Saturday, June 30, 2012

Top 10 "Super Heavy" Fast Food Markets

"In 2011, 34 percent of the population in Dallas patronized a quick-service restaurant 20 or more times a month, making it the No. 1 market for incidence of super-heavy fast-food users in the United States," begins THIS Business Wire article.

"Nine of the Top 10 markets are in the South. Providence, R.I., is the only northern market with such a high incidence of super-heavy fast-food usage. Sandelman analysts point to Dunkin' Donuts' deep penetration in New England for the preponderance of super-heavy fast-food users in Providence."

The article includes this table enumerating these Top 10 markets based on "Incidence of Super-Heavy Fast Food Users (20+  Visits In Past Month)":

             1.       Dallas, Texas  (34.00%)
             2.       McAllen, Texas  (33.1)
             3.        Providence, R.I.  (31.5)
             4.       Memphis, Tenn.   (31.1)
             5.       Greensboro, N.C.   (30.5)
             6.       Charleston/Huntington, W.Va. (30.4)
             7.       Lexington, Ky.  (30.0)
             8.       Houston, Texas (29.8)
             9.       Columbia, S.C.  (29.8)
            10.      Greenville, N.C.  (29.8)

I was surprised that when I cross-referenced THIS list of America's Fattest Cities published by CNBC back in March against this table above, there were only 2 cross-overs (Charleston, West Virginia, and McAllen, Texas).

It really says something about the state of America that 34% of the residents of Dallas will self-confess to eating at fast food restaurants 20 or more times a month and yet Dallas is not among America's fattest cities.

How Do Scientologists Divorce?

News that Katie Holmes has filed for divorce from Tom Cruise spurred THIS Good Morning America article analyzing how the Church of Scientology handles divorce.

"The Church of Scientology, however, is much clearer on the rituals and practices of marriage than it is on divorce, according to experts and the church's own official website. Rather than focus on divorce, the church concentrates on improving couples' relationships through therapy.

"'There's no real annulment in the church. Many members have been divorced, even founder L. Ron Hubbard was married three times,' Kent said. The church does not allow members to have contact with disconnected, or excommunicated members of the faith, making divorce inevitable sometimes when one spouse wants to continue in the faith and another wants to leave the church, according to Kent. 'If one person wants to stay in church, he can't have contact with someone who holds doubts or criticism of the group. The doubter is called a PTS, potential trouble source.'"

Man 'Plagued' By Porn-Induced Headaches

Remember the old Groucho Marx joke where he tells a doctor that it hurts when he, "goes like this" (while bending over) to which the doctor responds flatly, "then don't go like that."

THIS ABC News article begins, "A man plagued by porn-induced headaches has to take painkillers 30 minutes before watching the X-rated movies."

Friday, June 29, 2012

CNN And Fox Get Supreme Court Ruling Wrong

In a rush to be the first to report the Supreme Court ruling yesterday on healthcare reform legislation just seconds after it was announced, each of CNN and Fox News apparently reported incorrectly at first that the law had been struck down. "The justices have just gutted the centerpiece legislation of the Obama health care law,"  CNN's John King reported gravely, live on air. "A direct blow to the President of the United States. A direct blow to his Democratic party."

In THIS 5 minute piece on The Daily Show last night, Jon Stewart termed it "unconstitutional mandate hyperventilation." 

"Wow, that's a dramatic moment," CNN's Wolf Blitzer commented on air live.

 "Yes, a moment of great drama,"  says Jon Stewart in this clip. "And like many of our greatest dramas, a work of complete fiction."

Fox News apparently corrected its error after 2 minutes.  But CNN continued along these lines for a full 7 minutes.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

New: British MP Spied For Czechs In 1960s

Archives from the Czech Security Service reveal that in the 1960s a conservative British MP named Raymond Mawbry sold them information, ranging from a hand-drawn floor plan of the Prime Minister's office to harmless political gossip, usually handed over at high-end restaurants and clubs in London, according to THIS BBC News report today.

"According to his Czech file - which runs for hundreds of pages - Mawby, codename Laval, was first contacted when he attended a cocktail party in the Czechoslovak embassy in November 1960... The central weakness which the Czech spies exploited was money. 'His leisure time he spends in bars… and also loves gambling,' one noted. 'While playing roulette and other games he is willing to accept a monetary 'loan' which was exploited twice.'"

At THIS link you can watch a 30 second clip posted on the BBC website today of Mowbry appearing on BBC TV in the 1960s (while he was spying for the Czechs) and arguing sternly that homosexuals pose a potentially heightened security risk.  After that, the clip continues for another 3 minutes during which a long-retired Tory MP talks about having met and known Mawbry in the early 1980s, when he was still an MP. "Those were the days and nights of all-night sittings, when those of us who were of a drinking disposition would gather in the bars. And Ray was the old sort of full-time MP, i.e. more likely to be found in the bar than doing anything useful. And he was a very jovial character....If you would have said, 'give me 100 names,' I never would have thought of Ray, because Ray was a simple, straightforward guy."

Mawbry died in 1990.

"Ginsu Knives" Creator Has Died

The man who first brought us "Ginsu Knives" back in the 1970s has died.  You can watch his 30 second obit on the NBC Nightly News last night HERE.

 As I wrote HERE a few years ago, "the Japanese link was actually a total marketing fabrication. Two founders of a Rhode Island-based direct marketing company had seen a set of knives (dubbed "EverSharp") being made in Ohio by a company called "Douglas Quikut" that was primarily a manufacturer of vacuum cleaner parts. These direct marketers decided to sell the knives nationally via TV infomercials, and thought that, to be more enticing, they needed to have a different name, one that was evocative of something foreign and exotic."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rash of Used Cooking Oil Thefts From Fast Food

Because the used cooking oil from the fryers of fast food restaurants is now re-used for biodiesel fuel, and as a key ingredient in poultry feed, it can apparently now be sold for $3 a gallon.  As a result, there's  been a string of thefts in the Washington, D.C. area of the "rancid stuff" by "iron stomached criminals," according to THIS article in the Washington Post today.

This article further states that another reason for the recent price rise is that used cooking oil is apparently also used as pig feed by the Chinese.  So, let me get this straight: the Chinese send us an endless stream of container ships laden with substantially all the manufactured goods we now buy, of all varieties.  And in return we send those same ships back to China with our used french fry grease? That cannot bode well for America...

Gastric Bypass And Rikers Island Don't Mix

A former inmate at Rikers Island is suing New York City for $80 million, claiming that, because he'd had gastric bypass surgery, the type of food served at the prison, and the requirement that all inmates eat their meals in 4 minutes, put his life in danger. You can read more in today's New York Daily News HERE (including amazing photos of him before and after his surgery).

As an aside, that revelation about the 4 minute prison meals really surprised me.

Charlie Rangel Declares Victory In Primary

Charlie Rangel, the scandal-plagued 21 term congressman from New York, declared a surprising victory yesterday in the primary for his redrawn House seat.  You can read more on CNN HERE.

A couple of years ago, Rangel became a national laughingstock after it was revealed that, despite being the Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Rangel had failed to pay income taxes on a Caribbean vacation home and to make other mandatory financial disclosures.  He was ultimately censured by the House and forced to give up his chairmanship. Many thought he'd have to resign from the House altogether or, at best, finish out his term in disgrace and never run again.

In high school,  I remember reading in American history textbooks about a string of infamous political figures in the 19th and 20th centuries, and wondering how  these people managed to hold on to their elected offices for so long, despite being plagued by well known scandals for years at the time.

In my teenaged mind, I simply attributed that to vote rigging.  But Charlie Rangel's political survival today suggests that I may have over-estimated the American voter and under-estimated the potent mix of incumbency, political skill, and an almost masochistic willingness to live with public shame and scorn.

Pulitzer Prize Nominee? Actually, No.

THIS article on MSNBC today concerns a recent spate of revelations that several prominent TV reporters' claims to have been Pulitzer Prize nominees were, in fact, false.

The most recent is Charlie Gasparino, now a Wall Street correspondent for the Fox Business Network, but whom I remember best (and fondly) for his years on CNBC. I liked his straightforward, almost pugnacious approach. He didn't seem to suffer fools or liars gladly.

"Until Tuesday afternoon, Gasparino's bio from Fox Business said he was 'nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in beat reporting' in 1992, when he was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. The same claim is made by his agents at the HarperCollins Speakers Bureau, and on the website of his publisher, Simon and Schuster. In a promotional video in 2008 for CNBC, his former employer, Gasparino declares, 'I am: a writer, son of an ironworker, son of New York, Golden Gloves prospect, a Pulitzer Prize nominee...'"

But, this article continues, a quick check of the Pulitzer nominees for that year revealed, "The winner in beat reporting in 1992 was Gretchen Morgenson, one of Gasparino's competitors on the Wall Street beat for The New York Times. The two other nominees were Patrick Healy of The Boston Globe for education reporting, and Jack Kelley of USA Today for reporting on terrorism.... No Gasparino."

"When asked on Tuesday in which year he was nominated, former boxer Gasparino jabbed back in a one-line email: 'I was nominated by the wsj sir.' But the news organizations don't choose the Pulitzer nominees, any more than the record studios choose Grammy nominees... Later Tuesday, Fox changed its online bio of Gasparino, keeping the P word but dropping any claim to a nomination, saying instead that his work 'was submitted for the Pulitzer.'"

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Smuggling Heroin In A Burrito

When seeing stories about rampant drug use in America's jails and prisons, I've often wondered how large quantities of drugs get inside.  THIS article in today's Los Angeles Times provides an answer:

"A former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy accused of trying to smuggle a burrito stuffed with heroin into a courthouse lockup was sentenced Monday to two years in jail.

"As undercover sheriff's investigators watched, Marin accepted a bean-and-cheese burrito with about 24 grams of black tar heroin for an inmate at the Los Angeles airport courthouse, where Marin was assigned. The woman who provided the package had been asked by another inmate to deliver the food.

"Marin later told investigators that he intended to give the burrito to the inmate after checking the package and didn't know there were drugs inside. He admitted providing food for the same inmate at least 25 times, court records show."

"Shoe Queen" Sued For Hiding Shoes

"Daniel Shak claims Beth Shak never told him about her stockpile of 1,200 pairs of designer shoes when they divorced three years ago.The finance titan, who had shared a Fifth Avenue pad with Beth, claims that she hid the collection from him — possibly in a 'secret room' — and that its value may entitle him to hundreds of thousands of dollars more in their divorce settlement.

"Beth is known as one of the world’s top footwear aficionados. Her collection has been featured in media outlets from The Post to MTV’s Cribs. She even has an image of a Christian Louboutin stiletto tattooed on a private area of her body.

“I’m shaking my head over this whole thing,” Beth said. “He is saying he didn’t know the closet in our master bedroom existed.”

You can read more in the New York Post HERE.

No Disclosure Obligation Selling "Murder" Houses

Did you know that there's no legal obligation to disclose to potential buyers that a murder (or other 'psychologically impactful' event) occurred in a home when listing it for sale?  According to THIS MSNBC article:

"Welcome to a macabre corner of American real estate, a legally gray, emotionally black sector governed by a mishmash of varying state laws that dictate whether agents must divulge that bad things went down in what the National Association of Realtors calls 'stigmatized properties.'"

"Only two states, Alaska and South Dakota, mandate that sellers’ agents reveal whether a homicide or suicide occurred at a listed home within the previous 12 months, according to NAR spokesman Walter Molony. In Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Oklahoma, if a prospective buyer asks about past bloodshed, real estate agents must truthfully answer the question."

This last sentence really startled me, because the implication is that, in 43 states, the seller (and/or their agent) can flat out lie about something like this, even when asked directly by a potential buyer.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Who Pays To Hose Away The Blood?

Like me, you've probably seen TV footage of firemen hosing down streets in the aftermath of car crashes and shootings, presumably washing away the blood.

Each time I see that happening, I wonder about the implications of washing all of that 'stuff' down into our cities' gutters and sewer systems, and also about the cost (and who pays).  According to THIS story in the New York Daily News this morning, the cost in NYC is $50, and the victims' families are billed for it.

Deep Fried Cereal

Every year now at the start of summer we hear about new 'innovations' in deep frying existing snack foods, usually available at state fairs across the country.  Remember fried Twinkies and fried Kool-Aid?  Or the cringe-inducing fried butter?

This year is no exception.  According to THIS story on MSNBC, new this year is fried cereal (Trix and Cinnamon Toast Crunch) and fried Girl Scout Cookies.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Whitney Houston's Body Like Michael Jackson's

While flipping TV channels yesterday, I stumbled on a report about some personal details in Whitney Houston's autopsy.  Her autopsy report was apparently released back in April.  (You can read about it on the ABC News website HERE.)  But some of this was news to me.

In addition to the widely reported details about the indicia of long-term cocaine abuse, the report apparently also noted that Houston wore a wig, had dentures (perhaps as a result of drug abuse), and had had multiple plastic surgeries, including breast implants.

I immediately thought of Michael Jackson, and wondered whether some of the forces that caused him to die as an emaciated, drug-addicted, wig wearing shell of his former self, disfigured by years of plastic surgery, might have been industry-related (and/or tied to our modern 'culture of celebrity') and not just personal demons stemming in part from a lost childhood.

Yet Another Jonathan Pollard Apologia

You may be vaguely familiar with the name "Jonathan Pollard." He was an American civilian intelligence analyst for the US Navy who sold secrets to Israel in the mid-1980s, was caught in 1985 by the FBI at the gates of the Israeli embassy in Washington (the Israelis refused to let him in), and pled guilty in May 1986 to a charge of 'conspiracy to provide national defense information to a foreign government.' He has been in prison ever since, now 27 years.

Pollard's name tends to come up every four years, when US Presidents end their terms and traditionally issue presidential pardons.  Like clockwork, supporters of Pollard and friends of Israel mount strenuous and public campaigns to pardon and free him.  And every time, Republican and Democrat presidents alike have always declined to do so.

Veteran CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviewed Pollard in prison in 1987, when Blitzer was then the Washington correspondent for the Jerusalem Post,  and wrote a gripping book about the whole affair in 1989 called "Territory of Lies."

Pollard's current defense lawyers have written a new, sympathetic piece for CNN titled "The Truth About Jonathan Pollard" that you can read HERE. The third sentence is the core assertion always made by Pollard apologists. "Mr. Pollard is serving his 27th year of an unprecedented sentence of life in prison for delivering classified information to the state of Israel, a close ally of the United States."

Among the many relevant things that go unmentioned in this piece, however, is that Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in March 1987 in part because and he his wife were widely viewed to have violated their respective plea agreements with the government by giving multiple, defiant interviews to the press, including a notorious 60 Minutes interview, during which they sought to excuse their actions by wrapping themselves in the cause of Zionism. This post hoc rationalization, however, is at odds with the fact that Pollard received over $10,000 in cash from the Israilis, as well as diamonds and other jewels (and had agreed to be paid a further $1,500 a month), in exchange for the information he turned over to them, and that Pollard also stole information about China and provided it secretly to his wife (to help her own business), which documents were later found in their home after it was raided by authorities.

Two years ago, I wrote about the Pollard case in more detail HERE (a post that also includes photos of Pollard and a link to video).

New Interview With John Edwards' Mistress

Last Night, the ABC News program 20/20 aired a new, one hour interview with Rielle Hunter, the mistress of former U.S. presidential candidate John Edwards. It was the elaborate attempts to hide her existence (from both the public and from Edwards' dying wife Elizabeth) that ultimately led to Edwards' recent trail on federal charges of campaign finance violations.  The entire interview has been posted on the ABC News website in 6 segments.  You can watch part 1 HERE.

The program was not so much an extended sit down interview with Hunter as it was an extended chronology of their entire affair (during and after Edwards' presidential campaign), in which short segments from Chris Cuomo's interview with Hunter are juxtaposed with damning clips of Edwards shamelessly promoting his relationship with his wife on  the campaign trail and later flatly denying his relationship with Hunter. Broadly speaking, there was nothing new in any of this.  But what made it compelling viewing were the 'behind the scenes' details that Reille Hunter adds to the story, which details made Edwards' already extraordinary behavior throughout the whole sordid affair all the more amazing.  One of the many details I found memorable was that their infamous 'sex tape' was apparently made during a "poverty trip to Uganda."

Throughout the program, interviewer Chris Cuomo repeatedly stops and asks Hunter incredulous questions like, "Didn't you know this was wrong?" and "Why did you keep going with this crazy scheme that was never going to work?"   And her answer, over and over, is simply, "love."

Friday, June 22, 2012

12 Worst Supermarket Chains

After conducting a survey, Consumer Reports ranked the 12 worst grocery store chains in America, based on, among other criteria: price, cleanliness, selection, and customer service. You can see the slideshow HERE. It was interesting to me that a significant majority of the chains on this list were regional ones limited to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

Nigerian E-Mail Scams: Why Nigeria?

Why do Nigerian e-mail scammers say they're from Nigeria?  THIS CBS News article answers that question.

"But surely actual scammers would have realized by now that no one believes a Nigerian prince will offer up thousands of dollars to random strangers. According to new research, not only do scammers not worry about people being skeptical - they actively encourage it."

"By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select... This is why so many email scams claim to originate from Nigeria - though most spam emails come from elsewhere, including the United States. Anyone with any degree of familiarity with Internet scams will immediately close the email, leaving only the most susceptible victims to actually read its contents."

Pot Vending Machines

Vending machines dispensing 'medical' marijuana are apparently already in use in several states, including Connecticut, according to THIS CNN article. The manufacturer enthusiastically characterizes it as, "state-of-the-art" and "absolutely flawless."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Supreme Court Justices' Financial Disclosures

Eight of the nine Supreme Court justices released their annual financial disclosure forms yesterday, according to THIS on CNN.  The article details a lot of foreign travel, which wasn't that interesting.  But I was surprised by how little the justices apparently earn in connection with their "extracurricular work."  Scalia reported a mere $18,700 in book income, and Breyer only $45,000. And they were tops.

The article also states that the justices are generally paid about $15,000 for each personal appearance. Only $15,000? That made me wonder, by comparison, how much it would cost to get Lindsay Lohan or Justin Bieber.  According to THIS 2007 ABC News article, Jessica Simpson commanded a $400,000 appearance fee in 2006; Pamela Anderson cost $250K; and Mariah Carey a whopping $3 million.

Would $15,000 even draw the Octomom today?

Russian Spies Sell China ICBM Info

Two Russian college professors were convicted of treason yesterday in a Moscow court and were each sentenced to 12 years in prison for, "selling confidential information related to Russia's latest intercontinental ballistic missile, the Bulava, to representatives of China's military intelligence." You can read more on Fox News HERE.

Why is this news scary? "The Bulava [is] designed to equip a new generation of Russian nuclear submarines."

Notwithstanding the foreboding, long-term implications for US national security, I also thought this more mundane, commercial context was also interesting. "After decades of Cold War-era rivalry, Moscow and Beijing have developed what they call a strategic partnership... China also has become a major customer for Russian weapons industries, although Russian arms exports have drained in recent years as China has sought to produce unlicensed copycat versions of Russian weapons."

100 Million "Doritos Locos Tacos" Already Sold

I wrote HERE last October about the impending release of 'mythical' Doritos tacos from Taco Bell. Well, now comes the news HERE that Taco Bell sold a staggering 100 million Doritos Locos Tacos in the first 10 weeks after its nationwide release in early March.

Almost simultaneously, Taco Bell announced HERE that, "it plans an early July rollout of a menu addition created by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia for its nearly 5,600 U.S. restaurants... The introduction of items that Taco Bell executive Brian Niccol described as 'gourmet Mexican.'" I'm not sure, however, that the rampaging success of the $1.79  Doritos Locos Tacos bodes well for the prospects of the 'gourmet Mexican' $5 Cantina Burrito Bowl, with its cilantro-infused rice.

A related article in the USA Today HERE added this interesting statistic at the end, "Taco Bell accounts for about 60% of U.S. profit for Louisville-based Yum Brands (YUM), whose chains also include KFC and Pizza Hut." But THIS article states, "While Yum's profits and sales declined in the US market, in the China market, more than 4,500 KFCs and Pizza Huts provide about 50% of company's profits." So presumably Taco Bell is a much more successful franchise in the United States than it is abroad. And perhaps more surprisingly, KFC is seemingly much more popular in China and elsewhere overseas than it is in the US.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hebrew National: One Brand Among Many

Have you ever seen TV commercials for Hebrew National's kosher hot dogs proclaiming that they, "answer to a higher power"?

Well, it turns out that the Hebrew National brand is owned by ConAgra Foods Inc. (along with a myriad of other brands like Chef Boyardee), and that ConAgra outsources the meat processing services for its Hebrew National products to a company called AER Services, Inc. A new lawsuit alleges that AER's meat processing techniques are not, in fact, kosher, as you can read HERE.

Jockstrap Prank: The Last Laugh?

Have you heard about the 73 year old South Dakota man, Carl Ericsson, who shot and killed a retired school teacher, Norman Johnson, back in January?  The two had been high school classmates over 50 years earlier but had not been friends in adulthood. "Ericsson told Judge Vince Foley that he rang the doorbell at Johnson’s house then asked his old classmate to verify his identity before shooting him with a .45-caliber pistol." Apparently Norman Johnson had pulled a jockstrap over Ericsson's head in a locker room when they were in high school back in the 1950s, and Ericsson just could not forget about it.

You can read a Washington Post article about it HERE, which includes a photo of Ericsson.  He was sentenced last Friday to serve life in prison.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Battle Over Thomas Kinkade's Estate

I'd barely heard of the artist Thomas Kinkade before he died a couple of months ago, despite being, "the most commercially successful artist in the world... earning an estimated $100 million a year before his death in April."

But now comes news of the (predictable) battle over his estate. "His mistress has two handwritten notes proving she should be given millions, she says, " according to a 5 minute segment from CBS This Morning  that you can watch HERE.

Kinkade's mistress was banned from his funeral.  His family considers her a 'gold digger.' Doesn't it seem like every time a rich man dies, a mistress comes out of the woodwork hysterically trumpeting promises made to her, only to be dismissed coldly by the family as a crazy, gold digging liar?

I don't expect anyone to make it through that entire 5 minute CBS This Morning video.  But if you did, you would be rewarded by this truly amazing concluding remark about Kinkade by the interviewing CBS journalist. "... which we know, by the way, that he likely and frequently was three sheets to the wind.  We do have to end it there, I'm so sorry.  Thanks so much to both of you."

What Was In Whitey Bulger's Apartment?

"When the FBI arrested Boston mobster James 'Whitey' Bulger last June, officials documented the contents of his Santa Monica apartment with meticulous detail," begins THIS article in the Los Angeles Times today, which goes on to enumerate what was found. Among the more notworthy items, I thought, were:
  • a "mini library of gangster literature"
  • 100 hand written pages of Bulger's memoir
  • news clippings from a rash of 'Whitey sightings'
  • "closets piled high with unopened boxes of Q-Tips, soap and Kleenex," and
  • "step-by-step directions for how to turn on a computer, and printed-out instructions on how to access a Yahoo! email account."

Friday, June 15, 2012

$102M Audit Finds $20M In Medicaid Fraud

"An audit program meant to combat Medicaid fraud has cost taxpayers about $102 million since 2008 while identifying less than $20 million in overpayments, according to a report released by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office on Thursday."  You can read more in today's Los Angeles Times HERE.

"The National Medicaid Audit Program used incomplete federal data to conduct 1,550 audits, and apparently because of that, the majority of the audits failed to find any fraud, the GAO said at a Senate hearing. Yet fraud in Medicare and Medicaid, the federal government's health insurance programs for elderly, disabled and low-income Americans, continues to cost taxpayers an estimated $60 billion a year, the Justice Department says."

Failed Brand Extensions

Did you know that in 1990, Coors tried to extend their brand beyond beer and into sparkling water?  You can watch the 45 second TV spot on You Tube HERE.

And the year before that, Pepsi tried to market a version with 27% more caffeine as a breakfast beverage, an alternative to coffee in the morning, called Pepsi A.M.?  You can read a short New York Times article about Pepsi A.M. HERE from September 1989, which I thought was noteworthy because it states that Coca-Cola had already been trying to market Coke as a morning drink for several years as well. Pepsi A.M. failed to catch on (even if it was a less notorious flop than Crystal Pepsi). On hindsight, analysts pointed out that people who wanted to drink Pepsi for breakfast probably didn't think they needed a new, breakfast-specific version.

You can view a slideshow HERE of 25 other failed product extensions, including Colgate's attempt to move from toothpaste to frozen food ("Colgate Kitchen Entrees"), Smith & Wesson mountain bikes, and Ben Gay aspirin.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Truth About Dishonesty

The Economist magazine profiles HERE a new book titled, "The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty," written by a  psychologist who has spent years studying cheating. It reads in part:

"People routinely struggle with two opposing emotions. They view themselves as honourable. But they also want to enjoy the benefits of a little cheating, especially if it reinforces their belief that they are a bit more intelligent or popular than they really are... The amount of fudging that goes on depends on the circumstances. People are more likely to lie or cheat if others are lying or cheating, or if a member of another social group... visibly flouts the rules. They are more likely to lie and cheat if they are in a foreign country rather than at home... They are more likely to lie and cheat if they have been stiffed by the victim of their misbehaviour—companies that keep customers in voicemail hell are frequent victims. And people are more likely to break their own rules if they have spent the day resisting temptation: dieters often slip after a day of self-denial, for example."

The Tragic End of Francis Gary Powers

Most people over the age of, say, 40, will probably vaguely recognize the name "Francis Gary Powers," and will nod in recognition when reminded that he was the pilot of a secret U-2 spy plane that was shot down over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960, sparking an international incident and causing tremendous embarrassment to the Eisenhower administration.  It was announced today that he will be awarded posthumously the Silver Star for valor. You can read about it on CNN HERE.

But how many people know what happened to Powers after he was shot down?

After almost two years in captivity in the Soviet Union, in 1962 Powers was exchanged in Berlin for a very valuable Russian spy, KGB Colonel Vilyam Fisher, who had run a spy ring for years in New York as an 'illegal' calling himself Rudolf Abel. Powers received a distinctly chilly reception when he returned home.  Not only had the price for his freedom been high, but he was also criticized for not having activated the secret spy plane's self-destruct charge before it crashed, and for not using the "suicide pill" that the CIA had issued him.

After his release, Powers worked for Lockheed from 1963-1970, until he was fired upon writing a memoir that brought unflattering publicity to the CIA. He then became an airborne traffic reporter for a Los Angeles radio station before taking a similar job at Los Angeles television station KNBC. In that capacity, Powers was covering brush fires in Santa Barbara in 1977 when his helicopter ran out of fuel and crashed several miles short of Burbank airport, killing him. A subsequent NTSB report blamed the crash on pilot error (poor fuel management). Francis Gary Powers was 47 years old.  He had been freed from the Soviet Union only 15 years earlier.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Democrats "Play With Dynamite" On Pensions

I thought THIS Washington Post editorial today incisively analyzed one aspect of yesterday's elections.  It reads in part:

"One portion of the progressive coalition — public-sector unions — used the good economic times of the 1990s and 2000s to lock in generous health and pension benefits at the state and local level through collective bargaining...  Other members of the progressive coalition value public services highly -- parks, libraries, public safety, education, support for the homeless and such...These voters have seen the commitments made to public-sector unions devouring state and local budgets, leaving little room for any initiatives in the public good.

"In California cities where unions have been successful in securing advantages, the fiscal crisis is acute... Payments by the city of San Jose, Calif., to its public retirement fund have gone from $73 million in 2001 to $245 million this year — crowding out spending on libraries and public safety.

"By siding with public employees in the state and local budget disputes, the national Democratic Party is playing with dynamite. Voters are sometimes willing to accept new taxes to purchase shared public benefits such as roads or schools. But even in liberal California cities, voters are reluctant to raise tax revenues to transfer directly to the retirement benefits of a middle-class interest group."

More Allegations About Travolta Emerge

I've been surprised that the recent spate of stories about John Travolta's alleged pattern of 'harassing' male massage therapists over a number of years hasn't made more news.  Maybe this new story, about a six year affair he allegedly had with his male pilot, might break more into the mainstream. You can read it in the New York Post HERE.

I'd like to think that this story hasn't made much mainstream news to date because the allegations are unconfirmed, and so it's a shining example of journalistic ethics.  But I wonder whether the story's relatively  low profile may really be an indication of  how Travolta's star has faded in recent years.

The Joy of Motorcycle Riding Has a A Cost

The start of this 2 minute clip from MSNBC is about a 52 year old California man who has filed a lawsuit against BMW claiming that the seat on his BMW motorcycle made him impotent.  But what I really enjoyed was Willie Geist's comments about it in the last 40 seconds or so.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Fast Food Stats Are Food For Thought

The business side of the fast food industry fascinates me, especially statistics. According to THIS new Los Angeles Times story, "At quick service hamburger restaurants, the drive-thru is responsible for 57% of all visits, beating out dine-in and carry-out options. The window draws 40% of visitors at Mexican fast-food joints and 38% of chicken-based chains, according to research company NPD Group... Some 70% of fast food sales happen at drive-thru windows, according to the National Restaurant Assn."

What caught my eye first was that, while drive-thrus account for 57% of the store visits at McDonald's (and even less at other chains), they account for 70% of the sales industry-wide.  I wonder why that is.  Is that because larger families no longer dine-in at fast food restaurants, but instead prefer to buy food at a drive thru and then go home to eat?  Or is that perhaps because individual diners may order more at a drive thru, knowing that, in the privacy of their own car, the size of their order is not subject to being scrutinized or judged by other patrons, they way it might be if they dined in?

I also wonder why so many more customers at hamburger restaurants like McDonald's prefer to the drive-thru (57% of visits) than do those eating at Mexican fast food places like Taco Bell (just 40% of visits).

Update: Lockerbie Bomber Finally Dies

Like the Aesop's shepherd boy who cried wolf, eventually there was a real wolf.

I wrote HERE last October, incredulous at the fact that the Lockerbie Bomber, Abdel al Megrahi, was once again proclaiming that he had only "days, weeks, or months" to live, this time following the Libyan revolution that overthrew Moammar Gadhafi. Two years beforehand, al Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, had been released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds, with his death from cancer allegedly just as imminent back then, too.

Well, he was telling the truth this time, on hindsight.  He lived only eight more months after that most recent proclamation. He died on May 21st.  He was only 60 years old, meaning that he was only 36 when he conspired to blow up Pan Am 103 back in 1988.   You can read his CNN obituary HERE.

Update: Snake Handler Dies From Bite

Last November I wrote HERE about the fading tradition of snake handling in West Virginia. Well, last Sunday the pastor profiled in that Washington Post story, Randy 'Mack' Wolford, died just hours after bring bitten in the thigh by one of his rattlesnakes during a church service, according to THIS new Washington Post story (and accompanying slide show of 18 photos, some taken just after he was bitten). Wolford was 44 years old.

Randy Wolford's father was also a snake handling pastor.  He died at the age of 39, also from a snake bite, when Randy was 15.