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 Space.com 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 AdultFriendFinder.com on July 5, and quickly reached out to three lusty ladies — but all said, 'No thanks' to a hookup, the unidentified women told TMZ.com. 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 News.com. “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.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"The Meaner The Man Be, The More You Smile"

An unassuming black waiter at a 'whites only' restaurant in Greenwood, Mississippi in the 1960s named Booker Wright gave a stunning on-air interview about his experiences to a film crew making a documentary about segregation in the South that aired on NBC in 1966.  The documentary was later lost to time.  But it was re-discovered recently and descendants of both the waiter and the film maker went back to Greenwood a few months ago looking for the epilogue.

The footage is really quite stunning.  And heartbreaking.  ("Some call me 'Booker.'  Some call me 'John.'  Some call me 'Jim.' Some call me 'ni**er.'  All that hate. But you have to smile. The meaner the man be, the more you smile. Although you're crying on the inside, although you're wondering 'what else can I do?'")

You can watch a 3 minute segment from the NBC Nightly news last night HERE, which is really an introduction to the one hour Dateline episode airing later in the evening (with little footage of Booker). But you can watch the entire Dateline episode online, starting with part 1 HERE. But the biggest chunk of Booker's original interview is shown in part 2 HERE at the 5 minute mark.

Very little about this story is as predictable as you probably suspect.  But I doubt you can watch that footage of Booker without tearing up.

Old Jets Recycled As Homes

"Picture a packed tarmac at any municipal airport then add grass, trees, streets, cars and pedestrians. Now, you’re basically catching the breeze of Bruce Campbell’s ultimate recycling concept: a full subdivision of retired and refurbished commercial jets, looking exactly as they did when they soared seven miles high." You can read more on NBC News.com HERE or view a slideshow of 17 photos of Campbell's own converted plane HERE

Though from these photos, I'm not sure that Campbell is yet 'living the dream.'  (If a rusting old commercial jet falls in the forest, will anyone hear it?)

The old blanket covering his sofa also makes me suspect that it is probably in even worse shape than the plane.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Any Story Starting "A Man Clad Only In A Blanket"

Police say a man clad only in a blanket plowed a pickup truck through Dallas-area shopping mall, made a right turn down a hallway and then a left turn into a Champs Sporting Goods, where he began dressing himself in new clothes and a pair of Air Jordans.  You can read more HERE on the CBS News website.

Am I the only one surprised to learn that Air Jordans are still being sold?

Want To Feel Old?

Harrison Ford, of Han Solo and Indiana Jones fame, turns 70 today, according to THIS article in The Washington Post.

The Automat Turns 100 Today

The predecessor to the modern fast food chain was the Automat. One hundred years ago this week the first one opened in Times Square according to THIS article (with photos) on The History Channel website. If you don't recognize the name 'Automat,' your memory may be jogged by those photos of art deco, wall mounted vending machines dispensing coffee and sandwiches for a nickle or a dime to the fedora-wearing masses.

I was always fascinated by this concept, and wished I'd had a chance to visit one. I was sure they'd died out in the 1960s or '70s.  But in fact the last one closed in 1991, apparently.

Not everyone was so impressed, however. “'The number of cheap quick-fire food hells is appalling,' bemoaned James Huneker in The New York Times in 1914. 'Eating and drinking are rapidly entering the category of the lost fine arts,' he lamented. 'The young folk nowadays are not epicures… They are in too much of a hurry to dance or to ride, to sit long at table and dine with discrimination.'”

Here are a few other interesting highlights from the article:
  •   "The Automat entered its heyday after Prohibition killed the saloons and their free lunches and the Great Depression crimped bank accounts."
  •   "French-drip coffee, always piping hot and potent, was Horn & Hardart’s most popular item. It was freshly brewed every 20 minutes, and until 1950 it cost only a nickel a cup."
  •  "With inflation pushing the price of items higher and higher, the coin-operated machines were no longer efficient or practical. Quality declined, and the fast food chains spawned by the Automats began to eat their lunch. Horn & Hardart itself purchased Burger King and Arby’s franchises, along with Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits"

The Lenny Dykstra Saga Ends

Former Major League baseball star Lenny Dykstra pleaded guilty yesterday to bankruptcy fraud and other federal charges, according to THIS CNN article.  I'm not a big baseball fan myself, but I've followed this story for years because of all the unusual twists and turns that it has taken.  In addition to being a 3-time All Star, Dykstra apparently earned over $35 million during his playing days.  Athletes having financial problems after retirement is nothing new, of course, but I'd never seen one protest more earnestly during his long, Icarus-like fall that he wasn't crashing to the ground at all. He was actually paying insignificant millions to move the earth ever closer to him. You see, he liked the breeze.

"After retirement, Dykstra moved to California and started a profitable luxury car wash that he called The Taj Mahal. He expanded the business throughout Southern California and in 2007 sold it to investors, according to bankruptcy filings. As a self-taught financial analyst, Dykstra proclaimed himself a financial guru and began writing a stock-picking website column. His prominence soared as a sports celebrity, entrepreneur and popular guest on numerous financial news broadcasts. In 2008, Dykstra began publishing the Players Club, a glossy financial advice magazine exclusively for pro athletes to help them with wealth management and investment banking. But Dykstra seemed to lose control of his extravagant jet-setting lifestyle during the housing bust. His purchase of the palatial Gretzky estate in 2007 for $14 million occurred a few months before the mortgage market collapse."

That's the merest taste of this amazingly colorful story.  You can read more in THIS wild profile of Lenny Dykstra published in GQ three years ago, by which time the story was already well advanced.

Friday, July 13, 2012

AWOL Jesse Jackson, Jr. Has Alcohol Problem

In addition to being his famous father's son, Jesse Jackson, Jr. is a Congressman from Illinois who has been on Capitol Hill for 17 years. But he has not been seen there for over a month.  His unexplained absence generated increasing concern and anger among his colleagues and Democratic party leaders, as he missed more and more votes.

Then came word a few days ago from his camp that the 47 year-old Jackson was suffering from "exhaustion." When that failed to satisfy the lingering questions, some further details were put out in a press release on Wednesday: he actually has a "mood disorder" for which he was being treated in Arizona.  That explanation, too, was greeted with skepticism, however, and raised more questions than it answered. His top Congressional aides tried to tamp down speculation with this firm denial in yet another press release, "...The rumors about him being treated for alcohol or substance abuse [are] not true."

But THIS 3 minute segment from the Today Show this morning explains that NBC News has spoken with multiple sources close to the Congressman and that Jesse Jackson Jr. is in fact in rehab for an alcohol problem while also being treated for depression.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

She Kept Boyfriend's Corpse To Watch NASCAR

"A woman said she kept the dead body of her companion in a chair in their southern Michigan house for months because she didn’t want to be alone. Linda Chase, 72, said she kept the remains of Charles Zigler clean and dressed and talked to the body while watching NASCAR on television," according to THIS New York Daily News article. "Jackson police discovered Zigler’s body in a living room chair last week. Authorities believe he died of natural causes at age 67 in December 2010, although Chase said it was last December. She said there wasn’t a bad smell."

But Like the best of this sort of news, there's a story behind the story.

"She has not been arrested but is being investigated for financial fraud. Chase admits cashing Zigler’s benefit checks after his death."

US Olympic Team Uniforms Made In China

The uniforms that the 2012 US Olympic team will wear at the opening ceremonies of the London summer games, unveiled yesterday, are made in China, according to THIS 2 minute segment on the ABC World News last night.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New "Evel Knievel" Movie Coming

Channing Tatum is going to play Evel Knievel in a new biopic, according to The Hollywood Reporter today HERE. The movie is apparently going to be based on Stuart Barker's 2008 biography, Life of Evel.

I wrote HERE about Evel Knievel, a childhood hero of mine, whose life was apparently 'more colorful' than was publicly known during his heyday in the 1970s.

I liked the 2005 TV movie starring George Eads titled Evel Knievel (even if it went a little light on his 'dark side'), as well as the 1971 film of the same name starring George Hamilton (which I appreciated on its own, campier terms).  Does the world really need a third Evel Knievel biopic?

This upcoming movie may delve deeper into the darker side of the man, however.  The description of the book on which it is based states that Evel Knievel was, "a man whose love of gambling, women and drinking, ensure his legend will live forever."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fast Food Workers: What Not To Order

Thousands of former fast food employees opined in this online survey about what menu items to avoid ordering at fast food restaurants.  As someone who worked at both Carl's Jr. and 7-Eleven as a kid more than 20 years ago, my experiences were a little different back then.  But you can read the entire thing HERE. Or here's the executive summary:

"While management clearly plays a huge role in food safety and handling, we're seeing some relatively universal concerns from different sources...:
  • Fast food ice.... it is difficult to keep the machines clean and mold free....
  • Chicken Nuggets are a hot topic and seem to be a 'concern food'...
  • Grilled chicken options (such as McDonald's sandwiches). The lesson here is that just because it's grilled, doesn't mean it's healthy. ("to keep it from sticking to the grill, we use three squirts of liquid margarine on the bottom of it...")
  • Visiting restaurants before closing time.... Old and unused menu items are probably not what you're looking to pay for...
  • Arby's meats, roast beef. This is getting a ton of comments, both from behind the counter and from customers...
  • Condiments/Complimentary items... Uncleaned but re-filled containers has been such a recurring point here that my level of paranoia has raised to 'terrorist orange.' Included in this point are things like complementary breadsticks. Some of you have talked about re-serving the 'seemingly untouched or whole' breadsticks at Italian restaurants..."

Spam Turns 75

Spam has turned 75.  The meat, not the e-mail.  THIS few-second piece about it on the NBC Nightly News concluded with the depressing note that, as a result of continued high demand for Spam worldwide,"America is the global leader in canned meats."

From the lone global super power to the 'global leader in canned meats' in just 20 years: that must be some kind of record for subsidence.

North Korea's Mystery Woman

"So little is known about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that the identity of a woman seen by his side during more than one official engagement has sparked a flurry of speculation worldwide.
Was the slim woman in the sharp black suit his sister, wife or even lover? No one seems to know."  So begins THIS CNN article today.

That's interesting, I suppose.  But what made this story noteworthy, I thought, was the Disney link revealed further in the story.

"The mystery woman accompanied the young leader to a Pyongyang theater on Friday night to watch a performance of North Korea's Moranbong band. The display included a cast of Disney characters, attracting the attention of The Walt Disney Company which issued a statement Tuesday saying it had not authorized their use."

Panoramic View of Mars

If you want to see a high definition, panoramic view of Mars, you can watch THIS 23 second segment from the NBC Nightly News last night.

Monday, July 9, 2012

David Bowie And Mick Jagger's "Affair"

Along with stories about salmon and pumping stomachs back stage, one of the most persistent rumors I heard as a teenager in the 1980s about the wild antics of the (then aging) rock 'n roll stars of the 1960s and 70s, was that Mick Jagger and David Bowie had once been found in bed together. 

According to THIS story in today's New York Daily News, a newly published book confirms that did indeed happen.  The depth of the relationship between the two men as detailed in this article really surprised me.  But the biggest eye opener for me was the very last sentence.

Profile of "60 Minutes" Mike Wallace Last Night

I watched THIS one hour profile on CBS last night of legendary "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace, who died in April at the age of 93, and really enjoyed it.

I loved "60 Minutes" for many decades, dating back to the 1970s when I first saw Mike Wallace using hidden cameras to expose corrupt auto mechanics and small-time con men.  The spectacle of one adult confronting another on TV, calling them a liar and a fraud to their face and proving it with video footage while the target sweats and squirms, was a compelling revelation to me as an elementary school kid.

Despite my long-time love of the show, I thought that this profile of Mike Wallace last night highlighted (and maybe even celebrated) some of its worst tendencies from a journalistic standpoint.

"He was one of the true giants of television," host Steve Kroft begins. "His reporting style and interviewing technique influenced generations of journalists."  But then just 2 minutes later, Kroft asks Wallace fawningly in a vintage TV interview, "I've never seen a situation in an interview where you did not dominate, in terms of personality, force of personality," to which Wallace responds nonchalantly, "Thank you. That's very flattering, I guess."

Is that really a proper goal for a reporter, especially such a prominent and influential one: to personally "dominate" every moment in every interview in every story?  That also suggests the central role of self-serving, selective editing during the production of "60 Minutes" stories.

A mere 12 minutes into the show, a further clip from this same interview shows Steve Kroft saying to Wallace, "This is what some people say about you: that you're a grandstander, that you're the most important person in the story, that you're more important than the story sometimes." Wallace answers, "I've got to plead guilty, I suppose."

Friday, July 6, 2012

32 Year Old Man Interviews His 12 Year Old Self

In this 4 minute video, which has received over 2 million views You Tube in just 3 days, a 32 year old man has spliced video footage of himself when he was 12 years old with current video of him today to create a funny and awkward interview of his 12 year old self.

100 Year-Old Whiskey Found In Attic

"What first appeared to Fite as a set of strangely shaped insulated pipes turned out to be the secret whiskey stash of one of the house's former owners — or so goes Fite's main theory of how the liquor ended up there. When they purchased the house, the Fites received a paper abstract detailing the history of its ownership. One of the owners, Fite said, had to give up the house when he was consigned to a sanitarium 'for alcohol reasons.' Fite hypothesizes that this alcoholic hid the bottles in the attic for some future occasion"  You can read more from Good Morning America HERE

Something Reeks In Rosemead

"Something reeks in Rosemead. Some say it's the slaughterhouse on Garvey Avenue. Others say it's a bigoted attitude toward the company's Asian clientele that stinks. For two decades, Chinese American Live Poultry has sold freshly killed birds you can grab by the feet and look in the eye... But city officials have voted to shut down the business, citing offensive odors, traffic congestion and escaped chickens." So begins THIS story in the Los Angeles Times Today.

"In the last decade, an influx of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants has made the middle-class bedroom community of 54,000 more than 60% Asian... The result, some say, is a city government that responds to the concerns of a minority of its residents and ignores the rest...  'We want the big-name restaurants, we want major grocery stores. Right now the only market we have is Fresh & Easy, and the other ones are more ethnic,' Armenta said. 'We used to have Ralphs.'"

Is "Illegal Immigrant" A Slur?

I thought that THIS opinion piece on CNN by Charles Garcia headlined, "Why 'illegal immigrant is a slur," was interesting both for what it said and what it didn't say.

"When you label someone an 'illegal alien' or 'illegal immigrant' or just plain 'illegal,' you are effectively saying the individual, as opposed to the actions the person has taken, is unlawful. The terms imply the very existence of an unauthorized migrant in America is criminal... Migrant workers residing unlawfully in the U.S. are not -- and never have been -- criminals. They are subject to deportation, through a civil administrative procedure that differs from criminal prosecution..."

Some of this is semantics.  But there is power in words, and I thought this assertion was thought-provoking.

Charles Garcia continues, "Another misconception is that the vast majority of migrant workers currently out of status sneak across our southern border in the middle of the night."

I suspect that many people would read this sentence with a lot less emphasis on the carefully placed phrase 'in the middle of the night,' however, if they were aware that, according to THIS 2010 Pew Research Center study, "At the national level, 58% of unauthorized immigrants are Mexicans... In seven states, they make up 80% or more of the unauthorized immigrant population... Among children with at least one unauthorized immigrant parent, 70% have parents from Mexico, 17% from other Latin American countries."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sexual Harassment At The CIA

"Stories of sexual improprieties are infamous at some CIA stations, especially in high-stress areas. It is a civilian agency, and employees in war zones tend to work long hours, live in close quarters and let off steam by drinking alcohol after work," according to THIS article in today's Los Angeles Times

"Partly as a result of that, former CIA officers said, what would be considered workplace sexual impropriety at corporations and other government agencies has been tolerated at the CIA, and trysts between supervisors and employees are not unusual... In 1995, the agency paid $990,000 to settle a class action lawsuit by 450 women. The settlement included promotions for 25 female case officers and better assignments for 14 others. It included raises and other career-enhancing steps for 64 women."

...doing the math, the fact that each of the 450 plaintiffs in the 1995 class action were awarded an average of a mere $2,200, and that  only 40 of the 450 women received promotions or 'better assignments,' tells me that there's likely more to the story...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"God Particle" Found ("Divined," Actually)

You've probably already seen the headline "God Particle Found" over the last couple of days.  But what does it really mean?

"A half-century scientific quest culminated early Wednesday as physicists announced the discovery of a new subatomic particle — one theorized to be so fundamental that without it, nothing could exist. Dubbed the Higgs boson — or the 'God particle,' to the chagrin of scientists — the particle is thought to create a sort of force field that permeates the universe " begins THIS article in today's Los Angeles Times.

But reading further, it becomes clear that the 6,000 CERN scientists working on the project didn't actually find this new God particle itself, but rather 'divined its existence' from a 'bump in the data.'  "The CERN physicists did not see this new particle directly, because it disintegrates too quickly. Rather, they divined its existence from sifting through the debris of millions of high-energy subatomic collisions and then searching for clues that the Higgs had been there... But by studying these traces, the CERN physicists saw a 'bump' in their data consistent with a Higgs boson."

Maybe its because I'm not a physicist myself that I can't see why this is so different from 6,000 unkempt cryptozoologists 'divining the existence' of Bigfoot from only the plaster casts of huge feet, because the creature is elusive and disappears so quickly.

The timing of this announcement is also suspicious. "With a self-imposed deadline of July 4 — set two years ago to line up with the conference in Melbourne — CERN physicists raced in recent days to collect and analyze enough data to say they had, indeed, found a new particle that looked like the long-sought Higgs."

So scientists have been looking for the Higgs boson since 1964, almost 50 years, and as of yesterday these CERN physicists are finally able to 'divine its existence' from a 'bump in the data' that 'looks like' the Higgs boson, only after 'racing' to meet a deadline specified years in advance?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chuck E. Cheese Makeover - Surprise Atari Link

"The company that operates the chain of children’s pizza restaurants is retiring the giant rodent’s outdated image... CEC Entertainment Inc. says it plans to launch a national ad campaign Thursday with a revamped image of Chuck E. Cheese as a hip, electric-guitar-playing rock star,"  according to THIS article in The Washington Post today. (You can see the new version of the mascot in the Los Angeles Times HERE.)

This impending change sounds terrible to me.  But the last line of the article caught my eye anyway. "The chain was founded by Nolan Bushnell, who also co-founded Atari and Pong."  This revelation surprised me at first.  But the more I thought about it, it wasn't really a surprise at all. Atari turned 40 itself earlier this week, according to THIS article in the USA Today. "The Atari 2600, launched in 1977, was the first video game console in millions of homes, long before the Nintendo Entertainment System (1985), Sony's PlayStation (1994) and Microsoft's Xbox (2001)."

I'd never heard the name 'Nolan Bushnell' before.  Who is this genius of innovation? According to his Wikipedia article, he's still alive and is 69 years old.  It sounds like he had a great 1977.  That year he sold Atari, which he'd co-founded only 5 years earlier,  to Warner Communications (now Time Warner) for $28 million, the same year the iconic Atari 2600 was launched. He also opened the first Chuck E. Cheese that year.  But by November 1978, he was forced out at Atari and by 1981 he'd turned over day-to-day operations at Chuck E. Cheese. By 1984, the computer game market had crashed and Atari was split up and sold off.  Chuck E. Cheese declared bankruptcy later the same year.   Bushnell has continued to be a serial entrepreneur, apparently.  But he's never had another year like 1977.

"Back-To-School" Sales Already

THIS 2 minute segment from ABC World News last night made me laugh.  It highlights how retailers across the country are already heavily promoting 'Back-To-School' sales.  I can't think of too many things more dispiriting for a kid than being dragged off to shop for new school supplies on July 2nd, just days after the last school year ended. 

Like being told to get ready for bed at 3 PM.

Man Sold Bombs At "Hooters"

The headline "Man Sold Bombs At Hooters" caught my eye. He was arrested in an ATF sting in Spokane, Washington.   Like a lot of these sorts of stories, the headline is a little better than the more prosaic reality.  But you can read the full local news report HERE, which includes a photo of the man.  (He looks surprisingly ordinary.)

Would it surprise anyone  to learn that he was selling his illegal, home-made 'ping pong ball bombs' out of a mini van, or that he apparently has a 2005 conviction for child molestation? I guess it's a good reminder for all of us that it's "caveat emptor" when you're buying black market bombs at a Hooters...

Man With 15 "Miley Cyrus" Tattoos

A 39 year old British man apparently has adorned his body with 15 tattoos related to the teenage singer Miley Cyrus. You can see a photo of him on MSNBC HERE.  (My favorite is the way he has her name written across his chest in that 'gangster-gothic' font.)

Monday, July 2, 2012

"60 Minutes" On Truffle-Related Crime

The CBS program 60 Minutes aired THIS 12 minute segment yesterday about truffle-related crime, because truffles are, "pound-for-pound the most expensive food in the world."

"Because of climate change, the harvests are down, from 2,000 tons 100 years ago, to just 30 tons today.  The scarcity and high prices have attracted elements of organized crime, who have turned the truffle trade into something resembling the drug trade."

The show goes on to analyze the "catastrophic problem" (for the French anyway) of Chinese truffles. Interestingly, Chinese truffles are apparently inferior to French ones ("no parfum") because the French use truffle-hunting dogs to find them, whereas the Chinese, "just pick at the earth with no dogs, and harvest the truffles the minute they find them."

TV Networks Sue To Block "Ad Skip" Feature

"Satellite TV provider Dish Network's new ad-skipping feature, AutoHop, enables subscribers to black out ads on programs they've saved on their digital video recorders. When activated, AutoHop turns the screen dark when a commercial arrives, then returns to the show a few seconds later. CBS, NBC and Fox have sued, saying the feature violates copyright laws and jeopardizes the financial foundation of the entire television industry. The AutoHop, which launched in May, is only available for use on shows on broadcast networks CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox and not on cable channels."

You can read more in today's Los Angeles Times HERE.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

History of the "10 Most Wanted List"

Here are a few highlights from THIS article in today's Los Angeles Times detailing the history of the FBI's '10 Most Wanted List,' which dates to 1949:
  • "Since then, 497 fugitives have made the roster"
  • "[T]he list reflects the changing phenomenon of crime in America. The 1950s: bank robbers, prison escapees and car thieves. The '60s and '70s: anti-war radicals and organized crime figures. The '80s and '90s: drug traffickers and sexual predators. The current era: international terrorism."
  • "About 94% of those on the list have been arrested, a third of them after tips from the public."
  •  "Victor Manuel Gerena, who allegedly handcuffed two of his colleagues and made off with $7 million in their Wells Fargo armored car, has been missing the longest — 28 years. Best guess? Hiding in Cuba."
  • "But what has made the roster so infamous is not the celebrity of those on it. Rather, it became a rogues gallery of sometimes colorful crooks who often got caught in unlikely ways. Take Isaie Aldy Beausoleil, who made the list in 1952 for killing his female companion in Michigan. A year later, he was arrested in a women's public restroom in Chicago, dressed in a blue blouse, green skirt and heels."