We hope you had a happy, restful Thanksgiving. If you still didn't get your fill of turkeys, there's still a glut of the frozen variety, thanks to overproduction that continues to drive down the prices. And the Smithsonian's National Zoo finally named its giant female panda born in August. Her name: Bao Bao, which means “precious” or “treasure” in Chinese. Here’s what else is going on.
Thanks, my wallet's empty. Did you shop over Thanksgiving weekend? Chances are, you did less shopping than last year, as Thanksgiving-weekend sales fell for the first time in seven years. More stores were open on Thanksgiving, but it seems that only meant that people spent less on Black Friday. This year, consumers spent about $57.4 billion over the weekend, compared to $59.1 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation. We’ll see what happens today, Cyber Monday, which online retailers have been touting as their biggest holiday shopping day of the year.
Near-instant gratification -- in about five years In a 60 Minutes segment with Charlie Rose, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos showed prototype drones, called octocopters, that he hopes will one day deliver packages to his customers. The flying delivery service, called Prime Air, needs Federal Aviation Administration approval, but Bezos, an admitted optimist, thinks the drones can be up and running in four or five years. The octocopters can carry up to five pounds within a 10-mile radius of an Amazon fulfillment location. Bezos said that about 86 percent of Amazon’s orders are for products weighing less than five pounds. He's aiming for half-hour delivery.
Train wreck A New York city-bound Metro-North train went off the tracks on Sunday morning, killing four people and injuring 60. There were about 100 people on the train. During rush hour or later in the day, the tally would have been much worse. Investigators haven’t determined what caused the derailment, but there were reports the train’s brakes had failed, and it did appear to have been going too fast around a corner leading into Spuyten Duyvil station.
No fast food Strikes by fast-food workers are planned in 100 cities on Thursday, organized by union-backed groups such as Fast Food Forward and Fight for Fifteen. The federal minimum wage is $7.25; these groups want their workers to be paid $15 an hour and to be able to unionize without fear of retaliation. The National Restaurant Association says that very few in the industry actually earn as little as $7.25 an hour, and that those who do are mostly entry-level workers younger than 25. The groups organizing the strikes say that the average age of a fast-food worker is 29 and that one-quarter of fast-food workers are parents.
Obamacare wellness check The federal health insurance exchange is finally getting easier for most people to use. The administration says the site is now working 90 percent of the time. That sounds horrible until you realize that in October it was only working 43 percent of the time. For entrepreneurs, though, the news remains bleak: implementation of the small business exchanges, known as SHOP (small business health options program) has been delayed almost a full year, until November, 2014. This applies to the 36 states that have been relying on the federal government to build their exchanges rather than attempt it on their own. Small businesses that want to apply for insurance sold on the exchanges can -- wait for this -- apply through a broker.
Take off those Google Glasses The Lost Lake Café & Lounge in Seattle has banned users from wearing Google Glasses inside the restaurant, saying the wearers' potential ability to take videos and photos with their eyewear may invade the privacy of other diners. The statement: “We recently had to ask a rude customer to leave because of their insistence on wearing and operating Google Glasses inside the restaurant. So for the record, here's Our Official Policy on Google Glass: We kindly ask our customers to refrain from wearing and operating Google Glasses inside Lost Lake. We also ask that you not videotape anyone using any other sort of technology. If you do wear your Google Glasses inside, or film or photograph people without their permission, you will be asked to stop, or leave. And if we ask you to leave, for God's sake, don't start yelling about your "rights". Just shut up and get out before you make things worse.”
Beauty and the battlefield don't mix The army has a new PR strategy: no pretty women in military advertising. Earlier this month, Politico uncovered an email from Colonel Lynette Arnhart, with the following directive: “In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead.” Col. Arnhart, who was referring to a picture of Cpl. Kristine Tejada of the First Cavalry Division, sent that message to Army PR to offer guidance on telling the story of the Army’s integration of women. The New York Times followed up this weekend with additional commentary on society's double bind: “You have to be beautiful to matter, but beauty can and will be used against you,” says Feminsting editor Chloe Angyal.
Speaking of beautiful: Danica Patrick This Sunday's New York Time's Talk column subject is race car driver Danica Patrick. On her personal slogan, “A beautiful revolution,” she says, "It’s about being feminine but unique and different and kind of blazing a trail." Patrick, who has also been criticized by Janet Guthrie (another trail-blazing female race car driver) for her "sexy photos" says: "Times change. Women work now instead of staying home, women wear shorter skirts than they used to. You’re never going to please everyone, you’re never going to entertain everyone and be interesting and make people curious about you and also appease everyone -- those worlds don’t go together. The best thing that you can do is just be yourself."
Can pink engineering toys expand the number of women in STEM? The recent controversy over Goldie Blox's ad last week parodying a Beastie Boys song and the coming gift giving season have put engineering toys for girls in the spotlight. The idea that toys can encourage engineering skills and increase the likelihood girls will choose STEM-based careers is appealing. But some are skeptical. In the Atlantic, Olga Khazan points out that the "STEM gender imbalance is a decades-long, thorny problem" and it "doesn’t help us if we herald every new contraption as 'inspiring girls to become builder." One parent wrote about her daughter's uninspiring experience with Goldie Blox, saying, "[A] blond girl named Goldie and pink parts alone do not make a great toy for girls and, sadly, Goldie Blox is not a magic potion for encouraging girls to play with engineering toys." Also, some lists of engineering toys for girls include gender neutral (read 'not pink) items as well, such as Lego Mindstorms and a soldering kit.
Girl power One place girls did rule this holiday weekend was at the box office. The second film in the Hunger Games series, “Catching Fire,” and Disney’s “Frozen,” were the big earners as moviegoers flocked to see HG’s Katniss Everdeen continue to inspire rebellion against the Capitol, and Frozen’s Anna and Elsa in a reimagination of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen that is being praised as a celebration of sisterhood.
Letter writing We've heard rumors that letter writing is dead. Now writer Simon Garfield declares in his new book To The Letter that the last "letter will appear in our lifetime." The New York Times calls Garfield's book "nostalgic and fretful" but points out "the death knell [for writing] has been sounded since at least the invention of the telephone." Garfield follows letter writing through history, starting with the Romans and their wooden codices and traveling through to Wolff, Hemingway and Carroll, who wrote a early version of the advice listicle, Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing.
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Image of Bao Bao courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Zoo