Console & Hollawell Blog

December Days: 4 Christmas History Facts That Will Surprise You

By Richard Console on December 17, 2014 - Comments off

When it comes to holidays – and the Christmas holiday season in particular – we all have our favorite traditions: decorating the tree (real or artificial), baking your favorite cookies, giving gifts to our loved ones. No matter how much we love our traditions, most of us know little about them – and the reasons behind them, often buried in ancient history. Read on for the top four historical holiday facts that will change the way you see Christmas.

4 Surprising Christmas History Facts

1. What we know as the “holiday season” predates Christmas.

Romans celebrating SaturnaliaLike the ancient Romans celebrating Saturnalia, modern celebrators of Christmas around the world will enjoy festivities like gathering and feasting with loved ones and giving and receiving gifts. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Long before the existence of anything resembling our modern Christmas celebrations, ancient cultures celebrated different wintertime holidays that have left their mark on the traditions we know and love. In ancient Rome, a festival called Saturnalia was held on December 17th – today, coincidentally – each year to honor the god Saturn (Cronus in Greek mythology). The festivities stretched through December 23rd at some points in history, and eventually moved to December 25th.

While the name of the holiday might be unfamiliar, many of the traditions are not. Saturnalia celebrations often included gift-giving, singing, feasts, wreaths for decoration, and an abundance of candles. In fact, some sources go so far as to claim that early Christian evangelists reframed the immensely popular holiday of Saturnalia as Christmas to reflect Christian values and biblical figures as means of conversion to the religion.

Other ancient pagan holidays have also made an impression on our modern Christmas traditions. Ancient Persians celebrated the birthday of a god called Mithras on December 21st by eating dried fruits and nuts (“chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” anyone?). Historians have traced back the tradition of kissing beneath the mistletoe to the Viking goddess of love and marriage, the BBC reported. Regardless of religious differences, December has long been a time of celebration for cultures throughout the world and the centuries.

2. Christmas trees are newer than you think.

Christmas TreeEarly tree “ornaments” included candles, apples, nuts, and sugar wafers. By the end of the 19th century, electric lights had been invented and artisans in Germany were exporting handcrafted bulbs. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

Christmas trees are unquestionably one of the holiday’s most beloved traditions. A full 88 percent of Americans put up Christmas trees each year, according to the History Channel. Yet the cherished tradition hasn’t been around all that long – only since the mid-1800s or so, at least in mainstream America, About Education reported. Some families in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, decorated Christmas trees during colonial times, but mostly only those who had immigrated from Germany, where the tradition was already established as early as the 15th or 16th century. The tradition caught on in Britain after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (who was German by birth) decorated a tree in Windsor Castle in 1841, and its popularity in magazines across the pond eventually brought the idea here to the U.S. Not until the 1870s did the Christmas tree become a fixture of the holiday season in America.

But why decorate a tree to begin with? The rationale for the practice dates back much farther in history, to ancient times, when the Vikings and the Saxons worshipped trees. Saturnalia may have been an influence on this tradition, too – guess what type of plant the ancient Romans used to make their wreaths and other greenery decorations? That’s right – evergreen.

3. Christmas hasn’t always been popular. In fact, it was once banned in America – and you’d be surprised who banned the holiday.

For most of us, there are plenty of things to enjoy about the holiday season. However, Christmas has at times been highly controversial – and I’m not talking about the “happy holidays” versus “Merry Christmas” kind of controversy.

First of all, it took literally centuries for Christmas to become an observance in the first place. Even once early Christians decided to celebrate the birth of Christ, they couldn’t reach a consensus on when the event would have occurred. Today, it’s believed that the real date could have been mid-June, half a year away from Christmas. So why was December 25th chosen as the annual celebration? Probably to allow early evangelists to incorporate the existing and highly popular pagan festivals into this new holiday.

However, even after the holiday was established – and well-loved across Europe – not everyone appreciated the occasion. In 1659, the Puritans who settled in Massachusetts forbid any non-religious observance of Christmas, fining those who dared to celebrate.

4. Christmas falls on the same day each year, but it’s not the same day in every country or culture.

Christmas DayChristmas is always on December 25th –in America, that is. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

Unlike certain other major holidays – such as Thanksgiving and Easter – Christmas is the same day each year. This makes it easy to keep track of, whether mentally plotting your holiday shopping route or counting down with an advent calendar. Yet in other cultures, asking what day Christmas is will get you an unexpected answer, something other than December 25th. The difference can be as large as a few weeks. Germany and the Netherlands, for example, start Christmas early by our standards, on December 6th. On the other end of the spectrum, Russia and the Ukraine don’t celebrate the holiday until January 7th.

Making gingerbread cookiesThere are countless holiday traditions, from writing letters to Santa to making gingerbread men. It doesn’t matter what traditions you practice – all that matters is that they bring joy and meaning to your family. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

It’s shocking how drastically Christmas celebrations have changed over the centuries to become the joyous occasion we think of today. Even now, we’re witnessing more changes in how we celebrate, from the popularity of pre-lit trees to phenomena, like the Elf on the Shelf, that could be the start of new traditions. However you celebrate, we hope your holiday season is full of joy and all of your favorite traditions.

 

Xarelto Manufacturers Oppose Consolidation of Blood Thinner Lawsuits

By Richard Console on December 11, 2014 - Comments off

Xarelto is a prescription anticoagulant – or blood thinner – intended to treat (or prevent at-risk patients from ever developing) potentially fatal blood clots. When the bestselling medication began to lead to uncontrolled hemorrhage, though, the flood of resulting lawsuits put companies Bayer and Johnson & Johnson on the defensive. Now legal experts are trying to consolidate the 50 lawsuits already filed – as well as future lawsuits, of which there could be thousands – in an effort that could cut costs and improve efficiency for all parties involved.

The only problem: the defendants aren’t exactly on board with the plan. If they can’t prevent the consolidation of Xarelto claims entirely, they’ve announced their intentions to make sure the cases are heard right here in New Jersey – close to their corporate headquarters.

Xarelto - Johnson and Johnson HeadquartersJohnson & Johnson’s corporate office is located in New Brunswick. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Understanding the Lawsuits

Every medication has possible side effects, but those associated with adverse events serious enough to lead to hospitalization and death more commonly become the subject of lawsuits. Xarelto patients took the prescription drug to treat blood clots or prevent them from developing in the first place, but 65 of these patients died from bleeding related to the medicine, Bloomberg reported. Still other patients reported suffering excessive bleeding, but survived. So far, manufacturer Bayer and marketer Johnson & Johnson are facing 50 claims. With 9,000,000 patients taking Xarelto, though, lawyers estimate the by the time all is said and done, the total number of Xarelto injury claims could be in the thousands. After all, the people affected by Xarelto injuries either lost family members or suffered massive bleeding emergencies themselves. In either case, their damages are significant, and they shouldn’t be the ones left facing the consequences.

What Consolidation Means for Pharmaceutical Lawsuits

To make the legal process more efficient, plaintiffs across the nation (and their attorneys) are trying to consolidate the claims, which would allow a single judge to supervise trial preparation and evidence collection in the numerous lawsuits rather than spreading out the work to many judges across the country. The plaintiffs are trying to get these cases in front of Illinois Judge David Herndon, who already has experience handling major pharmaceutical lawsuits involving blood thinners.

Even though the move could be money-saving for the defendants as well as the plaintiffs, Bloomberg reported, Bayer and Johnson & Johnson are fighting it. They would prefer the cases not be consolidated at all, reports suggest, but if cases are consolidated, they intend to try to make sure the cases are tried in New Jersey. Bayer’s headquarters are located in Whippany, while Johnson & Johnson’s corporate office is in New Brunswick.

Whether or not consolidation happens, and where these cases end up, now depends on the courts. The legal documents are filed, awaiting a decision. Will a South Carolina panel of judges agree to consolidate the claims? Where will the plaintiffs have to go to see justice done? Whatever comes of this attempt to consolidate Xarelto cases, patients harmed by the drug and their families should know that it’s still not too late to bring their own claim. Attorneys across the nation are fighting to make sure no one hurt by Xarelto will have to bear the burden alone, without compensation for the damages they have suffered.

 

December Days: 5 Local Attractions Sure to Get You into the Holiday Spirit

By Richard Console on December 10, 2014 - Comments off

Christmas carols are blaring from the local radio stations, shopping centers are packed, and it certainly feels cold enough to snow, but feeling truly festive calls for something a little more exciting. Whether you’re already counting down the days or still trying to get into the holiday spirit, you don’t have to go far to experience the joy of the season. In the South Jersey and Philadelphia region, we’re surrounded by holiday attractions great for, well, kids from one to 92. Families, couples, and groups of friends are sure to find something to love about each of the local attractions on our top-five list.

5 Local Attractions to Brighten Up Your Holiday

1. The Christmas Village in Philadelphia

Christmas Village in PhiladelphiaPhoto Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

What It Is: Each year between Thanksgiving and the end of December, LOVE Park undergoes a festive transformation into the Christmas Village in Philadelphia. More than 60 vendors fill the wooden booths of the seasonal market, where visitors can enjoy traditional European foods and shop for something truly special – like blown glass gifts and Christmas ornaments and handcrafted jewelry and crafts.

What It Offers: Children and adults alike will enjoy snacking on the variety of treats for sale, browsing the shops, and witnessing the live entertainment. For kids, the highlight of the trip might be meeting Santa Claus, but the village also has a treat for adults only: a variety of mulled wines. Of course, the village is also home to the City of Philadelphia’s official holiday tree and a tree lighting ceremony.

Tips: Admission is free, so you really only have to pay for your transportation and whatever you choose to buy. Check the attraction’s website to find out what special events will be going on during your visit.

2. Holiday Laser Light Show in Atlantic City 

Tropicana Holiday Laser Light ShowPhoto Credit: Flickr.

What It Is: Okay, you probably associate Atlantic City more with gambling than with the Christmas spirit, but a holiday visit to the shore resort town might change your mind. Not only can you finish your gift shopping at the outlet stores, but you can catch the excellent Holiday Laser Light Show at The Quarter in the Tropicana Casino and Resort.

What It Offers: The indoor show features fun for all ages, with a 35-foot Christmas tree and a dazzling display of more than 100,000 lights set to festive music. There are even bubbles and falling “snow” that will bring alive the magic of the season.

Tips: The show is free, which means it won’t strain your holiday budget, but it’s also a fairly quick experience. If you’re looking to make a day of it, check out other nearby activities. Kids would enjoy the Christmas Fantasy with Lights at Storybook Land in Egg Harbor Township. Adults have plenty of entertainment options in Atlantic City, from gambling and shopping to fine dining and shows (holiday themed and otherwise).

3. A Longwood Christmas at Longwood Gardens

A Longwood ChristmasPhoto Credit: Flickr.

What It Is: With more than 1,077 acres of land and dozens of gardens, Longwood Gardens is an ideal place to enjoy the natural beauty of plant life year-round. With more than 500,000 lights, the attraction’s annual holiday celebration, A Longwood Christmas, is a great place to get into the holiday spirit – and there’s so much to see that you can easily make a day out of it.

What It Offers: Longwood Gardens isn’t just one of the best places to see holiday light displays in the region or even the nation. It’s a great holiday experience all around, with beautifully decorated trees indoors and out as well as equally stunning poinsettia gardens. In fact, if you only visit during daylight or after nightfall, you’re missing half the experience. There are also themed fountain shows throughout the day. Though it might be a little bit of a long day for the youngest of children, older kids will likely enjoy the trip, and adults almost certainly will.

Tips: You’ll actually have to travel a little farther for this attraction – Kennett Square, where the gardens are located, is about an hour from Philadelphia – but it’s worth the trip. Christmas is actually peak season at Longwood Gardens, so make sure you buy your tickets in advance online, or you might not be able to get into the attraction at all. Tickets are timed, so try to arrive close to your chosen time (and, of course, stay long enough to see all the lights when it gets dark).

4. The Christmas Tree Light Show at Historic Smithville

Historic SmithvillePhoto Credit: Flickr.

What It Is: The village of historic Smithville is home to more than 60 unique shops and seven restaurants. It’s a fun place to visit any time of year, but especially good for the holiday season. The shops sell plenty of interesting gifts, stylish home décor items, and snacks to entertain guests with or to give as gifts.

What It Offers: Smithville’s Christmas Tree Light Show is a sparkling nighttime display over the village’s Lake Meone that features more than 100 “floating” Christmas trees, all lighting up in time to holiday music. The show itself is worth watching for kids and adults, and the fun of exploring Smithville before or after could appeal to any age group.

Tips: This is a free event, but it’s harder to catch than others. The show only runs from Thursdays through Sundays, and only between 5:30 and 8 p.m. Get there early so you can check out the unique shops, cross some gifts off your holiday shopping list, and maybe even enjoy a meal at one of the village’s restaurants before the show starts.

5. Ice Skating at Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest

ice skatingPhoto Credit: Corbis Images.

What It Is: Think you have to go all the way to New York City for a magical ice skating experience this holiday season? Think again. Winterfest at the Blue Cross RiverRink is just one of the outdoor ice rinks in Philadelphia where you can glide along and appreciate the glittering scenery of brightly lit trees.

What It Offers: Ice skating is one of those activities that’s fun for virtually all ages. For children, there are few things more joyful than slipping on a pair of skates and sliding across the frozen water (with parental supervision, of course!). Couples are bound to find some romance in holding hands while skating in the atmosphere of the twinkling lights. It’s also the perfect fun outing for a group of friends. There are also shops, arcade games, a bar and a restaurant called The Lodge, and a new nightly light show synced to music.

Tips: Winterfest is an outdoor event, so you might want to check the website to make sure the skating rink is open if there’s inclement weather on the day you plan to go. Also, the event is so popular that some sessions sell out. If you’re going on a day likely to be busy, like a weekend day, consider buying tickets online in advance to make sure you get to skate.

There’s no better way to get into the holiday spirit than to celebrate the joy of the season with the people you love. Whether you spend a few minutes catching a holiday laser light show or the entire day wandering through acres of decorated gardens, you can easily find a way to make your holiday a little more festive by visiting one of the many local gems here in the South Jersey and Philadelphia region.

 

The Tracy Morgan Accident: Six Months Later

By Richard Console on December 7, 2014 - Comments off

Today marks exactly six months from a tragic collision that happened right here in New Jersey and gripped national headlines. A Walmart tractor trailer struck a limo bus carrying beloved comedians Tracy Morgan and James “Jimmy Mack” McNair from behind, killing McNair and leaving Morgan with serious injuries from which, according to reports, he is still struggling to recover. In observance of this somber milestone, let’s take a few minutes to look back at the development of the case, understand how long the recovery process can take, and wish the best to Mr. Morgan and the others affected by this tragedy. It may be the fame of the victims that keeps this particular crash in the spotlight, but despite their popularity, they still have to endure many of the same frustrations and challenges that less famous accident victims go through every day.

New Jersey TurnpikeMorgan’s accident happened near Cranbury, not far from this spot on the New Jersey Turnpike northbound. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A Look Back at the Collision

The crash happened around 1 a.m. on June 7, 2014, when Morgan’s limo bus was traveling back from a performance in Delaware. The Walmart truck operated by Kevin Roper collided with the vehicle. In the resulting six-car crash, McNair suffered fatal injuries, and Morgan and three others had to be hospitalized for their injuries.

Morgan’s injuries included broken ribs, a broken nose, a broken leg, and a broken femur, ABC News reported the following day. Not until months later did reports of his having suffered a brain injury surface. Morgan remained hospitalized at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital until June 20, when he started weeks of rehabilitation at an in-patient facility. On July 12 – more than a month after the collision –Morgan finally got to go home, USA Today reported. Even then, he had a long journey ahead of him.

Meanwhile, more details regarding the accident and the legal case continued to emerge. Roper, the Walmart truck driver, had already been working for more than 13 hours at the time of the accident, approaching the maximum legal limit for truck drivers, and he hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours, according to Politico. The drowsy driving is believed to have caused the crash, though Roper was also reportedly driving above the speed limit immediately before the accident. Police criminally charged Roper with death by auto and multiple counts of assault by auto.

Though Walmart had initially pledged to “take full responsibility” if the collision was determined to be the truck driver’s fault, according to the New York Post, the company later shocked and outraged the victims and many of us following the story by laying part of the blame on the injured passengers. “I can’t believe Walmart is blaming me,” Morgan said, according to Variety, in response to Walmart’s assertion that the passengers of the limo bus didn’t wear their seatbelts and that this “caused, in whole or in part,” their injuries. Just days ago, Morgan’s lawyers asserted that Walmart is “stalling” the lawsuit against them regarding the collision, NJ.com reported.

The Long Journey to Recovery

If you’ve never been in a serious accident like Morgan’s – or known someone who has – then six months might sound like plenty of time to recover. In reality, though, severe injuries can take several months, even years, to treat. Four months after the date of the collision, Morgan remained in a wheelchair, Us Weekly reported.  In October, New York Daily News reported that he “struggled” to walk even with the help of a cane. November brought more news – that Morgan had sustained a severe traumatic brain injury and was “fighting to get better,” according to NJ.com.

For seriously injured accident victims, including Morgan, recovery is a long process. Relearning to walk after a brain injury can take months or even years. Other symptoms – like cognitive symptoms and those affecting speech – can take as long or longer. Sadly, many brain injury patients never reach a point where they return 100 percent to how and who they were before the accident. For the first six months after a brain injury, it’s hard for medical professionals to even attempt to predict patients’ long-term prognoses, according to TBI Guide. Often, patients see the most progress between six months and two years from the date of the injury, but some may see small improvements for many years, reported the Model Systems Knowledge Transportation Center.

For Morgan and his family, the loved ones of the late James McNair, and the other victims and their families, this is certainly a difficult time. Progress toward recovery often comes in baby steps, which can be so frustrating when your injuries affect every aspect of your life. I truly hope that every one of the people hurt as a result of this collision makes the best and quickest possible recovery. Maybe knowing that they have the support of an entire nation cheering them on will help them get through the many challenges they’re facing.

 

December Days: 4 Best Holiday Light Displays in Driving Distance

By Richard Console on December 3, 2014 - Comments off

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – in some places more than others. While many of us are still decking our halls, the best holiday light displays in the world are already brightening up the season. Between the parties, the holiday shopping, and finding the time to partake in all of the traditions that make your holidays magical, you don’t exactly have the time for a cross-country road trip or an international flight. That’s why we’ve listed the top four holiday light displays within driving distance from the Philadelphia and South Jersey region. You don’t have to travel far to enjoy the magic of these (and many more) dazzling light displays. 4 Best Holiday Light Displays in Driving Distance

New Jersey:  Holiday Lights Trolley Ride, Cape May

Cape May ChristmasPhoto Credit: Flickr.

Want to do something different this year? Instead of driving around admiring the holiday light displays or traversing neighborhoods on foot in the cold, come to historic Cape May and take a warm trolley ride though the most illuminated parts of the popular shore town. After all, what could be more festive than an entire town of Victorian inns and homes covered in twinkling lights? The annual tree lighting ceremony set for this Friday will officially kick off the Cape May holiday season, so make your plans before it’s too late.

Pennsylvania: Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square

Christmas at Longwood GardensPhoto Credit: Flickr.

Longwood Gardens is a popular tourist destination year-round for the attraction’s 1,077 acres of flowers and topiaries. During the holiday season, though, the 20 indoor and 20 outdoor gardens are dressed up for the festive occasion, with more than 500,000 lights strung throughout the gardens. Longwood Gardens sees as many as 1,000,000 visitors a year, and Christmas is among the attraction’s busiest times. Helpful hint: even if you’re visiting for the nighttime light display, buy your ticket online and go early enough that you can enjoy the sights of the plants while it’s still daylight, too.

New York: Rockefeller Center, New York City

Rockefeller Center Christmas TreePhoto Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Rockefeller Center’s display consists mainly of the lights on a single Christmas tree, but it is, after all, a world-famous display that dates back to 1933. Every Rockefeller Center Christmas tree must be no less than 65 feet tall and 35 feet wide, but often these real Norway spruce trees are 75 to 90 feet tall. That’s a big tree – big enough, in fact, to require five miles of lights to achieve its signature glow. Each year, the tree-lighting ceremony – which, coincidentally, will take place tonight – draws tens of thousands of visitors. Hundreds of millions more people across the globe will tune into the televised event.

Maryland: Miracle on 34th Street, Baltimore

Miracle on 34th St., BaltimorePhoto Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

On this Baltimore, Maryland, block also known as “Christmas Street,” holiday light displays are a community affair. For 67 years, every resident of the 700 block of 34th Street’s 22 homes has set up holiday displays, turning the neighborhood into one huge winter wonderland. The Miracle on 34th Street display, of course, takes its name from the classic holiday film. As many as 1,000 visitors a night come from all over the world to see the displays, which range from hubcap Christmas trees to a giant menorah for Hanukkah and from Walt Disney-themed displays to holiday teddy bear setups. No matter where you are, make the most of your holiday season by taking a moment to enjoy the light displays around you. December always tends to go by fast, and before we know it, those brilliant Christmas light displays will go dark again.

 

Countdown to Thanksgiving Thursdays: 4 Turkey Day Food Facts You Won’t Believe

By Richard Console on November 27, 2014 - Comments off

Think you know all there is to know about your traditional Thanksgiving dinner? Think again. From which Turkey Day staple is produced locally to how your turkey came to be, here’s our list of the top four Thanksgiving food facts you’ve never heard.Four Thanksgiving Food Facts

1. The Cranberry Sauce on Your Table Might Be Local – Even If It Came From a Can.

Cranberry SauceAmericans consume 20 percent of the nation’s cranberries during the week of Thanksgiving. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

New Jersey ranks third in the nation for cranberry production, and most of the state’s cranberry farms are located in South Jersey’s Burlington, Atlantic, and Ocean Counties. Our state now accounts for 10 percent of the nation’s cranberries, Rutgers University reported. New Jersey once produced far more cranberries before issues like a crop virus, land development, and unfavorable market conditions wiped out approximately 95 percent of the state’s cranberry farms, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Still, each year, the Garden State produces 525,000 barrels of cranberries to be sold as fruit or to become juices, baked goods and, yes, cranberry sauce. The Pine Barrens region is home to 3,900 acres of cranberries, which means those of us who live in the area have probably driven right by cranberry bogs (when they weren’t flooded) and not even noticed.

2. Where Do Baby Turkeys Come From? Artificial Insemination.

 PoultBaby turkeys are called poults. They grow up to be toms if they are males or hens if they are females. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Maybe you already know that the pilgrims and the Native Americans didn’t eat turkey at the First Thanksgiving, but you probably didn’t know this about your modern bird. Believe it or not, the turkey on your table was probably conceived in vitro. Due to Americans’ preference for hefty turkeys to feed big family gatherings on Thanksgiving – and for white meat, which comes primarily from turkey breasts – most of today’s commercially sold turkeys are so large that their size interferes with the natural mating process. Through artificial insemination, the industry has doubled the average size of a turkey from what it was in the 1930s, The Atlantic reported.

3. For Half of Us, Stuffing Is Actually “Dressing.”

Stuffing

Whatever you call it, this side dish is among the most controversial – does your family cook it in the turkey or on its own? Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

Only about 50 percent of Americans cook their stuffing inside the turkey. In fact, there are several arguments for skipping the whole turkey-stuffing part of stuffing. Most importantly, stuffing the turkey can increase the risk of food poisoning, according to the U. S. government’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Stuffing in the cavity of the turkey can pick up harmful bacteria, and cooking that part of the bird to the 165 degrees required for food safety can take a long time – significantly longer than cooking the rest of the bird. This means that to get the stuffing inside the bird to cook all the way through, you’re likely to dry out the turkey meat – so likely, in fact, that even some famous chefs advocate against the practice of stuffing the turkey. Stuffing in the bird can also become too moist, to the point of being soggy.

So what do you call stuffing that doesn’t get stuffed into the bird? The technical term is dressing, but because so many people associate the word with the liquid you add to salads – and because of regional differences between the North and the South – hardly anyone around our area uses it.

4. Sleepy? Don’t Blame The Turkey.

 Thanksgiving dinnerEven chicken has more tryptophan than turkey, so we’d better point our fingers at a different sleep-inducing item on the table. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

Tryptophan, a once unfamiliar term, has entered mainstream vocabulary as the popular explanation for post-turkey tiredness. Despite the prevalence of the belief, tryptophan isn’t exactly a potent nutritional sleeping potion. It’s just an amino acid – one of 22 that we humans consume – and while it can cause you to feel drowsy, the whole turkey-tryptophan link is overstated, WebMD reported. Egg whites, codfish, soybeans, parmesan cheese, sesame seeds, cheddar cheese, and pork chops all have more tryptophan than turkey does, but rarely do people complain that their egg-white omelet made them sleepy or that they can’t keep their eyes open because of the soybeans. Instead of accusing tryptophan, let’s blame the real culprits – overindulgence in alcohol, carbohydrate-loaded side dishes (stuffing, potatoes, and rolls), and the self-fulfilling prophecy that we’re going to relax on the couch watching the game all afternoon.

Then again, maybe one day of drowsy relaxation isn’t such a bad thing, after all.

 CornucopiaPhoto Credit: Corbis Images.

From all of us here at Console & Hollawell, have a happy Thanksgiving!

 

Countdown to Thanksgiving Thursdays: The 4 Best and Worst Black Friday Retailers

By Richard Console on November 20, 2014 - Comments off

In honor of what’s left of Black Friday and the retail employees forced to work this Thanksgiving, we’re rounding up the best and worst retailers. Consider it your list of the most ethical places to shop for the holiday season – and the stores that might not really deserve your business.

4 Best and Worst Thanksgiving Retailers

Black Friday is creeping ever earlier, and to many would-be shoppers, it’s a sign that retailers’ behavior is getting out of hand. Gone are the days of waking up at midnight after your turkey dinner and lining up outside major retail stores in the dark in anticipation of a 3 a.m. “doorbuster.” Now we do our shopping before the turkey. Or instead of the turkey. You’ll have to at least skip dessert if you want to make that 5 or 6 p.m. sale. If you happen to work in retail – not a small possibility, since more than 4,668,000 people do – chances are that this year, you’ll spend your Thanksgiving on the clock. Once upon a time, employees who were about to be swamped for the duration of the holiday season could at least count on this one day to spend with their families.

Not anymore.

 Kohl's Black Friday sign 2011Starting Black Friday when it’s actually Friday? That’s so 2011. There’s even a term for the new phenomenon of Thanksgiving sales – Gray Thursday. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 The 4 Worst Thanksgiving Retailers

4th Worst: Macy’s

 Macy's Black FridayPhoto Credit: Flickr.

Mall anchor stores have a lot of influence – and Macy’s stores seem to have decided to use theirs to make employee exploitation mainstream. It’s not just that the company decided, like freestanding and strip-mall stores Walmart and Target, to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The retail chain’s announcement prompted a mall manager near Buffalo, New York, to mandate 6 p.m. Thanksgiving openings mall-wide, The Huffington Post reported. Stores that refuse to open could see fines of $200 or more an hour – a steep price for even businesses that want to give their employees the holiday off. For smaller retailers, especially, the $1,200 it would cost them just to open at midnight rather than six could stand in the way of sticking by their convictions – if only to make sure they’re able to make payroll. This may be just one mall in one state, but it sounds like a safe bet that the Thanksgiving schedule decisions of Macy’s and similar anchor stores are affecting other retailers’ plans, too.

Dishonorable mentions: J.C. Penney plans to open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, even earlier than similar mall anchor stores Macy’s and Sears and three hours earlier than it opened last year. Yes, the store plans giveaways and activities – including meals – for employees working Thursday into Friday, but whatever happened to the retailer’s conviction just two years ago that “spending Thanksgiving with family is one of America’s greatest traditions”? Then there’s Kohl’s, opening at 6 along with Macy’s, Target, and Walmart in its quest to become “the most compelling shopping destination for the entire family.”

3rd Worst: Radio Shack

RadioShackPhoto Credit: Flickr.

I did a double-take when I saw this retailer listed in two recent articles – one listing stores that would be open Thanksgiving Day and one about stores that would close for Thanksgiving. It turns out that even though RadioShack claims to offer a paid holiday to both their retail and non-retail team members on Thanksgiving, the chain is planning to open – not after dinner, but at 8 a.m. In fact, RadioShack had intended to open from 8 a.m. to midnight on Thursday, but relented after facing enormous backlash from employees, Bloomberg reported. Now the store will open Thursday morning from 8 to noon and reopen from 5 to midnight, leaving employees at least a few hours to hopefully spend enjoying the holiday. I’m glad RadioShack had a change of heart about its day-long holiday schedule plans, but its policies are still hurting employees, and its original plans are bad enough to land it on the “worst” list.

Dishonorable mention: Fellow electronics store Best Buy plans to open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving – not quite as early as Radio Shack, but still early enough to cut short the turkey dinner. Toys ‘R’ Us, too, will open at 5.

2nd Worst: Walmart

Walmart Black FridayPhoto Credit: Flickr.

Of all major retailers, Walmart has possibly the worst Black Friday reputation. The Valley Stream, New York, store was the site of a deadly 2008 trampling. Since then, Walmart shoppers have physically fought over $1.28 towels, pepper-sprayed each other to seize sought-after video games, and shot each other in parking lots. Besides being notorious year-round for the company’s low wages for workers, many Walmart locations will be open all day on Thanksgiving, according to The Huffington Post, and will start the first wave of staggered sales at 6 p.m. and a second wave at 8 p.m. Despite criticism – and the fact that the company’s Sam’s Club stores chose to close because of “member feedback” – Walmart calls the move “absolutely appropriate.” Even worse, the store no longer pays time-and-a-half. Instead it uses its own special “holiday pay” rate, which could easily be manipulated, Daily Tech reported. With Walmart stretching its Black Friday sale over five days, it’s a safe bet that employees won’t get a break anytime soon.

Dishonorable mention: Target, too, is opening at 6 p.m. this year, two hours earlier than last year. These stores are depriving their employees of the opportunity to salvage much of Thanksgiving – remember, these workers are in for long, hectic shifts, many of them overnight. Just because they’re working Thanksgiving doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be back in the store when it officially becomes Black Friday. They’re missing out on family trips, cutting visits short, or spending what precious little time they have off sleeping. We’ve come to expect this from Walmart, but Target, too? Somehow we expect better.

Worst: Kmart

 KmartPhoto Credit: Flickr.

There’s no way around it – Kmart is the worst offender this Black Friday. The retailer is, once again, opening at 6 a.m. Last year, its plans to remain open for 41 hours drew harsh criticism. This year, the company pushed the envelope even more, vowing to remain open for 42 hours. Kmart workers everywhere will have to wait until the doors finally close at midnight on Friday to enjoy their turkey dinner – and I’m sure they’ll be thankful for the well-deserved break. Then again, Kmart has a long history of opening on Thanksgiving Day (though not for a 42-hour shopping marathon), so at least it’s not a complete shock. The company is following a 23-year tradition of its own – that of ruining workers’ holidays.

Dishonorable mentions: This year, Kmart’s sister store, Sears, will follow in its footsteps. Until the past couple of years, Sears has traditionally been closed on Thanksgiving Day. This year, the store isn’t only opening on the holiday, but opening two hours earlier than last year – at 6 p.m. Several other retailers are claiming this opening time, too, but Sears was one of the first to announce that it would open its doors before many families had even finished putting the leftover pie away. Big Lots! is another store that has a tradition of opening on Thanksgiving and taking workers away from their families.

The good news? Not every retail chain is depriving their employees of a happy holiday. Read on for the biggest companies taking a stand for workers’ and families’ rights by staying closed this Thanksgiving.

The 4 Best Thanksgiving Retailers

4th Best: DSW

DSW Black Friday

Early on in the season, when retailers began the race to be the earliest to open, DSW was one of the first to take a stand against Thanksgiving shopping. The Designer Shoe Warehouse announced its plans on Facebook in October, and so far has stood its ground even as more and more retail chains announce that they’re opening early.

Honorable mentions: Most of the big-box and department stores seem to be opening on Thanksgiving, but a lot of specialty stores are choosing to close for the holiday, such as video game store GameStop, bookstore Barnes & Noble, craft stores Hobby Lobby and Joann Fabrics, home improvement stores Lowe’s and Home Depot, recreational equipment store REI, home décor stores Pier 1 Imports and Crate & Barrel, and outdoor clothing store Patagonia.

3rd Best: Nordstrom

NordstromPhoto Credit: Flickr.

In case you thought every mall anchor store had to open on Thanksgiving, Nordstrom set itself apart from the likes of Macy’s, Sears, and J.C. Penney by waiting until Friday for its Black Friday sale. The company’s rationale is two-fold, and you’ve got to admire both reasons: not only does closing for Thanksgiving allow employees to spend time with their families on the holiday, but also, “we just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time,” Nordstrom said. No argument there.

Honorable mentions: Another major department store, Dillard’s, is also closing for Thanksgiving. So is women’s clothing store Talbot’s, proving that retailers don’t have to ruin the holiday just to make a profit.

2nd Best: TJX Stores

TJX StoresPhoto Credit: Flickr.

Discount chains TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods are a triple threat on the workers’ side of the War on Thanksgiving. TJX owns all of these stores as well as newly-acquired Sierra Trading Post (which will also close on Thanksgiving). Even when the stores’ after Thanksgiving sales start – on Friday – most stores won’t open until 7 a.m., pretty reasonable for Black Friday. Some stores will open at 5 on Friday, but that’s still better than opening 12 hours earlier.

Honorable mentions: Burlington Coat Factory, based here in New Jersey, has announced that it will close Thanksgiving for the good of its workers and open at 7 a.m. on Black Friday. Bed, Bath & Beyond will open at 6 Friday morning. 

Best: Costco

CostcoPhoto Credit: Flickr.

Costco has a reputation for being one of the best retailers to work for, sort of the anti-Walmart. The retail chain pays employees unusually high wages for the industry and even offers health insurance benefits to some of its part-time workers. While Costco is among the best employers in the retail industry year-round, the retailer has also led this year’s fight against Thanksgiving shopping.

Honorable mentions: Other membership stores, like BJ’s Wholesale Club, will also close for Thanksgiving. So will Sam’s Club, but don’t give that one too much credit – it’s owned by Walmart, which won’t be closing the rest of its stores for the holiday.

Retailers are trying awfully hard to lure shoppers into their stores on Thanksgiving, so much so that many Black Friday sales are barely recognizable compared to the major shopping events they once were. But critics say that the Gray Thursday phenomenon isn’t even profitable. Last year, Sears and Kmart saw decreases in sales compared to previous holiday seasons, meaning that the extended Thanksgiving hours “barely paid off,” The Huffington Post reported. If Thanksgiving Day sales are merely robbing Friday’s profits, why bother ruining workers’ holidays at all? Maybe these retail chains see it as just one more way to exploit employees, along with tactics like promoting workers to exempt positions to avoid paying them overtime.

My hope is that this Thanksgiving, would-be shoppers stay home and enjoy the holiday with their families and wait until Friday to shop. The only way to drive home the point that our nation isn’t okay with taking Thanksgiving away from workers is to hit these companies where it hurts: their profits. Ethical shopping means shopping at a time that’s fair to workers and supporting companies that treat workers right.

 

Troubling Trends in Labor-and-Wage Law

By Richard Console on November 18, 2014 - Comments off

When is a promotion at work not actually a promotion? When does getting a raise cut your earnings? For countless employees across the nation, more often than you might think – and recent lawsuit trends suggest that the problem has only gotten worse.

 Labor and wage lawEmployees work too hard for their money for our legal system – or our society – to turn a blind eye when employers exploit them. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

How Employers Exploit Employees

Companies are in business to make a profit – but so are their hardworking employees, who put in their time and effort to earn a living, support themselves or their family, and reach their dreams. Too often, employers today take advantage of their workers. One of the most unscrupulous ways employers exploit their employees is by giving them a promotion only to take money from them.

A diligent worker might work hours of paid overtime to complete his or her job duties. When the boss offers the employee a promotion and a raise, the worker thinks that his or her efforts are being rewarded. Little do employees know that companies often promote workers to reclassify them as “exempt” employees – which means that they will no longer get paid for the overtime that, in most cases, they are still expected to work. Even if a raise accompanied the promotion, it’s often not enough to make up for the lost overtime pay, and not nearly enough to compensate the worker for the total number of hours they now have to work.

Employee Exploitation Becomes a Growing Trend

In recent years, these deceitful actions on the part of employers have been on the rise. In 2012, USA Today reported that employees had filed 32 percent more lawsuits against employers for forcing them to put in unpaid time – and during the same year, AOL News aptly referred to such practices as “tricks employers use to cheat workers out of overtime.” As a lawyer, I’ve noticed a growing number of labor-and-wage lawsuits, and the attorneys I know who practice labor law have confirmed my suspicions. The evidence extends far beyond anecdotes. Major U.S. corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s have been the subject of recent wage theft lawsuits, The New York Times reported this summer.

This disturbing trend doesn’t end with low-paying retail and fast food jobs. Exploiting workers in this way happens across all industries and levels of career advancement, from minimum-wage earners forced to complete work off-the-clock to professionals who must handle business emails and phone calls outside of regular working hours. Our legal system can’t tolerate wage theft of any kind, no matter how large or successful the employer may be. No matter how much the employee makes or how much the employer saves, it’s simply wrong to essentially steal workers’ wages.

 

New Jersey Assembly Advances Assisted Suicide Bill

By Richard Console on November 14, 2014 - Comments off

Just weeks after the death of 29-year-old “death with dignity” advocate Brittany Maynard, legislators in the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill that could allow for physician-assisted suicide right here in our state. The topic remains controversial and the future of the bill is still unclear, but many people – myself included – see this vote as a step in the right direction. All terminally ill patients should have the right to make personal health decisions for themselves, based on what they and their families want. That includes the choice to seek aid in dying, which is currently illegal here in New Jersey and in most of the country.

 Terminally ill patientThe slow death that accompanies many terminal illnesses is painful for the patient and the whole family. As long as the patient is the one making the decision and self-administering the lethal medicine, why should the state limit patients’ rights? Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

The Assembly Vote

The vote took place yesterday, narrowly passing the bill with 31 votes against it and 41 votes for it – the minimum number of votes required to pass in the state assembly, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. If the bill eventually becomes a law, terminally ill patients will be allowed to choose to die with the help of a doctor. That’s a big ‘if.’ The state senate has not passed a similar bill that has been under consideration. Governor Chris Christie doesn’t support the bill, either. For now – and, if the bill doesn’t become a law, indefinitely – terminally ill New Jersey residents have two unappealing options: wait for the potentially slow and agonizing death from their disease or move to one of just five states that does allow dying patients to take their own lives.

That’s what advocate Brittany Maynard had to do to fulfill her wish to die with dignity earlier this month. After learning she had an aggressive form of brain cancer and  just months to live, she moved from her home in California to Oregon, where state laws allow assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Her tragic story really affected me on a personal level. It’s her life, so shouldn’t she, not the government, be the one to decide how she lives and when she dies?

Why New Jersey Needs a “Death with Dignity” Law

Unfortunately, many terminally ill patients aren’t able to simply relocate to an area where the government doesn’t restrict their freedom. Some are already too ill to make a cross-country journey. Others have families that can’t pick up and move to be with them in their last weeks or days. For some patients, the cost of moving is a factor, especially if their families are already burdened with crushing medical bills.

That’s why it’s important for our state to adopt assisted suicide laws, so patients have the option to die with dignity – without having to suffer needlessly and put loved ones through the pain of watching their family member’s health deteriorate. I don’t think it’s the government’s place to tell people who are already dying when and how their lives are allowed to end. I’m not alone, with more than half of the New Jersey residents surveyed supporting laws to permit assisted suicide and just 38 percent opposing those laws, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Soon, I hope, state lawmakers will come to the same realization and give the right to make this very personal medical decision back to New Jersey citizens.

 

Staten Island Accident Proves Falling Trash Can Injuries Are Deathly Serious

By Richard Console on November 13, 2014 - Comments off

When you look at a garbage or recycling can, you probably don’t see it as something dangerous. Yet a New York sanitation worker was killed yesterday in an encounter with a falling trash bin – in an incident that sounds disturbingly similar to personal injury case we resolved just last month.

Sanitation workerSanitation workers have an exceptionally high rate of fatal injuries on the job, but a death from a falling trash can is so unexpected that it made national headlines. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

The Breaking News

The facts currently being reported are few but tragic. The Flag Container Service Company had been unloading a trash bin from the truck near Staten Island’s Richmond County Country Club when the bin apparently fell on him, NBC News reported. The victim, a 40-year-old man whose name hasn’t been published as of this writing, suffered trauma to his head and torso. Though he was rushed to the hospital, his injuries proved fatal.

What the current reports don’t communicate is the tragedy of this accident or the danger falling trash and recycling bins pose. This yet unnamed gentleman never returned home from work last night. Those who love him – family, friends, neighbors, coworkers – will never again get to talk with him or laugh with him. This is nothing short of a tragedy, and my heart goes out to the victim and his loved ones.

More Dangerous than You’d Think

While the report of this death is unexpected, the fact that a falling trash container could cause such serious injuries isn’t all that surprising – at least, not if you’ve seen the damage these containers can cause. Last month, my law firm resolved a case involving a falling recycling can that left a woman with a herniated disc in her neck as well as other serious injuries. This accident took place right here in South Jersey – Deptford, to be exact.  The victim wasn’t a sanitation employee but instead an innocent passerby on her way home from walking her young daughter to the school bus stop. A nearby recycling truck lifted a can in its mechanical arms, with another can snagged onto the first. This second can was propelled over the truck and fell onto our client, knocking her down. Her injuries were so severe that she had to undergo spinal surgery, and still she continues to experience pain even now.

If a falling trash bin could kill a sanitation worker who handles this equipment on a daily basis, if a flying recycling can could leave a mother with a permanent neck injury, then the frightening truth is that anyone could become a victim of a falling trash or recycling bin or other seemingly harmless object. I don’t want to incite panic or imply that refuse can injuries are an epidemic of some kind, but it’s a danger worth watching for. I’d hate for even one more bystander or sanitation employee to have to suffer an avoidable injury because of falling trash or recycling can.

 

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