Jul 02

What’s become of doing well by doing good?


July 2
What’s
more important, preventing brain cancer or selling more cell phones? You’d
think the answer is obvious, but not so for the telecommunications industry.
Allow me to explain.

A
recent Swedish study that followed young people who began using cell phones as
teenagers reported a whopping 400 percent increase in brain tumors! That
disturbing report, along with similar ones, has prompted San Francisco to become
the first city in America to pass legislation making cell phone retailers
display
radiation levels. That’s a biggie. Now, every Bay-area consumer will be able to
see how much radiation his or her cell phone emits
before making the
purchase. And, that does not sit well with telecommunications types.

According
to a Maureen Dowd column, different cell phone models emit anywhere from
0.2 watts per kilogram of body tissue to 1.6, which is the legal limit. That
may not seem like much, but consider this. Have you noticed how our nation’s
kids have their cell phones positively glued to their ears all day long? As a
result, they’re constantly bombarding their brains with radiation. In fact,
when one considers how many hours our nation’s kids collectively use their cell
phones each day, one can appreciate why the S.F. board acted the way it did.

Unless,
of course, one works for the telecommunications trade group, the CTIA.

Not
wanting to be painted as yet another big, uncaring industry a la Wall Street,
oil or tobacco, the CTIA warned San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom they’d invoke
‘the nuclear option’ and come down on him and his city ‘like a ton of bricks’
if the legislation were passed.  How? Months before the bill passed,
Newsom says he received a disturbing letter forwarded by the local Marriott
hotel that had been selected to host the CTIA convention in October. In the
note, the CTIA warned Marriott they would cancel the event if the legislation
was passed. Nice. They also told Marriott that they’d been in contact with
Apple, Cisco, Oracle and other big, SF-area companies who are involved with the
trade group, and urged them to yank their events from San Francisco as well.
Yikes! Since when did telecommunications companies start acting like the Mafia?

Sure
enough, once the legislation was passed, the CTIA said it would relocate all
future exhibitions to another venue. In one fell swoop, the City by the Bay
lost an event that annually attracted 68,000 exhibitors and attendees and generated
$80 million in business. Talk about
not doing good in order to do well.

The
big loser isn’t San Francisco, it’s America’s youth. The telecommunications
industry doesn’t want Americans to know about the radiation levels in its cell
phones, so it’s punishing anyone who tries to raise a caution flag.

I’m
amazed the CTIA’s heavy-handed scare tactics haven’t generated more adverse
publicity. To say their Tony Soprano-like strong-arming reflects poorly on the trade
group (and its member companies) is like saying the pedophilia scandals have
negatively impacted the Church’s reputation. It’s a no-brainer (sorry). So, how
come no one is speaking up and condemning the action?

Is
it just me or is big business becoming ever more ruthless in putting profits
before ethics. I just hope our kids’ addiction to cell phones doesn’t produce a
simultaneous rise in brain cancer. If it does, though, watch for the CTIA to
turn to the Big Tobacco play book for best practices in delaying, denying and
obfuscating. The industry has deep pockets and will spend what it must to
protect its profit margins. And, as the San Francisco fracas shows, the
industry is willing to hurt anyone who dares get in the way of profits.

What’s
become of doing good by doing well?

Jun 02

Is that a smile on your face or are you just happy to be 50-plus?


June 2
A new Gallup survey of more than 340,000 Americans ranging in age from 18 to 85
has found overwhelming evidence that, by almost any measure, people get happier
as they get older
. No one knows exactly why, but people seem to
get happier as they pass the age of 50. Arthur A. Stone, the lead researcher of
the Gallup study thinks there are several reasons why. ‘It could be that there
are environmental changes or it could be psychological changes about the way we
view the world, or it could even be biological – for example brain chemistry or
endocrine changes.’ In other words, Dr. Stone has about as much insight on this
strange phenomenon as, say, BP does in figuring out to cap that damn oil well
in the Gulf of Mexico.

Worry,
says the researchers, stays fairly steady through life and then sharply drops
off after age 50 (hmmmm…). Anger decreases steadily from age 18 on (I know quite
a few Millennials who don’t fit that descriptor). Sadness rises to a peak at
50, declines at age 73 and then rises again at 85 (perhaps coinciding with an
impending sense of one’s own mortality?). Enjoyment and happiness have similar
curves: they both decrease until we hit 50, rise steadily for the next quarter
century and take a final nose dive towards oblivion.

I’m
ambivalent about the 50-plus equals happiness thing.

I’m
certainly happier now than I was as a struggling high school adolescent. And,
while there were some world-class highs in my 20s and 30s, I don’t think I was
as consistently happy as I am now. I think that coincides with a simultaneous
sense of accomplishment and lessening of uncertainty (i.e. I always panicked
about future career choices, about whether to remain single or get married,
about whether to have children, about whether to continue rooting for the
hapless Mets, etc.). Now, lots of those figurative Rubicon’s have been crossed.
And, I can focus on doing more of what makes even happier: rock, ice and
mountain climbing, stand-up comedy, brainstorming innovative, if half-baked,
innovations for Peppercom and bashing NJ Transit, my former CEO at Brouillard
and a certain
Fortune 500 client that put a whipping on us up worse than
what Muhammad Ali did to  Sonny Liston
.

Still,
I wanted to test the 50-plus theory with people I see in the media everyday to
see if it holds true:

1) BP
CEO Tony Hayward is 52 and sure seems unhappy to me. He even lamented yesterday
that he ‘…wanted his life back.’ Poor thing. The oil spill seems to have
disrupted his life. Wonder if it’s had a similar effect on others? Either way,
I’ll bet we’ll see Hayward’s pearly whites again once we start seeing clear
blue seas in the Gulf.

2) Betty
White is positively ecstatic in the midst of her personal renaissance. She’s
living what I’d call the George Burns syndrome. Burns enjoyed a similar late
career rebirth about 20 years ago (think: the ‘Oh God’ movies, Tonight Show
appearances and countless comedy tours). Burns said of his sudden popularity,
‘I’m so old that I’m young.’ That captures the Betty White phenomenon for me.

3) Sally
Field seems quite happy now that she’s shilling for Boniva and taking care of
the one body that’s been given to her.

4) Andy
Rooney never seems happy. I’ll bet he was a grumpy 12-year-old. Maybe it’s
because his eyebrows have always partially obscured his vision.

5) Donald
Trump’s permanently pissed off. I guess the combination of the comb-over and
firing people keeps him angry.

6) Clint
Eastwood just turned 80 and still seems ready to empty the chambers of his 9mm
Glock into some bad guy’s head.

7) Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton doesn’t seem any happier now than the rock star who
burst onto the public scene in 1992 as part of the Billary ticket. She seems
more resigned than contented.

8) Mets
Manager Jerry Manuel is always happy, even when his team implodes and loses by
a score of 18-6. He’s either programmed that way or is ingesting some serious
mood-altering drugs.

9) Osama
bin Laden doesn’t seem particularly happy whenever he resurfaces to issue the
latest Jihad warning. Turning 50 a few years back doesn’t seem to have mellowed
this particular terrorist. And, do the Gallup findings apply to terrorists as
well? One would think most never live to see 50, so it’s probably a moot issue.

10)  For
someone who pulls down $18mm a year, Katie Couric doesn’t seem very happy.
Pert, yes. Happy? I’m not so sure.

Do
you buy into the 50-plus makes one happy findings? I remain skeptical. I think
a combination of genetics and the environment do factor into one’s happiness.
In the final analysis, though, we determine our own happiness. I can be
miserable working for a 65-year-old CEO who second-guesses my every move or
reporting into a corporate PR director who says nice things to my face but
backstabs my agency behind my back. Or, I can choose to pursue the things in
life that put a smile on my face. The sooner one learns what those ‘things’
are, the sooner one finds happiness. Sorry, Gallup, but age has nothing to do
with it.

Mar 31

The trial of Ronald McDonald

March 31 A coalition of health care professionals, parents and corporate accountability advocates are calling for the retirement of fast-food icon, Ronald McDonald. The coalition, Corporate Accountability International, plans to hold ‘retirement parties’ for good ol’ Ronald at various McDonald’s restaurants and college campuses. They believe the clownish icon is a huge cause of our nation’s obesity problems. And, I agree. I think retiring Ronald is a cool idea. But, it doesn’t go far enough.

In my mind, Ronald McDonald is a cartoon criminal, responsible for causing much of America’s obesity problem (I’m sure there’s a direct correlation between the growth of the McDonald’s chain since the 1950s and America’s expanding waistline). In fact, I think Ronald McDonald should go on trial for his crimes against humanity.

I believe a smart district attorney could put together a fool-proof case for the jury’s consideration. And, here’s how I envision the cross examination:

D.A.: “Mr. McDonald, your corporation is serving billions of Big Macs daily. How many calories a day do you think that adds up to? Trillions? Zillions?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. I don’t make the hamburgers, Mr. District Attorney. I just bring happiness to people’s lives.”

D.A.: “Nice. How many morbidly obese people do you think are happy, Mr. McDonald?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. I see lots of happy, rolly polly people every day, Mr. District Attorney.”

D.A.: “I’ll bet you do. Your honor, if it pleases the court, I’d like to enter into evidence this MRI photograph of severe arterial blockage. It was taken of a lifelong devotee of McDonald’s hamburgers who recently died of a massive heart attack. Mr. McDonald: how does that make you feel?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. Hungry, Mr. District Attorney. Hungry. That picture looks like one of my super-sized Macs. Kids just love ‘em to death.”

D.A.: “You mean they love them until they’re killed by them, is that what you’re saying Mr. McDonald?”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. I’m just the Chief Happiness Officer of McDonald’s, Mr. District Attorney. You’d have to ask someone else about death. That’s a real downer.”

D.A.: “No further questions, your honor.”

Judge: “You’re free to step down, Mr. McDonald.”

McDonald: “Duh-huh. Thanks your honor. That was fun.”

Judge: “You may not think so when the jury returns a guilty verdict, Mr. McDonald.”

Sep 08

All pharma. All the time

September 8 - Pharma Have you ever noticed that virtually every television commercial nowadays is for some sort of medicine? Be it a cure for high cholesterol, heart disease, impotence, osteoporosis or nervous leg syndrome, there's sure to be a TV commercial running somewhere every second of every broadcast day. In my mind, pharma commercials now join death and taxes as the only thing one can count on in life.

So, I thought, why not create a “Big Pharma" cable network? I'd call it: 'MedNet.' And I'd give it a direct, hard-hitting tagline: 'All pharma. All the time.' I'd add a cautionary note, though: 'Frequent viewing has been known to cause severe headache, dry mouth and definite suicidal tendencies.'

MedNet wouldn't bore viewers with talk shows or any of those 'I was an 800-pound teenager' dramas. Nor would there be any 'mystery diagnosis' pseudo documentaries or 'House' type mainstream entertainment.

Instead, I envision a pure viewers' ‘hell and marketers' heaven of non-stop pharmaceutical commercials. I'd naturally match the ads with the viewer demographics, being sure that housewife-specific commercials ran during the day. Seniors would have their Alzheimer's spots and Wilford Brimley/Robert Wagner old folk-specific insurance policy ads just in time for their early bird specials, ('And, folks, don't worry, even if you have less than a week to live, the SeniorSensitive Life Insurance Company has an affordable policy just for you.').

Boomer commercials would dominate prime time, with erectile dysfunction, frequent urination and '…..the little blue pill' spots holding down the critical 8-10 p.m. slot.

Think about it. A 24×7, all-pill, all-gel, all-suppository channel!

The big pharma companies could switch their mind-numbing spots from ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN and, instead, go bonkers on their very own med network leaving the rest of us the hell alone. Now that's what I call health care reform.

Sep 01

Headache? What headache?

September 1 Every time I’m nursing a sore muscle, feeling a tad blue or simply having a tough time motivating myself to exercise, I stumble across an article, news segment or viral video that blows my mind and sends me scurrying out the first door to log some mileage. The most recent one popped up in the September issue of Runner’s World.

In a section entitled, ‘HumanRace,’ the publication featured three athletes who could run rings around me (or anyone else I know, for that matter).

The first was 60-year-old Sister Mary Elizabeth Lloyd, who wanted to raise awareness for AIDS orphans. What did she do? Sr. Mary ran 100 miles in her habit! In the process, she raised $250,000 for the charity and was named a United Nation’s Servant of Peace. Talk about a religious experience. Holy cow!

Number two was Plymouth Meeting, Pa., kindergarten teacher Michelle Moyer, who organized a group of fellow teachers to run a half-marathon. Their goal was to raise money for one of Michelle’s students who had brain cancer. How did they do?  Not bad considering most had never run before. Not only did the teachers complete the 13.1 mile course, they ended up raising $10,000 for Nick. Nice.

The third and final case study featured John O’Connor, a 37-year-old engineer from Bradford, Massachusetts. Seeking to raise awareness of, and money for, the Wounded Warrior Project, O’Connor ran the Boston Marathon course four times non-stop in a staggering 24 hours and 50 minutes. In all, this Energizer Bunny of engineering covered 104.8 miles and raised $5,000.

Headache? What headache. I’ve got to go for a run.

Jul 22

Blissfully unaware (and loving it!)

Mets tomb I'm enjoying a whole, new level of serenity.

It has nothing to do with mountain climbing or winning new business in the midst of economic chaos. Nor is it the result of transcendental meditation, holistic healing or some other form of New Age mumbo jumbo. Nonetheless, I've been floating on sunshine for, oh, about the last three weeks or so.

So, what's my secret? It's simple. I've given up completely on the New York Mets. In seasons' past, I'd allow the Mets to ruin my mood, destroy an otherwise pleasant Sunday or, when they really went south, turn my late summer into a veritable holocaust.

Not this year, though. I quit as soon as the team did. (Memorial Day, if memory serves.) Since then, I haven't listened to their games on radio or TV, and made sure I avoided the morning after recaps of their latest meltdown.

'Not Caring About the Mets' should be captured by a leading pharmaceutical company and squeezed into a capsule. It's got more anti-anxiety and sleep-enhancing qualities than any combination of Xanax and Ambien could hope to provide…

Announcer: “That's right, 'Not Caring About the Mets' is now available from your doctor in liquid, gel or capsule form and will help you get through the toughest day (and night.) Possible side effects include twitching leg syndrome, shallow breathing, stroke, suicide, enhanced libido, decreased libido (hey, it's the Mets!), blurred vision, loss of arm strength in your legs and loss of one or more toes. Alcohol and use of meth amphetamines may enhance the effects.”

I like my new 'serenity now' approach to life so much that I'm ready to adapt it to the upcoming New York Jets football season. Like the Mets, the Jets are perennial losers who torture their fans with sporadic bursts of excellence before succumbing to an inevitable late-season collapse.

Yes, Virginia, hand me a few Jets' losses in early September and I'll be sure to tune out and turn on to the natural high of blissful ignorance. And, as Agent Maxwell Smart used to say, “And, loving it!”

May 18

You are now entering a killing zone

May 18 - smoking I was in Atlantic City Friday night to see some boxing. I took my dad, my son and my brother, John. My dad was an amateur boxer in the 1940s. Rep, Jr., boxed in Vermont's Golden Gloves tournament. And John and me? Well, we follow the sport.

Fully expecting to be dismayed by the sleazy, tawdry surroundings that are synonymous with casinos and gambling, I was nonetheless taken aback by what I walked into at Harrah's. Smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. Cigarette smokers were everywhere, forming a veritable cancer on the casino landscape, if you will.

John told me Atlantic City's casinos had lobbied the city government to rescind its smoke-free environment laws a few years back. The casinos were losing too much money, he said. So, the local pols caved, smoking was re-established and the gamblers returned.

But, what about unsuspecting visitors like me? Second-hand smoke has been proven to cause cancer. Why should non-smokers have to wade through the 'resort's' toxic haze and inhale the carcinogenic fumes en route to the boxing matches?

Atlantic City casinos should be forced to place a warning on each and every one of their billboards, advertisements and digital promotions. I suggest a surgeon general's type warning that advises tourists they'll not only be assaulted by bright lights, eardrum-smashing music and the sight of sad, broken-down people feeding quarters into slot machines, but also enough second-hand cigarette smoke to wipe out an entire army. 'You are now entering a killing zone' would also work nicely.

And how about a billboard on the way out of Atlantic City that reads, 'Thank you for losing your money, seeing our B-level stars and inhaling our second-hand smoke. We are not responsible for your future heart and lung disease. Drive safely.’

May 08

Chasing the almighty dollar

May 8- money There are always two sides to every story. But, in my view, the decision by Forever 21 and Target to launch 'plus-size' lines for obese teenagers comes down to one thing: chasing sales no matter what the cost.

I agree that all sized teens should have the same fashion options. But, selling lines that go up to size 30 sends exactly the wrong message: '…It's ok to eat to excess and jeopardize your long-term health. We'll still provide you with every fashion accessory your slimmer, healthier peers sport.'

According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination survey, the rate of obesity among adolescents 12-19 has more than tripled in the last 20 years. Providing a full line of plus size clothes is tantamount to telling these teens: 'Go ahead and inhale the Double Whopper, large fries and super-sized Coke. We'll have your dress and accessories waiting on aisle four.' (Note: my comments do not apply to those teens who suffer from medical or genetic disorders and can't control their weight).

Industry analysts estimate that Target, Forever 21 and other retailers who follow their sorry lead could be looking at an additional $3 billion in business within two years or less. In short, the almighty dollar trumps clearly corporate social responsibility for these organizations.

Advocates of plus-sized jean clothing say the obese have been penalized in the past for being overweight, and the Forever 21 and Target decisions are akin to a fashion Independence day for them. Obese teens may feel newly liberated, but sending a signal to them that it's ok to jeopardize one's health in the name of fashion is akin to turning an alcoholic loose in a liquor store. '…..Drink as much as you want. We believe alcoholics should have as many options as responsible adults.'

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Forever 21 and Target's moves are not only desperate, they're despicable.

May 05

Thank god it’s not being called the Flack Flu

May 5 - worried pig The world's pig population has to be in full panic. Governments from Mexico to Egypt are ordering mass extermination of the bovine creatures because of their suspected involvement in spreading swine flu. World health officials are trying to intervene, but the machetes are being wielded nonetheless as the blogosphere blissfully tweets away.

Now if I were a pig (and, some have suggested the moniker fits), I would be more upset with the media and less so at the executioners (not that I'd be greeting any gun-totting militiaman with a welcoming squeal, mind you).

The media have really outdone themselves with their incredible 24×7 frenzy over what's now being called the H1N1 flu (and, god, let's hope there isn't some unsuspecting family with that surname).

Despite calls for calm by the White House, we continue to see reporters gleefully extort their viewers, listeners and readers to hunker down and avoid crowded, enclosed areas. Other 'journalists' proudly display maps depicting the hundreds of school closings around the country. And the talk show hosts trot out all sorts of medical history wonks who are only to happy to compare and contrast the global pandemics of 1918-19 and today.

Sure, some people have gotten sick and, sadly, a few have even died. But, the hype is way, way over the top. Worried moms are keeping their kids home, and school superintendents are shuttering their establishments, all while the makers of TamiFlu and Dove soap rack up record sales (hey, somebody has to benefit from a holocaust).

Meanwhile, the poor, little pigs are being rounded up and slaughtered. Where's the Pig Protection Society (PPS) when you really need them? Rutting around in the mud, no doubt. What about the all-powerful Friends of Swine and Whine (FSW) lobby? Probably munching on pigs in a blanket at some swanky Georgetown party.

There's a new, and terrifying, Boer War underway. While I'm genuinely sad to see my four-legged friends being cut down in their prime, I can only breathe a sigh of relief that some lab technician at the Centers for Disease Control didn't decide to call this particular outbreak the Flack Flu. Now, that would take PR industry downsizing to a whole new level.

Apr 29

This cannot be good news for Sparks, Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris

April 29 - no_red_meatA newly-released study of more than 500,000 Americans confirms that men and women who consume the most red and processed meat are likely to die sooner, especially from heart disease and cancer. Results of the decade-long survey were published in a recent issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

As a long-standing fan of fish, the news comes as comforting confirmation that I was right in withstanding all that peer pressure over the years from the Ed Moed's and Art Cody's of the world who'd say, 'C'mon Steve. You're at a steak house. Order a damn porterhouse!'

More to the point of this blog, thought, it'll be interesting to see how the meat packing plants, trade associations and multiple steak houses will deal with this news (not to mention good old McDonald's which, in this blogger's humble opinion, has done more damage to more arteries than any other entity in the history of mankind).

How will the pro-meat spin doctors spin these new facts? My guess is they'll trot out some medical shill who's been on some company's payroll for awhile. Taking a page out of the tobacco industry strategies of the 1960s, said 'medical expert' will present contrarian evidence proving that meat is a beautiful thing and, like those Wonder Bread commercials of yesteryear, '……helps build strong bodies in 12 ways.' (Note to Wonder Bread: What, exactly, were the 12 ways white bread helps build strong bodies?).

So, if you're a Peter Lugar, Morton's or Sparks Restaurant whose claims to fame are outrageously tasty steaks, what strategy makes the most sense?

– Aggressive counter-claims
– Reactive messaging to be trotted out only if, and when, the subject comes up, or
– Simply adopting a 'this too shall pass' philosophy?

Image aside, what are the moral and ethical implications of continuing to dish out a food product that has now been directly linked to disease? Do I see a Surgeon General's report in the making?

As for me, I'll continue to order the Dover Sole and keep my fingers crossed there isn't another study underway that links fish consumption to, say, leprosy.