Business Bytes podcast: The dilemma of entrepreneur BenTzion Davis

There are a billion new products in the Naked City, but none have the back story of “The Shabbos Safe Hotplate.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews like electronics technician BenTzion Davis take the Sabbath, which they call “Shabbos” or “Shabbat”,  very seriously.   Work is not permitted on the day God rested after creating the world.   That includes cooking, which makes preparing the family Sabbath meal a challenge for Orthodox families.  Many use hotplates to keep their food warm for hours, and sometimes days when celebrating some festivals.    This is a huge potential fire hazard.  In fact, a hotplate fire killed seven children in Brooklyn, New York earlier this year.

Davis, a convert to Judaism who grew up on a Colorado ranch,  is an electronics technician who has always tinkered with stuff.  He has repaired hotplates for friends and many asked him to recommend one for them to buy.   Unfortunately,  Davis found none to his liking, which is why he decided to build one of his own.      Listen to my podcast “Business Bytes” (linked below) for the details of Davis’ innovative design, which he likened to a “tank.”

Davis has targeted his product to the Orthodox Jewish community.    I tried to encourage him to set his sights higher.   I am sure restaurants would be interested in a well-designed hotplate as would college students who use them in their dorm rooms.  I lack the expertise to advise Davis on how to bring his product to the “next level” but would welcome ideas from people who have “been there and done that.”   Send any suggestions to me at and I will pass them along.

Don’t believe the Telegraph’s misleading “Alzheimer’s cure” story (Update)

Last month, the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper published a story with the provocative title “Has Stanford University found a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?”  which has caught the attention of people around the world affected by the horrendous, memory-robbing disease.  Unfortunately, the story, which has generated 2,000 Tweets, is dead wrong.

Stanford Medical School didn’t use the words “potential cure” in its press release announcing the study done by its researchers that centered on the link between a protein called EP2 that’s found on brain cells called microglia and the disease. EP2 manages inflammation and anti-inflammatory responses. The prestigious California university noted that the research “could lead to new ways of warding off the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.” That’s doesn’t sound like “a potential cure” to me but the Telegraph sees things differently.  The paper’s response to my request from Jess McAree, its director of editorial compliance, to correct the story is below.

“If there were no hope that research could lead to treatments or cures for diseases, there would of course be little point in conducting any. It is implicit in any such study that the researchers hope and expect their work to yield advances. The issue you raise cannot therefore be significantly misleading, especially given that the article says only that Alzheimer’s ‘could’ be prevented or cured, not that it will.
“The article also offers no timescale for this, and makes clear that the research involved mice. It is obvious to any reader that no such research could quickly lead to any kind of preventive treatment, let alone a cure.
As a gesture of goodwill, however, we have slightly amended the text to clarify the position.
The Telegraph assumes that people understand the scientific process, which they don’t.  Having a headline posing the question “Has Stanford found a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?” only matters worse.  Understandably,  many people on Twitter have said they hope the news is true. One person noted: “holy crap. Stanford University may have cured Alzheimer’s.”   Said  another: “Hopeful news for those with Alzheimer’s. Hopefully human trials will start soon.”
Unfortunately, there are no human trials on the horizon. According to the non-profit Alzheimer’s Association, the Stanford research is “an important early step in the drug discovery process, but it is still very preliminary. Because we are still testing this potential therapy in animals, we could be 20 years from knowing if it will be a successful treatment in people.”

Given the steep odds of any research resulting in a successful treatment, that forecast may prove to be optimistic. Based on that logic, I can argue that since I am an American citizen that it’s theoretically possible for me to be president. The question raised by the Telegraph headline is simply idiotic. Indeed, as I discussed in my recent story,  many therapies that drug therapies that were thought to show promise in combating Alzheimer’s have failed in trials.

The Telegraph story has raised the hopes of people affected by this insidious disease around the world that some help for their loved ones is on the horizon. Clearly, that’s not the case.     It is possible, for journalists, to talk about promising research without misleading the public.  Here’s how CNN provided context for a story about a small but promising Alzheimer’s study.

… anecdotal studies like this one are far from generalizable, and larger studies must be done to prove whether the program will work for more than the scant number of people in this study. These study results should be interpreted with a lot of caution, primarily because of the small study group — and because the participants had a range of diagnoses, resulting in different interventions.

In its zeal for clicks,  The Telegraph created a false sense of hope for millions of people around the world affected by these insidious disease.   Not only is it unethical, it’s mean.

(Story was updated Monday),

The #NFL has 337 million reasons to fix its tattered image with female fans.

The NFL’s inept response to domestic violence may jeopardize its fattest-growing business:  Women.

The Licensing Letter estimates that the most popular professional sports league generates about $337 million in retail sales from sales of apparel, accessories and miscellaneous other products (team color nail polish) to women.   These sales have been gaining at a double-digit increase over the past few years, much  better than sales of goods to men.   Women are about 46 percent of the NFL fan base, which is likely the highest among the four major professional sports.

But as I noted in a story for,  the passion that women have for football has cooled in the wake of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson scandals, the passion that some women feel for the sport has cooled considerably.

From the story:

“It has to be a huge worry,” said Galen Clavio, an assistant professor of sports management at Indiana University, adding that women are more likely to follow the NFL than any of the other four major professional sports. “These are major problems that need to be addressed.”

The NFL has tapped into the women’s market is many ways. For instance, it has a partnership with clothing line Touch by Alyssa Milano that sells NFL apparel and accessories such as earrings with team logos on it.

Companies are also eager to tap into the NFL’s female fan base. Female NFL fans can decorate their fingernails with tattoos of their favorite team’s logo and with nail polish matching their team colors. They can make their football season look complete with team insignia earnings and a matching necklace.

The question for the league, as well as for advertisers and merchandisers, is whether women are in a buying mood. Chicago Bears fan Chitra Panjabi, a vice president at the National Organization for Women, discovered football after moving to the U.S. for graduate school a few years ago. Her passion for the game has cooled lately, though she did attend a Bears game recently at Soldier Field. NOW has called on Goodell to resign.

“I am turned off by what the NFL is doing,” she said.

Here’s my 2009 interview with #JoanRivers

Here are some highlights from my 2009 interview with Joan Rivers.  She was promoting a show called  “How’d You Get So Rich?” about entrepreneurs. 

Q: How do you lean politically? Do you consider yourself a Republican?

I consider myself nothing. I never considered myself a Republican. I was very, very, very friendly with Nancy Reagan — well, yes, I guess am a Republican. I don’t believe in death taxes. I think if I pay my taxes, what I have at the end belongs to me. Go to hell! I believe in those kinds of things. I believe the government spends money stupidly. In that kind of a sense, I am a Republican.


Have you always seen yourself as a businesswoman?

A: I never see myself as a businesswoman. I just get excited about my projects. I just get excited and very passionate about my projects. I wish I were a better businesswoman. A man named Arthur Toll tried to take my company public and absconded with the funds and literally went to jail over it, so I have not been a very good businesswoman. I had to buy my name back and buy my likeness back.

Q: Do you feel rich?

A: No, no, no. Rich is when you can live the style you live in and never have work again. Rich is having Picasso paint your house. These people in How’d You Get So Rich? are rich. They say to their children, “You’ve been bad — go to your suite.”

Q: How do people like that though deal with a down economy? Do they tell their kids, “No Maserati for your 16th birthday”?

A: Remember, this is all first-generation wealth. So the children have seen the parents make it, and it some cases, the children remember when the parents did not have it.

Q: Why are so many celebrities so bad at handling their money?

A: Because they’re not businesspeople, they’re actors. It’s not about the money. It’s about the craft and the doing of it.

What lower #corn prices mean to investors, consumers

Corn prices have slumped about 20 percent this year and in a piece I wrote for InvestorPlace, I analyzed what this means for Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM), Tyson (NYSE:TSN),  Hormel (NYSE:HRL), Dean Foods (NYSE:DF), Domino’s (NYSE:DPZ)  and Papa John’s (NYSE:PZZA).

From the story:

The U.S. is in the midst of one of its best crops in years. There’s so much corn that according to Bloomberg News, stockpiles of the grain are growing at their fastest rate in nine years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently raised its forecast for the corn crop to 14.03 billion bushels, an increase from the 13.86 billion bushels forecast in July. The 2013 harvest was 13.93 billion bushels.

The myth of high corporate taxes

 The business press is chock full of verbiage from everyone from Fortune 500 executives to business groups that argue that the U.S. is placed  at a competitive disadvantage by its 35 percent statutory tax rate, which is the highest in the world.   But as I noted in CBS Moneywatch,  University of Southern California law professor Edward Kleinbard demolished this widely held view.   

From the article:

“It is true of course that the federal corporate tax rate — nominally, 35 percent — is too high relative to world norms, and that the ersatz territorial system requires firms to waste money in tax planning and structuring, but effective marginal tax rates and overall effective tax rates reach the level of the U.S. headline rate only when firms studiously ignore the feast of tax planning opportunities laid out before them on the groaning board of corporate tax expenditures,” he wrote in the 32-page paper.



Throwing cold water on the ALS Ice Water Challenge

  Pete Frates, a 29-year-old former Boston College baseball player who is confined to a wheelchair because amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), agreed in July to have himself doused with bucket of ice water to raise awareness of his affliction, which also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.    The ALS  Ice Water Challenge has succeed beyond his wildest dreams attracting 15 million people including everyone from entertainer Justin Timberlake to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.   Therein lies the problem.

Though I feel for Frates, whose wife is expecting their first child, and anyone who has been touched by this awful and always-fatal disease, most Americans are never going to meet anyone like him.  According to the ALS Association,  there are at most 30,000 people in the U.S. with the neurodegenerative condition at any given time.      Compared with other diseases that’s pretty small potatoes.   For instance, there are roughly 14 million people with cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.   About 5.2 million people have Alzheimer’s disease and about 1 million have Parkinson’s Disease, including yours truly.

Though the media coverage of ALS Ice Water Challenge talks about the need to raise “awareness” about the disease,  I don’t understand why that’s necessary.    Unlike HIV or Ebola,  ALS isn’t communicable.    Though there is some evidence that ALS has a genetic basis, like Tay-Sachs or Sickle-Cell Anemia,  most cases are “sporadic”, meaning the patient has no family history of the disease.   It seems that the people who need to be aware of ALS are painfully “aware” of it.

Moreover, the $10 million or so that the ALS Society has reportedly raised from the Ice Water Challenge probably won’t make a damn bit of difference in the search for a cure since it costs billions for drug companies to bring new medications to the market.    By the way, the pharmaceutical companies aren’t hiding a cure for ALS or any other awful disease.   These companies are about maximizing profits and shareholder returns if they are publicly traded.   A new wonder drug for Hepatitis C called sofosbuvir costs $90,000 for a 12-week course of treatment.   Imagine what a pharmaceutical company would charge for an effective ALS treatment or — god willing a cure.   It would make sofosbuvir’s costs seem like chump change.

I don’t begrudge the ALS Society their 15 minutes of fame.  Barbara Newhouse,  the non-profit’s CEO, has vowed to invest the Ice Bucket Challenge money “In helping people with ALS and their families and caregivers in the battle against the disease, while resolutely pursuing all avenues to extend, improve and ultimately save lives.” I solute the creativity of ICE Bucket Challenge.   If people are touched by disease, they should donate to the ALS Society, which is rated highly by the watchdog group Charity Navigator.    The publicity surrounding it has received it certainly a godsend.  (Update) The ALS Society is in the black as of its most recent 990 filed today though it had operated in the red during the 2013 fiscal year.

Of course,  I am annoyed that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is diverting attention from Parkinson’s disease.  Some may say that people with Parkinson’s and other conditions need to create their own “challenge” to grab the public’s attention.  I understand that argument but it makes me feel kind of sad, as if it I have to make my suffering entertaining to grab the public’s attention.  Even so, that’s easier said than done.

Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, the public is like kittens playing with a tinfoil ball when they are excited by a fad.  They quickly move onto to something else when they get bored by their toy.  Let’s see how donations to the ALS Society hold up in six months or a year.

(Post has been revised)

Forget “The Michael J. Fox Show”, Working With #Parkinson’s Isn’t Easy

Michael J. Fox’s now-canceled television show told the story of a television reporter with Parkinson’s disease who thanks to the marvels of medical science is able to resume work after a multi-year layoff.    Though the premise of “The Michael J. Fox Show” was certainly  heartwarming, it doesn’t represent the real-world experience of many people with the incurable neurological disorder.   I have Parkinson’s disease and thought the show was mediocre even tough I really wanted to like it. From CBS MoneyWatch:. “This was within a week of having my job review in which he told me how well I was doing my job and giving me a raise,” she wrote in an email. “This produced such sadness I just wanted to die. It took me well over a year to start feeling good about myself.”

Why TSLA’s cars are a better investment than the company’s stock

Shares of Tesla (TSLA), Elon Musk’s electric vehicle company, aren’t priced for perfection.  They are valued as if the sun, moon and stars were in perfect alignment.

As I noted in a post for InvestorPlace, Tesla faces huge challenges such as increasing battery production, broadening its product line an increased competition from conventional automakers.   From the story:

While Tesla certainly is innovative and its CEO, Elon Musk, is among the most colorful, many people seem to forget that TSLA hasn’t yet made money on an unadjusted basis and might not for some time. Tesla’s costs will skyrocket in the coming years as it faces increased competition from the mainstream auto industry.

Anyone who is tempted to buy TSLA and can afford it should buy one of the company’s vehicles.  By all accounts, they are among the most reliable ever built notwithstanding the reports of vehicle fires.    If that idea doesn’t work, try lying down until the urge to buy this highly risky stock goes away.

There are too many bosses at #PhiladelphiaInquirer

Let’s set aside the issue about whether Bill Marimow deserved to be fired as the editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and discuss a more troubling question:  Who’s the boss?

Former New York Nets owner Lewis Katz. H. F. “Jerry” Lenfest,  South Jersey political boss George E. Norcross III; Krishna Singh, chief executive of the Holtec International Corp.; William Hankowsky, chief executive of Liberty Property Trust; and Joseph Buckelew, chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew, joined forces last year to buy the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News and website for $55 million.

What made them think they would be able to set aside their considerable egos and work together to run one of the largest U.S. newspaper, an industry which none of them had any experience?   I know they spoke of their desire to own the papers for the “benefit of the community”, but what does that mean?    It’s doubtful that they appreciated the depth of the paper’s problems.

Every business needs a boss.   In theory, the boss of Interstate General Media is supposed to be Publisher Robert Hall.    In reality, it remains unclear who is running the company. Norcross has installed his daughter Lexi as the head of and has decided to concern himself with such mundane details such as the brand of coffee employees drink in their break room.

About the only thing that the owners all agreed on was that they should hire Marimow, who had done two other tours with the Inquirer.  Former Inquirer columnist Gail Shister noted in Philadelphia Magazine that Marimiow isn’t universally beloved. “As a newsman, Marimow’s moral authority is beyond question,” she writes. “As a manager, the same cannot be said.”

Katz and Lenfest are suing their fellow owners over their decision to fire Marimow.   Given the level of animosity that is evident among the paper’s owners, I don’t see how they can continue to work together.   Winding down this partnership isn’t going to be easy or cheap.  This distraction is the last thing the paper needs.

Further complicating the situation is the long-time romance between Katz and Nancy Philips, a veteran Inquirer editor.  That explains why Marimow was blocking needed change at the paper, according to his critics.  Norcross  told the  New York Times, that Katz “wants to control the newsroom to satisfy his friends and punish his enemies.”  That’s a ludicrous idea.

First of all, herding cats is easier than getting a large group of journalists to agree on anything Katz and Philips  have made little effort to hide their relationship. Robert Hall,who has been associated with the paper for years, must have mentioned it at some point to the company’s owners. Continue reading