Jun 29

58 beats 48

534781_735760173752_820976142_nI was fascinated to read Joe Nocera's recent New York Times column about his turning 60 years of age.

While Nocera's chief lamentation was the near total destruction of his retirement savings, he also complained bitterly about his failing body.

He wrote, “…if there's one thing I can say with certainty it's that 60 is not the new 50.” Nocera said his “…body creaks and groans. (His) eyes aren't what they used to be. (He) doesn't sleep as soundly as (he) did just a few years ago. (And), lately (he's) been seeing a lot of doctors just to make sure everything still more or less works.”

Ouch. That's sounds like a mighty old 60. I'm turning 58 today and, in virtually every way imaginable, I'm much better than I was at 48.

Let's start with the non-physical components. In the last 10 years, I've written a book that was published by McGraw-Hill, been named a weekly columnist by Inc.com, become a stand-up comedy performer, named PR News blogger of the year, studied improvisation, created and launched two, first-of-a-kind Peppercom services and raised tens of thousands of dollars for my two favorite charities.

On the fitness front, my 58-year-old self could run rings around his 48-year-old predecessor. I began mountain climbing in 2005, added rock and ice climbing to my repertoire a few years after that and am now attacking a new alpine challenge every single month. I've completed 200-mile bike rides, many half marathons and continue to play squash as well as ever.

I've experienced my real personal Renaissance, though, in just the past six months. In that time, I've simultaneously embraced the wonderful worlds of Kangoo (www.mariothetrainer.com) and boxing. Yes, Virginia, boxing. My dad and son were, and are, boxers, so I thought it was high time I laced on the gloves. By co-mingling Kangoo and boxing, I've literally bounced and punched my way to new fitness heights.

I think Nocera is like many of my peers. They give up on exercise and wellness when first hitting middle age. As their bodies naturally start to degrade, they do little, if anything, to alter the inevitable. These are the people who join gyms, try it once or twice, and then never show up again. They're also the types who are constantly trying the latest fad diet. They'll drop a quick 20 pounds, only to gain 30 more back.

I don't know Nocera's personal health history, but I'm maniacal about wellness. That's because my family history is replete with heart disease, stroke and cancer. And, I intend to do everything in my power to avoid all three.

I also believe lifelong learning should include physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. Most see lifelong learning as simply a mental exercise.

Being better at 58 requires the same type of discipline Nocera needs to crank his out New York Times columns. Apparently, though, he's never experienced the runner's high that comes with extreme exercise, the sense of accomplishment (and serenity) one feels when setting foot on a three-mile high mountain or the rush of having 100 people laugh at one of your comedy bits.

I'm sorry to hear Joe's a cranky 60. And, I can't imagine what he'll be like if, and when, he hits the big 7-0. As for me, I'm planning on keeping my mind open, my legs climbing and my fists punching. Joe and I will both end up at the same, final destination, but I'd like to think I'll have lived a much fuller life. And so can you. Pre-existing medical conditions and catastrophic injury aside, the only thing preventing you from being a better 58 than 48 is you.

                    

Jun 28

A day late and a dollar short

A_businessman_out_in_the_colbbbd_1776351I'll bet my reaction to the just-released survey of 142 chief communications officers by Spencer Stuart and Weber Shandwick will surprise both organizations.

According to the results, crisis management is the number one success factor listed by global CCOs, a finding that has more than doubled since the co-branded survey was first fielded in 2007. And, the CCOs say they spend an inordinate amount of time resolving a reputational crisis: an average of 15 months!

Spencer Stuart and Weber Shandwick believe the survey shows how critical crisis management skills are to today's CCO. They also believe CCOs are doing a much better job of embracing social media as a means to manage a crisis.

I see the results differently. I think they reveal two fundamental flaws in the mindset of the global CCO:

- Not enough insist on simulating the various threats to their organization BEFORE a crisis occurs (and, those who do, rarely involve senior business, financial and legal executives in the planning). If they did, they'd be far better prepared to manage one, spend less time resolving it and, critically, begin focusing on an area I believe is just as critical as reputation management: the customer experience.
- Because the CCOs surveyed said crisis management was so important, they naturally listed corporate social responsibility as their second most important success factor (since they see it as critical to safeguarding reputation). Measuring the effectiveness of their corporate reputation management was ranked third.

All of which begs the question: with all the focus on crisis mitigation, who's trying to better understand the customer and when, where, why and how she wants to engage with the organization? Who is paying attention to the customer's needs and concerns and building relationships internally and externally that prevent crises in the first place?

The survey tells me CCOs are missing the opportunity to be pro-active, to listen to, and better understand, their myriad audiences. Instead of leaving their corporate bubble and finding out what it is like to be one of their customers, they're stuck in their corner office fighting reputational crises or trying to build goodwill through CSR programs. That's classic top down, inside-out, reactionary thinking.

I recently authored a blog in which I posited the view that one day soon the average Fortune 500 CEO will wake up, look at the compensation packages being paid to his CCO and CMO, realize the functions are becoming increasingly blurred, and eliminate one.

While three-quarters of the CMOs Peppercom recently surveyed told us they'd never experienced their brand from an audience's standpoint, they're nonetheless far better positioned than most CCOs to be the eventual winner in what I see as an upcoming communications version of The Civil War. Why? Because they focus on finding out about how their customers are receiving their messages. Whether it's through traditional (and some say antiquated) methods, such as market research and focus groups, or by going further with other more individualized and ethnographic methods, CMOs are poised to have a better understanding how customers buy and use their products and services than CCOs. And CMOs are then armed with more of the up-to-date knowledge of what drives the customer, and therefore, the bottom line than CCOs. And, the bottom line drives the CEOs decisions.

It's high time CCOs spread their wings, took a more preventive view to crisis and began getting closer to the individuals and institutions who buy and use their organization's products and services. Otherwise they'll find themselves a day late and a dollar short when the next mega downsizing occurs.

Jun 27

Bugs Bunny: Serial Killer

Bugs-bunny-gun-Black-BackgroundAccording to a newly-released study from the University of Bristol, lovable Looney Tunes character Bugs Bunny should be added to the pantheon of history's most notorious serial killers . Yes, Virginia, Bugs is the Ted Bundy of Cartoonland.

How can this be possible? Well, British researchers say that, influenced by Bugs and his signature carrot, rabbit owners have been unwittingly feeding their pet bunnies the worst possible food item. Carrots, say researchers, do serious harm to little bunny bodies. (I'm tearing up at the mere thought).

British rabbits suffer tooth decay as a direct result of ingesting too many carrots (what is it with the Brits and teeth?). Carrots also wreak havoc on a bunny's digestive system and end up creating an empire's worth of malnourished, dangerously ill rabbits.

In response, a British animal health organization is launching a consumer education campaign, entitled, 'Hay fever'. As it turns out, hay isn't just for horses; it's the ideal staple for rabbits as well.

I'm not a big fan of rabbits since, along with gophers and deer, they positively drive former Congresssdog Mick Cody to distraction. But, I also hate to see any animal suffer. So, I think bunny lovers everywhere should exert pressure on Warner Brothers, the owner of Looney Tunes, to launch a similar awareness campaign here in the States. If nothing else, it would give a whole new meaning to grass roots.

I'd go for the jugular (or, the rabbit's foot, if you prefer) and mimic the brutally harsh ads being aired by the anti-tobacco lobby. I'd entitle the program: 'What's up, doc? Rabbit mortality, that's what's up!'

And, I'd enlist Looney Tunes-type illustrators to depict a new, somber and sober Bugs Bunny in the following ways:

- A completely toothless Bugs leaning against a tree. Caption: 'Don't let carrots do to your rabbit's teeth what they've done to mine. Now, where's that bottle of Ensure?'
- Bugs with a colostomy bag attached to his side. Caption: 'Carrots ruined my digestive tract. Now I not only can't outrun Elmer Fudd. I have to wear this damn bag for the rest of my days. And, the damn forest creatures are calling me Bags Bunny.'
- A tombstone reading: 'Bugs Bunny: Wascally Wabbit. Beloved bunny, buddy and unwitting murderer of millions of his br’er rabbits. R.I.P.'

Warner Brothers owes American pet owners an apology. And, they need to step up to the plate (or down the rabbit hole) and out Bugs Bunny for what he was: The Cartoon Network's answer to Showtime's Dexter.

Jun 26

See Ben Drink

PhpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpgJane Maas's book, 'Mad Women', got me thinking about the not-so-good old days. And, while I missed the Mad Men era by a good 15 to 20 years, I did catch the tail end (and I use that word in the most liberal sense).

I joined Hill & Knowlton in the early 1980s as a newly-minted junior account executive. And, I must say, I saw quite a bit of the same drinking, smoking and office shenanigans that Mad Men made famous.

I also worked within a male dominated culture. Indeed, in those days, H&K had only ONE woman with a vice president title: Mary L.T. Brown. I was always curious about the initials, but she scared the bejesus out of me, so I never asked.

We JAEs knew many of our bosses were sleeping with their secretaries (and, had heard stories about more than a few administrative assistants who ended up as suburban housewives, just as Mad Men suggests).

But, it's the Mad Men/Women focus on heavy drinking in the office that really rings true for this blogger.

The Hill & Knowlton of the early 1980s was staffed with legendary former newspaper men who not only knew how to write and place stories; they also knew how to down a fifth, or two, of bourbon each and every day at lunch.

I remember one heavy drinking, demi-god whom I'll call Ben. He must have been at least 70 when our paths first crossed.

My boss had dispatched me to seek Ben's help with a client crisis. My assignment was to get him to place a major story for a colossal (and, very demanding) client.

Ben was on a first-name basis with the likes of Lou Rukeyser, Sylvia Porter and John Chamberlain, each a famous syndicated columnist whose articles were published in hundreds, if not thousands, of newspapers every day.

If given the proper ammunition from a junior account guy, Ben could make a syndicated column appear like magic. And, boy, did we ever need magic at that moment because, frankly, the account was in jeopardy.

My boss said the key to success with Ben, though, was getting on his schedule before lunch. He didn't explain why, and I didn't ask. So, I had my secretary (yes, H&K had assigned a full-time secretary to a 22-year-old junior account executive) call Ben's 'gal'. The meeting was set for 11:45am the next morning.

I walked into Ben's cavernous office, shook his limp hand and told him I was hoping he could help me. He leaned back in his chair, lit up his cigar, pulled open his desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of bourbon. “Care for one?” Ben asked. I declined. He poured himself a stiff one, downed it and said, “OK, kid. Whatchya got for me?”

I begin relating my client's story when Ben's inter-office phone rang. He picked it up, listened to his secretary and then hung up. “Gotta go, kid. Lunch engagement. Come back at three,” he said as he tossed on his jacket.

I dutifully returned at 3pm. I told Ben's secretary that he was expecting me. She smiled, and said, “Not this afternoon he isn't.” I tried to argue, but she sent me packing. I told my boss what had happened. He was upset. “I told you to see him before lunch!” He yelled. I replied that I had, but Ben had cut our meeting short.

I still recall my boss sighing, and thinking out loud, “If he goes on a bender, we're dead.”

Happily, Ben showed up the next morning, met with me, extracted the information he needed. Et voila, we had a Louis Rukeyser column and a very, very happy client.

There were quite a few Ben's at H&K. And, they could work wonders. But, only BEFORE lunch. After that, those Mad Men were positively useless. And, yet, no one said anything or did anything about their alcoholism. Nothing good about those old days.

Jun 25

You can check in, but you can never leave

Jet_lag_1385638c

It strikes me that more and more brands are promising one experience but delivering a very different one. Take United Airlines. Please!

My business travel experience has gone to hell in a handbasket ever since United absorbed Continental in a recent merger of equals (to which I reply, 'Ha!' There never has been, nor will there ever be a merger of equals). And, to pour salt in the wound, United is running a multi-million advertising campaign touting such achievements as the industry's newest fleet of aircraft, the most destinations of any domestic airline and, yes, Virginia, a solid on-time performance record. Choke me with a spoon!

In the past few weeks alone, I've suffered back-to-back, three hours delays flying to, and from, Manchester, NH, from Newark Airport, a nifty four-hour delay from Logan and yesterday's cancellation of a flight caused by what a Manchester gate agent described as, 'Weather, or a mechanical problem. It's Newark Airport, so we never really know.'

The world-weary United agent then asked if I'd be willing to fly on another airline to LaGuardia. 'Sure,' I responded. She checked the screen, shook her head and snapped, 'Nope. That flight's already over its weight limit.'

Then, my United experience morphed into an act from the theatre of the absurd. 'I'm going to try and get you to Boston!' the gate agent declared. I was stunned. 'But, I don't want to go to Boston,' I replied. 'I'm not going to risk changing planes with your airline's shoddy record.' She then clapped her hands together and said, 'Well, chop chop. Make up your mind. What do you want to do?' She demanded. I canceled my flight, rented a car and drove six hours to get home.

All of this wouldn't matter if United wasn't bombarding me with ads and airport posters containing such, feel-good headlines as:

- 'It's time to fly!

- 'Life is a journey. Travel it well.'

United is a Janus-faced organization, talking out of both sides of its mouth (or cockpit, if you prefer).

If I were prostituting myself by writing completely false copy about a godawful airline, I'd riff on the classic Eagles tune, Hotel California. With United…..

'You can check in, but you can never leave.'

 

Jun 22

We don’t pay hookers that much!

CruiseCocktailI've just finished reading 'Mad Women' by Jane Maas. Subtitled, 'The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond,' the book is a page-turning, kiss-and-tell of a real world Peggy Olson (of ‘Mad Men’ fame).

Jane began her career at Ogilvy & Mather as a copywriter in 1964, and rose to become a creative director and agency officer before leaving to join the legendary Wells Rich Greene in 1976. Our paths crossed in 1992, when Ed and I joined the now defunct Earle Palmer Brown, where Jane served as chairman emeritus.

I was anxious to read Jane's tome since ‘Mad Men’ has mesmerized me since season one, episode one. And, I wanted to know if the AMC show's depiction of ad agency life in the 1960s as a non-stop booze and sex fest was accurate. It was.

Mother Maas, as she called herself at O&M (and, later at EPB), recounts one priceless story after another. The sex was widespread (no pun intended) and part of the workaday culture of agency life. As Jane writes, most women knew sleeping with the boss was the only path to success. (It either led to a higher paying job or, as happened in ‘Mad Men,’ marrying the boss and living a superficial, if comfortable, life in the suburbs.)

The booze was everywhere in the 1960s. And, when it was properly mixed with hormones, as was the case on every Ogilvy boat ride party around Manhattan Island, all hell would break loose. Joan writes, “It was said no woman ever returned a virgin from the Ogilvy boat ride.” She called the annual party an “orgy of heavy drinking and overt sex.” Wow! That sounds just like a Dennis Kozlowski birthday bash.

And, women were unquestionably treated as second class citizens. After proving her worth on 'female' accounts such as soap, detergent and tampons, Jane got her big chance by being added to the American Express business (a traditional bastion of male-only account executives and creative types).

At her first meeting at AmEx headquarters, Jane was, naturally, the only woman in the oak-paneled conference room. All eight men stood, waiting for her to sit. Not wanting to be treated differently, Ms. Maas remained standing until the CEO of Amex suddenly (and, unexpectedly) entered the conference room. He strode right up to Jane, pulled out her chair and asked her to sit. He then said, “Forget your steno pad, dear? We can get you one.” He thought she was an agency secretary brought along to take notes.

The stories are endless, hilarious and, in retrospect, shocking. One of the best concerned the first women-owned ad agency, Trager & Rosen. At their first meeting with a hotel chain CEO, T&R were asked to quote a fee. The CEO was horrified, and responded, “We don't pay hookers that much!”

Jane Maas was worth her weight in gold, and I'm proud to say I had an opportunity to work with her at the very tail end of her career. And, the book is well worth the read for anyone interested in advertising, the women's movement or Mad Men lore. Best of all, it won't cost as much as a hooker.

Jun 21

The media’s three Hs

CloudyNothing delights a broadcaster more than ‘dangerous weather.’ Be it a rapidly gathering thunder cell, a potential head-on collision between unsuspecting high and low pressure systems or Hurricane Ralph rapidly making its way up the East Coast, the media love to issue grave warnings, gather multiple man-on-the-street comments about the impending disaster, pan the empty shelves of neighborhood food marts and, of course, pass along oh-so-obvious safety tips.

With Manhattan chalking up record high temperatures the last few days, the local media have been in a round-the-clock frenzy, irresponsibly scaring unsuspecting viewers and turning a total, non- news story into “The great heat wave of 2012!”

To wit:

Anchor: “Well, if you thought yesterday was horrific, just wait until today! For the latest on the great heat wave of 2012, let’s turn to meteorologist Carlos Santana Gomez in Central Park. Carlos: "It’s only 7am and you look like you’re absolutely sweltering.”
Gomez: “Christian, it’s like Death Valley here in the Sheep Meadow. My pit stains have pit stains. This is quickly shaping up to be a five shirt day for me. I’ve already sweated through two.”
Anchor: “Wow. Talk about combat duty. Hang in there. So, how bad will it actually be?”
Gomez: “As bad as it gets, Christian. As bad as it gets. If you don’t have to go outside today, don’t. It’s that simple.”
Anchor: “Not good. But, for those of us who work and have to go outside, what can we do to safeguard life and limb, Carlos?”
Gomez: “Water. Drink lots and lots of water. Dress in light clothes and, here’s the biggie- stay out of the midday sun.”
Anchor: “Super advice. And what about the very young and the very old?”
Gomez: “It’s heat stroke city for young and old alike, Christian. That’s because their immune systems aren’t quite as strong as the average adult’s.”
Anchor: “Thanks Carlos. Well, take some of your own advice and drink a big bottle of water, change that soaking wet shirt of yours and get out of the sun’s direct rays. Above all, stay safe. God speed to Carlos Santana Gomez and the rest of the WCBS-TV news, sports and weather team who are braving these triple digit temperatures. Now, on a much lighter note…”

I’ve been watching TV newscasts since my youth. And, I can verify that the hype and hyperbole increase with each passing year. I believe the media look forward to bad weather because there’s a very real opportunity it will, in fact, cause deaths. And, death is the gold standard of modern broadcast journalism.

A meteorologist may tell you the Three Hs stand for hazy, hot and humid. But, in reality, they apply to the media as a whole, and mean only one thing: hype, hype and more hype.

Jun 20

Why not a high school for toll-booth operators instead?

10821162-largeI must say I was taken aback to read in Stuart Elliott's 'Media Decoder' column that a Brooklyn high school has changed its curriculum to teach students about advertising and media.

I'm the first to admit I'm neither a futurist nor an education expert, but I do know a tad about marketing and advertising is NOT a smart career choice. In fact, thanks to the simultaneous advent of the blogosphere and the rise of consumerism, advertising is in free fall.

Just before Facebook's ill-fated IPO, General Motors yanked $10 million in FB advertising. Why? It wasn't working. Weeks later, the comeback carmaker of the year cancelled its Super Bowl TV spots because a spokesperson said there were better, more cost effective ways to reach the driving public. Right on!

Then, The Dish announced the launch of The Hopper. A true godsend to TV viewers everywhere, The Hopper not only records programs, it ERASES each and every commercial. Bravo, Hopper! Hop on!

Then, to add insult to injury, the AMC Network aired the very first advertising reality show, called 'The Pitch.' It was not only laughably contrived but, much to the dismay of advertising pundits everywhere, depicted ad agency types as tactical, back-stabbing, inside out, top down thinkers. As I said in a recent blog, 'The Pitch' is the best advertising for PR I've ever seen.

So, why, oh why, would a Brooklyn high school overhaul its curriculum to teach students about an increasingly irrelevant occupation? Why not opt for word-of-mouth, PR or interactive instead? Each could also lend itself to some neat school nicknames (I'd christen the Word of Mouth HS squad 'The Talkers'; and one would have to call PRHS 'The Flacks'; and, how about the eJocks of Interactive High? eJocks sounds oh-so-intimidating!).

If Brooklyn's school administrators think advertising has a bright future, they may want to retrofit other borough school curricula. How about:

- The High School of Toll Booth Operators (graduates would sport gas masks instead of the standard cap and gowns. School nickname: the Black Lungs).
- The High School of Travel Agents (their capstone project would challenge the kids to find the cheapest rate for a hypothetical trip using Travelocity. School nickname: The Indefinite Delays).
- The High School of Ethical Politicians (Teachers would be armed with Tasers and empowered to zap students each and every time they father children out of wedlock, talk of invading foreign countries based on false information or text nude photos of themselves to grammar school kids. School nickname: The Rogues).

Advertising is dying. Long live PR!
   

Jun 19

Robots, guts and moth balls

Rde8746lmoth. jpgA few days ago, my colleague Deb Brown penned a blog about when and where comedy is, and isn't, appropriate.

Deb's blog focused on courtroom humor but, to her credit, she quickly transitioned to when, and where, comedy is appropriate in business.

I'm obviously a huge proponent of comedy in business but, as my comedy coach and the nation's sole chief comedy officer, Clayton Fletcher, always reminds me, ”If you have the least doubt about how appropriate your material is for the workplace, don't use it.”

So, submitted for your approval, are three classic examples of the wrong use of comedy in business (note: the names have NOT been changed to protect the innocent):

- In the middle of one of his very first Peppercom new business presentations, the legendary Andrew Stein decided to add additional commentary to a case study slide being presented by Maggie O'Neill. The slide concerned NextFest and our work for GE. Maggie concluded by saying, “And, this was the first time a robot ever threw out the first pitch in a Major League Baseball game.” To which Stein quickly added, “Unless you include George W. Bush.” If my looks could kill, Stein would be pushing up daisies. Happily, though, the prospects were liberal Democrats and laughed out loud at Stein's oh-so-inappropriate ad-lib.

- Michael Zakkour was a newly-minted Peppercom management supervisor anxious to make a good impression. So, in his very first new business presentation, he was bound and determined to connect with Gartner's head of public relations. “Look,” he said, staring intently into the prospect's eyes, “this isn't about PR. It's about battle. All-out war. And, we're going to gut your competition!” He smiled as he ended. But, the prospect was horrified at our version of American Psycho, and opted to go with another, less bloodthirsty firm.

- Many years ago, I worked for a firm that represented J.T. Baker & Company, the world's largest manufacturer of gypsy moth spray and bags (see, you just learned something). Shortly after winning the account, I accompanied Joan Carris, our firm's media specialist, to Baker's lovely Phillipsburg, NJ, office to meet the bug people. Deciding to ingratiate herself with a joke, Joan began the meeting by asking a question: “How many of you have seen moth balls?” The insect-obsessed executives all raised their hands. “Really,” replied Joan. “How did you ever pull their tiny legs apart?” Silence. I received a call the next day asking that we remove Joan from the account.

Comedy has a very real, and powerful, role to play in business. But, understanding when and where to use it is just as important as comedy itself.

I'm pleased to report that Stein has neatly survived his suicidal mistake. And, I'm pretty sure Mike Zakkour is still gutting prospect's competitors for some other agency. But, I really can't speak for Joan Carris. She had her own firm for many years, but I doubt she ever again represented an insect repellent brand. If she did, though, I guarantee she didn't break out the mothballs joke a second time.
      

Jun 18

The New World isn’t

Tenochtitlan urban planThe best thing about lifelong learning is, well, learning new things throughout one's life.

Unlike most readers who seem to gravitate towards popular fiction or how-to books, I'm addicted to non-fiction, history and biographies. That's because I invariably learn new and fascinating tidbits that make me a better business executive, if not person.

Take "1491", for example. Written by Charles C. Mann, and subtitled, 'New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus', the book is a veritable treasure trove of fascinating findings that turned my world view upside down.

To wit, did you know the reason why the early Portuguese, Spanish, French and English explorers of the so-called New World easily overran native populations? It had nothing to do with their advanced weaponry, use of horses or the smallpox they carried with them. Instead, says Mann, new findings prove that North and South American Native Indians populations were nearly exterminated by a Western Hemisphere version of the Black Plague just a few years before Columbus, Cortez, Pizarro, John Smith and their ilk landed. So, the few remaining Indians had little resolve or willpower to fight back. And, with so few natives milling around, the European mistakenly thought they were entering a near-virgin paradise.

Nothing, says, Mann, could be further from the truth. Before the epic plague wiped out tens of millions of early Americans, the Western Hemisphere's population dwarfed that of the Old World. Not only that, cities such as the Mayan and Incan capitals were ten times larger than London and Paris at that time.

And, the Native Indians were more advanced than the Europeans in many, many ways. They not only developed maize, "…the world's most important crop,” but also tomatoes, peppers and many of the beans found on dinner plates around the world. One writer has estimated that Native Americans developed 60 percent of today's crops. They also invented their own writing, astronomy and are credited with creating the zero.

The Mayan and Incan populations were not only more sophisticated than their Egyptian and Greek counterparts but, and this is the big breakthrough news, they predated them. Recent findings have confirmed the incorrectly-named New World had established sophisticated cultures thousands of years before the four traditional well-springs of human civilizations had even formed (those being: the Tigris-Euphrates Valley in modern Iraq, the Nile Delta, the Indus Valley in Pakistan and the Yellow River in east central China).

"1491" left me thinking about the greatest 'what if' of all time. What if the Native Americans hadn't been decimated by plague and, instead, easily turned back that first wave of European explorers? What if a Native American superpower had emerged in the Western Hemisphere? There might not have been any world wars, any rise of Hitler, any Cold War, any radical fundamentalism or, dare I suggest it, no Democrats or Republicans to fight over who's responsible for destroying the world's last, best hope.

Ah, but the plague DID waylay the Native Americans, the Portuguese, Spanish, French and British had their way, the Colonists tossed them out and we're now stuck with the miasma that is life in the USA in 2012.

Still, how cool is it to know that this hemisphere was running rings around its counterpart in what's always been known as the Old World? In point of fact, Columbus was an arriviste.

And a tip o' RepMan's cap to Chris "RepMan, Jr." Cody for suggesting this post.