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PODCAST: Sell in May?

Tue, 2014-05-06 07:44

We'll start by confronting the notion of "Sell in May, then go away." There is a saying among investors this time of year, that as we get closer to summer vacation, it's time to take money out of the stock market. To find out more, we consult the often bearish Julie Niemann, the analyst at Smith Moore and company in St. Louis.

Google is rolling out same-day delivery for online retail customers in West L.A. and Manhattan — offering products from a variety of retailers including Costco, Target, Walgreens and L'Occitane. Google has already been piloting the service in the San Francisco Bay Area. Amazon has just launched same-day delivery in parts of Los Angeles as well, along with San Francisco, Seattle and Phoenix. And the two giants aren't alone. Wal-Mart, eBay, Nordstrom and other retailers are also in the ring. But, same-day delivery is expensive and complicated.

What are the odds of an entry-level gambler getting some coaching and winning the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas? Not great, as you may imagine. Grantland writer Colson Whitehead got $10,000 from his employer to give it a try.

Turning a rookie poker chump into a champ

Tue, 2014-05-06 04:41

What are the odds of an entry-level gambler getting some coaching and winning the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas?

Not great, as you may imagine.  Grantland writer Colson Whitehead got $10,000 from his employer to give it a try.

He spoke with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio about the results of his undertaking, which are chronicled in his book, "The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death."

Google, Amazon compete on same-day delivery

Tue, 2014-05-06 02:47

Google is rolling out same-day delivery for online retail customers in West L.A. and Manhattan — offering products from a variety of retailers including Costco, Target, Walgreens and L'Occitane. Google has already been piloting the service in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Amazon has just launched same-day delivery in parts of Los Angeles as well, along with San Francisco, Seattle and Phoenix. And the two giants aren't alone. Wal-Mart, eBay, Nordstrom and other retailers are also in the ring.

But, same-day delivery is expensive and complicated. Most people shop online after work, meaning the vendor has a very short window to deliver that must-have bottle of champagne or designer scarf — possibly through rush-hour traffic.

What companies need to make it work, says management consultant Andrew Schmahl at Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company, a division of PricewaterhouseCoopers), is a densely-populated area full of well-heeled shoppers.

"People willing to pay more than free for a delivery," he says.

Which most consumers are not.

In a survey conducted by Schmahl, only 10 percent of consumers were willing to pay $10 or more for same-day delivery. And many don't even want same-day delivery at the end of the day — when they are having dinner, putting kids to bed, or possibly won't hear the delivery, leaving their package to sit on the front porch all night.

Amazon and Google are first testing the same-day delivery market in upscale neighborhoods in places like Manhattan, West Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Schmahl thinks Google might be plunging in to gather more data on online shoppers. For Amazon, he says, it's an attack on brick-and-mortar stores where you can get what you want, same-day.

"Instant gratification takes too long for most people," says Patty Edwards, managing director of investments at US Bank Wealth Management. "We don't want to have to wait, we want to have it right now. And yet we're too lazy to get it ourselves."

Edwards predicts that in time, same-day delivery will catch on in many urban and suburban areas around the country.

Where to get the best deal in the same-day melee 

by Tobin Low

With Google expanding its same-day delivery service in a growing market, it’s hard to tell who’s offering the best deal.

If you’re not in a big city, you’re mostly out of luck, as major companies like eBay, Amazon, and Google are mostly piloting their same-day services in larger metropolitan areas. That’s because the model largely depends on there being a high volume of vendors in a customer’s vicinity that sell the desired merchandise.

Still, it’s an appealing promise: order by a certain time, and have your items delivered to your doorstep that same day.

With each of the services charging about the same rate -- Google Express charges $4.99 an order, Amazon Prime members pay $3.99 an order, and eBay asks for $5 an order -- it's still too early to tell who will pull ahead in the same day ordering scheme.

For now, maybe try linking your Twitter account to Amazon, and tweet/purchase away.

I feel a climate change comin' on

Tue, 2014-05-06 02:28

The new National Climate Assessment released on Tuesday says the climate is changing, but when it comes to changing climate change, Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, says President Obama has a tough audience.

There's the coal industry, and, some states -- like Texas.

"Attorney General Greg Abbot, perhaps the most likely person to be the next governor of Texas, routinely says, 'I wake up in the morning, I sue the federal government and then I go home,'" says Rabe, the director of the the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Rabe notes it's unlikely the administration will push for new legislation during President Obama's second term.

"It's not uncommon," he says, "for presidents, particularly when they move into their second term, to face growing difficulty working with Congress on major domestic legislation."

Apathy from the public is also a problem, says Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia's University's Center on Global Energy Policy -- and a past special assistant to the President and senior director for energy and climate change on the staff of the National Security Council.

"Admittedly climate change does not rate very high when you ask people about what their major concerns are," he says.

But, Bordoff says, public interest in climate change may be picking up. And he says while rules for new power plants already exist, the EPA is drafting regulations for existing plants, due in out in June.

The new rules should set a standard for many kinds of energy – not just coal.

Not just another "chick with a ukulele"

Tue, 2014-05-06 01:00

Before you start reading about Merrill Garbus and her latest album as tUnE-yArDs, why don't you take a second to dance a little:

Got that out of your system? Those infections beats and catchy melodies arrive via her latest album, entitled "Nikki Nack." Fans of Garbus will notice more of a pop music feel to this new release, and that's partly due to the singer's increasing familiarity and use of drum machines.

It's a new step for Garbus, who is primarily known for looping drum beats with a pedal and microphone as a sort of low-tech/high-tech one woman band. The singer/songwriter took a disciplined approach to this album, setting aside blocks of time to focus on improving both her abilities on analog and acoustic instruments:

"To me, there’s got to be a balance between computers and everything else. So for me that’s between computers and then actually having drumsticks in my hand and improving myself as a human player of musical instruments."

Garbus particularly enjoys when mistakes, be they human or computer, create quirky music. In using an iPad to record beats, the drum machine's difficulty in keeping up with her finger tips created an imperfect beat - one that she ended up using in the first track on the album.

This aspect of the flawed human-machine interaction is what interests Garbus most, and where she prefers to exist when making music with machines.

Collateralization is not a bad word

Tue, 2014-05-06 00:05

Oh my God! That financial product has a 'c' in front of it! It's toxic!

That seems to be the way regulators (and some journalists) are behaving when confronted with financial products that begin with the letter 'C.' And yes, it's true, the collateralized debt obligation and the credit default swap did play starring roles in the financial crisis, but that's no reason to brand every instrument that starts with a 'C' as a economic biohazard.

That's especially the case when it comes to anything starting with the word "collateralized."

Okay, I agree, it all looks pretty deadly: collateralized debt obligation; collateralized bond obligation; collateralized loan obligation; collateralized mortgage obligation. But securitizations like these aren't, by definition, a threat to the economy or the financial system.

Quite the reverse, in fact: they're essential.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself this question: How important is housing to the U.S. economy? Pretty important, right?

Certainly that’s what the President thinks. The economy is dependent primarily on consumer spending, and a large part of that consumer spending comes from people buying houses and filling them with stuff. Then there's all the construction activity, and the industries based on homebuilding. And then there are all the services associated with housing, too.

So housing is a big deal. And what's the engine of the housing market? It's debt; peoples' ability to borrow money in order to buy homes.  But if it wasn't for securitization, there wouldn't be any debt – or there'd be a lot less of it, anyway. The vast majority of the loans that are made to Americans to buy homes are packaged up by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, many of them in a big 'C' word: collateralized mortgage obligations.

CMOs have been around since the 1980s. And securitization has been around since Fannie Mae was started in 1938. So why is it that regulators and reporters are reacting with such revulsion when it comes to another kind of securitization, and another 'C' word: the collateralized loan obligation, or CLO?

Reading some of the reports about CLOs, you would be forgiven for thinking that, like the dreaded toxic assets otherwise known as CDOs, collateralized loan obligations are brimming with poisonous dreck that threatens to infect the entire financial system and bring our economy to its knees.

And it's true that some of the corporate loans in these CLOs will fail, just as some of the mortgages in Fannie and Freddie's portfolios will fail. But then, securitizations are not risk-free investments: CLOs depend on companies being able to make their interest payments, just as Fannie Mae's securitizations depend on me being able to make my mortgage payment.

It’s also true that these corporate loans are branded "junk," because they're not investment grade – in other words, they're rated below BBB, and its equivalent, by S&P and its peers. For the most part, though, these kinds of loans look pretty safe right now. Moody's says the rate of default on these loans is low, ending the first quarter at 1.4 percent, down from 2.2 percent the prior quarter and 3 percent in the first quarter a year ago. As for the CLOs themselves, while some did melt down during the financial crisis, they did so at a hugely-reduced rate in comparison.

CLOs provide the same kind of support for the economy that the securitizations run by Fannie and Freddie provide for the housing market. Where 'Fan and Fred' buy up mortgages taken out by Americans, CLOs buy up the debt of companies that might otherwise find it hard to get a bank loan. The results are a huge boon, both to those companies and to the economy.

When I covered the loan market at S&P back in the 90s, the "junk" companies that benefited from CLOs included Tricon, which is now YUM brands; Allied Waste, which was bought by Republic Services; and United Rentals. These companies employ large numbers of people and contribute significantly to economic growth. But without CLOs, they might not even exist today. Likewise, if Fannie and Freddie didn't buy up mortgages, fewer loans would be made, fewer houses bought and the economy would take a big hit.

I'm not saying that regulators (or reporters) should give CLOs a free pass. That's what happened to CDOs in the run-up to the financial crisis, and we all know what happened there. CLOs should be scrutinized and regulated just like every other securitization, to be sure they don't run amok or turn toxic on us.

But that starts with understanding exactly what they are. Regulators and reporters appear to be too quick to assume that just because CLO starts with the letter 'C,' it should be treated as toxic. And that's a poisonous attitude.

Goodbye Norton anti-virus software

Mon, 2014-05-05 14:18

According to Symantec, maker of Norton anti-virus software, anti-virus software is "dead." At least, that's what an executive at the company told the Wall Street Journal

"We at Symantec and Norton have known that the era of AV-only protection has been over for quite some time," says Fran Rosch, Senior Vice President of security products and services at Symantec. (AV, by the way, is short for "anti-virus," not, as I initially assumed, short for "Audio/Visual"... a typical COE mistake ("Child of the Eighties").

Rosch says AV is no longer enough to stop cyber-criminals. Now, you've got a whole new acronym: "ATP, as we like to call it," says Rosch. "Advanced Threat Protection. We can see a file that’s starting to do something really weird, like reaching into an address book. We can then say, “Huh, suspicious, block it right there.” 

If the old virus protection software was akin to building a wall around your computer, the new software goes a step further.

"You want to make sure that the data on your computer isn’t the soft, gooey center any longer," says Barrett Lyon, founder of Defense.net. Take the Target data breach, says Lyon. "If that information was stored in a way that was encrypted and secured better, even though the bad guys got in, they wouldn’t be able to get to the actual information."

The data security industry is expected to balloon to $80 billion in the next few years.

"It’s certainly the busiest time of my career and I’ve been doing this for close to 20 years," says Chester Wisniewski, a senior security advisor at Sophos. "Many of these criminals are making millions of dollars a month and with that kind of resource on the line, they’re not going to roll over and lie down, right?"

Which means the online security business, in one form or another, won’t be dead anytime soon.

*CORRECTION: A photo caption in an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified senior vice president of Symantec Information Security Brian Dye. The text has been corrected.

When 4 out of 5 teachers are white

Mon, 2014-05-05 13:31

Close to 50 percent of U.S. public school students are young people of color, but 4 out of 5 teachers are white, according to new research from the Center for American Progress and the National Education Association. Education researchers say a lack of diversity among educators leaves children less prepared for the increasingly diverse workplaces they'll be entering. 

Researchers say there are several reasons for the dearth of diverse teachers, among them, a changing workplace landscape that is more inclusive of African-Americans, Hispanics and others. 

LaRuth Gray, a scholar in residence at NYU's Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, says a few decades ago, teaching was one of a few professions by which African-Americans could gain entry into the middle class. 

Gray said when she was growing up in Texarkana, TX, in the 1950s, "You either became a teacher (which was respected), a funeral parlor director, you worked as a railroad porter, (where you got good tips), or maybe you went to work for the post office. In terms of economics, that's where you went in order to provide a step and a ladder up for your family." 

These days, Gray says, there's simply more opportunity for African-Americans. "The next generation, my daughter, that generation, they're lawyers, doctors. Economically, in the next generation, I can do all kinds of things. I don't have to be a teacher."

Gray, who speaks warmly of the supportive and nurturing environment provided by the African-American teachers of her youth, nonetheless, says that her horizons as a child might have been broadened had she been taught by staff of different backgrounds. 

"It is important in a population of students for the 21st centrury and beyond, we're moving toward a global world, that students see teachers of all backgrounds," Gray said. 

Ulrich Boser, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, who co-authored a new report on diversity among educators, says that in many schools today, the teaching workforce "look[s] like it meandered out of the 1950s." Boser says diversity is important for two very crucial reasons. 

"Research shows students of color do much better in terms of academic outcomes with teachers of color," Boser said. "They see them as role models. Student achievement, graduation rates, test scores all go up."

And for white students, having non-white teachers is a critical part of preparing for the increasingly diverse, "real" world. 

"It's important for white students to engage with Hispanic teachers, to engage with Black teachers," Boser said, "because the world of work is a world in which we have to engage and cooperate and communicate with people who come from different backgrounds." 

What a new CEO at Target will face

Mon, 2014-05-05 13:11

It’s not just the data breach that sealed Target CEO’s Gregg Steinhafel’s fate. He resigned Monday, effective immediately - and Target is facing existential questions in his wake . 

“What is Target’s real value proposition in today’s retail environment?” says Rajiv Lal, retailing professor at Harvard Business School. 

Since Steinhafel became CEO in 2008, Target’s sales have struggled. Online competition is fierce. It spent a lot of money trying to get a toehold in Canada. And, Target misfired trying to be more like a supermarket.  

“You can’t really have a cachet in terms of design and in terms of fashion, and at the same time sell food,” Lal says.  

Many other retailers now sell designer wares at Walmart prices. But since that data breach, sales have tumbled at Target even faster.   

Finding a better leader isn’t always so easy, though.  

“It’s costly to fire a CEO,” says Luke Taylor, assistant professor of finance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  

And, according to his research, over the last 20 years top CEO’s are getting fired more often: about 2 percent each year.  

But for companies like Target, it’s expensive and unpleasant to search for someone new. And, new ideas might not be an improvement.  

“Bringing on someone with a new vision is risky," Taylor says. "Sometimes the risks pay off. Sometimes they don’t.”

And many CEOs don’t stay on the job long. Most just last about five years, according to a new report. 

“They can’t come up with eight year plans when you’re talking more like five year turnover,” says Gary Neilson, who co-wrote the report at the consultancy Strategy&, formerly known as Booz & Company. 

Target now has to find someone who can both restore customer confidence after the data breach, and survive in the retail climate more generally. 

How the VIX index tracks investor fear

Mon, 2014-05-05 12:52

Let’s talk about the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index -- luckily it’s also known as "the VIX".

"Basically it’s just a fancy name for what the market views in terms of risk, going forward,” says Eric Augustyn, head of options strategy group for Wells Fargo Private Bank.

So when markets are going down, the VIX is going up.

"The VIX,  well I sometimes look at it a little bit as a temperature," says Augustyn.

That would be the temperature of fear.  When things are uncertain -- like when U.S. credit was downgrading, the whole debt ceiling debacle, or when Russia was becoming a presence in Ukraine --  the VIX jumps. It’s a measurement of the price of calls and puts, a complicated way investors try to hedge their bets. This week, it’s around 13, but in 2008, during the financial crisis Augustyn notes "the VIX went from 14 to 80.”

So the VIX looks at the price of the insurance that investors are buying.

To understand why that matters just think back to the beginning of the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy's house, with her in it, gets picked up by a tornado and blown away. The VIX is like a weather report, and Chris Geczy, Academic director of the Wharton Wealth Management initiative and adjunct associate professor of finance at Wharton, says if Auntie Em or Uncle Henry had been able to check it, they might have known tornado season was coming up.

“If you think about the situation with Dorothy," says Geczy, "Dorothy really cares about insurance when the wind is blowing. And the VIX gives us a picture, and a forecast, for how the wind is going to blow.”

Remember, says Geczy, the VIX is forward looking. Most methods of measuring the markets use data from the past.  So if Auntie Em and Uncle Henry had know the twister was coming they could have bought insurance on their house?
“That’s a possibility," says Geczy, though "they’d have to work very fast though, because the weather was coming in.”

Which means last minute insurance would be a lot more expensive. But Geczy says, if Dorothy had been watching the VIX, she would have known what the weather was going to do. And at least she would have had some options.

Your parents met on Match.com?

Mon, 2014-05-05 11:28

Match.com, the dating website, is celebrating its upcoming 20th anniversary with a college scholarship program for the kids it... made... if you take my meaning.

It's like "Hey cool!" and "Too much information" all at the same time. One grand prize winner will collect $50,000 in scholarship money, and their parents will win a bonus $5,000 for a "getaway". 

According to the website, "MatchMade.com," students must:

1) Tell your parents' love story. Create a 1-2 minute video that explains how your parents met on Match

2) Make us laugh…and cry! Only the most creative, heartfelt and emotional videos will make the finals

3) Let us see it. Submit your entry to MatchMade.com no later than June 30, 2014

In other news, Match.com's been around for 20 years?

 

 

Your parents met on Match.com? Try MatchMade.com

Mon, 2014-05-05 11:28

Match.com, the dating website, is celebrating its upcoming 20th anniversary with a college scholarship program for the kids it... made... if you take my meaning.

It's like "Hey cool!" and "Too much information" all at the same time. One grand prize winner will collect $50,000 in scholarship money, and their parents will win a bonus $5,000 for a "getaway". 

According to the website, "MatchMade.com," students must:

1) Tell your parents' love story. Create a 1-2 minute video that explains how your parents met on Match

2) Make us laugh…and cry! Only the most creative, heartfelt and emotional videos will make the finals

3) Let us see it. Submit your entry to MatchMade.com no later than June 30, 2014

In other news, Match.com's been around for 20 years?

 

 

Sports agent Leigh Steinberg on pro football's rise

Mon, 2014-05-05 11:09

As the NFL draft begins later this week, a lot of attention will be on the players. But there's another figure to keep in mind throughout the process: the sports agent.

Leigh Steinberg, the author of the new book "The Agent," knows the process all too well. He got his start back in 1975 while working as a dorm counselor at UC Berkeley. One of his freshman residents, Steve Bartkowski, was his first client. He says negotiating contracts then was much different than it is now.

"Bart asked me to represent him, and there was a World Football League competing with the NFL then," Steinberg said, "so we had leverage, and we were able to get the largest rookie contract in NFL history."

Since then, Steinberg has secured over $2 billion for over 100 clients, and has represented the number one draft pick in the NFL draft eight times.

Steinberg has seen many of the changes in pro football throughout his 40-year career, thanks in part, he says, to the growth of television.

"There were weeks last year where three out of the five Nielsen-rated shows were nighttime NFL football," he said.

That's to say nothing of how the concussion discussion has changed over the last couple of decades. Steinberg said he held seminars so his players could hear what doctors had to say.

"I had a crisis [of] conscience in the '80s. We'd go to the doctors, and they couldn't tell us how many was too many," he said. "What makes this different than any other injury is it affects rationality, consciousness, memory, and what it means to be a human being."

But if you ask the players, he says, they would do it all over again.

Why the unpaid internship may be on its way out

Mon, 2014-05-05 10:17

Just how crucial is a summer internship these days? When I stopped by Columbia University in New York recently, almost every student I talked to either had one lined up—or was working on it.

“It’s almost as required as the core classes here,” says freshman Keenan Piper. “If you’re not taking internships over the summer, you’re just getting behind.”

Piper, a pre-med student from Seattle, plans to do a research internship back home at the University of Washington—most likely unpaid. Junior Ethan Ling has scored a coveted paid gig in Hong Kong, after working for free last summer—full time—at a venture capital firm.

“I just had to do it just to beef up my resume,” Ling says. “I think in the job market you just have to do what you have to do to get a job at the end of the day.”

Even for brand-new graduates, employers place a premium on work experience. In a survey by Marketplace and the Chronicle of Higher Education, the number one thing employers wanted to see on a recent grad's resume wasn’t a high GPA or an elite alma mater. It was an internship.

Yet almost half the internships done by last year’s graduating class during college were unpaid, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). And not everyone can afford to work for free.

“I tend to sort of breeze over the ones that don’t pay, because I don’t think it’s really fair," says freshman Brittney Wade, who’s looking for a summer position in public relations. “Yes, we’re doing it for an experience, and that is valuable to us, but I don’t think there should be free labor enforced when it comes to internships.”

A lot of people are starting to agree. Last spring a federal judge threw water on the long tradition of the unpaid internship. He ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures had broken the law by failing to pay interns who did the work of paid employees. The ruling forced employers everywhere to rethink their policies.

“Any time you post an ad for an unpaid internship, you’re writing ‘Poor people need not apply’ in big letters at the top,” says Mikey Franklin, founder of the Fair Pay Campaign to end unpaid internships.

If the fairness argument hasn’t been persuasive, the threat of lawsuits has been. Magazine publisher Condé Nast just settled a suit brought by some of its former unpaid interns. Rather than start paying, the company shut down its internship program altogether. Many other companies—from Viacom to the New York Times to the nonprofit Lean In—have opted to pay at least minimum wage.

“We’re seeing a gradual move towards paid internships and away from unpaid internships,” says Franklin. “But the culture of unpaid internships is deeply ingrained.”

And here’s where I have to come clean. Though Marketplace pays all of its interns, I myself hired one last summer to work—unpaid—on my own project, a documentary film. Like many interns, she got college credit. But that practice is under fire, too. Recently Columbia announced it would no longer give its undergraduates credit for internships. Other schools have stepped up their oversight.

“All that Columbia giving this credit did was enable employers to offer unpaid internships and say that, ‘Well they get credit, so it must be legal,’” says senior Peter Sterne.

Sterne has done his share of internships, at the Columbia Journalism Review and the New York Observer. He says the fact that he could afford to work unpaid—thanks, Mom and Dad—gave him an unfair advantage. He now runs a website tracking who pays interns and how much. As more companies start paying, he says, there will probably be fewer positions to go around.

“It’s going to be more difficult to get an internship,” he says. “If they have to pay minimum wage, then it’s going to be much more selective.”

That may be happening already. NACE, the group of colleges and employers, tracks internships in an annual survey. The group’s Edwin Koch says typically he sees at least a 5 percent increase in positions every year, even when the economy’s stagnant.

This year?

“We saw no real increase in the number of internships available this year as opposed to last year, whereas there should be a substantial increase at this point,” Koch says.

That has colleges nervous. They’re under a lot of pressure to produce employable graduates who land good jobs. Several higher education groups recently filed a brief in a pair of intern lawsuits now on appeal in New York, arguing that there’s still a place for the unpaid internship.

“The internships tend to be of such value to students that the fact that they are not receiving a paycheck is somewhat secondary to the value of the experience,” says Ada Meloy, general counsel of the American Council on Education, one of the groups that weighed in.

But a paycheck goes a long way—and not just toward paying the bills. NACE found that students who did paid internships were far more likely to have at least one job offer by graduation than those who worked for free.

Why green olives come in jars, but black ones come in cans

Mon, 2014-05-05 09:58

Carol Shearer of Eagle River, Alaska, says this started as an economic question in the grocery store. She needed black olives, but not a whole can.

She wondered: Why can’t you get black olives in a jar like you do the other kind?

So, as we do, we went on the hunt...

Part 1:  The Quest

Getting to the bottom of this question was not easy. We asked three people:

First up: Mort Rosenblum, author of "The Olive: Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit."

"That's a wild question," he said. "Which I don't think I can answer."

 

What, and black olives are ugly?

Nope.  Actually, they came in glass jars, too, once upon a time. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Next up, we took our "wild question" to the staff of Eataly, a high-concept Italian food complex that just opened a branch in Chicago.

Dave Malzan is a manager in the Salumi-Formaggi department, which includes the olive bar, with olives from all over Italy.

Dan Weissmann/Marketplace

Malzan said I was in the wrong place.

"If you’re thinking about the olives at your grandma’s house that you may have worn on your fingers on Thanksgiving? No, those guys we do not carry."

Malzan says Eataly isn’t just about eating. Eataly is about knowing the story of what you’re eating.

Actually, there’s a great story. And finally, I found the person who knows it best: Judith Taylor, who wrote the other book on olives. She's a retired physician who now writes horticultural histories. In 2000, she published "The Olive in California: History of an Immigrant Tree".

Part 2:  The Story

The black olive—also known as the California ripe olive—was invented in Oakland, by a German widow named Freda Ehmann.

In the mid-1890s all she had was an olive grove nobody thought was worth very much.

“She must have been an amazing and remarkable woman," Taylor says. "Because instead of sitting in her daughter’s rocking chair in Oakland, she decided to get busy and pick the olives and do something with them.”

She got a recipe from the University of California for artificially ripening olives. (Green olives are pickled green— as in, not ripe.)

From a  1918 local history:

"[R]eturning to her daughter’s house in Oakland, she turned the back porch into a pickling plant, got some wine-casks, cut them in two, and went to work. Uncertain of the result, she dared not assume the expense of piping water to the vats, so that through all the process of leaching and pickling she carried the gallons of water herself. Passing restless nights, she went to work at five o’clock in the morning, and all through the day and until late in the evening she watched the slow and mysterious changes of the fruit."

Freda perfected the recipe, sold her olives locally, then went East to open up new markets. She scored her first hit in Philadelphia.

Eventually, she had a national business, requiring new orchards, and factories. She kept going back to the University of California for more tips—including packaging.

"When she first went to Philadelphia, she had them in kegs and barrels—just sort of loosely covered, you know," Taylor says. "Not sealed." 

 Then, glass jars. Because they don’t spill?

"Yes, and they’re very pretty," Taylor says.  "And gradually they developed a technique of sealing the jars effectively. And with that came trouble."

You seal the jar, and what’s inside?

"That’s a perfect cultural medium for botulism," Taylor says.

In 1919, olive-related botulism outbreaks started killing people.

In August, 14 people got sick after a dinner party at a country club near Canton, Ohio.  Seven of them died.

 A week later, epidemiologists went to work, interviewing the survivors. Pinpointing the olives as the source of those deaths involved some great detective work. Their report includes:

...the seating chart. X marks the spot where people died:

… and a thorough discussion of who ate what, to eliminate other possible causes. For instance:

 

 

 

 

 

And the final, damning conclusion:

"The occurrence of poisoning at the Sebring table can be accounted for only by the ripe olives served at this table."

Among the waiters at the club there is a custom of collecting the delicacies after the diners have finished, and the two waiters poisoned did so collect the left-over olives and ate some of them. Later, waiter C.O. carried the olives to the chef with the request that he “Try one of these damn things, they don’t taste right to me.” The chef ate two and later died."

The 1919 case didn’t involve Freda Ehmann’s olives. But a 1924 case did.

The next decade was murder for the California olive industry.

The whole industry switched to a new standard for the ripe California olive.

"It has to be heated to 240 degrees. And only a can would tolerate that, physically—you couldn’t do that with a glass jar."

Eventually, California olives came back. In cans.

 

But Ehmann had long since retired. She was heartbroken.

"She couldn’t come to terms with the fact that something she’d done had killed people," Taylor says.

Today, there are just two olive-canning companies in California.  

Why do green olives come in jars, but black olives come in cans?

Mon, 2014-05-05 09:58

Carol Shearer of Eagle River, Alaska, says this started as an economic question in the grocery store. She needed black olives, but not a whole can.

She wondered: Why can’t you get black olives in a jar like you do the other kind?

So, as we do, we went on the hunt...

Part 1:  The Quest

Getting to the bottom of this question was not easy. We asked three people:

First up: Mort Rosenblum, author of "The Olive: Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit."

"That's a wild question," he said. "Which I don't think I can answer."

 

What, and black olives are ugly?

Nope.  Actually, they came in glass jars, too, once upon a time. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Next up, we took our "wild question" to the staff of Eataly, a high-concept Italian food complex that just opened a branch in Chicago.

Dave Malzan is a manager in the Salumi-Formaggi department, which includes the olive bar, with olives from all over Italy.

Dan Weissmann/Marketplace

Malzan said I was in the wrong place.

"If you’re thinking about the olives at your grandma’s house that you may have worn on your fingers on Thanksgiving? No, those guys we do not carry."

Malzan says Eataly isn’t just about eating. Eataly is about knowing the story of what you’re eating.

Actually, there’s a great story. And finally, I found the person who knows it best: Judith Taylor, who wrote the other book on olives. She's a retired physician who now writes horticultural histories. In 2000, she published "The Olive in California: History of an Immigrant Tree".

Part 2:  The Story

The black olive—also known as the California ripe olive—was invented in Oakland, by a German widow named Freda Ehmann.

In the mid-1890s all she had was an olive grove nobody thought was worth very much.

“She must have been an amazing and remarkable woman," Taylor says. "Because instead of sitting in her daughter’s rocking chair in Oakland, she decided to get busy and pick the olives and do something with them.”

She got a recipe from the University of California for artificially ripening olives. (Green olives are pickled green— as in, not ripe.)

From a  1918 local history:

"[R]eturning to her daughter’s house in Oakland, she turned the back porch into a pickling plant, got some wine-casks, cut them in two, and went to work. Uncertain of the result, she dared not assume the expense of piping water to the vats, so that through all the process of leaching and pickling she carried the gallons of water herself. Passing restless nights, she went to work at five o’clock in the morning, and all through the day and until late in the evening she watched the slow and mysterious changes of the fruit."

Freda perfected the recipe, sold her olives locally, then went East to open up new markets. She scored her first hit in Philadelphia.

Eventually, she had a national business, requiring new orchards, and factories. She kept going back to the University of California for more tips—including packaging.

"When she first went to Philadelphia, she had them in kegs and barrels—just sort of loosely covered, you know," Taylor says. "Not sealed." 

 Then, glass jars. Because they don’t spill?

"Yes, and they’re very pretty," Taylor says.  "And gradually they developed a technique of sealing the jars effectively. And with that came trouble."

You seal the jar, and what’s inside?

"That’s a perfect cultural medium for botulism," Taylor says.

In 1919, olive-related botulism outbreaks started killing people.

In August, 14 people got sick after a dinner party at a country club near Canton, Ohio.  Seven of them died.

 A week later, epidemiologists went to work, interviewing the survivors. Pinpointing the olives as the source of those deaths involved some great detective work. Their report includes:

...the seating chart. X marks the spot where people died:

… and a thorough discussion of who ate what, to eliminate other possible causes. For instance:

 

 

 

 

 

And the final, damning conclusion:

"The occurrence of poisoning at the Sebring table can be accounted for only by the ripe olives served at this table."

Among the waiters at the club there is a custom of collecting the delicacies after the diners have finished, and the two waiters poisoned did so collect the left-over olives and ate some of them. Later, waiter C.O. carried the olives to the chef with the request that he “Try one of these damn things, they don’t taste right to me.” The chef ate two and later died."

The 1919 case didn’t involve Freda Ehmann’s olives. But a 1924 case did.

The next decade was murder for the California olive industry.

The whole industry switched to a new standard for the ripe California olive.

"It has to be heated to 240 degrees. And only a can would tolerate that, physically—you couldn’t do that with a glass jar."

Eventually, California olives came back. In cans.

 

But Ehmann had long since retired. She was heartbroken.

"She couldn’t come to terms with the fact that something she’d done had killed people," Taylor says.

Today, there are just two olive-canning companies in California.  

Target CEO steps down in security breach aftermath

Mon, 2014-05-05 09:00

Retail giant Target just announced that its CEO Gregg Steinhafel is stepping down after more than 30 years with the company, having served 6 of those years as CEO -- It has not been a smooth tenure. The company’s 4th  quarter profits fell by nearly half after hackers stole as many as 70 million credit and debit card numbers from the company’s database.

Two months after Target was hacked, Brian Krebs, who broke the story, logged onto the company’s website to see who had been put in charge of technology. To his surprise, there wasn’t anyone listed.

“I think a lot of people were kind of surprised by that and were hoping for a little more fast action on the part of Target’s leadership,” says Krebs.

The massive security breach wasn’t the only strike against Target under Steinhafels’ leadership.

“There are some operational issues, and from a financial point of view it’s had some real problems with its foray into Canada,” says Craig Johnson, president of the retail consulting firm Customer Growth Partners.

He says Target overpaid for many of its Canadian properties, and once they opened, the stores didn’t perform as well as expected. This along with rebuilding Target’s reputation with customers will be high among the list of priorities for interim CEO John Mulligan. Along with the shift of Mulligan to the interim position, Target announced last Tuesday that former Home Depot Chief Information Officer Bob DeRodes will be the next CIO. 

 

Counting calories? Take a day off

Mon, 2014-05-05 07:52

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Tuesday, May 6:

In Washington, the Commerce Department lets us know what the trade deficit was in March.

The Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on military compensation.

TV audiences said goodbye to "Friends" ten years ago. The final episode aired May 6, 2004.

The multi-talented, and newly-engaged, George Clooney turns 53.

And skip the scale. It's International No Diet Day.

PODCAST: Buffett-Palooza

Mon, 2014-05-05 07:38

More than 30,000 people are just getting back from Omaha, the site of this year's superbowl of capitalism, otherwise known as the annual meeting of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway company. One single Class A stock in Berkshire Hathaway costs $192,000, although there is the economy model, the Berkshire Class B for $128 this morning. Buffett emphasized that big acquisitions, not clever investing in stocks, is the way forward for Berkshire. Michael de la Merced who writes for the New York Times Dealbook section sat through Buffett-Palooza, and joined us to discuss.

Today is Cinco de Mayo, the celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. But one component of the celebration is getting a lot more expensive. Limes. Limes for the tacos. Limes for the drinks. And you may be interested to know the reason for that is connected to a drug cartel. Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith reports.

And, I've started a new blog today at Marketplace.org and as the week goes on some of my colleagues here at Marketplace will be doing the same. Kai Ryssdal, Lizzie O'Leary, and Paddy Hirsch included. My thing is going to be called "Indie Economics." Today I'll start with a diet that will make you smarter: the salubrious effects of adding one documentary film or other smart movie to your media diet. Once a week is is all it takes and you, too, can use words like "salubrious."

 

Chicken: The relatively cheaper meat

Mon, 2014-05-05 02:16

It's a good time to be in the chicken business. Tyson Foods reports quarterly earnings Monday morning in a heady time for poultry.

"The chicken guys have never had it so good," says meat industry analyst Len Steiner. "The margins for somebody that's raising chickens, buying grain basically and selling chicken meat is very, very good, the best it's ever been in history, ever, going back to the beginning of time."

The boost for chicken has come from the rising price of beef and pork, which are at a historic highs. The cost has driven restaurants ranging from burger chains to barbecue joints to make chicken the special of the day.

Barry Pelts, who co-owns Corky's BBQ based in Memphis, says he hardly breaks even when he sells his signature pork ribs.

"But I will tell you right now that everybody who walks into that restaurant and orders a barbeque chicken dinner, I'm tickled to death," he says.

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