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October, 2009:

Cell phone crackdown starts tomorrow in NYC [Revenue enhancement]

NYPD in Times SquareIf you’ve got some speeding, drag racing, or other type of anti-social behavior you’ve wanted to engage in on New York City’s roads, tomorrow might be a good day to do it.

Why? Because the NYPD is going to is going to spend most of its energy ticketing drivers who use cell phones.

Gothamist reports the last time the NYPD had a Cell Phone Crackdown day in August, they issued 7,432 tickets. Assuming the average traffic cop writes one ticket every thirty minutes, the NYPD spent some 3,716 man hours trying to stamp out an activity that isn’t really that dangerous. Of course, they also brought in over $1 million in fines.

This raises the question, are cell phone crackdowns more about safety or revenue?

Should you lose your license because of a parking ticket?

Private Parking MetersReader John emailed to report some alarming news for Michigan motorists.

It seems that Rep. Roy Schmidt of Grand Rapids has introduced legislation that would bar the Secretary of State (Michigan’s DOV) for issuing or renewing licenses to people who have three or more outstanding parking tickets.

Harsh.

I’ve always viewed metered parking as a kind of cat-and-mouse game. When I was a student at the University of Michigan, I almost never had change and consequently rarely fed the meter. Most days, I did not get a ticket. But there were definitely days when the Ann Arbor Police would slap three tickets on my window in a single afternoon.

If left unpaid, that is enough parking tickets to cost you your driver’s license under Rep. Schmidt’s bill.

It strikes me as overkill. After all, isn’t accumulating  and fighting back against unpaid parking tickets uniquely American?

Forget the coke tax, how much money would a salad tax raise?

Money GrabSince backers of the soda tax can’t seem to convince anyone that a cent-per-ounce surcharge is going to solve America’s obesity problem, they’ve decided to switch to new talking points. Now the sushi-and-tofu types who are behind this scheme are painting a soda tax as the cure to just about every state, city and local government’s budget woes.

I guess they figure that promising huge windfalls to cash-strapped legislatures will be enough to get them to enact massively unpopular soda taxes.

But according to the FDA, soda is not even the most dangerous food we consume. That honor goes to leafy greens (salad), which have been responsible for at least one outbreak of serious food-borne illness every 16 days for over a decade.

So maybe we should be talking about how much revenue a salad tax would bring in.

According to the Department of Agriculture, every year the US produces about 34 pounds of leafy greens per-person, almost all of which is consumed domestically.  Multiply that by the population and slap on a 1 cent per-once tax and you find that a salad tax could bring in about $1.7 billion/year.

Maybe we could even spend some of that money washing the salmonella and E. coli off our food.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

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

(Hat tip, Erin)

Drivers understand that cell phones just aren’t that dangerous

Measuring the relative danger that different distractions pose to motorists is really hard. Why? Because the dangers posed by different distractions vary tremendously depending on the driver and the intensity of the distraction.

Take kids for example. Is a child sitting peacefully in the backseat likely to pose a big distraction? Probably not. But one that is screaming uncontrollably surely is. The same goes for cell phones. Driving along while paying no attention whatsoever to the road is dangerous, but glancing quickly at a text message is probably no more distracting than changing the temperature.

In both cases, it is the intensity of the distraction as well as the drivers’ reaction to it that matter. And of course, measuring all of thee these variables is very hard if not impossible. This is why the New York Times series on distracted driving has been heavy on the anecdotes and sentimentality and very light on data-driven analysis.

But we need not dream up some perfect experiment to find out what the biggest distractions on the road are. We can simply ask motorists.

The auto website Leasetrader.com surveyed 3,000 motorists and asked them about the biggest distractions on the road. Not surprisingly, cell phones were not at the top of the list. Noisy kids were.

Driven to distraction

Maybe it’s time to ban carpooling after all.


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

    A bowl of saladFor the last few weeks, the tofu-and-sushi-eating crowd has been pushing to slap new taxes on soda and juice drinks in an effort to regulate what we eat. They say that sugary drinks are a public health issue because drinking too many can make you fat.

    It is certainly true that consuming excessive amounts of any food, including soda, can lead to weight issues. But while enjoying cold coke on a hot summer day will never kill you, eating a salad just might.

    New research out from the Center for Science in the Public Interest suggests that leafy greens, such as lettuce, spinach and cabbage, pose the greatest threat to public health of any of the foods regulated by the FDA. Since the FDA oversees about 80 percent of our food supply, that is a pretty damning statement.

    The study, which looked at outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, acknowledged that most food-related illness goes unreported. But even so, it found at least 363 outbreaks and 13,568 individual illnesses caused by contaminated salads between 1990 and 2006.

    That is one salad-induced outbreak every 16 days.

    In one particularly high-profile outbreak in 2006,  E. coli-tainted spinach killed at least five people and left more than 200 others seriously ill.

    And salad is just the beginning. Here is the complete list of the top ten most risky foods :

    1: Leafy greens (363 outbreaks, 13,568 reported cases of illness)

    2: Eggs (352 outbreaks, 11,163 reported cases of illness)

    3: Tuna ( 268 outbreaks, 2341 reported cases of illness)

    4: Oysters (132 outbreaks, 3409 reported cases of illness)

    5: Potatoes (108 outbreaks, 3659 reported cases of illness)

    6: Cheese (83 outbreaks, 2761 reported cases of illness)

    7: Ice cream (74 outbreaks, 2594 reported cases of illness)

    8: Tomatoes (31 outbreaks, 3292 reported cases of illness)

    9: Sprouts (31 outbreaks, 2022 reported cases of illness)

    10: Berries (25 outbreaks, 3397 reported cases of illness)

    Taken together, these supposedly “healthy foods” have led to at least 1,467 outbreaks of food borne illness since 1990, making nearly 50,000 people sick. And that’s just the reported cases.You know what product did not make the list? Soda.

    So instead of taxing a perfectly safe food product that is enjoyed by millions, why don’t we consider slapping a tax on the foods that actually hurt people, like salads (E. coli), sushi (mercury), tomatoes (salmonella) and berries (Cyclospora). Maybe we could use the revenue raised to buy food poison victims a nice cold coke to make their hospital stay a little more pleasant.


    American style tipping comes to London [progress]

    03 Unjustified Service ChargeAs anyone who has dined out in Europe knows all too well, service in European restaurants is not exactly the same caliber that it is back in America.

    Waiters are uniformly rude, slow to take your order and seemingly determined to serve you cold food. Once you do get your meal, they avoid checking in on your table like the plague. And if you’re thirsty, good luck. It is nearly impossible to get a refill, even if you’re willing to pay for it!

    All of this stems from the fact Europe doesn’t have the institution of tipping.

    Instead of wait staff being compensated partially based on the level of service they provide to customers, they are simply given a portion of the “service charge” that is tacked on to every bill. Thus the only incentive waiters have is to coax customers into ordering the most expensive things on the menu.

    But according to The Guardian, the era of bad service might be coming to an end, at least in Britain. The left-wing British daily reports that twenty high-end restaurants owned by Terence Conran will stop adding the customary 12.5% service charge to bills. Instead, they will ask customers to tip their servers in the American fashion.

    A spokesman for the restaurant group told The Guardian that the move would lead to better service by “re-establishing the relationship between the customer and the member of staff.”

    I hope so.

    Here is some free advice for those newly accountable British waiters: keeping a customer’s water or soda full is the surest way to a big tip.

    Previous topics mentioned in this post:

    #1. Ice

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

    McDonald's FranceFor the last 30 years, McDonald’s has been in France, serving up Le Big Macs and giving comfort and sanctuary to weary American tourists.

    Today, McDonald’s is on the verge of opening its 1,142 location there.

    But that growth there did not come easy. Initially the French were hostile to McDonald’s. They saw it as cheap, mass produced and disgustingly American. It was the antithesis of French Cuisine.  They editorialized against McDonald’s, boycotted it and, in 1999, one of their presidential candidates even vandalized a McDonald’s restaurant.

    Despite their bluster and outrage, the French resistance to McDonald’s wasn’t much more spirited than the fight they put up during World War II. Block by block, restaurant by restaurant, McDonald’s slowly conquered Gaul.

    Today, France is McDonald’s biggest market outside of the United States.

    McDonald’s will celebrate its 30th anniversary in France with a stunning coup de grâce. The fast food giant will open its 1,142 French location in heart of the nation, the Holy of Holies of French art, the new Bastille of French culture: the Louvre.

    That’s right. A McDonald’s in the Louvre.

    Next time you have to see the Mona Lisa, make sure to order some fries and a coke on the way in.

    God Bless America!

    Previous topics mentioned in this post:

    McDonald’s in America [progress]

    Chain restaurants in NYC: Saturation point or starting point?

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