Thursday, June 30, 2011

Airport security leaves me insecure

The second story in a week about the foibles of airport security are not making me feel safe about flying.
The first was about how the security agents forced a 95-year-old cancer patient to take off her wet adult diaper so they could pat her down before they would allow her board an airplane.
The second is about a 20-something Nigerian who managed to board an airplane in New York even though he had no passport and just the expired boarding pass of another passenger.
Given the amount of hassle we all experience when flying, we would think that airport security would at least be cognizant of the lack of threat of the first, and the possibility of threat from the second. That they do not is scary.
Perhaps it would help if the government released information successes in catching would-be terrorists. There are some, aren't there?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Imagine that, jurors who can ask questions

Jury duty has interested me, but whenever I am picked I get the feeling I am not really a participant in the trial. Jurors are just passive observers, who suddenly become the most important people in the process.
But starting in September, that will change.
Michigan jurors will be able to take notes, discuss evidence and question witnesses under new rules handed down by the Michigan Supreme Court. (Jurors in criminal trials already had the ability to ask questions. The new rules will apply to all jury trials.
Seems like the right thing to do. As Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. points out, jurors shoulder much of the trial responsibility yet they carry out their duties with too many restrictions. Now they can be “truly involved” in trials.
I think a trial by our peers should allow those peers to get involved with the trial.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Green potatoes

Funny how one of the oldest food warnings -- that green potatoes are poisonous -- is also one of the least heeded.

You can find a lot of references to this on the Web, but here is a good one:

Eating a big baking potato that is green would be enough to make you sick.

Potatoes turn green when they are exposed to light and warm temperatures. That usually happens in your home and it is a sign for you to pitch them out.

However, green potatoes do show up in the clearance produce bins of certain stores. Such potatoes are not a bargain and the store produce managers should know better than to put them out for sale.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

IRS increases gas allowance

In a rare move, the IRS has made a mid-year change in the deduction taxpayers take when they use their personal cars for business.

The rate was increased 4.5 cents, which takes it up to 55.5 cents.

This move may have more impact on the economy than the release of emergency reserve oil by the United States and other countries.

The strategic release is about what the world uses in one day. And the impact will be spread around the world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More on bottle deposits

Got some comments from readers about why water bottles carry no deposit -- and that there seem to be a lot of them by the side of the road.

That is a good point. If the idea is to reduce littering, why not apply the deposit to all bottles?

And is it time to rethink the amount? Would you stop to pick up a dime? Would you stop to pick up a can? Do you worry what sort of germs or viruses are on that can?

Also, the deposit is the same for a small bottle as a large bottle. This does affect consumers' choices about what to buy. Notice how small bottles are disappearing? Is this part of the reason we are moving as a nation to the Big Drink (and the big calories)?

I should point out here that the current rules for garbage pickup of recyclables contributes to littering and is not very green.

Ever see the sides of the roads on a windy garbage-pickup day? And what about the trash that blows out of the tops of those trucks when the net does not quite fit.

I think one of the problems here is that we citizens have turned this problem over to the government and our responsibility seems to stop there.

The cleanest countries in the world are those where every person takes responsibility for every bit of trash they encounter. The dirtiest are those were everyone assumes it is someone else's responsibility.

And governments don't do that well on controlling litter.

Michigan is a good example. Our bottle return program has gaps, it is expensive and it irritates most businesses and most people. We can do better.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bottle deposit law sucks

Does anyone like Michigan's bottle deposit law?

Oh sure, it does keep the litter down. And it does provide a source of income to retired and homeless persons. And it is a wonderful fundraiser for charitable groups.

But is this the best we can do?

Stores hate it. It is expensive and messy -- and probably has contributed to the demise of small grocers.

Manufacturers hate it. It undoubtedly contributes to the lack of competition in beverages. Think about the economic chances for a microbrew when the bottles are accepted only at the point of purchase?

Consumers hate it. Ever see anyone having fun feeding their cans and bottles into those machines?

And the worst is that you must return the store brands to the store where you bought them.

The whole thing is based on old technology.

We do have bar codes here. Can't we at least change the law so that all stores take all containers? And transfer the payments based on bar code readings? And recycle the plastic and aluminum closer to the points of return?

This would be in the spirit of the original law. How many times have you had some off brand bottle rejected by the machine and just toss it into the refuse bin?

Maybe it will put some spark into the economy by promoting new business and new competition. Maybe even inspire people to litter less? Might.

Monday, June 13, 2011

government rules affect jobs

President Obama asked businesses today for their suggestion on rules that could be eliminated to spark job growth.

Good question. And when do we start?

China, where most of our stuff is made, operates under much looser rules than we do in this country. We, of course, do not want to take it to their extreme. China is an environmental disaster area and worker safety is a joke.

On the other hand, our bureaucratic mare's next of rules are often politically motivated and impossible to eliminated, once they are installed. They come with a host of publicly paid minders who are also their staunchest defenders.

So, let's start with how to get rid of rules that do nothing except irritate consumers.

A rule of thumb could be, if no one else in the world wants this stuff, then maybe U.S. rules are too strict.

I would say that our rules for our new, safer gasoline containers are absurd. The new ones don't work, they spill gas, and I cannot imagine anyone else in the world ordering them when they can get the old ones that work much better.

Another would be safety devices on lawnmowers. I am all for safety, but I would argue that all the safety devices in the world are not going to protect a fool with no common sense. Most U.S. consumers just disconnect all these items anyway, and how much do they add to the initial cost of the mowers, and to the maintenance costs?

And what about child-proof caps. These are great if you have small kids. Not so great if your kids are grown up and you have arthritic fingers. Once again, all the safety caps in the world are not going to protect children from fools with no common sense.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Response to Jeff -- slowing down does save gas

I wrote in a recent blog that slowing down does save gas, and got a spirited disagreement from Jeff Davis. You can read his comment attached to that blog.

I would certainly welcome more comments on this topic. I can say with certainty that my view is not widespread. Most drivers in SE Michigan drive as if the posted speed limit is the minimum speed not the maximum. And, most drivers here view those who drive under the posted speed limit to be idiots and a menace to normal drivers.

Whether or not driving slow or fast affects gas mileage does not appear to be a major concern. Most drivers seem intent on getting there -- as fast as possible. My blog was simply to point out that all the crying about high gas prices does not seem to translate into any thought of slowing down.

So Jeff, you are correct in your thinking that most drivers would agree with you that drivers who are going slow to save gas should get out of their way.

You are also correct, Jeff, when you say that many cars have computers that optimize gas mileage,. However, your estimates that 99 percent of all cars have such computers and that all those computers save gas regardless of speed is overly optimistic.

Cars manufactured after roughly 2007 have better gas-optimization computers.

It also is true that they will give you the best gas consumption possible for the particular speed you are driving. But it is not true that they will give you the best gas mileage you can get at whatever speed you drive.

All vehicles have a "sweet spot." This varies from vehicle to vehicle and depends on many different factors. But, in a nutshell, it is the speed for that vehicle that will regularly provide you with the best possible gas mileage.

For most cars, it is somewhere between 52 and 65. It is rare to find a vehicle that achieves its best mileage at a speed over 75.

You do not have to take my word for it, you can prove it to yourself. If you have a regular drive that you make, do several test runs at 55 and 70 and carefully check the gas consumed each time. I usually do this by filling up as I start and then again as I end the trip, and write down the total gallons used and the miles traveled.

In my own case, I regularly drive from one side of the state to the other. I can take the freeway, where I am forced to drive at 70 or be run over by the truckers; or I can take country highways where the speed limit is 55.

When I take the freeway, I get there faster, but my mileage is around 25 miles per gallon. When I take the back roads, it takes a bit longer (20 minutes) but I get around 32 miles per gallon.

What do you want? Early arrival or better economy? Your choice.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Gas prices vary

I drove across Michigan the last weekends from southeast to west and back. Both times, I was struck by how much gas varies from one area to the next.

Both weekends I saw gas below $4 a gallon and above $4.20. Why?

Station owners always say that they have no control over such things and their profit margin is pennies per gallon. If that is true, either the companies who sell the wholesale gas are charging different prices, or some of these stations are making more than a few cents of profit, and some of them must be losing money.

Competition seems to play a part in low prices (usually a new station) or the lack thereof (the only other station closing) seems to play a part in high prices.

Another seems to be being in a key spot near a busy highway. I rarely see cheap gas out in the middle of nowhere.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Assault with a deadly vehicle

What is it about drivers that when they get behind the wheel of their vehicle, they become angry and threatening.
I have to assume that the reason this is so common is that few of them are ever charged with road rage, unless one actually rams the other. As long as the rager just cuts someone off or honks or gives hand gestures, he or she is pretty safe from prosecution.
The definition of assault, historically, has been the threat of physical injury. While battery was the completed act of physical contact, but many states no longer differentiate between the two.
However, if you pull a gun or a knife on someone, you will generally be in trouble.
So why do drivers get away with threatening other drivers with their vehicles? A couple of tons of steel moving at 60 mph is as deadly as a bullet.
And a lot more drivers threaten other drivers compared to the number of gunmen who threaten other people.
I have never been threatened by a gun or a knife. But I have experienced at least three instances of road rage in the last week.
So what is the answer? Police patrols seem to be shrinking, not growing.
Perhaps it is as easy as mounting a simple video camera/GPS on the dash of cars with a start button on the steering wheel. The camera, when activated, would automatically record the place, date and time.
In all of the instances of road rage threats against me, I could have easily video-recorded the rager driving too close and cutting me off. And, I would have had a clear shot at their license plate.