Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Hoarders" of 1947

I'm not a huge fan of the cable TV series "Hoarders," about people who live in homes crammed to the ceiling with junk, trash, and 'collectibles.' To its credit, the show tries to get at the root of the problem, which is almost always psychological and typically based on trauma (frequently childhood trauma). For me, that makes the show tragic rather than whimsical.

Nevertheless, until now I've always assumed that 'hoarding' was a modern phenomenon, somehow a decadent manifestation of post-WWII consumer culture in America.

But THIS article in today's New York Daily News, about two brothers who lived for decades as notorious hermits in a Harlem brownstone before WWII amid the clutter of a lifetime, suggests the phenomenon of 'hoarding' is much older, and is perhaps psychological, not cultural, after all. 

Homer and Langley Collyer were found dead in their dilapidated home in 1947, after not having been seen in public for years.  This article has a 21 photo slideshow of what police found when they broke into the home, looking for the men.  There were 5 grand pianos buried under the piles of junk, as well as a stash of pornography and a skeleton.  The men's bodies were also found, after an extensive search.  One brother apparently died when he accidentally triggered one of their own booby traps.  The other, already an invalid reliant on his brother for care, died helpless and unattended soon thereafter.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why Is Gvt. Encouraging Deer To Cross Road?

"Listeners of a North Dakota radio station got a good laugh when an incensed caller complained about the government putting up deer crossing signs in high-traffic areas. But the caller, only identified as Donna, didn’t seem to understand that such signs aren’t for deer to be told where they can cross  but rather for drivers..."

“'I’ve even seen [the signs] on the interstate,' Donna said on the Fargo-area radio station, Y94 Playhouse. 'Why are we encouraging deer to cross at the interstate?' But her questioning didn’t end there. 'It seems to me that it’s so irresponsible of us to allow these deer crossings to be in an area where these deer are so likely to be struck by oncoming traffic,' she said."

You can read the entire New York Daily News article (including a link to the audio) HERE.

Bigfoot Trashed My Winnebago

"Police responding to a call of broken windows on a motor home in Dauphin County said they were told that Bigfoot may be to blame... The person making the complaint told the trooper that taillights and windows on his 1973 Dodge Winnebago had been smashed... Police said the man told them that after he saw the Bigfoot, he turned on an outside light on his motor home and upon doing so, the Bigfoot began throwing rocks at the light to prevent discovery."

You can read the entire local news story HERE.

Friday, October 19, 2012

High-End Art Heist Reveals Facts About Art Crime

Seven masterpieces, including works by Picasso, Matisse, and Monet worth over $100 million collectively, were stolen earlier this week from a Dutch museum. Thieves broke into the Kunsthal in Rotterdam at 3 AM and made off with the paintings before anyone could stop them. The director of the Kunsthal, Emily Ansenk, described it as, "every museum director's worst nightmare," and then went on to characterize the museum's security as "state of the art." But according to THIS Associated Press story, the Kunsthal had no security guards on-site, despite the pricelessness of the works on display inside. If Ms. Ansenk considers that "state of the art" security, I'd be worried if I were the owner of the works (the Triton Foundation) that she characterized their insurance coverage as merely "adequate."

This 2 minute story about the heist from ABC World News noted a couple of interesting tangential facts.  Apparently less than 10% of stolen art is ever recovered.  And yet the paintings are almost valueless to the thieves because they are un-saleable. As is to be expected, no legitimate dealer, museum, or private collector would buy the works.  But surprisingly, 'experts' cited in this piece aver that there isn't really a worldwide black market for stolen high-end art either. That assertion shocks me.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Angry Man Punches Darth Vader's Wife

What's in a name?  Well, if you legally change your name to "Darth Vader," as Mark Nokes did, you can expect to make news when anything in your life goes wrong.

According to THIS article in today's New York Daily News, one of "Darth Vader's" neighbors, 35 year old Ikbal Hare, suspected that "Darth Vader" had been sleeping with his wife.  Hare confronted "Vader," apparently, and in the ensuing scuffle Hare accidentally punched "Darth Vader's" wife when she attempted to intervene.  Hare ran home, got a knife, and then went back to "Darth Vader's" house, looking for him. "Vader" fled by crawling out a back window.

What Fidel Castro And Jimmy Hoffa Share

Speculation about 86 year old Fidel Castro's imminent death has once again reached a fever pitch in recent days. (HERE is a CNN article today.) Like reports that Jimmy Hoffa's body may finally have been found, news that Castro is on his deathbed seems to come up every few years now, very reliably, only for false hopes to be dashed predictably once more.

In related news, the recent speculation that an informer with mob ties had finally led the FBI to Jimmy Hoffa's body, buried under the driveway of Patricia Szpunar's home in suburban Detroit, proved groundless once again. Tests of soil samples taken there were revealed on October 2nd to be negative for decomposition. 

 The week before, on September 27, ABC News published THIS interview with a Jimmy Hoffa expert, who claimed also to have been contacted by this un-named mob informant months earlier.  This expert's extreme skepticism was validated a few days later when the soil tests came back negative. But he does reveal a lot of detail about the 'mystery' informant himself and also discusses how the authorities (and the Hoffa family) handle the endless stream of 'Hoffa tips.'

"Mad Libs" Creator Has Died

Do you remember "Mad Libs"?  If so, you may want to watch THIS 30 second clip from the NBC Nightly News last night.  It's a short obituary for their co-creator, who has just died.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Unintended Consequences: "False Positives"

A small seaside town in Maine near Kennebunkport has been rocked by an unlikely prostitution scandal, as you may have heard.  A 29 year old dance instructor named Alexis Wright was charged earlier this month with engaging in prostitution out of her "Pura Vida" dance studio, where she taught a Latin-inspired fitness program called 'Zumba.'

Given the sleepy, staid location, that in and of itself was sort of noteworthy, especially locally.  But these sorts of scandals only really gain traction in the national media when rumors begin spreading that there's a list of johns which may be disclosed.  And that's happened in this case, too.  According to NBC News HERE, "Police said she kept meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months."  The town of Portland, Maine has been on pins-and-needles for days awaiting the promised release of this list of names.

Police began releasing the names yesterday (after getting court approval).  But it was first and last names only: no middle names, no addresses, an no ages. That was a condition imposed by the court, apparently. An unanticipated problem immediately emerged, however. "'The fact is that by releasing names only, you're getting a lot of false positives. You're implicating people who may be completely innocent and simply share the same or similar names with people charged, and that's a real harm,' Schutz told the AP."

Yesterday, the same superior court justice in Maine reversed his earlier decision and these other identifying details are now being released publicly.  So now men like Paul Main don't have to keep denying they're THE 'Paul Main' on the notorious list.  (It turns out there are 20 residents of Maine named Paul Main.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

FBI Now Investigating Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Jesse Jackson, Jr. is apparently under investigation by the FBI for violation of  campaign finance laws, according to THIS 3 minute video from NBC News.  The allegations swirling around the Congressman from Illinois apparently center on renovations to a Washington, D.C. townhouse he owns, which was briefly put on the market last year for $2.5 million.

You may remember that, as I wrote HERE, Rep. Jackson has been AWOL from Congress since June. His staff have said that he is receiving treatment for a "mood disorder" in Arizona.  According to this NBC News piece, Jackson has missed over 225 consecutive roll call votes in the House of Representatives dating back to June 2012, when he took a leave of absence from Congress.

Despite that, and despite a string a personal and political scandals that have plagued Rep. Jackson in recent years (as detailed in this video), and despite rumors in July that Jackson was actually being treated for alcoholism, according to NBC News Jackson is apparently highly likely to get re-elected in November anyway.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Saturday Night Live: iPhone Complaints

I thought this skit from "Saturday Night Live" a couple of nights ago, where techies complain about the new iPhone 5 to the Chinese workers who assemble them, was funny.

I also liked this parody of a ubiquitous TV commercial for a new Gillette razor.

Police Not Wearing Seat Belts

"Although most state’s laws require police to use seat belts, federal data show that only about half of them do, and over the past three decades, 19 percent of the officers killed in accidents were ejected from their vehicles."

"By contrast, 84 percent of all American drivers use their seat belts, the NHTSA estimates."

You can read more in The Washington Post HERE.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How Faith Affected One Driver

I recently found myself driving behind a champagne-colored mini van after it swooped dangerously in front of my car without warning as we both exited the freeway in heavy traffic.  (Based solely on the description of that vehicle, could you make an educated guess about the demographics of the driver?)

As it turned out, we were both taking the same 'back way' to avoid the rush hour crawl.  So I ended up following this mini van through a winding series of residential side streets as it 'rolled' through several stop signs, perpetually drove well over the speed limit, sometimes veered into oncoming traffic, and never once signaled before turning. 

Then about a mile or so later this same mini van, which had been more-or-less careening down the street, suddenly came to a complete stop at a stop sign and dutifully signaled for a right hand turn before continuing.  It then made a slow right turn with almost military precision and drove at exactly the speed limit for a block before pulling slowly and deliberately into a local First Baptist Church.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Is a Lap Dance "Tax-Exempt Art"?

"New York's highest court will consider legal arguments by a strip club on whether nude dancing is an art and deserves a state tax exemption as such.The case set for oral arguments Wednesday."

You can read the entire Associated Press article HERE.

"Nite Moves claims the dances are exempt under state tax law as 'live dramatic or musical arts performances.' The exemption also applies to theater or ballet. The club is relying on testimony from a cultural anthropologist who has studied exotic dance and visited Nite Moves... The appellate court also noted that the club dancers are not required to have any formal dance training and that the anthropologist didn't see any of the dances done in private rooms. "

So is the difference between a regular patron and a 'cultural anthropologist' whether you've been in the champagne room?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

World's Craziest Water Slides

A new Travel + Leisure magazine article HERE has ranked the the 'World's Craziest Water Slides.'  It includes a slideshow featuring photos of all 13, with names like 'Insano' and 'Leap of Faith' and 'King Cobra.'  Some of them are pretty amazing.  But what surprised me most was that 2 of the 13 are located in Italy and another one is in Austria.

When I think about Italy, many things come to mind immediately.  Over-the-top water slides and giant amusement parks would not have been among them.  Until now.

New Study: Organic Foods Not Much Healthier

"Patient after patient asked: Is eating organic food, which costs more, really better for me? Unsure, Stanford University doctors dug through reams of research to find out - and concluded there's little evidence that going organic is much healthier, citing only a few differences involving pesticides and antibiotics... Nor did the organic foods prove more nutritious."

 "'There are many reasons why someone might choose organic foods over conventional foods,' from environmental concerns to taste preferences, Bravata stressed. But when it comes to individual health, 'there isn't much difference.'"

You can read the entire Associated Press article HERE.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Women Auditioned To Be Tom Cruise's Next Wife

Vanity Fair magazine is reporting that the Church of Scientology once embarked on a 'top secret project' to find Tom Cruise a wife before he married Katie Holmes in which, "actresses who were already Scientology members were called in." 

In 2004, an actress was selected for this "very important mission." But Tom Cruise allegedly grew tired of her. She was banished to a Scientology facility in Florida and forced to do manual labor.

You can watch a 3 minute segment about these revelations from NBC's Today show HERE.

New E-Mails About Michael Jackson's Comeback

"The story of Jackson's ill-fated comeback attempt has been told in news reports, a manslaughter trial and a feature-length documentary. But a cache of confidential AEG emails obtained by The Times offers a darker picture of the relationship between the down-on-his-luck idol and the buttoned-up corporation taking a bet on his erratic talents."

"'MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent,' Phillips said in an email to his boss at Anschutz Entertainment Group, the Los Angeles company staking a fortune on the singer. 'I [am] trying to sober him up... I screamed at him so loud the walls are shaking... He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self loathing and doubt now that it is show time.'"

You can read more in the Los Angeles Times HERE.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Speed of Beer Drinking Tied To Shape of Glass

"A new study shows that the shape of one's beer glass affects how fast people gulp down the beverage... On average, it took people drinking beer out of a straight glass 11 minutes to finish 12 oz. Those drinking out of the curved glass only took seven minutes. There was no difference in time for people consuming soft-drinks out of either glass."

"Researchers believe that people had a hard time judging and pacing themselves with the curvy glass because of the shape... Attwood told the BBC that the lack of difference among the soda drinkers was probably because they weren't as concerned about how fast they drank the soft drinks."

You can read more at CBS News HERE.

"Mountain Dew A.M." Coming To Taco Bell

"Taco Bell said Friday that it's adding Mtn Dew A.M — a mix of Mountain Dew soda and Tropicana orange juice — to its breakfast menu, which was rolled out earlier this year at select locations."

You can read the entire Associated Press article HERE. This sentence at the end of the piece made me laugh. "A representative for Taco Bell wasn't immediately available to provide details on the orange juice-to-soda ratio in Mtn Dew A.M."

Friday, August 31, 2012

"Crayola" Makes 3 Billon Crayons A Year

CNN Money did THIS 2 minute profile of Crayola, including an interview with their CEO. Like a lot of things on CNN in recent years, they managed to make this 'fun' topic bland to the point of boring.  But I was surprised when the CEO said that Crayola makes 3 billion crayons a year, and that they're still made in America.

Three billion seems like a lot to me.  Crayola LLC a private company, so its financial information is not publicly available. But if the crayons are still made in America, presumably they're mostly sold here as well. (Could they realistically compete on price in, say, China with knock-off products manufactured there.)  According to HERE, there were 24.3 million children ages 0-5 in America in 2010 and a further 24.6 million aged 6-11.  Can 49 million American kids really be consuming the majority of 3 billion crayons a year?  If they bought a collective 2 billion a year, that would mean each and every kid in America ages 0-11 was getting 41 new crayons a year.

I also thought it was interesting how relatively 'low tech' the manufacturing process still was.  (Though on reflection I'm not sure what else I was expecting, given the nature of the product.)

Ratings For "Honey Boo Boo" Top GOP Convention

I've been interested in politics for my entire adult life.  But I've never been particularly interested in political conventions.  I've never understood why they command three (or even four) nights of prime time TV coverage.  That seems out of all proportion to their newsworthiness, as well as their entertainment and educational value.

This morning brings the news that the ratings for TLC's reality show "Honey Boo Boo," which follows the life of a child of the same name (and her 'redneck' family) who participates in over-the-top beauty pageants for little girls, topped those for the Republican National Convention last night.

You can read more on NBC News HERE.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bigfoot Hoax Ends In Death

"A man trying to create a Bigfoot hoax on a highway died after being hit by two cars, officials in Montana said... A 15-year-old girl hit him with her car, another car swerved, and a third car driven by a 17-year-old ran him over, CNN affiliate KECI reported."

"[A]ccording to his companions he was 'attempting to incite a sighting of Bigfoot -- to make people think they had seen a Sasquatch,' Schneider said in the KECI report. But authorities received no calls from drivers thinking they had seen Bigfoot, the station reported."

You can read more at CNN HERE.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Egypt's Garbage Crisis And Pigs

"Garbage in Cairo has traditionally been collected by the Zabbaleen, Coptic Christians who for decades made the city’s waste their livelihood. After sorting organic waste from glass and plastic, the trash collectors sold the recyclable goods to national and international companies. Pigs, once omnipresent in predominantly Christian neighborhoods, would eat the rest."

"When the animals were fat, they were sent to slaughterhouses that catered to hotels. In the spring of 2009, alarmed by the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico, Egyptian authorities ordered the immediate slaughter of all pigs in the country... The ban on trash-eating pigs removed a major method of disposal, sparking a crisis in the city of 19 million people. Trash cans are often overflowing and garbage is routinely left on sidewalks and empty lots, resulting in a nauseating smell and attracting rats and flies."

"But, compounding the problem, trash workers employed by companies with state contracts say their wages have been late or incomplete in recent months, as Egypt’s economy has been reeling from the 2011 revolt and its aftermath."

You can read more in The Washington Post HERE.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

New Data On Kids' Allowance In America Today

"Kids are raking in an average of $15 a week in allowance... While children generally receive a larger allowance the older they get, the average across all ages is $780 a year, according to a survey by the American Institute of CPAs... The AICPA's survey found that 61% of parents pay an allowance, and more than half of them starting making these payments to their kids by the time they're eight years old. Yet only 1% of parents say their child ever saves any of that money."

"Although many parents are quick to point out that their kids aren't getting a free ride. Almost all of the parents (89%) who responded to the survey said they expect their children to work at least one hour a week. On average, these kids work 6.2 hours a week."

You can read more at CNN Money HERE.

Politically Incorrect Aspect Of PEDs In MLB

You've probably heard about the 50 game suspensions handed down by Major League Baseball in recent days to Melky Cabrera and then Bartolo Colon for using 'performance enhancing drugs,' or PEDs. This news has highlighted another issue that's more awkward for the media to address, however.

"When it comes to steroid busts in baseball, Se Habla Espanol. Latin America has a history of producing baseball stars that is more than a century old - and a recent history of over-producing steroid cheaters... Four of the five big-league players ensnared by baseball's PED testing program this season are from Latin America. And a whopping 23 of the 37 suspensions by major league baseball since 2005 have gone to players born in Latin America."  You can read more, including some explanations for this trend, in the Miami Herald HERE.

23 of 37 is 62%.  Major League Baseball has 32 teams, each with a 40 man roster, a total of 1,280 players.  According to statistics on Wikipedia HERE, 207 current players were born in Latin America and the Caribbean.  That's 16% of 1,280.

Read more here:

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Friday, August 24, 2012

The "James Bond" Myth: Low Pay At MI6

Real life spies in the British secret service (MI6) are paid annual salaries that range from $40,000 - $60,000 a year according to THIS CBS News article, a meager amount that is apparently causing morale problems.

A store manager at McDonald's in the United States earns $39,000 a year on average, according to HERE,

D'oh: USPS Loses $1.2M On "Simpsons" Stamps

A few years ago the United States Postal Service printed one billion stamps featuring "The Simpsons," commemorating the cartoon's 20th anniversary.  But they didn't sell, apparently, and over 600 million of them have now been destroyed.  The already struggling USPS lost $1.2 million.

You can watch a 30 second segment about it from the NBC Nightly News HERE.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Art Restoration Gone Cartoonishly Wrong

Over the years you've probably seen dozens of fawning news items about various painstaking efforts to restore Renaissance-era paintings and frescoes in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

I'm always impressed by this work. But the fact that every such endeavor is presented with pride as a resounding success has made me wonder about about the inevitable errors we're not being shown.  Surely there must've been a few grievous disasters here and there.

Well, today CNN beings us news of one HERE  from Spain. This article juxtaposes a photo of the original masterpiece (depicting Jesus Christ wearing a crown of thorns) against the 'restored' fresco, which looks to me like a Shrinky Dink of Edvard Munch's "The Scream."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Coming Soon: Paid Advertising On Toilet Paper

CNN's Jeanne Moos profiles a former College Entrepreneur of the Year and his new business: printing paid advertisements on toilet paper rolls and then giving the rolls away for free to bars and restaurants.  You can watch the 2 minute segment HERE.

I thought this was a clever (if slightly off-putting) idea.   "An average advertisement is seen for between 2 and 5 seconds.," this young entrepreneur asserts confidently. "But one of our ads is seen for between 1 and 10 minutes, depending on what you had for dinner the night before."

But maybe it's not the best medium for some of the advertisers highlighted in this piece, like "Pita Pit" and "Smoothie King."

"Inside The Actors Studio" Remix

If you've ever watched the TV show "Inside the Actors Studio" you'll probably remember that the host, James Lipton, would end each episode by asking whatever famous actor he was interviewing a set of questions designed to solicit one word answers (i.e. "What's your least favorite word?")

A new 2 minute video posted on You Tube HERE has blended together and juxtaposed many of these responses, revealing how startlingly identical many of the celebrity answers were.

Most Frequently Stolen Cars In America

According to a new study released by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the most stolen cars in America last year were:
  1. 1994 Honda Accord
  2. 1998 Honda Civic
  3. 2006 Ford F-Series
  4. 1991 Toyota Camry
  5. 2000 Dodge Caravan
  6. 1994 Acura Integra
  7. 1999 Chevrolet Silverado
  8. 2004 Dodge Ram
  9. 2002 Ford Explorer
  10. 1994 Nissan Sentra

The fact that 20 year old Honda Accord topped the list and that a 20 year old Nissan Sentra completed it really surprised me.

You can read more at NBC News HERE.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Junior Seau: No Brain Damage From Football

"Junior Seau had no alcohol or common drugs of abuse in his system when he shot himself in the chest with a .357 caliber magnum revolver at his Oceanside home on the morning of May 2, according to the autopsy and toxicology reports released Monday by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office. In addition, an initial autopsy of the brain of the former San Diego Chargers great and beloved San Diego sports icon showed no apparent damage from his illustrious NFL career, during which he distinguished himself as one of the best defensive players ever to play the game."

You can read more in the San Diego Union-Tribune HERE.

Why do I doubt these findings will get anywhere near the coverage that the hysterical speculation about football-related concussion syndrome did at the time of his death?

Garbage Tightly Correlated To US Economy

"U.S. GDP growth has long been tightly correlated with the change in carloads of trash that are being shipped off by rail to landfills across the country... In fact, the trash index has had an 82.4 percent statistical correlation with U.S. economic growth since 2001."

"And that’s worrisome because... the garbage indicator... appears to have plummeted for the third quarter of 2012. That could be a sign that the U.S. economy is heading for a rough patch, dragged down by the recent slumps in both Europe and China."

"Then again, as a wild alternative hypothesis, this might just be a sign that U.S. economic activity has somehow become decoupled from garbage of late."

You can read more at The Washington Post HERE.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Binge Drinkers Are "Happier" Than Non-Drinkers

"College students who binge drink report being happier with their social lives than their non-binging counterparts, according to a new study presented here today (Aug. 20) at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association."

"The first finding was that the students' anecdotal perceptions about who drinks were right. Higher-status students had higher rates of binge drinking, whether status was defined as race, wealth, class, sexual orientation or Greek life participation. These same high-status students also had the highest satisfaction with their college social lives... 'We think this is a terrible thing,' Hsu said."

You can read more at CBS News HERE.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Your Gym's Dirty Little Secrets

"Gym users with monthly memberships can end up paying 70 percent more than those on pay-per-visit plans... In fact, over six months, the average member would have saved more than $150 by paying a drop-in rate."

"We suggest you Purell before reading further... One study found that three-fourths of weight equipment was contaminated with cold-causing rhinoviruses, and even wiping surfaces down twice didn't completely nix germs"

"And next time, you may want to rethink using gym-provided towels: Outbreaks of MRSA have been associated with shared towels. Ask if your gym launders them in hot water and hot dryers. If the staff can't say for certain, bring your own"

You can read more at ABC News HERE

Scool Lunches Now A $1B Nutrition Battlefield

"School lunches have become a billion dollar battlefield. On one side there are those pushing for changes in the way millions of kids eat. On the other is an industry that has had a long and successful run inside lunchrooms." 

"The Food Industry had a full menu of objections. 'Salt and sodium have important functional properties.... Trans fat should not be inadvertently discouraged... Limiting starch makes lunch unappealing and confusing.'"

You can watch the 2 minute segment from the CBS News HERE.

The adjective "confusing" made me laugh.  But perhaps that's funny only because it's true.

Authentic Picasso Found In Indiana

"The staff at the Evansville Museum in Evansville, Ind. didn’t exactly foresee that scenario — but it’s most definitely real. The piece, now identified as Picasso’s Seated Woman with Red Hat, had been erroneously cataloged as one 'inspired' by Picasso and instead credited to an artist named 'Gemmaux,' the Evansville Courier & Press reports. Gemmaux, it turns out, is simply the plural of 'gemmail,' which refers to the fired-glass technique used in creating the piece."

"In 1963, industrial designer Raymond Loewy donated the piece to the museum, where it sat in storage until New York auction house Guernsey’s decided to inquire. The museum voted on Tuesday to authorize the auction house to sell Seated Woman with Red Hat privately, citing concerns about maintenance and insurance costs."
 You can read more (including a photo of the piece) in Time magazine HERE.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Japan's "Fast Food War"

American fast food chains have apparently been waging an escalating (and highly competitive) war for customers in Japan, leading to the introduction of some fairly amazing (if not outrageous and/or rococo) new products for the local market, including Wendy's foie gras burger and 'lobster surf and turf' burger, McDonald's Ebi Filet-O and cheese katsu burger, and Pizza Hut's mini corn dog pizza.

You can view the 25 item slide show at Business Insider HERE.

At the end of that slide show there's also another link HERE to another slide show of 12 McDonald's products that failed in Japan.  McLobster was an outrageous one that caught my eye.  But mostly, they're American McDonald's standards that simply failed to catch on in Japan, apparently.

The "Berlin Wall" Was Actually A Circle

The communist East German government completed construction of the Berlin Wall on this date back in 1961. Everyone's seen photos of segments of the concrete wall spray painted with graffiti, and other photos of refugees running through barbed wire to escape East Germany.  But I'd always wondered what the Berlin Wall looked like in its entirety.

The term 'wall' always implied to me a straight line running between East Berlin and West Berlin.  But Berlin itself was deep inside East Germany.  So while a wall like that might keep East Berliners from emigrating to West Berlin, it wouldn't keep out other East Germans. HERE's a map of the wall which answers that question: the Berlin Wall was a full circle that turned West Berlin into a sort of fortified castle.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Shopper Attacked In Checkout Line

"A Phillips woman accused of punching and kicking a woman in the checkout line of the Farmington Walmart last weekend is free on bail... Police said Hanson got into a fight with her husband in the parking lot and then went back into the store... Shoppers told police Hanson approached a woman in the checkout line and began yelling obscenities at her before punching her in the face and kicking her... Police did not disclose what provoked the attack."

Police may not have disclosed the motive, but I think it's pretty clear from the circumstances what underlies this "Walmart Affair."

You can read more HERE .

Monday, August 13, 2012

Gender Ratios Alter Men's Spending

"[T]he researchers conducted a data study of 143 U.S. cities. In places where  women were more 'scarce,' men cut their savings rate by 42 percent and they increased their credit card debt by 84 percent."

"In a laboratory study of about 600 people, when male college participants were told there was a scarcity of women on their campuses and in other areas of their lives, they were willing to pay $6.01 more on average for Valentine’s Day gifts and $278 more for an engagement ring than men who were not told of a supposed scarcity of the opposite sex."

"However, the researchers found that sex ratios did not seem to correlate with women’s financial practices."

You can read more on ABC News HERE.

Trailer For Upcoming James Bond Movie

Paraphrasing Kevin Dillon's character from Platoon, "Nothing beats a good James Bond movie...except maybe the Indianapolis 500." The trailer for the new James Bond film, Skyfall, has been posted on You Tube HERE, and it looks good to me.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Voter Fraud Actually Very Rare

"A new nationwide analysis of more than 2,000 cases of alleged election fraud over the past dozen years shows that in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which has prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tougher voter ID laws, was virtually nonexistent. The analysis of 2,068 reported fraud cases by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. With 146 million registered voters in the United States, those represent about one for every 15 million prospective voters."

You can read more in today's Washington Post HERE.

What's Guantanamo Bay Watching?

"Librarians at Guantanamo Bay’s prison detention center have had to up their stock of the popular 1990s TV show 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,' starring Will Smith... The 168 captives currently residing at the U.S. prison base in Cuba have access to an extensive entertainment selection: the main library houses 18,000 books, 2,730 movies, 390 video games, and 1,235 magazines."

"In 2005, an American Forces Press Service report noted that Arabic translations of Agatha Christie novels were hot commodities on the camp library’s shelves, according to a security official. Since then, the Harry Potter books enjoyed a period of success, as did the self-help book 'Don’t Be Sad,' which discusses happiness from an Islamic perspective. The library even stocks video games like Madden NFL."

You can read the entire ABC News article HERE

Saturday, August 11, 2012

New Cold War-Era Spy Story Declassified

"It's a plot worthy of a Hollywood action movie: 40 years ago, the U.S. Navy carried out a daring mission to retrieve a top-secret film capsule that had settled more than 16,000 feet (4,876 meters) underwater on the ocean floor."

"At the time, the expedition was the deepest undersea salvage operation ever attempted. Documents released by the Central Intelligence Agency on Wednesday detail the capsule's incredible recovery, using what was at the time the Navy's most sophisticated deep-sea submersible. On July 10, 1971, a classified U.S. satellite, code-named Hexagon, attempted to return a mysterious 'data package' to Earth by ejecting a capsule over the Pacific Ocean. The capsule's parachute failed, and the canister slammed into the water with an excruciating 2,600 G's of force."

"Since these satellites preceded today's era of digital technology, Hexagons recorded images on film, sending them back to Earth in capsules that re-entered Earth's atmosphere and were recovered within a designated zone near the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific Ocean. During the first Hexagon mission in 1971, the parachute attached to one of these capsules broke. The capsule sank to a depth of about 16,400 feet (almost 5,000 meters) in the Pacific... At that time, no object the size of the film canister had ever been detected by sonar and been searched for underwater."

You can read more at NBC News HERE. I wrote HERE a year ago when the first public references to this event were initially made. 

25 Years of "Taco Bell" Commercials

A site has posted 25 years of Taco Bell TV commercials HERE.  I particularly enjoyed the one from 1979 characterizing Taco Bell as "The Fresh Food Place," which ends with a teaser for the 11 PM local news from the time. ("Is gasoline rationing imminent?  Details at 11.")

Also notable, I thought, was one from from 1989 in which a series of young men in a Taco Bell seem to be staring, mouths agape, at Patrick Swayze's jeans rather than the bag of food he's carrying.

"Carl's Jr." Pulls IPO

CKE, the parent company of the fast food chains Carl's Jr. and Hardees that was taken private by Apollo Management in 2010 in a $700 million deal, pulled its planned IPO yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange, citing 'market conditions.'  You can read more in the New York Daily News HERE.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Is Wendy's "Baconator" A Window On Our Soul?

It says something unflattering about us as a nation when Wendy's uses THESE TV commercials to promote its new $4.29 'Baconator' hamburger in America ("two 1/4 lb. patties topped with fresh-cooked Applewood Smoked Bacon in between a premium buttered, toasted bun," or in nutritional terms 970 calories and 63 grams of fat), while simultaneously offering a $20 lobster and caviar burger in Japan. (You can see a photo of it at the New York Daily News HERE.)

Medicare Over-Spends $400M/Year On One Drug

"The U.S. health-care system is vastly overspending for a single anemia drug because Medicare overestimates its use by hundreds of millions of dollars a year, according to an analysis of federal data. The overpayment to hospitals and clinics arises because Medicare reimburses them based on estimates rather than the actual use of the drug."

"Medicare’s current estimates are based on Epogen usage in 2007 for dialysis treatments. But since then, use of the drug has fallen 25 percent or more, partly because of Food and Drug Administration warnings about its perils... The amount of the overspending is more than $400 million annually, according to calculations done separately by The Washington Post and experts."

You can read more in The Washington Post HERE

Thursday, August 9, 2012

M.I.T. Students Beat State Lottery For $8 Million

"Ten years after a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students and a professor famously took Las Vegas casinos to the cleaners counting cards, a new gambling scandal has arisen that involves MIT: a researcher and a group of students scammed the Massachussets Lottery."

"The math whizzes were looking for a unique school project when a couple of them figured out that it would only take about $100,000 in tickets to guarantee success in the Cash WinFall game. When the jackpot rose to $2 million or more, group members bought in and shared in the prize money. By 2005, the group had earned about $8 million in winnings, reported the Boston Globe."

You can read more in the New York Daily News HERE.

Big Taxes On TV Game Show Prizes

" gives the example of a 'Price is Right' winner (name withheld) whose haul included a new truck, a washer and dryer, an Apple computer, a poker table and a trip to Washington, D.C... 'I won $57,000-worth of items. I had to pay around $17,000 or $20,000 in taxes.'
Some winners, he said, decline to take their prizes because they don’t want to pay the taxes."

"Another catch: You’re paying taxes on the item’s full retail value – in the case of a car, say, on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, rather than on the discounted price a buyer on the open market might pay. Win a really big prize, and the income might be enough to lift you into a higher tax bracket, further increasing the cost of your good fortune."

You can read more from ABC News HERE

Supermarkets Really In The "Distribution Business"

"For every dollar we spend on food, only about 16 cents goes to the farmer. The other 84 cents go towards what economists call 'marketing,' which refers not to commercials and advertising, but the entire chain that ensures food makes it from farm to plate," begins THIS CNN article.

"Today, nearly all our meals arrive in our neighborhoods via supermarkets (or supercenters, the term for operations like Walmart and Target that also sell groceries). Those two kinds of stores sell about 80 percent of our food. Walmart, the biggest supermarket in the country, sells roughly one-quarter of the food bought in the U.S., making it the largest grocer in our history (and that of the world)."

 “'The misconception is that we're in the retail business,' Jay Fitzsimmons, a senior vice president and treasurer for Walmart, told investors in 2003. But in reality, 'We're in the distribution business.'”

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

J. Geils Sues "J. Geils Band"

"John Geils, founder of the J. Geils Band, has filed a lawsuit against the other members of the group over use of the name in an upcoming tour that doesn't feature the guitarist."  You can read the full Rolling Stone article HERE.

This reminded me of how Wally Amos lost the rights to use the name "Famous Amos" in the 1980s after financial troubles forced him to sell the pioneering cookie company he founded in 1975, the "Famous Amos Company," which held the trademark to his nickname "Famous Amos." (In 1994, Wally Amos instead launched "Uncle Noname Gourmet Muffins," to considerably less fanfare.)

Today the "Famous Amos" cookie brand is owned by Kelloggs.  But the ownership chain of the brand is really pretty amazing, as it turns out.  Kellogs acquired the brand when it bought Keebler in 2001.  Keebler came to own the brand when it purchased the President Baking Company in 1998. In 1992, President Baking Company bought the brand from The Shansby Group. And there were apparently four other owners of the well-travelled "Famous Amos" brand between 1985 and 1989.

Too Fat To Fight: Obesity And Military Recruiting

"A new report says 25 percent of young Americans who are potential recruits for the military are simply too fat to fight.  The problem is potentially so serious commanders of all ranks who spearheaded the study describe it as a potential threat to national security."  

You can read more HERE. Or you can watch a 2 minute CNN segment HERE.

Man Slices Vegetables By Tossing Playing Cards

A middle-aged Chinese man slices vegetables by tossing playing cards at them in THIS 1 minute video that's been posted on CNN.

It's sort of impressive.  But he's at very close range and appears to be doing this in his own apartment.

As I watched this clip I found myself wondering why, if you're going to perform a trick before millions of viewers on China's national TV network, CCTV, you would elect to do so in your white underwear with your hair uncombed.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Home Health Care Providers Paid Fast Food Wages

Home health care workers are paid about the same as McDonald's employees, according to THIS Bloomberg Businessweek article.

"Demand for home health care workers is soaring as baby boomers — the 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 — get older and states try to save money by moving people out of more costly nursing homes... Nearly half of all home care workers live at or below the poverty level, and many receive government benefits such as food stamps, unions and advocacy groups say. The median pay a year ago was $9.70 per hour — 4 cents less than fast-food workers and short-order cooks, according to the most recent statistics from the Labor Department... Agencies that supply home health workers blame states and the federal government for failing to increase reimbursement rates for Medicaid and Medicare patients at a time when costs are going up."

"The qualifications and training for home care aides varies. A high school diploma isn't usually a requirement, and some states call for only on-the-job training..."

Long Before Chick-fil-A... Carl's Jr.?

When the recent controversy about Chick-fil-A first erupted, I almost wrote here that there are very few things I care about less in life than Chick-fil-A's position on gay marriage.  (I'd never even eaten at one.) But I didn't bother. At the time I thought the story would be too obscure and short-lived to be of any general interest. Boy did I get that wrong.

Now The Advocate has published an article HERE enumerating other 'Right Wing' fast food chains. I've never been much interested in trying to make political statements through my fast food choices. (When I was in college, similar concerns were raised about Domino's pizza and Coors beer.)  Nonetheless I thought that the following historical note about Carl's Jr. was interesting because I had no idea how far back this all went.  Does this really go back 35 years or more?

"Founder Carl Karcher, who died in 2008... had a mean anti-gay streak as well... and gay rights groups dubbed his hamburgers 'bigot burgers' after Karcher supported a 1978 proposition that would have allowed school boards to fire teachers who were gay or advocated homosexuality."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Las Vegas Buffets: Numbers And An Epilogue

The buffet at the Bellagio in Las Vegas goes through 2,000 lbs of shrimp a day and over 1,400 lbs of crab legs, according to THIS 3 minute interview with the head chef posted on Yahoo!  It also uses 700,000 lbs of sugar a year (or 1,900 lbs a day).

That's pretty consistent with my impression of what's piled high on the typical plate at a Las Vegas buffet.  But it stands in sharp contrast to the presentation in THIS 1 minute promotional clip for the new 'Bacchanal' buffet at Caesar's Palace, which features extensive shots of the chefs hand-slicing tomatoes and baby asparagus, and preparing artisanal breads.

Where does all the uneaten food go that people leave on their plates at all of these over-the-top Las Vegas buffets? For decades all the casinos have apparently shipped it 12 miles away to R.C. Farms, where it's turned into slop for pigs.  That's 8,000 lbs of uneaten food a day. You can read more on the Business Insider HERE.  This article includes photos from (and a link to) a recent Travel Channel profile of the operation. (Completing the circle of life, those pigs are later slaughtered and sold back to MGM Resorts, apparently.)

"The Week In Review" By Jon Stewart

HERE is a 4 minute 'Week In Review' highlight clip from The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Can You Be "Poor" If You Own An HDTV?

"US poverty on track to reach 46-year high says a headline in The Washington Post. And so is the topic of what constitutes poverty in the U.S. Just how bad is it? Muses a CNNMoney headline, Are you poor if you have a flat-screen TV? The article says, 'For instance, some 62% of households earning less than $20,000 annually owned between two and four televisions, according to the 2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy. That compares to 68% of those earning $120,000 or more."

"[T]he conservative Heritage Foundation released a study by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield last year. Among its findings:
  • 80% of poor families have air conditioning.
  • 92% have a microwave.
  • Almost two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
  • More than half of poor households with children have a video game system.
  • Half of poor households have a computer and 43% have Internet access.
  • A third have a plasma or LCD TV, and a quarter have a digital video recorder"

You can read more on MSN Money HERE.

Lipozene "Works" (In "Mysterious Ways")

Have you seen THIS 2 minute infomercial for a fat burning pill called 'Lipozene' over-and-over, too?

If so, have you noticed the fine print that flashes at the bottom of the screen at one point stating, "Average of 3.86 lbs of weight loss over an 8 week university study." Is that really weight loss? Couldn't your weight vary by 3.86 lbs depending on what time of day you weighed yourself, I wondered?

I might've been more right than I knew, it turns out. According to The Thin Report HERE, "The video advertisement indicates that Lipozene is a fat burning formula, yet its primary component, glucomannen, does not burn fat... It is a nutritional substance used for the treatment of constipation, elevated cholesterol levels, and overweight."

The name of Lipozene's maker, the Obesity Research Institute, also caught my eye. The Thin Report states, "Also, this business is operated by Henry Den Uijl and Bryan Corlett, both recipients in 2005 of FTC fines for making misrepresentations about their weight-reduction products."

NBA Formed On This Date In 1949

The National Basketball Association was formed on this date back in 1949, as a result of the merger of two other struggling pro basketball leagues. 

But the NBA wasn't racially integrated until the following year, 1950, when the 'color barrier' was finally broken.

Where Is Mathias Rust Today?

Twenty five years ago a German teenager named Mathias Rust famously flew a light aircraft into the Soviet Union, landing in Red Square.  On this date 24 years ago, he was released from custody after spending 14 months in a Moscow prison (despite having been sentenced formally to four years in a Russian labor camp). 

You can watch a 5 minute retrospective HERE, which initially aired on Deutsche Welle just a few months ago. It includes an interview with the now 44-year old Mathias Rust.

Why did he do it as a 19 year-old back in 1987?  "For World Peace," Rust explains. He was inspired by a German comic book hero like Flash Gordon, apparently, and believed that Reagan and Gorbachev were incapable of resolving the differences between the Super Powers following the break-down of talks at  a recent summit.

"In later years Rust's fortunes took a dive," this Deutsche Welle segment concludes. "He was convicted of attempted manslaughter, shoplifting, and fraud.  Rust says he's now working as a financial analyst."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Super PACs" Funded Largely By Just 47 People

"Just 47 people account for more than half (57.1 percent) of the $230 million raised by super PACs from individual donors, according to the study by U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and Demos, two liberal research and advocacy organizations. Just over 1,000 donors giving $10,000 or more were responsible for 94 percent of the money raised." 

You can read more in today's Washington Post HERE.

Washing Machine Plays "Darth Vader Theme"

A bored husband apparently discovered that he could play the Imperial March (i.e. the 'Darth Vader theme') using the electronic 'beeps' made by the setting controls on his washing machine.  You can watch the 30 second You Tube video HERE.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"Women And Children First"? Not In Reality

"A pair of Swedish economists have produced a paper that debunks the nautical notion spawned by the Titanic disaster a century ago that shipwrecks bring out the chivalry in men. Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixson also found that captains and crew are actually more likely to escape a maritime disaster than any passenger. 'Women have a substantially lower survival rate than men,' they wrote."

You can read more at the New York Daily News HERE

The First Fast Food Franchise In Libya Is...

The first US fast food franchise to open in Libya is... Cinnabon. 

You can read more on CNN HERE.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Matrix" Director's Sex Change Is Complete

I really like the original Matrix movie, and remembered that, when its less-well-received sequels were released in 2003, there was a lot of tabloid speculation about Larry Wachowski, who had made the films with his brother Andy. 

Larry, who had divorced his wife in 2002, was reclusive and enigmatic in the run-up to the release of those much-ballyhooed sequels.  There were rumors he was cross-dressing, and photos appeared periodically in tabloids which seemed to confirm that. Then came rumors that Larry was actually transgender and was in the process of transitioning into a woman.

Since several of the Wachowski's subsequent films, including Speed Racer, have been commercial and critical disappointments, this hasn't been of as much interest to the tabloids in recent years.  I more-or-less forgot about it myself.

Until today.

Promoting their upcoming film, Cloud Atlas, the Wachowskis have appeared in a new 2 minute video that you can watch at The Huffington Post HERE. "Larry" is now "Lana," and seems a lot more relaxed than in those tabloid photos 10 years ago.

Methamphetamine Smuggled In "Snickers" Bars

"Long Beach resident Rogelio Mauricio Harris, 34, was arrested by federal officials at Los Angeles International Airport Friday as he prepared to board a flight to Japan... Upon closer inspection, CBP officers discovered the 45 individually wrapped, full-sized bars contained a white substance that was subsequently determined to be methamphetamine.... According to the criminal complaint, each bar 'was coated in a chocolate-like substance to make the contents of the package appear to be a real candy bar.'” 

You can read more in the New York Daily News HERE.

American Overreaching: The Biggest House Ever

A self-made billionaire real estate developer (the "Time Share King") and his wife set out to build the biggest home in America ("because I could"), a 90,000 square foot colossus inspired by the palace at Versailles. 20 car garage.  Sushi bar. 10 kitchens.

But while the home was under construction the economy tanked and the couple nearly lost everything. The home, still under construction, faced foreclosure in May 2010. A new film profiles their rise and fall through the story of the construction of this monstrously large mansion, a tribute to success that was slipping through their fingers like sand as it was being erected.  In the process, this house became a metaphor for the tendency of ordinary Americans to 'overreach' in their own lives by maxing out their credit cards and buying homes they couldn't really afford.

MSNBC's Morning Joe did a segment on this new movie, including an interview with the director, that you can watch HERE.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Aging '70s Graffiti Artists Still Tagging

"A generation of urban kids who spray-painted their initials all over Manhattan in the 1970s and '80s and landed in the city's street art scene are coming of age - middle age, that is... For him, spray-painting other people's property with his nickname, or tag, is almost an addiction, and danger is part of the drug... When a pair of police officers smelled the fresh paint and nabbed Ortiz, they asked if he saw himself as too old to be doing graffiti."  You can read more at CBS News HERE.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Best Fast Food Franchise Deals

In its July issue, QSR Magazine has highlighted the fast food industry's best franchise deals.  You can read more HERE.  I only recognized a few of the names on the list.  Most appear to be regional chains.

The article enumerates the franchise fees and start-up costs for each.  Those for Subway were startlingly low, which probably explains why, as I wrote HERE previously, there are more Subway restaurants in the United States than McDonald's and Starbucks combined. "'Subway...offers low start-up costs, and requires minimal experience, equipment, and space,' Subway spokesman Les Winograd says when defining the brand’s most deal-worthy traits."

I was also surprised that a chain called  Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits topped the list ("Bojangles’ boasts a virtually unrivaled sales-to-investment ratio near 3:1"), and that, even with that name, "breakfast accounts for about 40 percent of business."

Bojangles' is apparently a regional chain in the South, with 500 restaurants in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  It reveals something unflattering about the residents of those states that a fast food chain specializing in 'Cajun fried chicken' does 40 percent of its business at breakfast.

American Flags On The Moon Are Still Standing

New photos taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have answered a long-standing question: the American flags planted on the Moon by Apollo astronauts in the late 1960s and early 1970s are indeed still standing.  All, that is, except the one placed by the Apollo 11 team, who were the first men to ever walk on the Moon back in 1969.  You can read more at HERE.

Olympics Betting Scandal

"An Irish Olympian is being investigated over an allegation that the athlete had bet on his opponent in an event in which they were both competing, according to multiple reports," according to ABC News HERE

The paltry size of the alleged bets caught my eye.

"According to Independent, the first bet won 533 euro ($656) and the second won 3,367 euro ($4,145)."

"Deadliest Catch" No Longer As Deadly

"Commercial fishing has long topped the Bureau of Labor Statistics' list of jobs with the most fatalities -- and crabbing in the Alaskan waters is by far the most lethal form of fishing. Thanks to new government rules, there has been only one death in the Alaskan crab fishery in the past six years -- a significant improvement from the 1990s which saw an average of 7.3 deaths a year..." You can read more on CNN HERE.  

The other 'deadliest jobs' were no big surprise for the most part: logger, roofer, and mining machinery operator among them.  But one near the top of the list I didn't expect was 'sanitation worker.'

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"5-Hour Energy": The Untold Story

You've doubtlessly been bombarded over the last few years with TV commercials for the shot-sized energy drink '5-hour Energy.' If so, you probably also know that it contains no sugar and "contains caffeine comparable to a cup of the leading premium coffee."

ConsumerLab analyzed a bottle of '5-hour Energy' in October 2010, however, and found that it contained 207 mg of caffeine. "According to the USDA, one cup (8 fluid ounces) of brewed coffee contains an average 95 mg of caffeine. The same serving of Starbucks coffee has 180 mg of caffeine."  You can read the press release about the analysis HERE.

But elevated caffeine content isn't the biggest revelation. THIS article, published by Forbes in February, profiles the company's founder, Manoj Bhargava, a 58 year-old Indian immigrant and Princeton drop-out who made his first fortune in plastics. "Vague and inscrutable is how ­Bhargava likes things."

When I hear '5-hour Energy' pitched relentlessly on sports talk radio,  a 58 year-old Indian PVC magnate is not what first comes to mind.

But he's got a great personal story with many twists and turns, and '5-hour Energy' is now very big business, apparently. "The privately held Living Essentials doesn’t report revenue or profits, but a source with knowledge of its financials says the company grossed north of $600 million last year on that $1 billion at retail. The source says the company netted about $300 million."

1945: Plane Crashes Into Empire State Building

It's been largely forgotten by history now, but on this date in 1945 a US Army B-25 bomber crashed in heavy fog into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building, killing the entire crew and 11 people in the building as well.  The crash set off a fierce blaze and rained debris onto the street below.  You can watch a 3 minute newsreel about it from the time on You Tube HERE.

The most recent episode of the PBS series History Detectives, which you can watch on the PBS website HERE, did a segment on a piece of debris from crash which analyzes the event in significant detail.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wife Unknowingly Burns $15K Stashed In Oven

An Australian man sold his Toyota Supra for $15,000 in order to make his mortgage payment, which was due the next day, and then stashed the money in the oven for safekeeping overnight, "because his wife never used it." But when his wife did pre-heat the oven to cook some chicken nuggets for the couple's two young daughters, she unknowingly burned up the cash.  You can read more in The Daily Mail HERE.

The Reserve Bank of Australia apparently has a policy on damaged notes, according to this article.  So all may not be lost. "'If several pieces of the same banknote are presented, the Reserve Bank's policy is for each piece to be worth a share of the value in proportion to its size,' the RBA policy reads. If less than 20 per cent of the note is missing, full face value is paid, but if between 20-80 per cent of the note is missing, it is valued in proportion with the percentage remaining. If more than 80 per cent of the banknote is missing, no payment is made."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fake Coupon Ring Busted

"Three women accused of running an international counterfeit coupon operation have pleaded not guilty. Phoenix police raided three homes on July 10 and seized $25 million worth of coupons."

You can read the details HERE, and also see their smiling mug shots, which look more like yearbook photos of middle school librarians than international criminal masterminds.

$25 million? Even if every coupon were worth $1, where were they storing 25 million coupons, I wonder?

What's Your Major? "KFC"

In Britain today, the fast food chain KFC, "will launch 'KFC degrees', a tailored BA honours degree in business management that has been developed with De Montfort University in Leicester. While a number of companies, including McDonald’s, already offer further education courses, it is believed KFC’s serving will be the first customised BA honours degree."  You can read more in The Telegraph newspaper HERE.

"Last summer, a damning report from the British Chambers of Commerce warned that too many young people in Britain were emerging from university with 'fairly useless' degrees."

Massive Sports Memorabilia Scam

"A federal grand jury in Chicago indicted sports memorabilia executives Bill Mastro and Doug Allen on fraud charges, alleging that the pair — once the most influential figures in the multi-billion dollar collectibles industry — routinely defrauded customers, rigged auctions and inflated prices paid by unwitting bidders."  You can read more in the New York Daily News HERE.

The focus of the story is an ultra-rare Honus Wagner baseball card that Mastro allegedly altered.  What caught my eye was the price inflation on that card over the last 25 years.

"Mastro bought it for $25,000 in a Hicksville, L.I. memorabilia shop in 1985. Its owners have included NHL great Wayne Gretzky, who purchased the card in 1991 along with Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall for $451,000... [T]he card was sold by Gretzky to Wal-Mart in 1995 for $500,000... It became the first million-dollar baseball card in history in 2000 when Chicago collector Mike Gidwitz sold it for $1.27 million to collector Brian Seigel. The card is now owned by Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, who paid $2.8 million for it in 2007." 

Why, I also wonder, was Wal-Mart buying a $500K baseball card?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Man Sets Fire To Nuclear Sub To Get Out of Work

"Navy investigators have determined that a civilian laborer set a fire that caused $400 million in damage to a nuclear-powered submarine because he had anxiety and wanted to get out of work early," begins THIS Associated Press article.

"Fury said he set the second fire after getting anxious over a text-message exchange with an ex-girlfriend about a man she had started seeing, according to the affidavit. He wanted to leave work early, so he took some alcohol wipes and set them on fire outside the submarine."

Unklikely Art Collector Has Died

I remember seeing retired postal worker Herbert Vogel and his wife, Brooklyn librarian Dorothy, profiled on 60 Minutes years ago.  Despite having very modest incomes and living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, they amassed over a lifetime an astonishing collection of modern art by identifying talented new artists early and buying their works cheaply, keeping all 5,000 pieces in their rent-controlled, 1 bedroom apartment.

They could have made millions on their amazing art collection, but instead sold nothing and donated their entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Herbert Vogel has now died at the age of 89.  You can watch his 1 minute obituary on the CBS Evening News last night HERE.

His New York Times obituary added this bit of color to their story:

"Their style was to make friends with the young, often little-known artists who were making the new art. Thus they bypassed galleries, a practice some in the art world later criticized as cheating the system. They bought on credit and were slow to pay. They had no car, took no vacations and ate TV dinners; a night out was a trip to the nearby Chinese restaurant. They sometimes did cat-sitting in exchange for art."

Jon Stewart On Opposition To Gay Marriage

On The Daily Show on Monday, John Stewart did THIS 6 minute segment on the Boy Scouts' and Chick-fil-A's public stance against gay marriage, which I thought was really funny when Stewart began reading aloud selected passages about marriage from the Bible.

Update: Amerlia Earhart... Not Found (Again)

I wrote HERE back in May about new discoveries leading researchers to believe that they had identified the south Pacific island on which Amerlia Earhart crashed her plane back in 1937, never to be seen again.

On July 3rd, a $2.2 million expedition was mounted to remote Nikumororo island, but , after having to cut the expedition short due to "equipment malfunctions," they came away with exactly... nothing, apparently.  You can read more detail about all the technical difficulties they encountered while finding nothing on Reuters HERE.

According to this article, the Discovery Channel will be airing a special on this accident-prone, fruitless expedition on August 19th.  Sounds like appointment television.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Batman" Shooter: Unreported Details On Sex Life

The man accused of shooting up the midnight screening of the new Batman film has been tight lipped and uncooperative since his arrest, it has been widely reported, and has 'lawyered up.'  His motive, therefore, remains elusive. But THIS article in The New York Daily News may shed some light on that.

"The grad-school dropout opened an account on on July 5, and quickly reached out to three lusty ladies — but all said, 'No thanks' to a hookup, the unidentified women told AdultFriendFinder bills itself as the 'world's largest sex dating site and swinger personals community.' One of the horny honies told TMZ that Holmes was rather innocent in his approach, claiming he was 'just looking to maybe chat … nothing sexual.'"

"Using the screen name 'classicjimbo,' Holmes said he was straight and looking for 'casual sex' either one-on-one or with a group of three or more. 'Will you visit me in prison?' read a haunting tagline at the top of his profile page... He described his 'male endowment' as 'short/average.'"

"Classmates who knew Holmes at Westview High School in San Diego told the News they had no recollection of the accused killer ever having a girlfriend."

Astronaut Sally Ride's Death: Unreported Details

Sally Ride became the first American woman in space when she was part of the crew of the Space Shuttle 'Challenger' in 1983.  She died yesterday in California after a battle with pancreatic cancer at the young age of 61. You can watch her 2 minute obituary from the NBC Nightly News last night HERE.

Two notable aspects go unreported in this story, however.

Despite being married at the time of her groundbreaking 1983 Space Shuttle mission, she divorced her husband in 1987.  From 1985 until her death, her female partner was childhood friend Dr. Tam E. O'Shaughnessy, also making Ride arguably the first lesbian in space.

I remember Sally Ride's mission to space being widely celebrated at the time as a groundbreaking victory for women.  But in fact she was not the first woman in space. Much less trumpeted during the Cold War was that the first woman in space was actually a Soviet cosmonaut named Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova, who piloted the Vostok 6 into space in 1963, twenty years before Sally Ride.  Tereshkova is still alive and is now 75 years old.

10 Unsolved Mysteries of WWII

You can watch a 3 minute video on Bing HERE that profiles, among other things, the Amber Room, Foo Fighters, and Rommel's Treasure.

'Foo Fighters' is a period colloquialism for the UFOs spotted by Allied fighter pilots.  The Amber Room was room in a Russian palace whose walls were spectacularly decorated with amber panels and gold leaf that was looted during WWII and disappeared. Rommel's Treasure is $30 million in gold reputedly sunk off the coast of Corsica as the Nazis fled North Africa.

Monday, July 23, 2012

80% of McDonald's Menu Under 400 Calories

"This week McDonald's USA is introducing 'Favorites Under 400 Calories' - a new menu platform featuring existing popular food and beverage choices at counters and drive-thrus nationwide."  You can read the full McDonald's press release HERE.

"We've found that customers are surprised to learn about the calorie content of some of their favorite menu options at McDonald's. In fact, customers may be surprised to know that about 80 percent of national menu choices are under 400 calories for the standard recipe."

I'm surprised by that, for one.

"Sports Espionage" At The London Olympics

"As Olympic training became more detailed, more scientific and more complicated, France created an agency in its sports ministry. Its nondescript name — PrĂ©paration Olympique et Paralympique — masked a more ambitious purpose: to boost medal counts through athletic surveillance, as much Spy Games as Olympic Games, under the direction of a man competitors called the French James Bond." 

You can read more in today's New York Times HERE

"The World Series of Cliff Diving" Lives

I remember watching the 'World Series of Cliff Diving' on TV as a kid in the 1970's when it was featured on ABC's Wide World of Sports, and being really mesmerized by the spectacle. 

I hadn't seen it since, though. So I was surprised to see THIS New York Daily News article today, which includes several spectacular photos of the current championships, which are apparently taking place in the Azores.

I had remembered it as an event held in Mexico and dominated by Mexican men who looked like Fabio.  So I was also surprised to read that, in this year's "Diving Championships," the leader board was topped by an American and a Russian.  I was a lot less surprised, however, to read that the title sponsor of this event is now Red Bull.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Exclusive First Video of "Batman" Shooter

"Federal authorities and local police today are scouring James Holmes' apartment for evidence as a newly released video gives some insight into the man who allegedly killed 12 people and injured 58 people at a packed screening of the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. Overnight, ABC News obtained exclusive video and photos of Holmes. The video was recorded six years ago when Holmes was 18."

You can watch the 3 minute clip from ABC News this morning HERE.

Young Kids At "Batman" Movie Masacre

As more details emerge about the victims in the tragic spree shooting in Colorado at the midnight showing of the new Batman movie, one of the first questions that came to mind was why there would've been a 6 year old victim at all?  Why was she at a midnight screening of a PG-13 movie in the first place?  (There was also a 3 month old baby there with his parents.)

Was that about trying to save babysitting costs?  Or, in the absence of an available babysitter entirely, a compulsive need by the parents to see this violent, dark PG-13 action movie at its very first screening at midnight, no matter what?

THIS article from NBC News exhorts us not to judge these parents. They're not to blame, it states.  I agree they're not to blame for this horrific tragedy.  But I don't agree they shouldn't come in for some richly deserved criticism.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Really Bad Morning (Guns & Genitals)

"Saturday was a bad day for Tavares Donnell Colbert. The 36-year-old Oklahoma man accidentally shot himself in the genitals, and then got arrested for it."  (As a convicted felon, he's not allowed to possess a firearm.)

You can read more on The Huffington Post HERE. The related headline made me laugh. "Guns don't shoot genitals, people shoot genitals."

Outer Space Smells "Meaty-Metallic"

"When astronauts return from space walks and remove their helmets, they are welcomed back with a peculiar smell. An odor that is distinct and weird: something, astronauts have described it, like 'seared steak.' And also: 'hot metal.' And also: 'welding fumes.' Our extraterrestrial explorers are remarkably consistent in describing Space Scent in meaty-metallic terms... According to one researcher, the aroma astronauts inhale as they move their mass from space to station is the result of 'high-energy vibrations in particles brought back inside which mix with the air.' "You can read more in The Atlantic HERE.

Anniversary of 1st Moon Landing (Or Yesterday?)

"'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,' said Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, on July 21, 1969."

But as it turns out there's a minor technical issue about the exact date, apparently. "NASA's official time is kept in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), but Americans remember the moment as occurring on the night of July 20, 1969 because of the time change," according to THIS New York Daily News story.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Serial Chandelier Thief

If I were going to shoplift or steal, probably one of the last items I would think to target would be chandeliers, of all things.  So bulky, unwieldy, and 'jangle-y.'

But according to THIS local news story (with mug shot), a Florida man named, "Nicholas Anderson, of Land O' Lakes, went to Home Depot stores over 61 times in Pasco, Hernando, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and stole chandeliers through ticket-switching. Anderson, 32, would replace the UPC on the chandelier with the UPC of a cheaper one and then return the stolen chandelier for store credit to pawn for cash. Detectives say the scam lasted from Sept. 1 through Nov. 23, 2011 and resulted in a total loss of over $14,000... Anderson's family told police he did it to support his severe pill addiction."

 How do you conceive of this chandelier scam in the first place, I wonder? Getting only Home Depot store credit seems highly imperfect, too, especially if you're trying to support a drug habit.

The math on this crime spree is notable as well.

He went to Home Depot 61 times and netted a total of $14,000, or roughly $230 in store credit per trip.  (That's actually more lucrative than I would've suspected.)  But he had to go to Home Depot 61 times in an 84 day period (5 days a week for 3 months), and then find buyers for Home Depot store credit slips.  (What do you think those go for on the street: maybe 25 cents on the dollar? Especially when you're flooding the local market with them every day.)

Mashed Potatoes And Gravy Vending Machine

Would you want to buy mashed potatoes (and gravy!) from a vending machine in a 7 Eleven?

You can watch a 30 second You Tube video of it in action HERE.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Who Stole 500 Cardboard "David Hasselhoff" Ads?

"About 550 of the cutouts were stolen from outside Cumberland Farms convenience stores in recent weeks," according to the Associated Press HERE. "The company is using the cutouts in an advertising campaign to sell iced coffee."

600 Year-Old Bra Discovered

"The university said Wednesday that it found four linen bras in an Austrian castle dating back to the 1400s, proving that women wore bras more than 600 years ago. It’s such a revolutionary find because fashion experts thought the modern-day bra was only about 100 years old after women became tired of tight corsets."  You can read more on the ABC News website HERE, including a photo.

Olympic Gold Medals Not Made of Gold

"The iconic Olympic gold medal is not a gold medal at all," according to THIS CNN article today. "At current gold prices, if each medal were made entirely of the stuff, they would be worth about $20,000 each... The gold medal is comprised of 92.5% silver, just 1.34% -- or six grams -- of gold and the rest is made of copper. And funny thing about copper: It also makes up 97% of the bronze medal."

Dollar Stores Now Have Private-Label Products

"Check out your local dollar store... to save money on household items like cereal, napkins, soap and toothpaste," according to THIS article on NBC “But you can save even more on the store’s private-label brands.  That’s right -- dollar stores are developing their own brands of oatmeal, cereal, bathroom cleaner, flour, even cranberry juice cocktail."

Know your customer. What percentage of Dollar Store private-label cranberry juice cocktail is being mixed with private-label vodka, I wonder.

Why Is The SEC Investigating The Amish?

"The SEC announced a deferred prosecution agreement Wednesday with the Amish Helping Fund, a not-for-profit organization that provides home loans to Amish families in Ohio.The Amish financiers allegedly misled investors by failing to update the fund's offering memorandum, which was drafted when it was founded by a group of 'elders' in 1995."  You can read more on CNN HERE.

The Amish? They famously drive a horse and buggy rather than cars, but they have an investment fund?

Intrigued, I went to the Wikipedia entry on the Amish and found this. "Under their beliefs and traditions, the Amish do not agree with the idea of social security benefits and have a religious objection to insurance. On this basis, the United States Internal Revenue Service agreed in 1961 that they did not need to pay Social Security related taxes. In 1965, this policy was codified into law."

So the Amish have a religious objection to insurance and Social Security (as well as cars), but they have an investment fund with a prospectus?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NASA Working On Menu For 2030 Mars Mission

I've been fascinated, if only occasionally inspired, by manned space exploration for my entire life. But even I'd probably be having an existential and career crisis if I found myself working full-time today as part of NASA's Advanced Food Technology Project to develop the menu for its hoped-for manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

You can read more in The Christian Science Monitor HERE, including a photo (and embedded video) of Lockheed Martin Sr. Research Scientist Maya Cooper taste testing 'space pizza.' This article contains some interesting revelations, including:
  • "astronauts make up a panel that tastes the food and gives it a final OK on Earth before it blasts off"
  • "Already, Cooper's team of three has come up with about 100 recipes, all vegetarian because the astronauts will not have dairy or meat products available. It isn't possible to preserve those products long enough to take to Mars."
  • "Cooper says it's possible NASA will choose to have one astronaut solely dedicated to preparing the food." (Another potential existential and career crisis in the making.)
  •  "At the moment, Michele Perchonok, advanced food technology project scientist at NASA, said about $1 million on average is spent annually on researching and building the Mars menu. NASA's overall budget in 2012 is more than $17 billion."

Canadian Spy's Other Life As "Baron Mordegan"

A 41 year-old Canadian naval officer named Jeffrey Delislie has been formally charged with spying, presumably for Russia, according to THIS article in The Globe and Mail.

The story continues by detailing the predictable fears that this revelation will damage Canada's intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States.  But then the story suddenly veers hard left toward World of Warcraft and other online MMORGs, a twist I did not expect.

 "SLt. Delisle led a rich second life online as 'Baron Mordegan,' an avid Internet gamer and a collector of medieval fantasy gear, his ex-wife told The Globe and Mail in March...'He admitted he had a computer addiction problem,' she said. SLt. Delisle used the Internet screen handle 'Baron Mordegan' during their 13 years of marriage, his ex-wife remembers. They divorced in 2010. She said he once explained that it came from a 1988 fantasy movie titled Willow... Ms. Delisle said her ex-husband was already hooked on medieval and military history when she met him at age 15.... SLt. Delisle, she said, would also spend large amounts of money on his medieval fantasy games."

Inactivity Now Killing As Many As Smoking

"A lack of exercise is now causing as many deaths as smoking across the world," a new study published in The Lancet suggests, according to THIS BBC report. "Researchers said the problem was now so bad it should be treated as a pandemic."

Another sentence further in the article caught my eye, too.  "And they said tackling it required a new way of thinking, suggesting the public needed to be warned about the dangers of inactivity rather than just reminded of the benefits of it."

Top 15 U.S. Fast Food Chains: "Subway" Surprise

Business Insider has ranked the top 15 U.S. fast food chains by sales HERE.

The fact that McDonald's is #1 was no surprise.  But I was surprised that McDonald's has many fewer restaurants in the United States (14,098) than #2 Subway (24,722).  I feels to me like there's a Starbucks every few blocks in America.  But there are apparently 2.5 times more Subway locations in America than #3 Starbucks (10,787).

Doing some quick math, I divided the 2011 U.S. sales by the number of U.S. locations and found that Subway had average sales at each U.S. location in 2011 of just over $460,000, while for McDonald's that figure was almost $2.5 million, and for Starbucks that was just over $900,000.  At my personal favorite chain on this list, #6 Taco Bell, that figure was $1.2 million, despite it having only about 1/5 the number of U.S. locations (5,674) as Subway (24,722).  Even #14 Arby's, with only 3,484 U.S. locations, had average sales per store in 2011 of about $870,000.

I wonder why there are apparently more Subway locations in America (24,722) than McDonald's (14,098) and Starbucks (10,787) combined, especially since Subway's per-location sales ($460,000) are so dramatically lower than those of its competitors.