms. And lived happily ever after.

Well, that might be a stretch but heck, at least they lived.

Remember kids. Video games are fun. But real life is funner!










Why I Love Retail People, New York, & Netezza Video from NRF & #NRF11

Retail people are smart because it’s such a competitive space, but they are also “people” people – and it’s a good combination. The National Retail Federation’s Big Show celebrated its 100th anniversary but didn’t look a day over two years from now. Seriously, what is this? Star Trek or something? Smart and social is an excellent combination for innovation, excitement and optimism  as you can see in Netezza’s video series from the event.

Fortunately for me, the Netezza team pitched in and did an exceptional job in the “talent” department. Special thanks to Karina Bernier, the talented young broadcast interviewer and producer who set up and did many of the interviews. The camera, lighting, sound and editing team – i.e. me – wrapped up business and packed up all the gear at the Javit Center by 5:25 p.m. on Tuesday. for a 6:00 p.m. train. Everybody within a mile radius was hailing a cab to in a desperate effort to fool time and avoid The Big Storm and The Commute From Hell.  I ran walked and crawled from Javit to Penn Station carrying lighting equipment, a tripod, a metal suit case containing microphones and cameras, a briefcase containing two computers and my suitcase. 

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get there until 6:05 p.m. Not only that, the high speed Amtrak Acela train was late. Wait a second, that’s good. Yessss. 

And one of the many, many warm, kind, generous New Yorkers saw me covered in flop sweat at the train station and helped me with my gear and with a few gentle laughs.

It’s all true. I love retail people, and I love New York.

Check out Netezza’s videos  from the floor of the Javit Center at NRF 2011 on YouTube.