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Five Things You Need to Know: Tainted Shrimp, Aisle 4!; Batting Cages, Aisle 9!; Romance, Aisle 6!; Books, Aisle 2!; Oil, Aisle 8!


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1. Tainted Shrimp, Aisle 4!

Last week, the FDA moved to block the sale of certain types of Chinese farm-raised seafood, which was found to be contaminated with unapproved drugs and additives.

  • China is the largest foreign source of U.S. seafood, supplying more than a fifth of the fish we eat.
  • So, what's China to do?
  • You'd think that a country which ships more than $30 billion a year in food and drugs to Asia, North America and Europe would be doing everything possible to bring their exports up to code.
  • Not so fast, Sparky- denial seems to be the order of the day in Shanghai.
  • Li Changjiang, director of the State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said, "China cannot accept the indiscriminate and automatic detention of four kinds of Chinese seafood by the United States."
  • The Chinese Embassy in Washington chimed in, saying that "99 percent of Chinese food exports meet applicable standards."
  • If that's the case, why have Chinese authorities have closed 180 foodmakers found to be mixing additives such as mineral oils, paraffin wax, industrial dyes, formaldehyde and the cancer-causing agent malachite green into the production of biscuits, melon seeds, bean curd, seafood, flour, candy and pickles?
  • In an article in the Chicago Tribune, a fish farmer named Liu Jianping said, "The farmers have no choice. They can't just watch the fish die."
  • Right.
  • Their livelihoods depend on their product.
  • Which just happens to be kept alive with chloramphenicol, malachite green, fluoroquinolones, nitrofurans and gentian violet.

    Mmmmm! That Malachite Green really sticks to the ribs!

2. Batting Cages, Aisle 9!

On Friday, regular "Five Things" columnist Kevin Depew wrote, "We know home prices are declining. Every report, whether it's earnings filings from the likes of Lennar (LEN) and KB Homes (KBH) or existing home sales from the National Association of Realtors, tells us they are declining."

  • He then pointed out that the National Association of Realtors reported that its composite Housing Affordability Index fell to its lowest level in five months in May, to 109.9 from April's 112.4.
  • So, Kevin asked, how can affordability be declining even as prices decline?
  • Mortgage rates moving higher.
  • The effective rate on loans closed on existing homes at 6.43%-its highest level since February.
  • And the mortgage payment as a percentage of income at its highest level since December.
  • Amber Willits, wife of Los Angeles Angels outfielder Reggie Willits, knows first-hand just how expensive building a home can be.
  • Yesterday's New York Times ran an article about the couple's unusual living quarters.
  • In 2003, Amber and Reggie decided to build a 3,000-square-foot house on five acres they own next to his family in Fort Cobb, Oklahoma.
  • At the time, Reggie was playing in the minor leagues and, looking for a competitive edge, decided the first part of the house to be built would be a batting cage.
  • When the cage was finished, Reggie and Amber-living on a minor leaguer's salary-held off on completing the house and decided to live in the cage until Reggie got called up to "the show."
  • When she is available, Amber feeds balls into the pitching machine.
  • When she's busy, Reggie takes his cuts using a tee.
  • "I know she's taken a few in the helmet," said Mickey Hatcher, the Angels' hitting coach. "But that's part of the game."
  • Reggie is making $382,500 this season.
  • In a few months, his house will be finished-after four years.
  • "I could not have gotten here alone," Reggie Willits said. "I have an extremely supportive wife."

    The Willits cage, er, home

3. Romance, Aisle 6!

Speaking of marriage, we ran across an interesting tidbit today: unlike 6/6/06, 7/7/07 is this year's most popular date for couples to marry, according to the Association for Wedding Professionals International. says that more than 38,000 couples are planning to wed on Saturday-one of which will be Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria and Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, who will tie the knot in Paris at the Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte.

The site of the understated Longoria/Parker nuptials

  • The National Association of Wedding Ministers says $72 bln is spent on weddings annually in the U.S.
  • The average American engagement is 16 months long, and during that period, couples spend:
    • $4 billion on furniture
    • $3 billion on housewares
    • $400 million on tableware
  • As far as the wedding itself:
    • $22,000 is the average amount spent on a traditional American wedding
    • $19 billion is spent buying presents at wedding gift registries
    • The average bride spends $800 on her gown
  • David's Bridal, formerly a division of Federated Department Stores, was sold in early 2007 to an affiliate of Leonard Green & Partners for about $750 mln, and accounts for 20% of total bridal-gown sales, with 275 stores in the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico.
  • While 34% of weddings treat their guests to a sit-down dinner, 28% serve only cake and punch.
  • Only cake and punch? Not if you're getting married at…
  • Care to hazard a guess?
  • Still thinking?
  • Wal-Mart!
  • Seven lucky couples will be exchanging vows at seven Wal-Mart Supercenters on Saturday.
  • The company's "Lucky in Love" contest, conducted online from March 20 to May 6, drew more than 400 entries.
  • Couples will receive a wedding package with an estimated value of more than $5,000.
  • The ceremonies will be conducted in the Wal-Mart lawn and garden area.
  • Winners get 14 karat his n' hers gold and diamond wedding bands.
  • A wedding cake
  • Fresh floral bouquets
  • Digital cameras and a digital photo frame
  • A portable GPS device
  • Reception food
  • And a $1,000 Wal-Mart gift card
  • One of the brides, Kymberlie DeRouen of Louisiana, said: "Considering that Wal-Mart is like a second home to us, we're excited to have our wedding there."

    Yeah, but can you get a lube job at the Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte?

4. Books, Aisle 2!

Everyone with an e-mail account has gotten one of these in their inbox:

Hello Friend,

First, I must solicit your confidence in this transaction, this is by virtue of its nature as utterly CONFIDENTIAL and TOP SECRET.

I am Mr. F. Williams Smith, a member of the special committee for Budget and Planning of the Ministry of Petroleum in Nigeria. With my position, I have successfully secured the sum of Ten Million, Five Hundred Thousand U.S. Dollars (US$10.5M).

  • The sender goes on to ask for help in setting up an account in which to deposit the money and promises a cut to you.
  • It's known as a 419 scam, after the section of the Nigerian penal code which addresses fraud schemes.
  • The FBI says that millions of dollars in losses are caused by these schemes annually.
  • Interpol estimates the worldwide number to be in the billions.
  • According to, a scam-baiting website, the Nigerian Government blames the growing 419 problem on "mass unemployment, extended family systems, a get rich quick syndrome, and the greed of foreigners."
  • Scam-baiters turn the tables on 419 scammers, concocting elaborate wild goose chases for them to follow, thinking they have hooked an unwitting victim.
  • Now, there's a book coming out called "Greetings in Jesus's Name!"
  • The book was written by scam-baiter (and founder) Mike Berry, aka Shiver Metimbers.
  • In a famous scam-bait, Berry once convinced a scammer to carve a wooden replica of a Commodore 64 keyboard.
  • Another scam-bait that has become well-known resulted in a video which shows a group of 419 scammers in a Lagos grocery store acting out Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" sketch:

  • Let's hope they're better scammers than they are actors
  • Here's the actual "Dead Parrot" sketch:

5. Oil, Aisle 8!

While we're on the subject of Nigeria, the African island nation of São Tomé, a former Portuguese colony just off the coast of Nigeria, is getting quite a bit of attention these days from oil speculators.

  • In the mid-90's, large underwater oil deposits were discovered in Nigerian waters and a Houston company called ERHC Energy believed São Tomé might be the next big score.
  • ERHC signed a $5 million contract giving them exclusive exploration rights for 25 years.
  • A few years later, São Tomé had a new president who threatened to put the kibosh on ERHC's deal.
  • A Justice Department filing shows that an unnamed ERHC executive and a lobbyist turned to William J. Jefferson, a Democratic congressman from Lousiana, for help.
  • Rep. Jefferson is now under indictment for demanding "benefits" for a family member in exchange for his assistance.
  • ERHC was able to sell off some of its oil rights, making tens of millions of dollars.
  • It's not the first time Jefferson has found himself on the wrong side of the law.
  • Last year, he was investigated for allegedly taking bribes to help an American Internet company called iGate do business with Nigeria and Ghana.
  • FBI agents searched Jefferson's home in Washington, D.C., where they found $90,000 in stacks of $100 bills wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in frozen food containers in the freezer.
  • The bills matched the serial numbers of money given to an FBI informant who handed it over to Jefferson.
  • Oops!
  • Jefferson wasn't the only shady character involved with ERHC.
  • A fellow named Reverend Ernie Chu briefly served as treasurer and chief financial officer of ERHC in 1999.
  • He's now an assistant minister with Religious Science of Fort Lauderdale.
  • SEC records show that Chu is part-owner of Corporate Builders L.P., which is a major shareholder in Jill Kelly Productions.
  • What is Jill Kelly Productions?
  • Oh, just a little movie studio owned by one Jill Kelly.
  • Who is Jill Kelly?
  • Like you don't know?
  • C'mon, Jill Kelly is only in the Adult Video News Hall of Fame! That's like saying you've never heard of Hank Aaron!
  • Although Jill Kelly didn't hit 755 home runs, the X-Rated Critics Organization awarded her Best Girl-Girl Sex Scene for Takin' It To The Limit 6 in 1995 and named her 1997 Performer of the Year.
  • So, were the ERHC shenanigans worth it for William Jefferson?
  • Chevron (CVX) drilled the first exploration well in São Tomé last year, but came up disappointed.
  • They didn't find enough oil to make further exploration commercially viable.
  • The company reportedly has no immediate plans to try again.

    There's oil there. Somewhere. Maybe. Perhaps.
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