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The Lucifer Effect

I read the book The Lucifer Effect as part of my Business Ethics class. It is an interesting book with a lot of information on the real life evil acts and laboratory experiments on the factors that leads human towards evil acts. Also, I learned a great deal of information about the Abu Ghraib prison abuses. The author, Dr. Philip Zimbardo was an expert witness in the military court trial of that case. In a nutshell, Author believes that the situational power is a major factor in evil acts.

Some of the points in the book provoked my thoughts.  Firstly, our criminal justice system over-relies on the common sense views about what things cause people to commit crimes. They are usually only motivational and personality determinants. It is time for the legal system to take account of behavioral science about the power of social context in influencing behavior, criminal actions, and moral slips.

Secondly, a vocal minority of any situation is successful when they have four qualities: consistent in their position, appeared confidence, avoided rigid and dogmatic personalities, and finally the most important, in my opinion, skilled in social influence. Also decisions of a group as a whole are more thoughtful and creative when there is a minority dissent. Say hell no to unanimous decisions.

Thirdly, Most peoples’ lives are controlled by their over use of one time frame; past, present, or future and under reliance on the other time frames. We should use the time frames in a flexible balanced fashion depending on the situation. When there is a work to be done, future oriented discipline is needed. When we need to connect with the family and friends, the past should be called upon. When we want to enjoy our life and seek new adventures, present orientation best enables us to do so. In my case, I am more of a present oriented person and I don’t want to bother too much about the future.

Finally, most of us, who have never been to a federal or county prison, limit our basic freedoms by self-imposed prisons such as neurotic disorders, low self-esteem, shyness, prejudice, shame, and excessive fear of terrorism.

I just stop here to keep this post in a reasonable size . The Lucifer Effect is a fascinating book that explores the human nature in different environments at different levels of influence of societal power.

3-Way Street

I had the opportunity to attend the Fall Transportation Conference this week in Las Vegas . John Penuelas, Traffic Engineer for City of Henderson, showed this video as part of his presentation. I could not resist myself from posting this interesting 3 minute clip.  Please make sure your speaker volume is at its max and watch the video in full screen.

How Many Miles Fruits and Vegetables Travel Before End Up on Our Plate?

We all know, most of the electronics, furniture, and many other things like, toys, kitchen ware, and tools are made in China. They travel more than 8000 miles before end up in our hands. I have a habit of looking the tags of shirts and pants to check the country they were made (And of course, I check the size to make sure they fit right). Surprisingly, I rarely see that they were made is China. Most of the dresses are Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, and Cambodia.  It is easy to figure it out as the country of origin is printed on these products or on their packages. Literally all these products travel thousands of miles before end up with us.

In the past, I never tried to figure out the origins of the grocery I buy from the grocery store. It is not that easy to find out the origins except the instances where it is explicitly mentioned on the packages, namely “California Oranges” and “Idaho Potato”. Some major food exporters to US are: Chile-Grapes, Banana, Black Berries, Cherries, Raspberries; Australia – Navel Oranges; France – Wine; UK – Whiskey; China – Garlic; Thailand – Rice; Mexico – Beer, Fresh Tomatoes; Netherlands – Fresh Tomato, Bell Peppers; And the list goes on…. As far as I know, banana is not produced in the US.

The table below gives an idea on the average distances travelled by each produce. I got this information from a study done by Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, at the Iowa State University. Unlike other products, a major part of these produces are from the farms within the US.

Produce Distance Traveled (miles)










Corn, Sweet






















An increasing proportion of what Americans eat is produced in other countries, including an estimated 39 percent of fruits, 12 percent of vegetables, 40 percent of lamb, and 78 percent of fish and shellfish. The typical American prepared meal contains, on average, ingredients from at least five countries outside the United States.

What is the Best Gasoline?

If you drive a mile in an urban area, you will see several gas stations with many names. Some of the common names are; Chevron, Shell, Arco (BP), Texaco (chevron acquired it), Conoco, and Exxon. These are brand names and all these companies have their own refineries. In addition to that we can see many other discount stores like quick mart, quick stop, Costco, Safeway, Sam’s Club etc… These gas retailers don’t have their own refineries. It is good to have many gas stations, but unfortunately, the price of gasoline is different at different gas stations that are located across the street. I am pretty sure that you all agree with me that the price of the gas is less expensive in discount stores. Arco (owned by BP) is bit expensive or same as discount stores. Chevron and Shell post the highest price.

Why is the price difference? Is the expensive gas better for our car? Are there any differences in the gasoline sold at different stations?  The answer is Yes and No. Gasoline is refined and distributed by a few companies using the same pipelines and distribution system. Not all the companies that refine oil have terminals all over the country. If you visit a wholesale gas terminal, you can see tanker trucks from different companies waiting in line. The Chevron and Arco located across the street in your town, most probably, gets the gasoline from the same terminal. What makes the difference is the expensive additives (aka detergents) used by different brands. The main purpose of these additives is to clean up the engine thus extend the life and increase the efficiency of the engine. There are government regulations on the minimum amount detergents used to ensure the quality of gas sold.

So, what is the best gasoline? Here are some tips. The big 3 auto companies use Chevron gas for their auto testing even though there are no Chevron gas stations in Michigan. The auto companies haul Chevron gas from hundreds of miles away. Major refineries like Chevron, Shell and Exxon spent a great deal of investment in research on the detergent and started using the detergent well before the government regulation came into play in 1995. Six of the world’s top auto makers namely Audi, BMW, GM, Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagen believe that the current government regulations are not enough to make sure optimal engine performance. These auto makers raised the bar and started a new classification known as Top tier gas. Tip tier gasoline retailers have to meet a certain requirements to be included in this classification. BP disputed the Top tier gas standards and does not want to be classified as a Top Tier Gas. Costco, currently does not own their mixing pads, assures that their gasoline meets or exceeds other major brands.

Choose My Plate, Power Plate, and Food Subsidies

An interesting article appeared on the blog section. It got some information about the healthy eating, food subsidies, and the contradictions in government policies about the healthy foods.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) replaced the decades old Food Pyramid with Choose My Plate. The new guidelines are more attractive and easy to understand to anyone. It could be considered as a reminder during the meal times. Choose My Plate is a visual cue that identifies the five basic food groups from which consumers can choose healthy foods to build a healthy plate. The basic groups are vegetables, fruits, grains, protein, and diary. The recommendations are based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Earlier this year, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) came out with a new idea called Power Plate to encourage healthy eating. This plan identifies four different food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. PCRM claims that these four food groups provide the good nutrition we need. There is no need for animal-derived products in the diet, and we are better off without them. This is literally a vegan plate.

PCIM disputes some of the recommendations of USDA. The protein portion of the USDA’s MyPlate is unnecessary, because beans, whole grains, and vegetables are loaded with it. And MyPlate reserves a special place for dairy products, which are packed with fat and cholesterol and may increase the risk of health problems ranging from asthma to some types of cancer. There are many more healthful sources of calcium.

The picture on the left shows the percentage of government subsidies to the agriculture industry by food group. The USDA’s My Plate recommends to cut meat and dairy products, but most of the subsidies go into that group. Fruits and vegetables get less than 1% of the subsidies while they are supposed to fill half of the plate. It is worth reading the article appeared on the PCIM website.

DNA Type Diet

A couple of days back I saw a news item in our local news channel 4. It was a very brief segment, but invoked me to search more about it. It is about DNA type diet. I was fascinated by the information available on the web about the DNA type diet. A few months ago, I got to know about blood type diet . I decided to follow blood type diet mainly because I was already adopting most part of blood type diet. After few months, I realized that it works well for me. The most important different between blood type diet and other prescribed diets is that blood type diet focuses on the healthy living while other prescribed food menus focus on weight loss.

Interleukin Genetics, Inc and Stanford University did a research on the effect of different diet type. The researchers requested participants to provide DNA samples by simple cheek swap. Individuals on a diet identified as appropriate to their genotype by the Weight Management Genetic Test lost an average of over 2.5 times more weight than individuals on diets that were not appropriate. We should take note that this experiment was conducted on overweight/obese woman. I did not see any mass scale research on this topic with a variety of participants.

The initial cost to know about the DNA type diet including the testing is about $170. I have no plans to experiment with this concept. You can find more information on the Interleukin Genetics website.