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October, 2009:

The greatest food invention since the fork [progress]

The last decade has seen great achievements in fast food technology — think the Burger King Frypod and those extra-big cups that get smaller at the bottom so they fit in your cup holder. Those were great, but this just about tops them all. It is so wonderful it made me tear up a little. I am only sad that it was not invented in America.

Serious Eats has a complete write-up.

Other great food developments:

#3. Cup Holders

#7. KFC’s Chicken & Biscuit Bowl

#19. KFC’s “Double Down Sandwich”

Camel Crush cigarettes survive Mayor Bloomberg’s latest tobacco ban

cigaretteNew York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg continued his anti-tobacco campaign today by signing into law a sweeping ban of flavored tobacco products. The New York City ban goes much further than the FDA ban of flavored tobacco announced earlier this year as it applies to both cigars and smokeless tobacco products as well.

The good news is the ban doesn’t apply to menthols, which means Camel Crush cigarettes—one of the great things about America— live on in NYC!

On a side note, I am hugely supportive of Mayor Bloomberg’s anti-smoking crusade. This might seem a little out of character. After all, smoking bans and cigarette taxes curtail freedom and I am staunchly against similar schemes, like the proposed coke tax.

But like most Americans, I have a habit of only sticking by my principles when it benefits me. Fighting against a coke tax might save me money. Standing up for someone’s right to light up in a bar or restaurant, thus forcing me to dry-clean my sweater, most certainly does not.

So I hope that all New York smokers can continue enjoying Camel Crush cigarettes for years into the future—just as long as they don’t run-up my laundry bill in the process.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#20. Camel Crush Cigarettes [American innovation]

Is a “Coke Tax” a threat to Free Refills?

Forget the soda tax, it’s time for a salad tax!

Massive NYPD cell-phone crackdown snags over 7,500 drivers

NYPDLast week, the NYPD held their third Cell Phone Crackdown day of the year.

During the one-day crackdown, the boys in blue wrote 7,529 tickets to motorists who dared chat on their cell phone while driving or even glance at their iPod while at a red light. Typically they issue about 540 tickets a day for using a cell phone or electronic gadget while driving.

With fines that run $120 for motorists and $200 for cabbies, the ticketing spree probably brought in between $900k and $1.5 million.

Assuming the average traffic cop can write two tickets an hour when their huffing it, the NYPD devoted some 3,764 man-hours to the crackdown. That is the equivalent of 470 officers spending an entire 8-hour day doing nothing but ticketing chatty drivers.

Things must be going pretty well when the police can devote that kind of man power to stomping out such a fake public threat—that or the NYPD Traffic Division is massively overstaffed. Either way, the Detroit Police Department—where the typical 9-1-1 response time is over 20 minutes—must be envious.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

Drivers understand that cell phones just aren’t that dangerous

The graph the New York Times doesn’t want you to see

Is it time to ban carpooling?

Iceland is no longer civilized

IMG_1377.JPGMaking the world safe for free refills and Big Macs is not an easy task.

When colonizing a new market, McDonald’s often faces skepticism and sometimes outright hostility. But the folks at McDonald’s will fight tooth-and-nail to win, and they usually do.

Take France for example. The French hated “Le Big Mac,” and saw the spread of McDonald’s as a kind of American occupation (I prefer to think of it as our advance guard. Just wait till we open some Burger Kings over there). Hatred of the golden arches ran so deep in France that in 1999 French Presidential candidate José Bové vandalized and dismantled a McDonald’s restaurant as populist campaign stunt. But McDonald’s soldiered on. And this year they finally conquered France by opening a store in the Louvre.

But despite their best efforts, McDonald’s has to retreat from hostile environments from time-to-time. Yesterday, news broke that the golden arches would be closing all of three Icelandic locations due to the complete collapse of the country’s economy.

Iceland will become only the third country that McDonald’s shuttered its operations in.* The other two are Iran and Bolivia.

This raises the question, once a country loses it’s McDonald’s can we still consider it a civilized place?

*Caribbean islands that no one has heard of don’t count.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

Making the world safe for free refills and decent coffee

McDonald’s: 1, France: 0 [we’re winning]

Making the world safe for free refills and decent coffee

I’ve written before about how American chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks are slowing colonizing the world—bringing with them great American innovations like free refills and decent coffee. Thanks to the blog Chart Porn, we’ve now got a great visualization of the progress we’re making.

God Bless America and God Bless Chain Restaurants!

McDonald's map

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

McDonald’s: 1, France: 0 [we’re winning]

Chain restaurants in NYC: Saturation point or starting point?

McDonald’s in America [progress]

There is something dirty about Toronto [besides the Canadians who live there]

the spike by the skip

It is the filth in the water that you should be worried about

I’ve always known Toronto sucks.

It’s dreary. It’s cold. And the whole city was built on the cheap in the post-war period—meaning it has all the architectural detail and charm of a Walmart Supercenter.

Sure Toronto has some selling points. Like any city, it has bars, and restaurants and even some theater. But hosting “Disney on Ice: Princess Classic,” does not make you a cultural center. And despite the increasingly tiresome claims that Toronto’s boosters have been making since the city’s failed 1996 Olympic bid, Canada’s first city remains exactly that: the biggest city in Canada—not the “world-class city” they pretend it is.

But these days, Toronto is suffering the problems of a third-world city. That, at least, is according to research from the University of Michigan which found that the city’s water supply is home to a growing amount of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.*

Gross.

I always knew there was something dirty about Toronto.

*I know, I know, the article says the bacteria are not dangerous and they’ve got this problem in a few small communities in Ohio and Michigan as well. But this post is about disparaging Toronto, not giving my home state of Michigan a hard time.

#21. Negative campaigning

It is about a week before Election Day in many cities and a few states across America, which means one thing: its attack ad time.

So pull up a chair, toss a bag of popcorn in the microwave and sit back and enjoy another season of negative campaigning.

I know what they say: no one likes negative campaigning, it’s deceitful, it turns people off politics and it somehow obscures the issues. But it is also funny, interesting and the closest thing to physical combat we get in elections.

What’s more, I would argue that much negative campaigning is actually refreshingly honest.

It is not honest in the sense that the claims made in the ads are always—or even most of the time—true. But rather, negative campaigning is honest in the sense that attack ads—at least the good ones—target character, not policy, and it is character that matters in elections.

Everyone says that they vote based on the issues, but this is a lie. People vote for candidates they connect with emotionally. The issues are little white lies we tell so that we don’t feel so bad about supporting candidates for irrational reasons.

The best attack ads are not the boring ones about raising taxes or hurting the environment, but the ones that undermine your emotional connection with a candidate. After all, who wants to vote for the guy that might be a sex offender, even if he is great on the issues?

Of course, 2009 doesn’t even have any regular congressional races on the ballot, which means it is kind of like spring training for attack ad fans. So just in case you’re in a part of the country with no contentious races on the ballot, here is one of my favorite negative ads to hold you over until 2010.

God Bless America and God Bless the humorous attack ad!

Is texting while driving dangerous?

A few weeks ago I published a graph showing that our roads have actually become safer as more and more Americans use cell phones. Chatting on the phone is one thing, but surely texting behind the wheel is another. After all, we keep hearing that texting-while-driving is worse than drunk driving. And legislatures around the country are rushing to ban it.

But the fact of the matter is that as text messaging has exploded in popularity— Americans sent fewer than 60 billion texts in 2005 and more than 1.3 trillion in 2009 — fatalities from car crashes have declined. Today, are roads are safer than ever.

Here is a graph of fatal car crashes per 100 million miles driven and the average number of text messages sent per-month by Americans. The data is from the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration and the Neilson Survey.

Texting-and-driving

Texting from behind the wheel is almost certainly distracting. But the same thing is true of a whole host of things we regularly cope with while driving, like playing with the radio, eating fast food and trying to clam a car full of crying kids.

It might even be the case that for old people who are bad at using cell phones some drivers, texting is more distracting than other common behind-the-wheel activites. But it not an imminent public threat.

So why is it we need to ban texting again? Oh yeah, to raise money

(Hat tip, Jake)

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

The graph the New York Times doesn’t want you to see

Is it time to ban carpooling?

The war on driving

Texting ban moves forward in Michigan

Earlier today Yesterday, the Michigan House Transportation Committee approved legislation that would make texting while driving a civil infraction in Michigan.

The State House has not yet posted the committee minutes, so it is unclear what the exact vote was on the legislation.

The bill still needs to pass the House and Senate before it can be signed into law by the Governor. Michigan has a $2 billion budget deficit that needed to be solved a month ago, so hopefully the state legislature won’t waste too much time passing legislation that won’t work aimed at cracking down on something that most drivers understand isn’t that dangerous.

But just in case, now might be a good time to call your representative and tell them that banning texting is a bad idea, and certainly not a top priority.

(Hat tip, John, Jake)

Corporate negative campaigning

I love negative advertizing.

The sinister voices. The dark shadows. The ominous red text and newspaper clippings. There is just something delightfully American about attack ads. (More on negative ads soon)

But the one thing I enjoy more than political attack ads are corporate attack ads. And Motorola has just released a great one. Well, the first half is great; the closing seems to take its inspiration from the Blair Witch Project, which I don’t quite understand. Who at Motorola thinks that grainy video, static and shaking cameras will make you want to buy a cell phone?

Anyway, check out the ad here:

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