Archive for November, 2009

The Cyber Monday Myth

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Hey, I know how the internets work. The idea is that you communicate via your computer. If you want to buy something, you can usually get it shipped in 3 to 5 days and that’s the slow boat. So why would we be rushing to our computers today to buy stuff for Christmas, a holiday which is more than three weeks off? Because of a marketing campaign and the hunger of the mainstream media to write silly, fluff stories about the holiday shopping season, that’s why.

The concept was originated four years ago by, an arm of the National Retail Federation, whose own survey of the trade association’s members found the busiest day for e-commerce was actually December 12th, two weeks later than “Cyber Monday.” Mastercard has also done some research in this area. They found the busiest e-commerce day is December 5th. They also found that only one in ten people said they would actually buy stuff on “Cyber Monday.”

But why would simple facts stop the media from promulgating the myth? Because they just can’t help themselves. I heard this line on News 1 in New York this morning. “It’s Cyber Monday! Shopping at real stores is “so last weekend.” Cute. Hey, mission accomplished!

By the way, one of the best sources on this Cyber Monday business and its true origins is Drew Curtis’ who writes about this in a 2007 book called, “It’s Not News, It’s FARK: How Mass Media Tries to Pass off Crap as News.” The web site makes it its business to detail idiotic moments in the mainstream media. Today, for example you’ll find some hilarious entries documenting that MSNBC is reporting police in Rockville, Maryland have shot Jesus (in this, case, a dog named Jesus) and New is reporting a local church has found success using football to bring people closer to God because football is real and can change people’s lives.

Look, it’s good for the economy- it’s good for all of us if we all shop until we drop no matter where we do it. So please continue to think Cyber Monday really exists and before you go to bed tonight, Google some really neat stuff to buy, make sure to activate the “Autofill” function on your browser for the payment page on your retail web site and go crazy! I’m sure you’ll get a nice thank-you note from the National Retail Federation.

Black Friday- What the Frenzy Says About How We Hurt

November 27, 2009 Leave a comment

It has become an annual ritual; people encamped at retail establishments in the dark hours of the early morning, waiting for stores to open the day after Thanksgiving so they can stampede the aisles looking for deals. Some find this tradition a disturbing example of gross materialism. I don’t see it that way. I view it as a symptom of just how horrendously the economy is affecting us.

Washington Post staff writers, Ylan Q. Mui, Dana A. Hedgpeth and Debbi Wilgoren present some pretty poignant reporting on what’s really going on out there. And hats off to them because getting the Black Friday reporting assignment is usually one of the silliest and predictable stories ever.

I was struck by the fact that a lot of folks are not just buying flat-screen TV’s; a lot of them are out looking for some cost relief on basic necessities. A lot of what drives people to the stores on this day is fear. One woman is quoted as saying, “You can’t take anything for granted. I’m not stupid enough to think I couldn’t lose my job tomorrow.”

And there’s this observation from Great Falls, Virginia resident, Teresa Lanz:

The economic downturn is squeezing salaries and forcing layoffs at the construction company where Lanz’s husband works. He will not be getting a raise or bonus this year, Lanz said, and she has already warned her two daughters that it is going to be a lean Christmas season. “Don’t even make a list,” Lanz said she told them. “Hope for the best, and if you get one thing, that’s great.”

These are anecdotes. Here’s the scope: the National Retail Federation says 134 million people are likely to have gone out shopping by this Sunday. In previous healthier years you might make the argument this is just the beginning of the Christmas buying frenzy.

In this holiday season, I’d make the case that the hunt for the deal is not just about purchasing gifts. They’re out there looking to take care of their families. The desperation shown by businesses that would lead them to offer 30 and 40% discounts is matched only by the anxiety people are feeling that the economic foundation is crumbling beneath their feet.

Does this sound like gross materialism to you? It sounds like survival mode to me.

Amtrak- Riding the Rails

November 25, 2009 Leave a comment

I know this is a bit of an esoteric area for discussion, but I traveled between New York and Washington yesterday for a series of meetings and took the high-speed Acela down and the Regional train back up. The experience has confirmed that I am, most definitely, a first class, or rather, business class- snob. But more importantly, why is this country and our government so loathe to support rail travel? Anybody heard of Europe? It’s a region of the world that is dependent on rail and it works wonderfully.

The distinction between travel on the Acela and the Regional is like the difference between savoring caviar and wolfing down a hot dog. And at least judging by my particular one-way fares, it was only a $26 difference. On the Acela you get air conditioning (perhaps too much of it). On the Regional, you get a packed train and it feels like something approaching body temperature. Suggestion to Amtrak: Add the temperature on the Acela to the temperature on the Regional, divide by two and disperse equally between the two services.

I will say this though (and I’ve been doing it for years); either experience beats the hell out of taking the air shuttles. On the rails, you line up and board. Initially, you’ll see a cute dog sniffing around the aisles on the leash of a heavily armed, uniformed individual. By air, you’re treated like a terrorist, have to take off your shoes, and get busted for carrying too much tooth paste or shampoo. On the trains, you get leg room, don’t even have to buckle up, can stand up and move around, hit the café car and get micro-waved cheeseburgers and a bottle of wine if you want. On the plane, you’re lucky to get a stale bag of pretzels served with a snarl. Ok, on the shuttle service you do get complimentary alcoholic beverages and coffee. But for a round-trip it’s also about $70 or so more expensive. That’s a lot to pay for a Sam Adams.

At least for travel between NY and DC, time is not a factor. Door-to-door it’s about the same. In regard to usage, A LOT of people use Amtrak. New York’s Penn station is, by far, the busiest counting 6.4 million arrivals and departures in 2008. Washington’s Union station handles 4 million.

Plus trains offer alternately dramatic or serene scenery along the way. It is very cool to be chugging (on the Regional) or gliding along (on the Acela) and see Philadelphia’s One Liberty Place, the Mellon Bank Center, and the Verizon Tower suddenly come in to view as you round the bend. Wilmington looks like a comfortable and pleasant little town. Baltimore is a little freaky, especially the burned out row houses as you approach the other Penn Station. And, of course, there’s Union station in Washington which is a superb and breathtaking piece of architecture. The other way, the New Jersey approach to Manhattan is like a scene right out of the Soprano’s. And there’s a moment when out of nowhere, you spot the Empire State building in the distance and realize, wow, man- that’s friggin’ New York!

I know flight attendants and the airline industry at large will hate me for saying this (but then again it feels like they’ve always hated me anyway) – but when traveling the mighty Northeast corridor, nothing beats Amtrak.

They’re Heeeere- Avoiding or Lessening the Holiday Blues

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

It starts this week with an orgy of eating and continues into the next few weeks with endless shopping, parties and travel. It proceeds onto that flurry of gift-giving and receiving that marks Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, etc., etc. and culminates on December 31st with binge-drinking. Ah- the glorious holidays are upon us. Happy, happy, happy.

Well, not so happy for many. Here are a few links that might be helpful in getting you through this time of year:


First of all, if you hadn’t noticed, we’re in a hellish recession and unemployment is at its highest level in 27 years. A lot of folks can’t even afford to have holidays. At the risk of dampening a consumer-based economic recovery- be reasonable with your finances. Here’s a nice piece on whimsical gift-giving by Leslie M.M. Blume, author, journalist and contributing style editor to Huff Post. For those of you with politically conservative tendencies, I would recommend replacing her suggestion on giving an Obama poster with, perhaps one of Sarah Palin’s books.

Don’t Be Lonely

Not everyone is happily (or unhappily) connected with a significant other. That can exacerbate feelings of isolation and loneliness. Here are four easy steps on how not to feel alone from


The average American gains at least five pounds during this time of year. Balance and moderation might be a good thing to consider. Oh- and common sense. Here are ten really great tips from a registered dietician at UCLA. This is not the usual crap. For example, she advises NOT to sign up for weight-loss programs at the start of the New Year because it just sets you up for binge-eating during the holidays thinking you’re going to be shedding tons of fat in just a few weeks. And if you are overweight, this is not the time of year to go on a diet. Part of being reasonable means managing your expectations.


Family reunions are big during the holidays, obviously, and that opens up a whole other can of worms (for those with tight family structures, apologies for making an analogy of your loved ones to worms). Remember, you aren’t 10 years old anymore. You’re an adult now and you get to have your space if you want to. One of the most common tendencies is for people to fall into their old family roles even though it’s been 32 years.

But perhaps more useful than anything is this guide from the Stress Management section of on How to Become Adept at Dealing with Difficult People and Avoiding Conflict. Not that I am suggesting for one second that you have any difficult people in your family.


Then, of course, it all comes crashing to an ignominious end with the onset of the New Year as you pack up the decorations, send the tree off to the landfill, look down in shock at your waist line and snap back into the normal routines of life. Here are five, reasonable and easy tips from on easing through the post-holiday blues.

You see, I want my friends and readers to be happy. Oh, and I want to be happy too. So this, just now, was my gift to you this holiday season. Maybe it will help keep you sane. Expect nothing else, and definitely nothing expensive. Hey, we’re in a recession.

A Merry Rama-hannah-kwanzamas to all! Read more…

Bitching About National Stop Complaining Day

November 20, 2009 1 comment


Really, it’s not that bad an idea and it does appear to have support out there; a day in which we just stop ourselves and others from bitching.  Kind of like a day riding the Quiet Car on the Acela.  Missouri Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver has sent out a letter soliciting support from colleagues to designate the day before Thanksgiving as Complaint-Free Wednesday.

Ironically, conservative media wiz, Andrew Breitbart and his Big Government web site report this story in a rather bitchy way.  They clearly will not be getting with the program if this bill becomes law.  They don’t like the idea, think it’s an example of Congressional idiocy and argue the times are too difficult to waste effort on such ridiculous declarations.

I think Congressman Cleaver’s letter is actually rather charming.  Here are some excerpts from the copy Big Government published:

From time to time, we all experience anxiety, frustration, stress, and regret. And often, we respond to these feelings with a criticism or a complaint. Regrettably, complaining keeps people stuck on current problems, inhibiting them from thinking constructively to find solutions. Research has also shown that complaining can be harmful to one’s emotional and physical health; relationships; and can limit professional career success.

Well, yeah, ok, that’s not so bad.

In the spirit of hope, optimism and positivity, and in honor of its efforts to encourage people to look forward, not backward, the group a Complaint Free World is to be recognized. A Complaint Free World’s goal, in fact, is to motivate 1% of the global population (about 60 million people) to become complaint free.

Setting aside that I don’t think “positivity” is actually a word (spell-checker is totally freaking out over it); this seems a fairly modest goal- just one in a hundred people not bitching.   The letter goes on to point out that the resolution is revenue neutral and is a good way of teeing up Thanksgiving; you go from being not bitchy to being grateful.

A Google search of “Stop Complaining” yields the following results: is selling A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted. urges people to, uh, sign a petition.  It’s frankly, just a tad angry:

If you are tired of: polotics-vegans-environmentallists-colleages-bosses-minorities-nascar fans-sports-paris hilton-feminists-your local mayor-gay rights-drugs-cops-video games-peta-disney-stupid lawsuits-abnormally obese people-maricle diets-mcdonalds-parents-in-laws, then sign here and shut them up! has an identity crisis; it republishes the scathing Big Government article criticizing Complaint Free Wednesday, followed by another Google entry dating back to August in which the same website promotes “best tips on how to stop complaining and criticizing.”

And my personal favorite, from, is an article headlined: Crybaby Doctors Want Patients to Stop Complaining. Apparently doctors are making people sign contracts that prohibit their patients from making snarky comments on-line.  If true, it seems evident that even Doctors are joining the stop bitching movement.

If not this year, possibly next year, but I think it is clear- the stop-bitching revolution is gathering serious momentum.   And it would seem only right that the Friday after Thanksgiving be designated National Complaint Day.  Sort of fitting for Black Friday, don’t you think?  After all that not complaining/being grateful stuff we get to vent our gathering rage in one gigantic, national and communal bitch-fest!

Ode to New York

November 19, 2009 2 comments

New York City 1932

Apologies to those of you who could care less about Gotham, but I feel the need to wax poetic about the sights and sounds and stories of one of the most fascinating cities on earth.  There have been so many films, TV shows, songs, poems, and books written with New York City as a backdrop that it’s nearly impossible to not feel like you’re walking around on some kind of a movie set when you make your way around this town.

Today for example, I grabbed the B train to Rockefeller Center.  The first thing you see as you emerge from the subway station is Radio City Music Hall.  The history and tradition of that place; the precision dance-kicking, the famous Christmas shows, the myriad events that occur in there that people don’t even know about, from political debates and movie debuts to big awards shows.

Then you turn the corner and there’s Rockefeller Center.  They’ve put up the skating rink already but the floods of Christmas tourists aren’t here yet so you can actually see the first folks to strap on the skates and go for a spin on the ice.   I walked a few more blocks and hit the intersection of 49th and Lexington, hung a right, and there, on display in all its architectural majesty was the looming presence of the Chrysler building, once the tallest skyscraper in the city until the Empire State building was constructed.  And here’s a real weird fact I bet you never knew.  That building was once owned by former Washington Redskins owner, Jack Kent Cooke.  Most of you wouldn’t care, but as a former Washingtonian and as a current long-suffering ‘Skins fan, I think that’s kind of cool.  Maybe Daniel Snyder should buy it for luck.

A couple more blocks and I passed the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.  How many Presidents and Kings and Queens have slept in that storied establishment?  Another block down and you’re on Madison Avenue.  You look north and see the canyons of high-rise buildings that stand tall like monuments to the nation’s advertising industry.  How many familiar jingles, TV ads and marketing campaigns were born on that street?

But New York is more than physical, iconic locales.  It’s also about people.  If you look for them, or sometimes just flat run into them, there are thousands of tender moments that take place here on a daily basis.

I’ll never forget crossing a street on the Upper West Side about a year ago and seeing what must have been a 95-year-old woman with a shock of white hair struggling to get her grocery cart up the curb.  I bent down and lifted it up for her and put it onto the sidewalk.  She said nothing but did give me the warmest smile I think I have ever seen.  I noticed her incredibly deep blue eyes and for a second, I saw 60 years drop off her face and imagined what a beautiful young woman she had probably been at one time.

This week, while rushing to an appointment, I passed a black nanny pushing a cute little white boy in a stroller.  She stopped in front of an apartment building that had a beautiful flower-bed growing around a tree.  She picked one of those bright, purple flowers and held it in front of the little boy’s gleaming eyes.  And he smiled.  Kind of like the 95 year old lady did on the Upper West side a year before.

My mother and father once lived in New York City.  They’re gone now but I think of their time spent here and that I am walking the same streets they walked and seeing many of the same sights they saw.  I am certain they also experienced many of the same moments of tenderness and acts of human kindness.  They probably felt the same awe at the bigness and power of the skyscrapers and the famous streets.  They probably marveled as do I, that this place is home to so many rich and poor and black and brown and white; that you can hear five different languages being spoken as you walk down one city block.

When I look at this place through their eyes and think of the smiles of babies and old ladies, I realize that this is the real magic of New York City-  it is completely and utterly eternal.

The Disconnect Between Wall Street, Banks and the People

November 17, 2009 1 comment

There is a rapidly growing chasm between money-people and, well, the rest of us.  Whether it’s bailed-out banks or rescued Wall Street firms, there is palpable resentment about what they did to get us in the mess we’re in, how they were saved with taxpayer money, and how they seem to not really give a hoot about what anybody in America is going through as the Great Recession continues pummeling most of us.’s Susan Antilla makes the point and adds that most Americans don’t consider that Wall Street folks really contribute much that’s meaningful to society.  She says she’s never seen such widespread anger in all her 14 years as a Bloomberg columnist.

I can confirm it anecdotally.  I hear it in taxi cabs, cocktail conversations, heck, I even heard it in the “Wall Street Sucks!” chants at the recent Yankee victory parade where people were supposed to be, like, happy.  And of course, Wall Street couldn’t care less:

Stewart Ewen, a Hunter College professor who writes on contemporary culture, tells me his guess is that Wall Street owns the decision makers and doesn’t care about the rest.

Look, I’m really thrilled the Dow is taking off and that my 401k accounts are staging a comeback.   But, wow, that really is quite the disconnect when 10.2% of Americans are out of work and another 7% have given up looking and aren’t even counted in the official figures anymore. The other 83% live in fear it’ll happen to them.

And what’s with the 25%-30% interest rates on credit cards these days?  Apparently, banks are squeezing what they can before new laws go into effect in February that limit their unilateral price hikes.  Jennifer Waters explains in this Marketwatch piece.

And let’s not forget this screed from Ann Minch, the California woman who launched a one-person boycott of Bank of America when after 14 years as a loyal customer and never having missed a single payment, saw her annual credit-card interest rate suddenly climb to 30%.   Her You Tube declaration is at 479,941 views and counting as of last night.

Something is afoot.  Whether it gets effectively organized is another matter.   A few thousand demonstrators did show up in Chicago at a meeting of the American Banker’s Association in late October.  But whether the protests continue or not, it is undeniable that a vast resentment against the money-people covers the landscape as never before…and seems to be falling on deaf ears.