The Spoken Word

Pass the Matzoh, Please! The Timeless Tradition of Live Storytelling.

On the second day of Passover, I thought I would dust this off from the archives (April 14, 2009) and share it again.  As with the seder, itself, the post is timeless. 

The other night I attended a marathon seder… hmmmm, that’s actually a redundant phrase as anyone who has perused a 95 page Hagaddah that tells the history of a 6,000 year old people may have observed. In any case, this seder, which was sponsored by a group called Romemu and attended by 150 people, ran from 6:30-10:30pm – followed by an additional hour of chatting with the people at my table whom I had not met before that day but with whom I had bonded through bitter herbs, plagues, songs, poems, questions, meditation and gefilte fish.

Well, a little over three hours into the seder – after I had accidentally drenched our tablecloth with matzoh ball soup and inadvertently set on fire two plastic bowls by placing them too close to the tea lights on the table – I started to get a little distracted. Reflecting on the many seders I have attended, I began to jot down thoughts for a blog post about the cultural, developmental and educational aspects of the holiday’s practices.

A seder – which means order – not only tells the story of Moses and the escape of the Jews from Egypt, but teaches all kinds of values and skills that are inherent elements of the Jewish culture. One of these is discipline and patience, as it can take many hours of deprivation and light symbolic snacking before you get to the meal. Until then, you must subsist on horseradish, wine, a little bit of matzoh and other allegorical items.

The seder also shines a light on the youngest members of the family, requiring them to read aloud and, in the case of the youngest child, to ask the famous four questions. With respect to this, I observed that I felt a commonality with the other “youngest children” at my table. All of us adults, all of us having experienced that unique responsibility. (They hated it; I loved it.) This, in fact, led me to observe that the seder reinforces the birth order.

In addition to learning to speak in public, young people at the seder learn to ask questions. To challenge, question, discuss and analyze. (Does the combination of public speaking and questioning shed a light on the prevalence of Jewish comedians?)

Through the search for the Afikomen, the children learn about work and reward and, in some cases, they learn about the art of negotiation as they determine the payment they are willing to accept in return for the matzoh they now hold hostage.

As I jotted down thoughts in and among the poems and prayers of my seder booklet, one of my table-mates took out a small notebook and began to write. Intrigued, I asked to see what he had written. It was not a blog but a poem. This is what he wrote:

Between God and soul lies a plan that is vast
Deserts seem small
Oceans like ponds
This space vast, it must be passed

With prayer given to the all that is
Joyous singing
Quiet thought
Actions speak loud, to do good is bliss

Smiles and laughs and breathing in deep
Ears that are open
Eyes that can see
Running and jumping, faith calls for blind leaps

The gap isn’t true
There’s no space between
We are all connected
By smiles and by seams.

(Written by Douglas Karson, April 9, 2009)

Social Media Tidbits I

Visit me here for social media tidbits I find worthy of sharing.  Share with me your thoughts.

Do You “Like” Me?  Do You Really “Like” Me?

Much of both Advertising Week and OMMA Global was spent talking about the importance of being “Liked,” as in the Facebook “Like” functionality.  The conclusion was that (a) consumers don’t hate advertising, they hate bad advertising… (b) if you keep it under control, it can be powerful (c) consumers DO want to have relationships with brands they care about – as well as those who offer them something for being their “friend.”  So, ironically, today’s eMarketer article includes two charts about consumers attitudes towards letting brands/advertisers/companies into their Facebook worlds:


We’ll move now to a personal admonition – things individuals should consider before posting on their social networking site (69% of prospective employers have rejected a candidate based on something posted on a social networking site).  Below, we get into what organizations should do at a minimum in social media – to avoid regrets.

The chart below shows the huge draw Facebook has on our time.  Far and away higher than any other U.S. Web Brands in terms of total minutes.  I was intrigued by the Facebook phenomenon back when I joined in early 2006  (as one of 7.5 MM unique users) – and suggested my media client take a serious look at it.  At the time, Facebook was just opening up beyond college students.  Here are some bullet points I put in my report in February 2006:


  • Social network site for college & university students
  • Founded by Mark Zuckerberg; raised $500,000 from Peter Thiel in angel round
  • Raised $12.2MM from Accel partners in April 2005 (valuation of $100MM)
  • Began allowing high school students to join September 2, 2005: High school and college networks are kept separate.  There are 20K U.S. high schools.
Membership (info as of September 2005)
  • Must have .edu email address to join
  • Supports 1,120 colleges – 56% (Source: Scott Osman, 2/10/06 – up from 880)
  • 85% of students in supported colleges have a profile
  • 7.5MM unique users in January
  • 60% of members log in daily; 85% at least weekly; 93% at least monthly
  • Recent alums are maintaining same log in rates
  • Users can add favorite music, books, movies, quotes, etc. and see others who share same interests; can also form and/or join groups
  • Additional functionality: events, messages
Who knew!

Here’s an interesting post from ClickZ by Heidi Cohen:

What’s Your Social Media Marketing IQ?

As you make your 2012 marketing plans, consider what you need to do to take your social media marketing to the next level. To ensure your firm’s maximizing its social media effectiveness, now’s the time to check your organization’s social media marketing IQ.

Here are 30 questions to help determine your firm’s social media marketing IQ. These questions will help you assess where your organization is in terms of social media marketing maturity and where you may need to improve effectiveness. Depending on where your organization is along the social media adoptioncurve, some of these questions can help you develop plans going forward.


  1. Do you have brand monitoring and/or other analytics in place? If you don’t have the budget for professional social media monitoring, use free options such as Google Alerts, Twitter Search, and Google Analytics.
  2. Are you analyzing the information collected?
  3. Are you taking action where appropriate based on your brand monitoring? Remember, about 2 percent of the comments require any company interaction.

Social Media Guidelines

  1. Do you have social media guidelines for how employees should represent themselves and what they can say?
  2. Do you have guidelines for what’s acceptable for customers and the public to contribute on your organization’s website, blog, and/or forum? This doesn’t mean you can delete negative comments! Customers will say whatever they want on their own and third-party social media networks where you have no control.
  3. Do you have a crisis management plan? If so, do you review it regularly to ensure it’s up to date and employees know what to do? If not, here’s help to develop one.


  1. Do you have goals for your social media marketing? This is a critical first step of any marketing strategy. Don’t think it’s just a test and we’ll figure it out later. If it works, you’ll need to make a case for more resources.
  2. Are your social media marketing goals related to your overall business objectives? This is a must for any marketing plans!
  3. Is your social media marketing driving revenues? For many businesses, this is a sign of social media maturity.


  1. Does senior management buy into social media as part of your marketing and business plans? Recognize this can be difficult to achieve. Research shows leadership at one in three businesses supports social media marketing after three years.
  2. If management doesn’t buy into social media marketing, are you bringing them up to speed? Chances are that you need to show how it drives results associated with business goals.
  3. Are you expanding buy-in beyond senior management? Think customer service, sales, product management, human resources, investor relations, and other organizational departments.

Social Media Marketing Strategies

  1. Do you have a social media marketing strategy? What do you want to accomplish?
  2. Are your social media marketing strategies integrated with your overall marketing plans?
  3. Are employees monitoring social media marketing implementation(s)? Customers will use every point of contact to reach a human being.
  4. Are you promoting your social media marketing efforts? To drive customers and the public to your social media marketing, you must continually promote it. Use internal media.
  5. Do you make it easy for social media participants to share your content? Think social sharing including Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
  6. Do you have tailored call-to-action and tracking mechanisms integrated into your social media marketing efforts?Prospects and customers need to be guided through your sales process.

Social Media Marketing Content

  1. Are you creating tailored content for your social media marketing initiatives? Since social media thrives on content, ensure your social media efforts have the fuel they need.
  2. Have you created a variety of content formats?
  3. Does your content support every stage of the purchase process? The information consumers need may cut across your organization. To support these efforts, use an editorial calendar and marketing personas.
  4. Is your social media-related content integrated into your search optimization efforts?

Social Media Marketing Budget

  1. Do you have a dedicated social media marketing budget? Social media marketing isn’t free! You can’t count on having a robust social media marketing strategy without financial and headcount resources. If you don’t have a dedicated budget, can you leverage other resources or hide your social media marketing budget?
  2. Do you have headcount dedicated to your social media marketing efforts? If not, are social media marketing activities incorporated into specific employees’ job descriptions? If no one’s required to do the work, it won’t happen.
  3. Do you have social media training to ensure employees understand how to engage on social media platforms and are consistent in how they represent your organization? Many firms overlook this important factor.
  4. Do you have a social media contingency plan to ensure you have personnel involved and monitoring social media 24/7?What happens if your social media manager’s sick or unavailable and there’s a problem?


  1. Do you have established metrics to track social media marketing efforts back to marketing and/or business objectives?This is best done when you’re planning your strategy.
  2. Do your metrics include the full purchase process not just the last marketing touched? Social media can influence customers before you realize they’re shopping and after they’ve bought your product or service.
  3. Do your social media metrics go beyond marketing? Think broadly across your business such as customer service.
  4. Are you measuring the ROI of your social media marketing? Understand it takes time to have a well-integrated social media marketing strategy where you can measure your investment and results accurately. Short-term, determine whether your social media marketing contributes to achieving your business goals.

Social media marketing is a growing part of every marketer’s plans and budget. Regardless of where you are on the social media marketing continuum, you must assess the effectiveness of what you’re currently doing and implement strategies to enhance your results.

‘Tis the Season of the Webinar (and Conference)

Autumn is here, and  with it, a plethora of webinars, seminars and conference.  My dance card is filling up.  Here are some recent and upcoming events:


A Millennial Perspective  on Diversity & Multiculturalism” – American Advertising Federation – November 9th, 2011 – various locations throughout the country


The State of Mobile Commerce – Are You Meeting Your Customers’ Mobile Experience Expecations? – webinar – November 2nd, 2011 – NYC

Featured speakers, Sucharita Mulpuru, Vice President, Principal Analyst from independent research firm Forrester Research, Inc., and Compuware APM CTO, Steve Tack discussing:

  • The current state of mobile commerce and key mobile trends
  • Why tablet owners are a key component of mobile success
  • Common mistakes that prohibit companies from capitalizing on the mobile opportunity
  • Best practices to deliver quality mobile web and application experiences to smartphone and tablet users
To view the webcast slides, click here


Advertising Week NYC – October 3-7th, 2011

Advertising Week Videos available HERE.

Future of Media Forum – October 5, 2011

MediaPost’s Future of Media Forum brings to life MEDIA magazine’s annual “Future of Media” issue by gathering together prominent executives and intellectuals from all facets of media to discuss, debate and opine about the Media Industry’s future. This intriguing roundtable discussion — moderated each year by a noted industry journalist — will take place October 5th during Advertising Week at New York University’s Kimmel Center, hosted by the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

How to Effectively Leverage Customer Insight to Deliver a Superior Multichannel Customer Experience, October 13, 2011

By the American Marketing Association (AMA): “Voice of the Customer is not just about surveys anymore.  Customers are interacting with your brand through multiple channels including the website, retail store, contact center and even social media. You have to understand all of these multichannel interactions collectively to develop a complete Voice of the Customer.  Join us on this webcast and learn how you can easily gather and leverage data from all customer touch points to deliver a superior multichannel customer experience.

Learn how you can:

  • Collect real-time customer insight across channels
  • Discover and act upon emerging customer trends
  • Deliver a more personal and targeted customer experience
  • Increase customer loyalty and reduce churn”

The World Technology Summit and Awards, October 25-26th

“On October 25th and 26th, 2011, at the TIME Conference Center in New York City, many of the most innovative people and organizations in the science and technology world will come together for an historic gathering – the 2011 World Technology Summit & Awards (the tenth incarnation) – to celebrate each other’s accomplishments; to explore what is imminent, possible, and important in and around emerging technologies; and to create the kinds of serendipitous relationships that create the future.

The majority of Summit participants are either current WTN members (primarily winners/finalists from previous World Technology Awards cycles, as selected by their peers as those doing the innovative work of “the greatest likely long-term significance”) or 2011 World Technology Award nominees. A combination of keynote talks, panel discussions, and breakout sessions… and potentially-career-altering-networking opportunities over two days concluding with a gala black-tie Awards ceremony on the second night held at the United Nations.”

How IP Geolocation Can Turn Your Local Marketing On – webinar – September 28th, 2011

“It’s a proven fact that located messages perform better overall but there is a discrepancy when it comes to online ads.  Currently, online CPSs are far below their offline counterparts (TV, radio, direct mail), and this correlates to the fact that half of all advertising is bought at the local level but there is no scalable way to reach consumers locally online.  For brands, targeting consumers locally is an essential and effective part of marketing as 80% of consumers’ disposable income is spent on businesses within 10 miles of their homes.

Advertising networks and online properties are boosting efforts to engage in increasingly local campaigns as clients are requesting geographically targeted ads.  IP intelligence provides the ability for super-niche targeting, allowing brands to create/provide the most relevant and engaging adds as it provides unique information about web browsers.  This increases marketers’ ability to reach their customers by targeting both business type, and consumer location, IP intelligence provides geographic, demographic and business information so that brands can effectively reach customers online the way direct mail and billboard ads are used to work offline.  Marketers will be able to zero in on trends, demographic information and cultural aspects to best target consumers.

Key learning points that audience members will take away from this webcast are: What is the need for geolocation targeting?  What are the statistics of geolcation effectiveness on advertising?  ROI?  What are some marketing strategies that I can implement around IP intelligence?

Speakers: Miten Sampat, VP of Product Strategy, Quova.  Steven Cook, CMO, Co-CEO, i.e., healthcare.  Alli Libb, Moderator, AMA.”

OMMA Global – September 26-27th, 2011

Advertising Week 2011 Key Themes

Matt Scheckner of Advertising Week begins each panel with the following comment: people always ask what is the theme of Advertising Week this year.  And his answer is that there is not a specific theme.  They identify the themes people care about the most and then find the smartest people to discuss those areas of interest.

So… what are the recurring themes that have bubbled to the top?  Below is my iterative stab at it.  Please share your suggestions, edits, corrections and comments:

1. Social, Social, Social – at least as many social talks as mobile talks.

– Social is a double edged sword.  You have less control over it than we delude ourselves into thinking.  If your product is not good, social will hurt more than it will help.

– Must use social as a listening post – and react quickly: “Fail fast.”  Own up to mistakes, e.g., Domino’s and Virgin.  Don’t take someone on who has a large social following… (Maytag)

2. Facebook, Facebook, Facebook

– “Everyone is on Facebook,” Nick Sheth, Gap Inc.

Walmart has nearly 10 million fans. Coca Cola has 34.5 million.

– The open graph, the timeline and the new ad formats (sponsored stories) that leverage the opinions of your facebook friends. (What, by the way, is Facebook doing to educate its actual mainstream users about these innovations.)

– Do consumers want to have relationships with their favorite brands on Facebook?  Answer seems to be, sure.  I think the key is the right balance between push and pull.  I’m a bit concerned that brands might become to the Facebook community as adults are to kids.  Once too many of them are on the platform, the people may leave… will we kill the golden goose?  It’s a delicate balance.

3. Paid, Earned, Owned

– Separate from this conference, Chris Lubin of Attention USA, added a fourth adjective to this marketing triumvirate: shared.  In a recent blog post, he wrote:  “As social media matures, and audiences grow within branded environments, shared media gains importance. The most efficient way to build audience in social media is to co-opt the audience of a partner or like-minded brand—share. So, smart brands are using social channels to barter exposure, and cross-promote.”

4. Content Creation

– Brand as Content – Content as Brand: Marketers have (or must) become content creators

– People don’t hate advertising, they hate bad advertising.

– That’s an opportunity for agencies

– Deep dive into what Coke has and is doing – beginning with the revolutionary Polar Bear campaign (remember that!)

5. Metrics (and Data)

– Measure it. CMOs continue to be increasingly accountable for ROI, even display ads on in-store behavior

– The census.  What is this data telling us, particularly about cultural diversity and influence.  50 million Hispanics.  (Does this include “undocumented?” I imagine it does.)

– Continued debate and discussion around attribution.

– “A like, a friend, a follower.. a click” what is that worth to a brand?

– The “Data Management Platform,” aka DMP

6. The Funnel (aka Path to Purchase and Consumer Decision Journey)

– The traditional funnel is outdated.  However, much of the terminology has survived and/or been incorporated to the new, bright shiny (Mustard colored) circular tubes.   There is some consensus about the fact that the process is no longer linear but more of a circular conversation.

– However, the term “funnel” as well as “top” and “bottom” of funnel and stages such as awareness, consideration, acquisition were used frequently, particularly by CMOs.  However… the funnel must include advocacy.  (Social, social, social)  And, the funnel is iterative and, well, free flow.

7. Search:

– Google, Google, Google.

– Retargeting.  Performance display.  Auctions.

8. Big, big, bigger

– Most speakers came from or service large advertisers.  Not a lot of insight into how to get started with social, etc. if you’re small.

9. Digital Dollars

– Dollars are shifting into digital – because that’s where the audience is.  But… the livingroom, big screen experience is not going away, particularly with smart/connected TVs

– We’re hearing numbers like 20%, 40%, majority of dollars being spent on non-traditional/digital media including mobile, etc.  (See L’Oreal stats at end of post)

– Media and content providers finding that more of their content is being consumed wirelessly than wired (MLB)

– Yet… prices up 10% during TV upfront despite ratings declines

10. Bright Shiny Objects

– There needs to be a drinking game at these conferences where everyone drinks when they hear this phrase

– Oh, and also a drinking game about references to “Mad Men.”

11. Targeting (and Networks)

– Retargeting, cookie-ing, digital ad trading, real time bidding (RTB).  (These terms and tools seem to have supplanted behavioral advertising; I don’t recall hearing that term mentioned at all)

– Serving ads that are relevant to the consumer

– Dynamic ad insertion – available online – that means the ads are dynamically inserted when the user requests the page so it’s really, really targeted

– The Yahoo!, aol, Microsoft “three-way” designed to give Google a run for its ad network money

– “Data is changing our marketing lives.” – MicroStrategy executive

12. Youth, Hispanics and Moms

– Youth: Do we know how to connect with this savvy group?

– Hispanics: 50 million, according to current census, and many are not assimilating because they don’t have to, e.g., language.  Large families, heavy media users, especially mobile.  Univision is a top 5 network.  Can’t afford to ignore them.

– Moms: How to reach them?  They are not all the same…


9. Digital Dollars at L’Oreal:

“After doubling U.S. digital spending in 2010, L’Oreal will spend as much on digital here this year as over the prior two years combined, Mr. Speichert said. That will bring digital to around 10% of L’Oreal’s overall advertising outlay in the U.S., he said. Although he declined to detail spending levels in dollar terms, Mr. Speichert said L’Oreal’s measured spending here was $1 billion last year, up about 25% from the prior year.  L’Oreal is increasing its overall outlay rather than raiding other budgets to fund digital growth, he added.”

The Reverend Peter J. Gomes

I learned today of the passing of the Reverend Peter J. Gomes at the age of 68.

I sang in the University Choir and consider Peter Gomes to be a major part of my Harvard experience.  Before I started my freshman year, my brother told me that one thing I must do while there is attend a sermon by the Reverend Gomes.  Well, I had the pleasure of hearing his sermons every Sunday and of getting to know him personally through seminars, personal meetings and his afternoon gatherings to enjoy sherry, conversation and companionship.

I last saw him when he spoke about his newest book a few years ago.  Around that time he also appeared on The Colbert Report and, as you might expect, held his own quite well!  I am deeply, deeply saddened.  I can hear his voice booming in my head (“Karen, it’s so gooood to see you.”) and will never forget it or him.

Why Teach? This Is Why.

In 2003, I taught a number of classes at the Katherine Gibbs School of New York. These included Advertising, Sales, Finance, Economics and Mathematics. Having attended college and graduate school with some of the hardest working, most highly motivated, most competitive students in the world, and having just taught a class at the prestigious Stern School at NYU, it was a culture shock to encounter a classroom of students whose attitude towards school was, for many, jaded, wary and frustrated.

While virtually all of my classmates and students at Harvard, Wharton and NYU saw their attendance at these schools as part of an educational plan created years ago and never questioned, my Gibbs students had graduated high school but had not gone on to college. Enrolling at Gibbs was, for them, a first step towards getting a college degree, or a way to actualize a dream to own their own business, “become a CEO,” create a line of licensed products, or simply move out of their role at the checkout counter of a retail chain.

Teaching these classes – particularly the large ones – was often frustrating and surprising. There was cheating, lying, real or forged doctors’ notes for missed classes, no-shows for exams, and in-class cell phone usage, talking and eating to contend with. In addition, there were competing drains on their time – families, work, and, in one case, an unwanted pregnancy. But, as many teachers will tell you, among the frustrations, there were also gems. Students whose lives were truly touched by their interaction with me and my enthusiasm and commitment. Students that I exposed to experiences that were commonplace to me but first-time opportunities for them – such as seeing a video of a ballet dancer (I don’t remember the context) or even an office environment. And many were affected by the opportunity I offered them to excel – without cheating.

At NYU, I often drilled students with practice questions for exams. I made a game out of it. During these Jeopardy review sessions, I would go around the room, presenting each student with exam-type questions. I would continue to feed each student questions until they got one wrong. Then I would ask the rest of the class to try to answer the problem and teach the topic to the rest of the class. If no one could adequately explain the answer, I would take some time to review that topic – therefore pinpointing the subjects that needed the most explanation. And, of course, there was candy involved, thanks to the generous budget of the Marketing Department.

At Gibbs, I would drill a student until he or she got the question RIGHT, keep score and reward the high scorers with magazines and other loot from my publishing jobs. And for the Gibbs students, not only were they given the questions in advance in the form of problem sets but ALL the exam questions came from these problem sets. So if they mastered the problem sets, they could master the exam. In fact, for my first class, the largest, I provided the actual exam in advance. Students had a direct roadmap to acing the exam (some with a 100% score) if they so desired. Many did not, which was disappointing and somewhat perplexing, but some did, which was a confidence-boosting, elation-creating and often first-time accomplishment for the student, one that did not come from cheating but from preparation.

Another opportunity I offered for success was extra credit. Seeking out and taking advantage of extra credit was a no-brainer for me – a habit my father had instilled in me at a young age. It still shocks me that there were students at both NYU and Gibbs that did not answer extra credit questions on exams – particularly because they were usually giveaways in which it was hard to give a wrong answer.

Well, in my current endeavor to digitize all paper in my apartment – a daunting task that initially freed up a lot of shelf space in my closet that is now populated by shoe boxes, making me wonder whether my purchase of a high-end scanner was an enabler or gateway for shoe purchases. But I digress. The point of this 6am entry is to share with you some of the interesting and inspirational responses I received from my students to these extra credit questions and to the questions I asked at the beginning of the semester in an effort to get to know the students and have them identify a goal towards which they were working.

Without further ado, here is a sampling – as written including spelling. But one last caveat, these papers do not include the questions, so I will have to surmise them from the answers.

1) What did you learn from this class and how will it help you professionally?

“I have definitely learned that listening skills are important. In the past, I was a bad listener. I would interrupt a relative or a friend when they are in the middle of their sentence. And at the job, I definitely did evaluative listening because I tried to listen but did not try to understand. Since I started my “Principles of Sales” class, I am practicing active listening; I must say that it is difficult, but it will get easier with practice.

Professor, I was not practicing active listening when you told the class about the elevator [I pointed out that two bells means the elevator is going down, one bell equals going up], but I will try to remember. I would also like to tell you that you have truly been a great influence on me. You have patience and tolerance and therefore, empathy. This I have also learnt in this class.

This will help me in my professional life because I want to have a sales career; I am in a sales career, and I will need to practice active listening so not only will I hear the words of my customers or prospects but I will also feel their emotions and sence their thoughts. I will be aware. This will help me personally because now I wouldn’t get yelled at by my relatives and friends for interrupting them.”

“From this class I have learnt to deal with customers in a better manner and how to explain the feature benefit and the advantage. I also understand what is takes to be a good salesperson not only wanting to make money but to satisfy the customers with what they need.”

“Before I took this class, marketing is very abstractive. For business, most important things are production and selling. Those are what I have though before I took this class. But I have learned selling is a part of marketing and we can not separate marketing from any business.”

More Mortgage Meltdown: Noteworthy Nuggets from a Talk by Whitney Tilson

I’ve just attended a very interesting lunchtime talk at the New York Society for Security Analysts (NYSSA) and found the speaker not only smart, knowledgeable, informative and interesting but also a source for a number of pithy statements worth sharing. Below are some of my key takeaways and notations:

– The average annual income is currently in the low $40Ks, up from the low $30Ks in the 1990s (I had thought it was $55,000 back in 2005).

– At the peak of the housing bubble, a consumer could borrow 9 times his or her income, so long as the money was going to buy a house (or home), of course. (I included “home” because condos and coops were the first to default.)

– At the peak of the housing bubble, the requirement to demonstrate your income went away. “Literally, if you had a pulse, you could get a mortgage of several hundred thousand dollars.”

– Prior to the bubble, 2% a year was the worst increase in home values. The change is now SIGNIFICANTLY negative.

– Mortgage resets are what started the surge of defaults. Following the first few years of “teaser” interest rates, mortgage payments reset to much higher rates. If a home owner couldn’t refinance anymore, he or she would default. As home values fell, consumers had trouble refinancing.

– An audience-member from Britain reported that 40% of Americans “in this non-socialist country” do not pay taxes – as part of a question to Whitney during Q&A.

– “Wells Fargo is the Walmart of Banking…”

– “If Wells Fargo is the Walmart of Banking, Citibank is the K-Mart of Banking.”

– Wells Fargo securities are likely to double in 4-5 years. (Don’t quote me, i.e., Karen, on this.)

– The Borders Group hit 35 cents at its low and reached $3.53 today – a ten-fold increase. (What does that say about the outlook of traditional booksellers and/or Borders’ preparation for the digital world – there, I got my allusion to new media in.)

– Mortgages were the largest debt market at the peak of the bubble. Everyone (bankers) wanted in.

– The housing bubble was much bigger than the Internet bubble.

– High end investment bankers, e.g., Merrill Lynch – and particularly CEOs and those in Fixed Income (i.e., securitized loans) were making multi-multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses. 2,000 people were sharing an enormous bonus pool. The average was $5MM, and I-Bank CEOs were earning $35MM a year. There was no way they were going to point out the dangers (and lack of sustainability) of what was going on: “They’re gonna ride this horse until it keels over!” (That was one of my FAVORITE quotes from the talk.)

– California accounts for 10% of homes, 33% of foreclosures and 43% of home value. (43%!!! Seriously? Did I hear him correctly? That’s out of control.)

– GDP is made up of Consumer Spending, Corporate (Business) Spending and Government Spending. (Wow, I remember those macro-economic equations – good old friends). The ratio is 70:10:20. That is the logic behind the stimulus spending, to make up in some way for the lack of consumer and corporate spending. Saving rates are way up. (As Jeff Sachs said when he spoke at the Harvard Club, we want people to spend – need it now – but we want people to save – personal debt, i.e., over-spending or deficit spending, is what fueled the fire.)

– Sales of new homes were up last quarter – that’s because home builders were cutting prices on new homes to get rid of inventory: “Home builders dumping homes are not a green shoot in my opinion.” (I like the “green shoot” terminology.”

– “Jim Cramer [who says we have hit bottom] is right, but about a year too early.” We are halfway through total losses. (Oy Vey.)

And so it goes. Excellent talk.

The First Nerd President of the Modern Era

As those of you who follow my blog regularly – and I know there are at least five of you… well, at least two… gee, it could be as many as eight-five… but I digress.

Those of you who follow my blog know that one of my favorite means of consuming information and news is the podcast – a medium I enjoy as I travel around the city via subway, bus, and foot – saving me from doing no fewer than two things at a time.

I partake of all kinds of podcasts: AdAge 3 minute casts, Cynthia Turner In Your Ear Cynopses, NYT Front Page, etc. It’s like the Cliff Notes of news, except that I don’t have to know how to read.

Well, one of the podcasts on my top-ten lineup is “Green 960 – Rachel Maddow,” and this afternoon, I had the good fortune of having a business meeting on the east side of Central Park, which compelled me to walk home through the Park. And, hence, I had the opportunity to hear Maddow’s rebroadcast of John Hodgman’s talk at the Radio and TV Correspondent’s Dinner last week.

Barack Obama, with a photo of himself in front of a Superman statue, and a deep knowledge of Star Trek salutes and facts, seems to be the first nerd president. A nerd president being to a jock president what a blogger is to a radio talk show host, gravitating toward “complexity and bookish rumination” rather than “gut instinct, intense confidence and surety.” But yet, he plays sports. And not just bowling, but basketball – making Mr. Hodgman’s assessment of the president somewhat more complicated. After spending four days in deeply red country as a supremely ill-qualified defender of liberal politics, this was a refreshing return to the familiar territory of satirical blue humor – not to mention a quite comfortable temperature in the 80s rather than the high 90s.

But let’s get back to safer territory – for example, Hodgman’s direct allusion to social media. Within his overview of the nerd culture, he notes that it has come to pass that “the state of Iran is somehow deeply entwined with the sleep schedule of the programmers of Twitter and Youtube.” Phew.

And with that, I hereby share with you Hodgman’s quite smart, quite witty, dare I say thought provoking talk at the TV and Radio Correspondent’s Dinner. Live long, live hands-free, and prosper: