Tainted Toothpaste Keeps Turning Up

June 28, 2007

It proves how just one contaminated product, turned loose on the world, almost takes on a life of its own.

Toothpaste from China, contaminated with poisonous diethylene glycol by greedy, corner-cutting manufacturers, keeps turning up all over the place:

pacifictoothpaste.jpgAfter federal health officials discovered last month that tainted Chinese toothpaste had entered the United States, they warned that it would most likely be found in discount stores.

In fact, the toothpaste has been distributed much more widely. Roughly 900,000 tubes containing a poison used in some antifreeze products have turned up in hospitals for the mentally ill, prisons, juvenile detention centers and even some hospitals serving the general population.

The toothpaste was handed out in dozens of state institutions, mostly in Georgia but also in North Carolina, according to state officials. Hospitals in South Carolina and Florida also reported receiving Chinese-made toothpaste, and a major national pharmaceutical distributor said it was recalling tainted Chinese toothpaste.

The New York Times

The Chinese government doesn’t want to poison us; it wants to keep the huge profits from trade with the U.S. rolling in. But recent signs of game-playing- shutting out some U.S. exports to China for minor or imagined defects- is not the way to solve this thing. Only strict enforcement of product safety standards in both countries can restore consumer confidence and, most importantly, protect health and lives.

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Fayetteville Bags L.L. Bean

June 26, 2007

A pleasant surprise for CNY shoppers– an L.L. Bean outlet store- the first in New York State- will open at the Fayetteville Towne Center in late September.

llbean.gif“Store Front” columnist Bob Niedt has the details in this morning’s Post Standard. This will not be a tiny space, at 15,000 square feet in the former Thomasville furniture store, and will sell closeout items at a discount, along with regular merchandise featured in the Bean print and Web catalogues, and the flagship store up in Freeport, Maine.

As the Circus noted recently, the arrival of brick-and-mortar Beans in New York means the end of a sales tax break for local customers of this retailing institution, but it’ll be fun to have them in the neighborhood.

And of course, you have to wonder what Bob “Destiny” Congel is thinking about COR Development, owners of Towne Center, bagging Bean before he could line up a branch of the venerable outdoor retailer for Carousel Center, or one of his other mall properties. Then there’s Macerich Companies, which has a Bean store in Virginia and may have hoped to add one to a rebuilt Shoppingtown in DeWitt. Now, with an outlet coming to Fayetteville, just a couple of miles away, that’s not gonna happen.


“I’m Your Smarter Brother”

June 25, 2007

It stirred a lot of interest worldwide last week, along with discussion, jokes, and maybe a few hard feelings among members of individual families: The finding by Norwegian researchers that first-born siblings have higher IQs than the sisters and brothers who follow them.

Now, comes the inevitable second wave of analysis: If this is true- and it is based on ten years’ worth of intelligence tests and family records from the 1960s and 70s- what are the underlying reasons?

familysilhouette.jpgPsychologists say that filling the role of the responsible firstborn, while important to academic achievement, still does not account for eldest children’s higher average scores on intelligence tests. Robert Zajonc, a psychologist at Stanford University, has argued that in fact having a younger sibling or two diminishes the overall intellectual environment for eldest children — who otherwise would be benefiting from the rich vocabulary and undivided attention of parents.

This helps explain why, under the age of 12, younger siblings actually outshine older ones on I.Q. tests.

Something else is at work, Dr. Zajonc said, and he has found evidence that tutoring — a natural role for older siblings — benefits the teacher more than it does the student. “Explaining something to a younger sibling solidifies your knowledge and allows you to grow more extensively,” he said.

The New York Times

By that reckoning, the oldest child becomes a kind of “senior partner” with his or her parents in bringing the younger siblings along toward success in school, and eventually responsible adulthood. Rather than being a reason for jealousy, maybe it’s a reason for gratitude: to an older sibling who helped, or a younger one who helped with a first-born child’s own education and confidence.

And that IQ advantage? The study says it’s only three points. As older children age and start losing brain cells, the younger ones won’t have far to go in catching up. And they, in the end, will be the smarter ones.


Officials Blind To Eye In The Sky?

June 22, 2007

The Uticasux blog has a fascinating story to tell about an effort to market a law enforcement drone helicopter, invented right there in the Mohawk Valley. The problem is, the developer of what seems to be a practical, cost-saving tool for cops was unable to interest anyone in making his project a reality.

Those who rejected the idea include an organization supposedly dedicated to economic development, and the now-former House member who represented the Utica area for many years.

britishdronehelicopter.jpgWas this computer-controlled, unmanned chopper practical? Apparently, because British police have just launched a fleet of small drone helicopters, amid some controversy, that are being used to keep crime suspects under surveillance.

Was the Utica-based invention unfairly, or even systematically ignored? See what you think by reading the story here.


Beware The Bank of Wal-Mart

June 21, 2007

Well, it won’t actually be a bank. Because federal regulators, persuaded by small bankers that Wal-Mart could put them out of business, won’t grant Wal-Mart a bank charter.

So the world’s largest retailer has found a workaround: Assemble a package of financial services through deals with third-party partners, and make Wal-Mart a bank in almost every sense but the legal one.

walmartmoney.jpgOver the next year, the company plans to introduce a prepaid debit card, intended for low-income consumers, and install money centers — which currently offer check cashing, bill paying and money order services — into at least 1,000 stores, up from 225 now.

The moves are seen as a precursor to even wider offerings, like mortgages and home equity loans, which could turn Wal-Mart into a significant force in the banking world. Jane J. Thompson, the president of Wal-Mart financial services, called the prepaid cards and money center services “foundational products” that the retailer would build upon. “Our concept is to go up the credit ladder of financial services,” she said in an interview.

Ronald K. Ence, vice president for Congressional relations at the Independent Community Bankers of America, a trade group, said Wal-Mart’s intentions suggest that the company misled the public when it said repeatedly that it did not plan to enter the consumer banking business.

“Clearly this was their intention all along,” he said. “The proof is in the pudding.”

The New York Times

“The Bank of Wal-Mart” could be a great convenience for the store chain’s 36 million customers who have no bank accounts. They can transfer their paychecks directly onto pre-paid debit cards and very likely spend big chunks of their low incomes at the store. As for credit cards and loans, what interest rates will Wal-Mart charge these customers? Could putting their financial lives in the retailer’s hands be a trap, as well as a convenience?

Local bankers and others will be watching with concern, as Wal-Mart quadruples the non-branches of its non-banks and gives people who need to watch every penny, incentives to sign up.


Getting Geeky About Gasoline

June 19, 2007

Hot summer days. The time when gasoline prices peak, most years. And never has that peak been higher than right now, in the summer of 2007.

Ever hear the somewhat geeky advice that you can save on gas when it’s hot by filling up early in the day from those cool, underground tanks at the gas station, and let the fuel expand in your car’s tank as the outdoor temperature rises? Sounds like a great tip- if only it made sense.

pumpinggas.gifThe real experts say the volume of fuel in your car’s tank certainly does increase with rising temperatures, but the energy in that tankful does not. And now, politicians and other oil company critics are trying to turn the temperature of gasoline when it’s sold to you into a serious issue. They claim it’s one more reason you’re paying too much at the pump.

The hot fuel effect is a matter of simple physics.

Almost a century ago, the industry and regulators agreed to define a gallon of gasoline as 231 cubic inches at 60 degrees. But as the temperature rises and gasoline expands, it takes more than a gallon of gas to produce the same amount of energy as a regular gallon in colder weather.

As sold nationally, gasoline is an average of about five degrees warmer than the federal standard, according to a study analyzed by Dick Suiter of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

AP/Detroit Free Press

Conclusion: you’re paying at least a few cents extra per gallon because you’re getting a full tank of liquid, but not a full tank of energy.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who struggles to be nominated for president every four years, says this is a hot issue and something needs to be done about it. He and other lawmakers want the oil companies to adjust prices based on air temperature. Maybe even install all-new pumps that would to that automatically.

Among their arguments against that, of course, is that it would drive up the price of gasoline. We are anywhere but in the driver’s seat, when it comes to the cost of getting around on four wheels.


Shoppers Turning Away From The Web

June 17, 2007

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! So what did the family give you as a gift- a day of leisure, or maybe some cool gadget?

If it was the latter, they probably went to a store to pick it up, instead of shopping online. The New York Times tells us today that the growth of Web commerce is beginning to max out, an argument supported by statistics, and the fact that retailers like Dell Computer, who built their businesses online, are beginning to move into retail stores.

onlineshopper.gifNancy F. Koehn, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies retailing and consumer habits, said that the leveling off of e-commerce reflected the practical and psychological limitations of shopping online. She said that as physical stores have made the in-person buying experience more pleasurable, online stores have continued to give shoppers a blasé experience. In addition, online shopping, because it involves a computer, feels like work.

“It’s not like you go onto Amazon and think: ‘I’m a little depressed. I’ll go onto this site and get transported,’ ” she said, noting that online shopping is more a chore than an escape.

NY Times: Web-Weary Shoppers

How to draw more people online, or into physical stores? In both cases, the experts say, make it more fun, provide good service, and stop charging so much for shipping.

The sales taxes commerce sites add to our bills, we’ve noticed, are also a factor. Even though we’re supposed to ‘fess up and pay up at income tax time, a lot of people just don’t.

Many hunt for out-of-state online retailers that charge no sales tax, like, say L.L. Bean. In Bean’s case, you may know, that advantage for New Yorkers is soon to go away, as L.L.’s descendants prepare to open an Albany-area version of Maine’s famous clothing, camping and hiking store.