Previously I edited Herb Denenberg’s articles. Herb has, of course, since died. — Louis Sheehan
HERB DENENBERG QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR WEEK OF AUGUST 6, 2007
ARE SEARCH ENGINES INCREDIBLY EFFICIENT OR DO THEY STINK? IS GM GETTING ITS ACT TOGETHER? WHY DO SOME PEOPLE GET HIT SO HARD BY ALCOHOL AND OTHERS DRINK TO THEIR HEART’S CONTENT WITHOUT HEAVY CONSEQUENCES? WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO TURN AN INSURANCE COMPANY DENIAL INTO A BAD FAITH CLAIM?
IS THE PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE INDUSTRY HITTING HARD TIMES DUE TO CATASTROPHES? AND OTHER QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
- I’ve always thought search engines are incredibly efficient and helpful. But my friend who knows more than I do claims as a general rule they stink. Who is right?
- I would tend to agree with you, but there are some higher authorities that agree with your friend. Take a taste of this criticism from Information Week (August 6, 2007): “The search engine, that little browser tool into which you type a phrase, hit Enter, and hope for the best, is notoriously inefficient, often returning millions of off-the-mark URLs. People search for 11 minutes on average before finding what they’re looking for, and half abandon searches without getting that far, according to Microsoft. By Gartner’s estimate, half of potential Web sales are lost because visitors simply can’t find what they want.” The article from which that quote is taken is about the search for better search engines, which is said to be about ready to produce results.
- Will GM ever get its act together to sell cars and make money in the U.S.? I want the American companies to survive, but I wonder if there is real hope that GM can turn the corner and roar back to its former glory?
- Yes. GM, as you say, is now losing money in North America, but it is making money everywhere else – in Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Although it did lose $39 million in the second quarter in North America, its global profit was for that period was $784 million. So some think GM is coming around as a company that can be successful and can compete globally. It’s also getting back it’s ability to put style back into its cars that will make them sell.
- Why do some people suffer terrible consequences from heavy alcohol consumption, and some seem to get by without problems?
- I think heavy alcohol consumption is dangerous for everyone, but it is more dangerous for some than for others. An Alcohol Alert from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (April 2007) says it’s a matter of metabolism. It reports, “Research shows that alcohol use and alcohol-related problems are influenced by individual variations in alcohol metabolism, or the way in which alcohol is broken down and eliminated by the body. Alcohol metabolism is controlled by genetic factors, such as variations in the enzymes that break down alcohol; and environmental factors, such as the amount of alcohol an individual consumes and his or her overall nutrition. Differences in alcohol metabolism may put some people at greater risk for alcohol problems, whereas others may be at least somewhat protected from alcohol’s harmful effects.”
- Is there a vaccine now that protects against cancer?
- You must be thinking of the vaccine that protects against four strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). It can prevent cancer as it prevents HPV, which can cause cervical cancer.
- You’ve mentioned that one thing that can throw fear into an insurance company that won’t pay a claim is a lawsuit for bad faith?
How bad does the company have to act to be vulnerable to a bad faith claim?
- Here is the way it was defined in one recent case: “Bad faith has been defined as any frivolous or unfounded refusal to pay proceeds of a policy…The insurer’s conduct must import a dishonest purpose and means of breach of a known duty (i.e., good faith and fair dealing) through some motive of self-interest or ill will.”
- I’m an orthopedic surgeon, and found your column on nursing homes right on target. I have 2 patients recently recuperating from a hip fracture and a dislocation who were sent back to the nursing home only to be readmitted again for another hip fracture or dislocation. Nobody at the nursing home knew how they were injured!
- Your observation helps confirm my conclusion that nursing homes are dangerous places for the elderly that are best avoided if possible.
- Did anything happen of note during last debate of Republican presidential candidates?
- In my view, Rudy Giuliani makes more sense in 30 seconds than the Democratic voices of defeatism, retreat, surrender, appeasement, and phony diplomacy do in 90 minutes. Guiliani pointed out that in all the Democratic debates a candidate is yet to mention Islamic terrorism. He said this carries political correctness to a new extreme. He said the Democrats think they can win against the Islamic terrorists with weakness and appeasement. It didn’t work against Hitler and it won’t work against the new Hitlers now called Islamic extremists. Guiliani should have gone further pointing out the Democratic party is in denial, and it can’t fight or win a war it doesn’t even recognize as going on. Senator Edwards revealed the true nature of the Democratic Party’s thinking when he said the war against terror was just a campaign slogan – something for a bumper sticker. You have to be blind, deaf, and double dumb to be unaware of perhaps the most dangerous enemy of our history. The Democratic Party as now constituted is one of the great threats to national survival in the most dangerous time of our history.
- Should a newly planted tree be staked, even if it stands alone, as an extra measure of support and safety?
- Not according to Bartlett Tree Experts, who have been in the business since 1907. Bartlett’s view: “Unless a newly planted tree is tall and whippy, unable to stand alone, or a shallow rooted species planted in a windy location, don’t stake it. Staking often results in serious damage, especially if the tree isn’t inspected regularly.” Bartlett says the most important maintenance item for a newly planted tree is adequate but not excessive moisture.
- Is the property and casualty industry that writes homeowners and autos still reeling after all the disasters including Hurricane Katrina?
- No. They are reeling in record profits. The National Underwriter (Property and casualty edition)(July 23/30. 2007) reports the industry is coming off three straight years of record profits. It notes: “Although premium growth has slowed considerably, the industry’s statutory earnings hit record levels for the third consecutive year in 2006. Net income soared 41 percent, delivering a 14.4 percent return – the highest since 1996.” If there’s one thing the industry knows how to do is cry and complain, in bad times and even in good times, because it is always afraid the industry is cyclical and good times won’t continue. It also has a knack of raising rates faster in bad times than it lowers them in good times.
- Can real estate commissions be negotiated?
- If in doubt negotiate on real estate commissions, lawyers’ legal fees, other big-ticket items or anything else of substantial value. Many people don’t, but that is typically a mistake. A study by the Consumer Federation of America found that about three-quarters of people when asked about their experience with real estate agents indicated they didn’t know commissions were negotiable. I suspect the figure is about the same for lawyers’ hourly rates.
- Can you assume a heart defibrillator is going to work and is pretty fool proof?
- The Guidant Corporation (which was purchased by Boston Scientific), since 2005, has recalled more than 8,000 defibrillators and 200,000 pacemakers. I’ve often reported on another shocking fact – you can’t rely on the instructions (owner’s manuals) that come with many kinds of medical equipment and devices.
- How do you know when shrimp and lobster have been safely cooked?
- The FDA recommends cooking most seafood to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F for 15 seconds. The Whole Foods Market also has these recommendations for cooking shrimp and lobster:
- “Shrimp turns pink and the flesh becomes white and firm. Boiling one pound of medium shrimp takes from 3 to 5 minutes.
- Lobster turns red and the flesh becomes white. When boiling allow 5 to 6 minutes per pound.”
Play it safe, and use a thermometer as well as the other tests.
- I know the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) spreads terrorism throughout the world. How important a force is it in Iran?
- I’ll answer with one statement of fact: “Estimates peg the Revolutionary Guard’s share of the nation’s economy at roughly 40 percent, and companies tied to the elite unit and its commanders have been awarded billions of dollars worth of government contracts, including lucrative prospects in the energy section.” That’s from a publication called the Near East Report (July 15-30), published by Near East Research, Inc.
- Is Lyme disease confined to just a couple of states in the East?
- Twelve states including Minnesota in the Middle West account for 95 percent of all Lyme disease cases. That is reported by the Medical Letter (July 30, 2007).
- Can airport screeners detect explosives in luggage without a direct physical examination?
- They have x-ray technology now in use on checked baggage, and it is now being introduced for carry-on baggage as well.
- Do any of these systems for labeling foods as healthy get the right message across?
- I think most are too narrow in focus, identifying food for one particular nutrient, such as whole grains, or one kind of health, such as heart health. I think a more generalized system along the lines of one now being used on a voluntary basis in Britain would be most useful. The Food Standards Agency, Britain’s FDA, has a traffic light system that rates foods with a red, yellow or green light for four key nutrients — total fat, unsaturated fat, salt and sugar. According to a report in Eating Well Magazine (June 2007), the system used by some supermarkets is having impact. When shoppers see those red lights, they pay attention. Of course, what is needed is greater public understanding of what constitutes a healthy diet and then based on ingredient lists and the nutrition panels, everyone can figure out whether a food is healthy on their own.
- I’ve always liked the name Katrina. But has the notorious storm named for it, killed its popularity. Katrina.
- You may be happy to know that the use of the name is up 150 percent for newborns in Louisiana and Mississippi since the Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.
- Do all the new HIV drugs make the recipient of the drug non-contagious?
- No. These drugs keep the virus from building up in your body and help you live longer. But even someone on the drugs can give the disease to someone else.
- Where can I find a list of prohibited items when taking an airline?
- Go to http://www.tsa.gov or call 866-289-9673.