by JIM ZARROLI
Greece is in the fifth year of a painful recession, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. One big problem the country faces is a shortage of strong companies that know how to compete on the world market. And nowhere is this more painfully apparent than in the challenges faced by the country’s olive oil business.
In Greek mythology, the goddess Athena gave the olive tree to the Greeks to win their loyalty. And ever since, they’ve taken their olive oil very seriously. Greeks say their olive oil is the best in the world.
But how do you define Greek?
George Eliades is with Peza Union, a food cooperative that sells its own brand of olive oil. “Everybody knows Greek olive oil, and nobody buys it because you cannot find it anywhere. It’s very hard to find,” he says.
For example, the Altis brand is made from Greek olives, but the company isn’t Greek; it’s owned by the Dutch-British conglomerate Unilever. The same is true of Minerva, which is owned by a British multinational. Together these are the most popular olive oils sold in Greece — they control two-thirds of the consumer market. Although Greece is the third largest olive oil producer in the world, it has never developed any big companies of its own.
There are several reasons why Greek companies remain small, and they point to some fundamental problems in the Greek economy. Greek olive oil is more expensive. It tends to be grown on small family farms that still harvest olives by hand.
In Spain, Eliades says, olives are harvested by machine. “The machines that are producing 2 tons per hour, the Spanish, they are producing 10 tons per hour,” he says.
Eliades says Spain and Italy have another cost advantage over companies like his own. They import oil from cheaper producers like Tunisia and Algeria to blend with their own product. He doesn’t think Greece is ready to do that. “There is a taboo, that nobody would import olive oil because this is a crime,” he says.
But the problems go beyond cost.
George Kontouris, an Athens food broker, says unlike Italy or Spain, Greece has simply never learned the modern art of marketing itself to consumers. Its products are great, he says, but they have no cachet on the world market.
“Made in Greece, for all these years, and especially the last few years, is something that doesn’t help you at all,” Kontouris says.
The upshot is that Greece’s farmers grow a lot of olives, but not for olive oil. Some 60 percent of them get sold in bulk to other countries. Farmers earn some money doing that, but in the food business, the real profit comes from making and selling finished products.
A recent report from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company noted that Italian companies are in essence making a 50 percent premium on the price of the olive oil they sell, which they make — in part — using Greek olives.
“We are working just for the Italians. They take our product and they bottle it with other, cheaper bottles, and they make a very good product which is sold everywhere,” says George Eliades.
But if Greece is ever to solve its debt problems, its economy has to grow — and the best way to do that is to begin selling more to the outside world. Because Greece has a long tradition of making it, olive oil represents a big opportunity for the country. But before it can realize that opportunity, Greek companies will have to make some big changes in the way they do business.
by Rob Stein September 19, 2012
Mondadori/Mondadori via Getty Images
Dr. James Watson looks at a reproduction of the structure of DNA, which he helped discover, in this 1962 photograph. Decades later, Watson was one of the first people to have his entire genome sequenced.
When scientists were looking for the first person to test a new, superfast way of deciphering someone’s entire genetic blueprint, they turned to James Watson – the guy who shared a Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA.
“They had to sequence someone, so they got me,” he says.
The results helped solve a mystery: Watson had never understood why he had so much trouble controlling his blood pressure with beta blockers. “They put me to sleep,” he says.
The sequencing revealed that he had genes that made him more sensitive than most people to the drugs. “Now I can take them once a week,” he says, “so my blood pressure is better controlled now because of my genome.”
This is one of the big benefits doctors expect to get from sequencing: a whole new way to figure out which drugs work for their patients; which don’t; which are safe; and which are dangerous.
“The doctors of the future, when you start to prescribe a drug for which you have a genomic variation that would give you a side effect, a flag will pop up and say, ‘Maybe you ought to, you know, consider another drug,’ ” says Robert Green, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School.
Overall, though, Watson didn’t end up learning all that much from his DNA. “Really, nothing came up,” he says.
Skeptics say that’s probably the case for most people at this point. Sequencing gives you all 3 billion letters in your genome, but scientists still know so little about how to interpret the data that most people will get little, if any, useful information out of it.
That’s one reason some scientists are sequencing themselves — to learn how to use this flood of information.
When Michael Snyder, who chairs Stanford University’s genetics department, decided to become his own sequencing guinea pig, the results were dramatic — and shocking: Snyder learned he was at risk for Type 2 diabetes.
It didn’t seem to make sense: Snyder had no family history of diabetes; he wasn’t overweight. There was no reason he should get the disease. Still, just to be on the safe side, Snyder asked a colleague who specializes in diabetes to monitor his blood sugar levels. At first, she was skeptical.
“The person doing the test said, ‘There’s no way you’re at risk for Type 2 diabetes.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t think so, either. But my genome says there’s something interesting about my glucose metabolism, so I think we should do this test,’ ” Snyder said.
So everyone was stunned when his blood sugar started rising — and then kept rising. Within months, it spiked. They had literally watched him become a diabetic in real time.
“So in fact, my genome, then, did predict I was at risk for a disease, which, by following the various markers for that disease, I did discover I did get,” Snyder said.
Snyder jumped on it. He completely transformed his diet and kicked up his exercise. After about six months, his blood sugar gradually fell back to normal.
“That’s the power of genomics, is to help you catch things as early as possible. So, some people might say that actually, my genome saved my life,” he said.
Stories like Snyder’s are feeding the buzz about sequencing and raising the prospect that it could one day become as routine as running through your family history with your doctor, getting your blood pressure checked or testing your cholesterol.
“I think it’s going to be part of the every day medicine sooner than most of us can actually imagine,” Green says.
For example, genome sequencing could spot who’s going to get breast cancer, escape prostate cancer or need to watch their heart. “I think it’s one of the most exciting frontiers in science and society,” Green says.
Courtesy of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Watson, now 84, says sequencing helped explain his past sensitivity to certain drugs. But he didn’t want to know everything his sequenced genome revealed about his health future.
But even people pushing those frontiers acknowledge there are limits to what people want to know about themselves.
When Watson was asked to volunteer for sequencing, he had one condition: “I didn’t want know its prediction for Alzheimer’s,” says Watson, who had watched his grandmother die from the incurable brain disease. “There’s nothing you can do to prevent it, so why would you want to know?”
Watson told the geneticists they could tell him and even publicize everything else that showed up in his genes, except that.
That type of reaction isn’t surprising, says James Evans, a geneticist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “Your genome is a complex and not necessarily a real warm and fuzzy place,” he says.
Some people will want to know everything. But a lot of people won’t. And what do we do if we stumble across something we weren’t looking for?
Plus, Evans says, there are plenty of chances for bad or misleading results that could end up doing more harm than good. “Medical tests have the power to help,” Evans notes. But they also “have the power to confuse.”
In Watson’s case, the first interpretation of his genome indicated he should already be dead, killed by a terminal illness.
“It was a nasty condition. I purposefully didn’t think about it,” he says, “because I figured I would wonder why I wasn’t sick. Well, it turns out I shouldn’t have been.” Doctors quickly realized they had misread his genome. Luckily, Watson hadn’t gotten too worked up about the mistake.
But there are also potential drawbacks to getting it right.
Snyder got a glimpse of that himself. After sequencing revealed his high risk for diabetes, his wife tried to increase his life insurance. But because of that high risk, the price shot through the roof.
“So the bottom line is my life insurance … essentially became prohibitively expensive,” Snyder says.
Federal law bans health insurance companies and employers from penalizing people based on genetic information, but the law doesn’t apply to life insurance or long-term care insurance — leaving people like Snyder vulnerable to discrimination.
Despite that, Snyder is convinced sequencing has more upsides than downsides. And despite his false alarm, Watson agrees.
“I think many people would benefit from having their DNA told, and that would more than compensate for the occasional mistakes,” he says.
Others aren’t so sure. They wonder: Is it far too soon for most people to venture into the dark corners of their DNA?
This is the second story in the “$1,000 Genome” series. Our online survey will close after the final story in the series airs on Oct. 5.
Lizzie Velasquez, author of Be Yourself, Be Beautiful.When she was in high school, Lizzie Velasquez was dubbed “The World’s Ugliest Woman” in an 8-second-long YouTube video. Born with a medical condition so rare that just two other people in the world are thought to have it, Velasquez has no adipose tissue and cannot create muscle, store energy, or gain weight. She has zero percent body fat and weighs just 60 pounds.
In the comments on YouTube, viewers called her “it” and “monster” and encouraged her to kill herself. Instead, Velasquez set four goals: To become a motivational speaker, to publish a book, to graduate college, and to build a family and a career for herself.
Now 23 years old, she’s been a motivational speaker for seven years and has given more than 200 workshops on embracing uniqueness, dealing with bullies, and overcoming obstacles. She’s a senior majoring in Communications at Texas State University in San Marcos, where she lives with her best friend. Her first book, “Lizzie Beautiful,” came out in 2010 and her second, “Be Beautiful, Be You,” was published earlier this month.
“The stares are what I’m really dealing with in public right now,” she told Dr. Drew Pinsky in an interview on CNN’s Headline News this week. “But I think I’m getting to the point where… instead of sitting by and watching people judge me, I’m starting to want to go up to these people and introduce myself or give them my card and say, ‘Hi, I’m Lizzie. Maybe you should stop staring and start learning’.”
Velasquez was born in San Antonio, Texas; she was four weeks premature and weighed just 2 pounds, 10 ounces. “They told us they had no idea how she could have survived,” her mother, Rita, 45, told the Daily Mail. “We had to buy doll’s clothes from the toy store because baby clothes were too big.” Doctors warned Rita and her husband, Lupe, that their oldest child would never be able to walk or talk, let alone live a normal life. (Her two younger siblings were not affected by the syndrome.)
Instead, she has thrived. Her internal organs, brain, and bones developed normally, though her body is tiny. Since she has no fatty tissue in which to store nutrients, she has to eat every 15 to 20 minutes to have enough energy to get through the day. One brown eye started clouding over when she was 4 years old, and now she’s blind in that eye and has only limited sight in the other.
“Some days life doesn’t make sense,” she writes in “Be Beautiful, Be You.” “You just have to change what you can, ask for help and pray about the rest.”
She notes her triumphs and posts inspirational messages on Tumblr, and says that she’s learned to embrace the things that make her unique. Instead of trying to retaliate against people who have made her feel badly, she sets goals for herself and pushes herself to succeed in spite of the haters. She’s even reclaimed YouTube, video blogging about everything from bullying to hair-styling tips to staying positive.
“I feel really glad that I don’t look like the celebrities out there that are so beautiful,” she told Dr. Drew. “There’s a lot of stereotypes attached to that.” Not looking like a supermodel “gives people the opportunity to know you personally,” she explains. “If they’re willing to take that extra step they’ll get to know the person you really are.”
Of course, the horrible comments left on that old YouTube video stung (the video has since been removed, but Velasquez says she read every single comment). Now, she says, she understands that they’re “just words.”
“I’m human, and of course these things are going to hurt,” she said. “Their judgements of me isn’t who I am, and I’m not going to let these things define me.”
“I didn’t sink down to their level,” she said in a follow-up video on YouTube last year. “Instead, I
Medvedev Says Rockers Have Served Enough Jail Time for Cathedral Performance
By ELLEN BARRY
MOSCOW — Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev said Wednesday that he believed that three female punk rockers jailed for a profane stunt in Moscow’s main Russian Orthodox cathedral should be released rather than serve out their two-year sentences, weighing in on a case that has drawn widespread condemnation in the West.
At a meeting with officials from United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party that he leads, Mr. Medvedev was careful to assure his audience that he did not approve of the women’s performance of an anti-Kremlin song at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, saying that even thinking about it made him nauseated.
But he went on to say that further incarceration would be “unproductive” — the most explicit commentary to come from a high-ranking official since the Aug. 17 sentencing.
“Imprisonment is a very severe — I would even say a frightening — responsibility,” Mr. Medvedev said. “What has already happened — that this well-known group of girls have been in prison quite a long time — is a very serious punishment for everything they did, regardless of the sentence.”
The six months they have already served, he said in remarks that were shown on television, is “fully enough to make them think about what happened, because of their stupidity or for some other reasons.”
“So prolonging their time in conditions of imprisonment seems not to be productive,” he added.
It is not clear whether Mr. Medvedev’s words will have any effect, but a lawyer for the punk rockers, who perform as Pussy Riot, said he thought that the Russian authorities might want to rid themselves of a case that has turned out to be more damaging than expected.
“In the end the authorities got themselves caught in a trap,” the lawyer, Nikolai Polozov, told the radio station Kommersant-FM. “The international community gives an unambiguous assessment of this case, and Russia’s reputation is rapidly falling, and the authorities are trying to find some solution so that they can emerge from this episode with a pretty face.”
Mr. Medvedev, who was president from 2008 until May, attracted support from urban liberals during his term, and his agreement to step down to make way for Vladimir V. Putin’s return as president helped set off protests last winter. He has said little about the raft of repressive measures introduced since he stepped down, or about Pussy Riot, which has been held up by pro-Kremlin commentators as an example of dangerous radicalism that has infected Russian society and must be stamped out.
A film that ran on Tuesday on the state-controlled Rossiya-1 channel asserted that Pussy Riot’s performance was planned and financed by an exiled tycoon, Boris Berezovsky, an enemy of Mr. Putin’s.
In August, shortly before the sentencing, Mr. Putin himself said he did not believe that the three women “should be judged too severely for this.” Though they could have received a sentence of as much as seven years, prosecutors requested a three-year sentence, and a judge gave them two.
Mr. Polozov noted that Mr. Medvedev had also taken a personal interest in the case of Taisia Osipova, the wife of an opposition activist who was charged with drug violations that her supporters said were trumped up.
Mr. Medvedev’s involvement evidently did her no good — a judge last month sentenced her to eight years in prison, double the time that prosecutors had requested.
“Obviously, you can’t say that the judge will do whatever Dmitri Anatolievich says,” he said. “But if the judge shares his opinion, obviously we would consider that a plus.”
LOS ANGELES – Federal criminal charges have been filed against a Van Nuys manufacturing company and one of its owners for hiring unauthorized alien workers and repeatedly taking steps to cover up the illegal hiring in an effort to retain the workers.
Yoel A. Wazana, 38, owner and production manager of Wazana Brothers International, Inc., which does business under the name Micro Solutions Enterprises (MSE), is scheduled to make his initial appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
In a plea agreement filed this afternoon in United States District Court, Wazana agreed to plead guilty to one felony count of false representation of a Social Security number. Wazana admits in the plea agreement that he caused two employees to use the Social Security numbers of relatives in order to remain in the firm’s employ after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) had begun an investigation of the company’s compliance with federal hiring laws.
Wazana Brothers International has agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of continuing employment of unauthorized aliens. In a plea agreement filed last month, the firm admits hiring approximately 55 unauthorized workers, and then continuing to employ them after the ICE inspection had begun. The company admits that it knew or deliberately avoided knowledge of the fact that the individuals were not authorized to work in the United States.
The company’s plea agreement represents a global settlement of criminal and civil charges against the firm. Under the terms of the plea agreement negotiated by ICE and the United States Attorney’s Office, Wazana Brothers International agreed to pay approximately $267,000 in civil and criminal fines.
Beyond the monetary sanctions, the plea agreement calls for the company to be on probation for three years, during which time it will implement a series of stringent measures to ensure it is complying with the nation’s hiring laws. Those steps include retaining an independent compliance monitor to oversee the completion and maintenance of the firm’s hiring records, and providing training to employees regarding federal hiring laws. The plea agreement takes into account the company’s willingness to take responsibility for its prior criminal conduct and to implement a rigorous program to ensure full compliance with federal hiring laws in the future.
“ICE is committed to holding businesses accountable when they knowingly hire or retain illegal workers,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of HSI Los Angeles. “Employers who willfully violate our nation’s hiring laws gain an unfair economic advantage over their law abiding competitors. Our goal is to protect job opportunities for the nation’s legal workers and level the playing field for those businesses that play by the rules.”
The charges against Wazana and his company are the result of an investigation into MSE’s hiring practices that was initiated by ICE in 2007. According to court documents, shortly after MSE received notification in April 2007 that ICE planned to audit the company’s payroll and hiring records, Wazana directed that about 80 of MSE’s most experienced employees – at least 53 of whom did not have work authorization – be relocated to another manufacturing facility. When investigators requested hiring records from Wazana Brothers International on three separate occasions, the company failed to provide paperwork for those unauthorized workers. The plea agreements filed in this case also describe how, after learning of the ICE audit, Wazana conducted meetings with MSE’s assembly line workers, instructing them to obtain valid work authorization documents and return with those documents, suggesting that he did not care if the documents were actually theirs.
In February 2008, federal authorities executed a search warrant at MSE’s Van Nuys plant. During the enforcement operation, agents arrested eight current and former company workers on criminal charges and another 130 employees on administrative immigration violations.
The felony charge of false representation of a Social Security number carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Release No. 12-119
By Jeff Haden | March 29, 2011
• Author Bio
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Check your stats: Your About Us page is probably one of the most visited and highest ranked pages on your website. For most small businesses, the About Us page is what most powerfully establishes credibility.
That is, unless yours stinks.
Writing about yourself is hard. Writing about your business can be even harder. That’s why many companies end up with About Us pages like this:
“Acme Consulting is a global network solutions provider, redefining enterprise networking and connectivity by consistently providing outstanding customer experiences and innovative, world-class services.”
Sounds impressive. Says nothing.
Imagine you channeled your inner Bernie Madoff and desperately need a lawyer. What do you want to read on a law firm’s About Us page? Would you hope to see this:
“The stability and continuity of Acme Law Firm provides a perspective that considers both your immediate and long-term interests through wisdom borne of participation in thousands of legal scenarios…”
“If it’s humanly possible, we’ll get you off. In the last ten years we’ve won 97% of our cases. We’re all divorced because we never go home. Granted, we do socialize, but only with judges we’re actively corrupting. We regularly face ethics violation proceedings because we only recognize a line when we’re stepping over it…”
Sure, intentionally over the top to make a point — but unless you like the thought of three hots and a cot, you’ll call those guys.
Potential customers who click your About Us page are already interested; now they want to be reassured you are the right choice. Here’s how to be sure your About Us page gives potential customers what they need:
• Think customer first. What do potential customers want to know? At a basic level, first-time visitors want to know you own a real business with real capabilities. What questions are you asked during sales calls? What information tends to seal a deal or win over a hesitant customer? If I’m looking for a fulfillment center, “providers of outstanding customer experiences” means nothing to me, but “99.3% on-time shipping with a .002% error rate” sounds pretty good, because …
• Facts are compelling, superlatives are not. Lots of About Us pages are filled with words like outstanding, excellent, world-class, visionary, cutting edge, etc. If your business truly is outstanding, prove it with facts. If your business truly is visionary, talk about innovative products you’ve developed. If you don’t have many facts and figures (yet), admit it. Describe what your business hopes to achieve, and how.
• Don’t try to be something you’re not. As a general rule, the smaller the business the “fluffier” the About Us page. Trying to make your small business look bigger is a natural impulse but can also create awkward moments when a potential client asks for references or specific examples. Own the fact you’re a startup and show why new clients will benefit: Greater focus on individual customers, shorter lead times, a burning desire to prove yourself in a new market, etc. Candor is compelling. Turn who you really are into an advantage.
• Describe qualifications, but be brief. Certifications and awards are great, but pick a few that resonate the most with potential customers. (Stick the rest on a separate “Industry Awards” page.) If you won an Emmy you can probably leave out your “Best Supporting Actor in a Non-Speaking Role at the Roadhouse Dinner Theater and Swap Shop” award.
• Kill the stock photos. We’re all expert stock photo spotters. Use real photos or no photos at all. Seriously: Will anyone believe these fine folks work for you?
• See your About Us page as a continual work in progress. Most About Us pages stay static for months or years. Whenever you land major customers, add expertise and capabilities, enter new markets, open new locations, etc., update your About Us page. Keep it fresh for prospective clients and for SEO purposes.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I originally wrote an Author Bio for this blog, but it was awful. The bio that appears at the top left of this page was written by my BNET editor. Ask someone to read your About Us page and then describe back to you what you do. If they can’t immediately answer most of the five Ws (who, what, when, where, why), get back to work.
Final thought: If you’re fairly modest and writing an About Us page feels “salesy” or self-congratulatory, focus on facts, figures, and accomplishments. Objective information is a lot easier to write and a lot more powerful as well. Think about the needs you fulfill and the problems you solve for your customers. Then use plain language to describe how you fulfill those needs and solve those problems.
And put a monthly reminder on your calendar to revise your About Us page. It can always be improved.