Archive for the 'Brilliant Ideas' Category

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Why no ban on Chinese food imports?

The Pet Food Crisis. A few months ago, a scandal erupted when Americans discovered that hundreds of pet deaths in the United States were attributed to poisoned pet food manufactured in China. More than one pet food manufacturer was involved, it quickly became clear that the poisoning was intentional. More importantly though, it was clear that the substituting of one ingredient for another was intended as a cost-saving measure. In other words, it was completely profit based. Disgustingly, China denies blame out of one side of its mouth while out of the other side it takes action against the manufacturers. Wikipedia has a comprehensive summary of the pet food crisis if you want to read more.

Poisoned Toothpaste. Two days ago, the Times ran a story (free reg req’d) that toothpaste found in Panama and manufactured in China was found to have the poison diethylene glycol. That story followed on the heels of a previous instance in Panama where diethylene glycol marked as glycerin (a sweet syrup you find in all kinds of processed food), manufactured in China, was mixed into cold medicine, killing 100 people there. According to the article, deaths linked to food manufactured in China have occurred in Haiti, Bangladesh, Argentina, Nigeria and India. In fact, the same Chinese company implicated in the Haiti poisoning also shipped about 50 tons of counterfeit glycerin to the United States in 1995, to an American bulk pharmaceuticals manufacturer.

Poisoned food. In addition, hundreds of shipments containing thousands of tainted products including food products, medicines, dietary supplements, and cosmetics manufactured in China have been discovered by U.S. officials. While they stop a small percentage, a much larger percentage is making its way into American homes. Moreover, unscrupulous Chinese entrepreneurs callously ignore poultry and meat import bans to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds of tainted flesh.

So what the hell is the matter with our government? Why aren’t they trying to stop this? After all, isn’t the first function of a government to protect its people? After all, didn’t other first-world countries like Japan and the UK ban US beef after the mad cow scare?

According to the Washington Post article, the contemptible reason nothing is being done is money. Because our trade is so inextricably intertwined with China, and because Americans are so obsessed with the desire to import items in to China, we take a weak approach to exports out of China to the U.S.

The Math Ain’t Right. Fine, I get that our representatives lie prostrate in front of the Almighty Dollar. But here, even the math doesn’t make sense. According to the Post, agricultural exports to China total only $5 billion a year, while the Chinese enjoy a $232 billion annual trade surplus on the US. So where is the economic benefit? It seems to me we could kill two birds with one piece of pet food if we reduced the trade deficit with China by enforcing some REAL restrictions on the import of agricultural products. If you think that is a good idea, it takes only a quick call or email to your representative in order to let them know you care about not being poisoned by Chinese imports.

From April showers to May flowers

So the last week has been incredibly busy but I’ve got a much improved outlook on life. I was in DC for the last few days, and it was an exhausting, but very rewarding trip. Throw in a barbecue, a visit to my terrific parents, and a few accomplishments at work, and I am riding pretty high!

Washington, DC is a great town. I was there my summer after freshman year as an intern for Senator Pete Domenici (NM). I loved it so much I went back my sophomore summer, and took any old job, just so I could be back in the city! This was the second time I’ve been back since then. It has changed a lot, and I had a blast. We then took the long train ride (but not long enough that a flight is more convenient) back up to New York and had a championship barbecue. Then it was off to the races – the drinking races that is. Guess what? Everybody won!

I am very much a believer that positive and negative energy of people around me has a profound impact, and my experience yesterday reinforced that belief. Here is what happened:

It being Mother’s Day yesterday, I was in a flower shop in Chelsea’s Flower District picking out an arrangement for my Mom. Of course she was going to love it and then immediately scold me for spending any money on her, but it makes me happy too, so I do it anyway.

Back to the flower shop. Obviously it was very busy there, and I patiently waited for one of the staff to free up so I could get some help picking flowers, since its not my forte. The girl waiting in line behind me, however, was anxious and fidgety, sighing loudly and muttering under her breath as to the slow service. When I finally was up to bat, she actually interrupted the employee and me and asked “Are you the only person working here?,” to which the employee answered politely but firmly, “No, there are others working here, but we are very busy, and if you cannot wait then I am sorry.” In other words, wait your turn or leave. The customer responded by huffing and puffing, saying “You didn’t answer my question,” etc., but the message was clear. Turns out the employee wasn’t an ordinary employee, but the wife of the owner, and she wasn’t taking crap from anybody. And I don’t blame her one bit for replying like that.

But the effect was immediate. On what should have been a happy day, anxiety and stress had won out, and gloom had entered like a fog. What bothered the employees (I’m sure) was that they were working hard and it was thankless. So I opened up with the assistant handling my arrangement by joking “Slow day, huh?” It lightened her mood and the other employee next to her. I continued about how I was surprised that it was so stressful here since it was a beautiful day and we were picking out beautiful flowers – and what could be stressful about that? I was kind and helped out the owner by handing her a box when everyone else was clearly occupied. I talked flowers and showed genuine interest in the arranger and her profession. The gestures worked, and suddenly everyone was in a better mood. Even the unhappy customer, who was within earshot, was calmer and was no longer acting annoyed (or annoying). Probably because even she knew any outward exhibition of her bad attitude would be amplified by my kind one.

In any case, I believe deeply that a rising tide lifts all ships, and even more reliably, a falling tide lowers them. I’ve had incessantly negative people in my life and learned that ultimately the only way is to let them go. I even believe that even when you are depressed, if you can trick yourself long enough into believing that you aren’t, you can squeak by just long enough for things to actually change for the better. And just as often, the perception becomes reality. Positive people are absolutely essential for my well-being.

What are your thoughts?

Surviving a Police Interrogation.

handcuffs.jpgLast year, I posted a video on How Not to Get Arrested. Well, assuming you screwed the pooch on that part, you are going to get taken into the station, booked, and probably interrogated. At that point the MOST important thing you can do is remain silent and ask for a lawyer. In law school, one of my favorite classes was Criminal Procedure. The professor taught us about all of the sneaky tricks cops use to induce confessions, which is the most surefire way to get a conviction. I recently came across an article detailing in laymen’s terms how these interrogations are conducted to maximize the likelihood of a confession.

How Police Interrogations Work.

The article is fascinating for all the psychological tricks the police use to induce confessions. But if you need to learn only one thing from the article, it is this list:
Five Techniques of Surviving a Police Interrogation (Without Confessing)

  1. Remain silent.
  2. Remain silent!
  3. Imagine the words “I invoke my right to remain silent” painted on the wall, and stare at them throughout the interrogation.
  4. Momentarily break your silence to ask for counsel. When you ask for a lawyer, the interrogation MUST stop.
  5. Cultivate hatred for your interrogator so you don’t fall into his traps and start talking.

When You’ve Got Company The Just Cause Law Collective warns that if you’re arrested with friends, you’ve got to keep a cool head. Decide beforehand that no one’s going to say a word until everyone has a lawyer, and remind yourself that police will try to play on the natural paranoia that arises when people are separated. The Collective offers a further warning regarding a group arrest: When you have your strategy discussion, don’t do it in the back seat of a police car. If the officers stuffed you all into one car and walked away, they’re recording you.

If you aren’t using Google Reader yet, you should be.

Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love RSS.

Do you want to stay current with the news that matters to you? Of course, we all do! But who has the time to check all those tedious websites? With everything that’s been going on at CES, and the fact that I have um, A JOB, it’s been nearly impossible to keep track of everything! Google, answer to so many of our society’s ills, has come up with a solution that you must have NOW. Without boring you with too much technical mumbo-jumbo, let me tell you what Google Reader is, and why you need it.

1. Google Reader puts all of the websites you visit in one place, and tells you when they have been updated. As they put so succinctly, “It’s like your inbox, for the web.” Before Google Reader, I would individually visit sites like Engadget, Gizmodo, Uncrate, the Times, and others. This was a huge time-waster, and what’s more, I would be visiting these sites multiple times a day for new stories. With Google Reader, all of the most recent articles from the news websites and blogs you visit are in one place. You can jump from one to the next, or read each article in succession. More importantly, Google Reader tells you when there are new stories on your favorite sites, so you don’t waste time checking them throughout the day.

2. Google Reader reduces clutter in several ways. First, I was able to remove many bookmarks on my bookmarks toolbar, which means a much cleaner Firefox interface. Second, it reduces email clutter, since you no longer need to subscribe for many mailing lists that also employ RSS. Third, it reduces life clutter, since I no longer have to keep track of multiple sites. Everything is aggregated for me on one page.

3. Google Reader has an excellent interface with multiple viewing options. Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t. Google Reader’s multiple viewing options allow you to view many items at once or fewer items with more detail. The expanded view is useful if you want to view all the pretty pictures at once, while the list view allows you to scan many headlines and focus on the ones you want to learn more about. In both views, scrolling down automatically loads subsequent pages, so you never have to click “next page” or “previous page.” This is especially useful for very prolific sites that have many posts in a single day. Click the images below to see the different views and the auto-scroll mechanism.

gr-list.JPGgr-expanded.JPGgr-constantscroll.JPG

4. E-mailing, Sharing, Starring and Trends. Google Reader is feature-rich. With it, you can:

Email. Google Reader integrates seamlessly with Gmail (my preferred personal email account), allowing you to easily send news stories to your friends.

Share. When you share an item, it is collected with other shared items on an elegant Shared Page, which is publicly accessible. You can also email your shared items list to your friends with Gmail. Google Reader automatically creates an RSS feed of shared items which you can put on your site, and also provides code that you can use to put a clip of your shared items on your site if you don’t have RSS integration

Star. Much like Gmail, Google Reader allows you to star items, then puts those items in your starred folder for later retrieval.

Trends. Google Reader tells you how many stories you have viewed on each site, with percentages and other nifty stats.

5. Google Reader integrates seamlessly with Firefox. It is simple to add sites to Google Reader. If the site already has RSS built in, you will see a little icon in your address bar like so:

rss-firefox1.JPG

Click it, and it will prompt you to add to Google Reader (among others).

rss-firefox2.JPG

But wait, there’s more! You can set it to automatically select Google Reader as your news reader of choice.

6. You can access Google Reader from anywhere. Unlike standalone RSS programs, Google Reader is web based. That means you can access your subscriptions from anywhere, including from a mobile phone or blackberry. The ability to view on any computer or mobile phone is probably one of the best features of Google Reader.

So there you have it. Go and get it now!

LET THERE BE LIGHT!

So the other day, ConEd sent me this email:

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Basically it says that by switching your energy provider (ConEd remains your utility, but the energy is supplied by a third party), you can save money on your electricity bill. And apparently, you immediately save 7% for the first two months on top of any savings you get from the lower power rates. Also, switching eliminates sales tax you pay on your energy. Any discount on a commodified service like electricity is great, especially since my bill is like $80 bucks a month.

However, there is no streamlined process to learn which ESCO’s (the energy providers) give you the best deal. The fact that this is such a bitch probably explains the following statistic:

As of March 2, 2006 the following customer percentages are currently registered with an ESCO:

55.6% of large commercial/industrial customers;
39%of small commercial customers and
6.7% of residential customers.

But my confusion is your gain:

ACCENT ENERGY MIDWEST, LLC
Phone: 1-800-928-7775

I spoke with an Accent Rep, who explained that their fixed rate is 16.6 c/Kwh, and variable rate is between 7 and 14 c/Kwh. The highest the variable rate has been this year is 19 c/Kwh. Their fixed rate has a cancellation fee of $100 in the first 12 months. Variable rate has no cancellation fee.

I had emailed them earlier and their fixed rates were:

12 MONTHS 16.23 cents per kWh
24 MONTHS 16.53 cents per kWh
36 MONTHS 16.56 cents per kWh

CON EDISON SOLUTIONS
Phone: 1-888-320-8991
Their fixed rate is 14.8 c/Kwh. Hippies can elect the Green Power (environmentally friendly) option for 15.8 c/Kwh.

DIRECT ENERGY SERVICES LLC
Phone: 1(866) 348-4194

From their website: A 12 month stable price of $0.1599 per kWh with the first two billing cycles set at 10% off to $0.1439 per kWh.

ECONNERGY ENERGY COMPANY, INC.
Phone: 1-800-805-8586
They offer variable rate only, and their current variable rate is 13 c/Kwh.

HESS CORPORATION
Phone: 800-437-7265

It was not immediately apparent that they will service NY, because Con-Ed doesn’t list them as an option on their website. I might do a little more digging later.

HUDSON ENERGY SERVICES, LLC
Phone: 1-877-HUDSON9, 201-251-2400
Variable Rate is always guaranteed to be .1 c/Kwh less than Con-Ed’s variable rate. Their fixed rate is 14.494 c/Kwh, with a $250 cancellation fee for (I think) the first year. I spoke with “Joe” at x113.

IDT ENERGY, INC.
Phone: 1-877-887-6866

It was not immediately apparent that they will service NY, because Con-Ed doesn’t list them as an option on their website. However, they have a variable rate option which is currently 10.9 c/Kwh.

LIBERTY POWER CORP LLC
Phone: 1-866-769-3799 or 1-954-771-1463
Liberty’s rate is variable, but identical to Con Ed’s variable rate. That doesn’t appeal to me.

MX ENERGY
Phone: 1-800-375-1277

MX offers a variable rate currently at 12.5 c/Kwh, and a fixed rate at 15.8 c/Kwh.

NEW YORK ENERGY SAVINGS CORP
Phone: 1-888-674-7847

NYESC’s offers a fixed rate for five years is 16.9 c/Kwh. The cancellation fee is .15c/kWH times annual usage times the remainder of your five year contract. That’s pretty prohibitive. Pass.

ROBISON ENERGY LLC
Phone: 914-345-5700
It was not immediately apparent that they will service NY, because Con-Ed doesn’t list them as an option on their website. Robison’s website is not very informative. I might do a little more digging later.

SPARK ENERGY, L.P.
Phone: 888-877-7569
Spark offers a variable rate (currently 12.9 c/Kwh), but they have a monthly fee of $4.95 a month (acc. to their website). That doesn’t sound too great.

Result? MX and Econnergy look to be the best variable rate options to me. The fixed rate options are generally less appealing to me since I may move and I don’t want to be stuck in a contract. I will probably go with MX for a bit and see how it goes.

Street Fighter – Where are they now?

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a video this glorious.