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.



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.

Videos comparing Oracle Exadata and Netezza TwinFin: They really AREN’T the same after all

I’ve been working at Netezza for six months now and I’m finally getting my head around data warehousing, analytics, “big data,” predictive analytics and so forth.  It’s been a challenge, frankly, to get smart enough about this stuff to actually say anything publicly about it. 

When I was young and dumb six months ago, too bad I didn’t access to some smart, easy-to-understand videos comparing Netezza TwinFin and Oracle Exadata that show how key differences result in two very different products with different capabilities. 

If you are a friend or relative or total stranger or anyone else for that matter and still have no idea what Tim’s company does, you can learn about Netezza by viewing the three concise videos we just produced at http://netezza.com/compare. It explains the differences between Netezza’s technology and our competitor Oracle Exadata. 

I’m a fan of Apple because their technology is easy to set up and use, incredibly powerful — and respects your intelligence.  After six months at the company I can now say with informed confidence – same with Netezza. 

I almost forgot to mention that the narrator for these videos also did the VO for the Scuderi Engine video that went viral a few years ago after I posted it on YouTube.  I cracked up when I heard his voice. Not because it was funny in a hah hah way. The guy is good. More of a “when universes collide” kind of thing. 

Anyhow, enjoy: