Sunday, May 29, 2011

Flawed "Food Pyramid" To Be Replaced

The USDA has announced that it is going to replace its 'Food Pyramid' with what they hope will be a less confusing 'Food Plate.' You can watch a 2 minute segment HERE from CNN where this change is discussed in more detail. I particularly enjoyed when the CNN anchor asks the nutritional expert incredulously at one point, "what the heck is this even for?"

When I grew up in the 1970s, the USDA  promoted what it called the 'Four Food Groups,' which it recommended from 1956 to 1992. Then in 1992, it changed over to a 'Food Pyramid.'   Why were the Four Food Groups replaced back in 1992? And why then?  It was surprisingly hard to find a concise answer to that simple question, actually. But on the USDA website I did find a somewhat turgid and self-congratulatory 18 page history of its nutritional guidance, which states in part:

"In 1977, Dietary Goals for the United States by the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs (U.S. Senate, 1977) heralded a new direction for dietary guidance. The focus shifted from obtaining adequate nutrients to avoiding excessive intakes of food components linked to chronic diseases... The goals drew attention to the need for new guidance on diet and health... Therefore, work began in 1988 to develop a graphic presentation of the food guide that conveyed the key concepts of the guide: variety, proportionality, and moderation. Consumer studies were conducted with adults having a high school education... After this testing, the food guide graphic was presented as a pyramid design."

So to summarize, in order to promote the fact that fats and sugars should be eaten more sparingly than other foods, in 1988 (a mere 11 years after that 1977 Senate committee report), the USDA began conducting extensive "consumer studies" and after four more years of work ultimately came up with a 'Food Pyramid' design that put those very fats and sugars at the very top.

And that design flaw is precisely the reason for the changeover now (a mere 20 years later) to the 'Food Plate,' apparently.

Our government at work.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In Search Of... Lost Vikings

Over the weekend I stumbled on part of a History Channel special that you can watch HERE called, "Who Really Discovered America?" Over 2 hours it examined various claims that the Chinese, Vikings, Polynesians and others may have made landfall in North America centuries before Columbus. The part about Leif Ericson establishing a colony in Canada called "Vinland" reminded me of an episode of the 1970s TV show In Search Of... that I had seen as a kid.  Called "In Search of....Lost Vikings," it first aired in  December 1978.  You can watch a segment HERE

While I was very open as a child to the existence of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, I remember being incredulous (for whatever reason) at the assertions in this episode that a colony of vikings had sailed in open boats from Greenland to Canada around 1,000 AD (500 years before Columbus), and established a colony there.   The irony is that this is one of the claims that In Search Of... examined during its six year run in the late 1970s that is now widely regarded as accurate.

But rather than focus on the more generally accepted archaeological work done at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, this episode instead focused on now widely dismissed claims made by a Canadian archaeologist named Thomas Lee that another site, on Pamiok Island in Ungava Bay, was the location of the first Norse colony.  Watching it again this morning, I was struck by how many times interbreeding with the native Inuits was mentioned. A focus of Lee's claim was a 10 foot tall stone monument there, which he named "The Hammer of Thor" (see photo).  It's now widely believed that this was actually an Inuit stone monument. Lee died in 1982, less than four years after appearing in this episode.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

There's An Old Rule In Politics...

Mitch Daniels' somewhat surprising announcement that he will not seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, was discussed this morning on Meet The Press in the clip below. There's been a lot of speculation about his wife's lack of enthusiasm for him mounting a presidential campaign.  I really liked a line from a Republican strategist in this segment. "There's an old rule in politics," he says, "if you're going to run, be sure that your wife is going to vote for you."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Escape From New York

Escape from New York (1981), which I just bought on Blu Ray, is one of my all-time favorite films. 

The movie was scripted to begin with a 10 minute scene showing how Snake Plissken (played by Kurt Russel) initially gets arrested following a bank robbery, before being sent to New York.  This scene was cut from the final version released to movie theaters, however.  It was finally included as a 'deleted scene' on a recent DVD, though, and you can watch it HERE.  Having now seen it myself, I actually think the movie is better without it.

You can also watch a 15 minute interview with the film's legendary director, creator, and co-writer, John Carpenter, conducted in 1994.  In part 1 HERE he discusses the origin of the concept and the original script, the casting of Lee Van Cleef, and the special effects work done in part by (a very young) James Cameron.  In part 2  HERE, he discusses how the film is really a western and not a science fiction movie, the character of Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell channeling Clint Eastwood), and and the bizarre, unstated back story about why English actor Donald Pleasance plays the President of the United States.

As an epilogue, another sequel was planned to follow 1996's Escape From L.A. It was to be called "Escape From Earth," and was to begin right where Escape From L.A. ended, with the world about to be plunged into chaos.  The film proposal never went anywhere, however, because of the disappointing box office results of Escape From L.A.

In Search Of... The Angel of Death

A few days ago I watched an excellent episode of a National Geographic channel TV series called Nazi Hunters.  It profiled the decades-long search for the infamous Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, the so-called "Angel of Death." The show detailed how the Israeli Mossad almost captured Mengele at the same time they kidnapped Adolph Eichmann in Argentina in 1960, which was news to me.  Eichmann and Mengele had apparently met several times for coffee in Buenos Aires in the late 1950s, since they both lived relatively openly in the area at the time. Another revelation was that Mengele actually died in 1979 while body surfing at a beach not far from São Paulo, Bazil, where he had lived out the last years of his life.

This latter detail reminded me of an episode of the 1970s TV show In Search Of... that I had seen as a kid, which detailed Simon Wiesenthal's then-ongoing search for Josef Mengele. This episode, which you can watch HERE, was also titled, "Angel of Death."  Little did I or anyone else know at the time it first aired on February 1, 1979, that Josef Mengele had less than a week to live.

Until 1985, it was widely believed that Mengele was still living in Paraguay, where he was last sighted. This conventional wisdom is reflected in this 1979 episode of In Search Of...  "The closer one gets to Mengele, " concludes narrator Leonard Nimoy, "the more elusive he seems to become... Wherever Mengele is in Paraguay, he has the protection of the Stroessner regime....This road, which leads to a well-guarded gate that we were unable to photograph, is the access to a hacienda where Mengele lives today..."

Not quite, as it turns out.  But it wasn't until 1985, when, acting on a tip, German police raided the home of a long-time Mengele family administrator named Hans Sedlmeier (who'd been secretly sending Josef Mengele  money from Germany for decades) that the truth was finally learned and the location of Mengele's grave in Brazil was discovered. And it wasn't until those remains were DNA tested in the early 1990s, that Mengele's identity (and, therefore, his fate) was conclusively established.

The episode of Nazi Hunters ends with an intriguing footnote to this story.  At the time of Menegle's death in 1979, his friends in Brazil apparently sought permission from his family in Germany to cremate Mengele's remains.  Because of the secrecy, however, they were unable to obtain that permission in a timely manner, and so his body was buried instead.  Had Mengele's remains been cremated (and therefore rendered unable to be DNA tested later) it's likely, the show concludes, that many people today would still not believe he was actually dead.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Thin Market For Andy Warhol's Work

In the wake of some record-breaking multi-million dollar selling prices for Andy Warhol's work at recent auctions in New York, the Economist magazine has taken a more detailed look at the nature of the market for his art HERE.  They conclude that the prices Warhol's works now command at auction are a function of a thin but passionate collector base.

Perhaps more interestingly, it's also a market whose thinness leaves it vulnerable to distortion.  One example cited in this article is that of a Warhol collector who has apparently amassed over 800 Warhols since the artist's death in the 1980s, and who has been known to continue to bid on more of his work as it comes up for auction today.  Even if he doesn't win these auctions, his bids have the effect of increasing the perceived market value of his existing collection, which benefits him when he is then a periodic seller.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When I Met Newt Gingrich

Did you catch the Newt Gingrich interview on Meet The Press a couple of days ago?  There is some lingering controversy about whether moderator David Gregory 'set him up' and unfairly ambushed Gingrich with questions concerning his views on healthcare reform.  If you like, you can watch the clip below of David Gregory addressing this issue on MSNBC this morning. The clip starts with a citizen in Iowa coming up to Gingrich yesterday and angrily confronting him, asserting that he'd 'undercut Paul Ryan.'  This confrontation reminded me of the time I met Newt Gingrich myself.

It was in 1999, after he had resigned his Speakership and House seat following the 1998 mid-term elections, which had gone poorly for Republicans. A buddy of mine and I walked into an English-style pub near Stanford University in Palo Alto, California one random weekday night and, to our amazement, there sat Newt Gingrich at the end of the bar, having a quiet beer.  The place was pretty much empty.  Just Newt Gringrich (accompanied by what looked like a young Secret Service agent to me, who was not drinking), my buddy and I, and a college-age guy and his girlfriend (who were vaguely hippie-looking).  I ordered a beer and tried to work up the courage to walk 10 feet down the bar and say hello to Gingrich myself.  But after I'd had just a couple of sips of my beer, Newt got up to leave.

As he walked toward the door (passing right next to me), the hippie-looking guy said something profane and  insulting to Newt (which I wont repeat here), in a childish manner that seemed intended to impress his girlfriend.  But unlike in this clip, where Newt politely walks away, that night a decade ago, Newt leaned back toward the hippie guy and said clearly and calmly to him, "F--k off."  

I still enjoy the vivid memory of how the look on  that hippie guy's face transformed so instantly from one of righteous, hands-on-hips indignation to stunned, open-mouthed amazement.

The Wilt Chamberlain of Big Macs

A 57 year old, retired prison guard from Wisconsin named Don Gorske ate his record 25,000th Big Mac yesterday, as you can read HERE. The fact that he'd eaten Big Macs every single day for 39 years was amazing enough.  Even more startling is that he's not fat.  (There's a photo in this article.) In fact, he's pretty trim. 

But what I found even more noteworthy is that he only entered the Guinness World Records after having eaten his 23,000th Big Mac two years ago, apparently; implying that someone else must've previously eaten Big Macs every single day for 40 years as well.

I also thought it was interesting that in 39 years (over 14,000 days) he's only gone 8 days without eating at least one Big Mac. And one of those days (only one day!) was to grant his mother's dying wish.

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Finally, A Gun For The Bed"

The headline, "Finally, A Gun For The Bed" caught my attention this morning.  This 2 minute video jokingly 'examines' a TV commercial for the "BackUp": a shotgun rack that mounts to your bed.  The official website HERE proclaims, among other things, "if you like the BackUp, then you'll need  a BackUp for each side of the bed," as well as, "Regarding children, the BackUp is a rack."

Touch-Screen Terminals At McDonald's In Europe

A few days ago I posted a link here to an article from BusinessWeek detailing how fast food chains had striven for years to increase the efficiency of their business processes and had succeeded to the point where there was not  much, if any, further streamlining possible.  Today McDonald's announced that in Europe it will soon begin replacing human cashiers at its restaurants with touch-screen terminals (taking only credit cards) to be operated by the customers themselves. The switch will apparently shave a few seconds off the transaction time of each order, and, like the use of a store loyalty card, will also give McDonald's more data about its customers' ordering habits and demographics. You can read more about it HERE.

The Wing of the ISI That Hid Bin Laden

HERE's a short article this morning on the shadowy 'S Wing' of the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI. "The official said it was widely assumed in Washington—though unproved—that if any element of ISI was responsible for providing sanctuary for Bin Laden during his years in Pakistan, 'it had to have been S Wing at work.'"

The "Sovereign Citizen" Movement

I'd never heard the term "sovereign citizen" before last week.  I was watching an episode of the A&E reality TV show Parking Wars, which profiles parking enforcement officers in Philadelphia as they go around ticketing, 'booting,' and towing cars.  Upon discovering a parking ticket on his car, one random guy went crazy and began ranting about how he was a "sovereign citizen" and so could not be legally issued any parking tickets.

I didn't realize until I saw this segment on 60 Minutes last night profiling "sovereign citizens" that this guy was actually part of a spreading anti-government movement in this country:

Art Made From Discarded Books

Last night the CBS Evening News  ran this two minute segment profiling an American artist who crafts intricate sculptures by taking an exacto knife to old, discarded hardback books:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

In Search of... UFO Coverups

Have you seen the newest footage purporting to show  the body of a dead space alien, which this time apparently originated in Russia?  If not, you can watch the 1 minute video HERE.  It's caused a 'viral video' sensation in recent weeks, and now has almost 10 million views.

This reminded of an episode of the 1970s TV show In Search Of... titled "UFO Coverups" that first aired in 1980, alleging that the government was secretly keeping dead alien bodies in Hangar 18 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. You can watch a 10 minute segment from this episode by clicking HERE. I liked the TV show In Search of... a lot as a kid. I've enjoyed re-watching some of the old episodes and lovingly critiquing, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, some of the explanations proffered for the mysteries the show examined. 

This episode features clips of an interview with a man named Peter Gersten, who is described as an attorney who sued the government to force it to release classified UFO-related documents. As an epilogue, Peter Gertsen is still alive today and has retired to Sedona, Arizona.  In a 2007 interview posted on You Tube HERE, he details his plan to leap off Bell Rock there at 11:11 AM on December 21, 2012 (the Winter Solstice)  because he believes that at that precise moment a 'cosmic portal' will open there and propel him through it.

When I saw this episode as a kid, it was the first time I'd ever heard of Hangar 18 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. "For 30 years rumors have spread about Wright-Patterson Air Force Base," explained narrator Leonard Nimoy. "According to the stories, the US government is concealing under top security flying saucers from another world, and alien bodies cryogenically suspended in huge freezers...The stories and rumors all mention a mysterious Hangar 18."  

A man named Ray Fowler, introduced as a 'leading civilian UFO investigator for 17 years,' then produces an un-named eye witness to a UFO crash in Kingman, Arizona in 1953, who agrees to an on-camera interview only if his identity is hidden.  The mystery man then relates an amazing story about having been unwittingly drawn into a surreptitious  military mission to recover the wreck of this alien spacecraft, and about having seen 'two bodies.' Leonard Nimoy makes extended references to how long Ray Fowler has known this un-named man as a friend, and to Ray's own professional background working on the Minuteman missile.  Presumably this was all done to bolster the credibility of this anonymous witness.

According to Wikipedia, Ray Fowler is still alive today as well, and is in his late 70s. Though in a 1991 book he apparently acknowledged publicly for the first time that he had himself been abducted by extraterrestrials. According to Wikipedia, this revelation caused a rift in his family and he was thereafter forbidden from seeing his grandchildren for some time.

Auction of the Unabomber's Personal Belongings

Next week the U.S. Justice Department is going to auction off the personal possessions of convicted Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, with the proceeds going to his victims.  You can read more about it in The Washington Post HERE.  The two most interesting lots are his iconic gray hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses (at left) and the original, hand written copy of his 'manifesto.'

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What's It Like To Work At Taco Bell?

A reporter for BusinessWeek spent time at a Taco Bell in Tustin, California, and wrote a detailed article about it HERE.  I was surprised by the level of thought and analysis that has apparently gone into almost every aspect of the business, both from the employee side and the customer side. Among the interesting revelations were:
  • "According to the National Restaurant Assn., the fast-food industry will do $168 billion in sales for 2011, and about 70 percent of that will come in through drive-thru windows."
  • It allegedly takes an average of 164 seconds for Taco Bell to serve each customer at its drive thru window, from the time they order to the time they drive away.  That's less than 3 minutes. (I've never been served anywhere near that quickly there, though. Ever.)
  • "The development of new menu items has become subservient to the need to get food to drivers as quickly as possible."
  • "The Stuffer in the hot holding area stuffs the meat into the tortillas, ladling beef with Taco Bell's proprietary tool, the BPT, or beef portioning tool."
  • "At some locations, 70 percent of the business was coming through the drive-thru, and 80 percent of that was coming in about 90 minutes of peak time around lunch. That meant that 56 percent of the total business was being conducted at one window in one and a half hours."

It's Never Good To Make "Orgy" News, Is It?

Back in 2008 the British tabloid News of the World made worldwide headlines by publishing photos of the then-head of Formula One's governing body participating in "orgies" with multiple hookers in London.  Compounding things, 71 year-old Max Mosely is the son of Oswald Mosely, the infamous head of Britian's pro-Nazi fascist party in the 1930s, and some of these "orgies" appeared to have vaguely Nazi themes and to involve play-acted sadomasochism.

Max Mosely later won a lawsuit against the newspaper and was awarded £60,000 (roughly $100,000) in damages, with the Judge saying he found "no evidence of Nazi behavior" in the orgies, as you can read HERE. (Though he lost another, related lawsuit today, as you can read HERE.)

But  you're never going to recover from worldwide headlines like, "Sick Nazi Orgy With Five Hookers," are you, no matter how many $100,000 lawsuits you win?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In Search of..... Atlantis

A surprisingly compelling National Geographic Channel special aired a few weeks back examining an increasingly accepted theory that the mythical city of Atlantis may actually have been based on a real ancient city located on southern coast of Spain, just beyond the Straits of Gibraltar. You can watch a 4 minute preview of the show below. It re-airs next on May 22, apparently. 

Watching it, I was reminded of an episode of In Search Of... titled simply "Atlantis" that first aired in 1976. You can watch a 10 minute segment from this episode by clicking HERE. I liked the TV show In Search of... a lot as a kid in the 1970's. I've enjoyed re-watching some of the old episodes and lovingly critiquing, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, some of the explanations proffered for the mysteries the show examined.  This episode starts by profiling another traditionally accepted potential inspiration for Plato's Atlantis, Santorini. (Though the show does indulge in some typical hyperbole, like referring to the remains of an old astrolabe found there as, "part of an ancient computer.")

But the episode then veers into the more 'speculative,' by focusing on an underwater rock formation off the coast of the Bahamas called the 'Bimini Road,' first sighted in 1967.  The idea that this rock formation was part of the ruins of Atlantis was originally inspired by a prediction made by the American psychic Edgar Cayce in 1940. "It was precisely where Cayce said Atlantis would be.... Huge white blocks, chiseled with incredible precision... No one knows how they got here, 35 feet beneath the sea off the coast of Bimini," intones narrator Leonard Nimoy. "Two possible explanations exist.One, the stones are the remains of a network of paved roads. Two, they are the tops of huge stone walls that once enclosed the palaces of Atlantis."

Actually, it turns out that there was a third possible explanation: that the 'Bimini Road' was merely a natural rock formation.

"Happy Days" Lawsuit: What 'Merchandising'?

Did you hear the news recently that several of the actors from the 1970s sit com "Happy Days" are now suing CBS claiming they have not been paid their contractual share of merchandising revenue received by CBS in recent years?

When I first heard about this, I was surprised because every news source seemed to recite the same laundry list of licensed merchandise that didn't seem right to me.  When was the last time you saw "Happy Days" comic books, or trading cards, or lunch boxes?   Those particular products just couldn't be the genesis of the suit in 2011, I thought. Well, as it turns out the real driver was the licensing of "Happy Days" slot machines, as you can read HERE.

"The Cars" First New Album In 24 Years Out Today

Do you remember the band, "The Cars"? Their last album was released in 1987.  So if you've thought of them at all over the last 25 years, it's probably been when you heard one of their old hits (like "Just What I Needed") on the local classic rock radio station, probably while driving.

Their first new album in 24 years is being released today, called "Move Like This." If you've only ever listened to The Cars' greatest hits album, or only heard their songs on the radio, you might think of them as a typical 'windows down, classic rock' band.  But the majority of the songs on their old albums were much more 70's New Wave.  The two new singles from the album have been posted on You Tube. One of the two singles, Sad Song, is closer to the classic rock style, while the other single, Blue Tip, is more New Wave.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Can't A Father Buy "Wonder Woman"?

I was in the store the other day and this DVD of an animated "Wonder Woman" film caught my eye.  My young daughter has started to like Wonder Woman cartoons, and the DVD was only $3, so I decided to get it for her. But when I put it down at the register, the cashier gave me several 'funny' looks.

Maybe that's because the only other thing I was buying was Gillette body wash.

When I Was Curt With John Le Carre

John Le Carre, now almost 80 years old, is probably best known for his 1963 novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.  He gave what he announced would be his final interview to CBS Sunday Morning back in February (embedded below). 

I met him in person very briefly about 13 or 14 years ago when he was giving a lecture one evening at Stanford University. This was less than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and at the time his brand of spy thriller was distinctly out of fashion.  Nevertheless, I was (and still am) a big fan and was genuinely thrilled to hear him speak in person.

Before the lecture started, those of us waiting to attend were milling around out in front.  A white haired older man in a cardigan sweater came up to me and asked very politely if this was the auditorium where John Le Carre was scheduled to speak. Not wanting to get bogged down in conversation with some strange old guy (probably a spy nut!), I said "yes" a little curtly and then stared away.  But he just remained there next to me, in silence. A few awkward minutes later, the doors swung open and we all filed into the auditorium.  "I hope that guy doesn't come sit next to me," I thought to myself.  And to my relief, he did not.

When we'd all found a seat, I looked back to see that older man walking purposefully down the aisle and up onto the stage.  Yup.  That was him. John Le Carre himself. He looked then pretty much exactly as he does in this recent CBS interview, actually.


Class Action Over Taco Bell's 'Meat' Quietly Dropped

Do you remember the news back in January when a high profile class action lawsuit was filed against Taco Bell, alleging that it's taco meat was actually only 36% beef, with the rest consisting of, "extenders and other non-meat substances"? 

Had you also heard that this lawsuit has now been quietly dropped by the plaintiffs without any settlement by Taco Bell? Not surprisingly, that's made far less news. (Though you can read more in the Wall Street Journal HERE.)

Did Waterboarding Lead to Osama bin Laden?

The White House National Security Advisor was interviewed for 15 minutes on "Meet The Press" yesterday.  Host David Gregory asked him directly three times whether waterboarding played a role in locating bin Laden, starting at about the 11 minute mark of the video embedded below.  He never answers the question directly and instead responds repeatedly, "I'm not going to comment on any single piece of intelligence."  We can all draw our own conclusions from his evasiveness on this politically sensitive issue.

Perhaps as interesting, near the 13:30 mark, Gregory then asks him to confirm the rumor that, when they met President Obama in person, none of the SEALs  involved in the raid would confirm (even for the President himself) which of them had actually pulled the trigger.

SNL: Tina Fey's Tribute To Great Women Writers

Tina Fey hosted last weekend's Saturday Night Live.  I really like "30 Rock," and I really enjoyed this 3 minute segment from SNL: