Monday, July 31, 2006

How are ya' gonna keep 'em on in Paree...

...when they've seen the Cote d'Azur? Pruderie en Paris:

In a country where going topless on real beaches is almost de rigueur, incredulity has greeted news that city hall officials and police have been moving among sunbathers, warning them of the ban on "indecent" dress.

What is especially embarrassing for Bertrand Delanoë, Paris's openly homosexual mayor, is that Paris Plage, now in its fifth year, is intended to reproduce the ambience of a Mediterranean beach.

"Sand, sunbeds, parasols," sighed the tabloid daily Le Parisien. "On the beach along the Seine, Bertrand Delanoë has deployed the full panoply of the perfect seaside postcard. ...."

The riverside highway is closed to traffic and covered by 2,000 tons of fine sand. The beach stretches for more than two miles and is dotted with palm trees and cafes.

But the order forbidding the exposure of flesh declares: "Behaviour must conform to good morals, tranquillity, safety and public order."

The penalty for going nude, topless or in a thong is 38 euros (£26). No fines have yet been imposed but the beach does not close until Aug 20.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Damages Are a Girl's Best Friend

Rome, July 28 - Pouting Italian celebrity Anna Falchi's bee-kissed lips are entirely a gift from Mother Nature, a court has ruled here .

The court awarded damages of 15,000 euros against the Conde' Nast publishing group, one of whose magazines claimed Falchi's lips had been surgically enhanced .

Well, They Are a Funny Race

So, why shouldn't their wine also be to laugh:

WHAT do Arrogant Frog and Elephant on a Tightrope have in common? Faced with a slump in consumption and increasing competition from abroad, the French are suffering the indignity of having to pick funny names for their wine in order to sell it abroad.

....“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said one disgruntled wine-maker from Languedoc in southern France.

The movement is gathering steam. “Bread is branded,” said Pierre Courbon, international marketing director of a French company set up to sell a new brand called Chamarré, or “richly coloured”. “Why not wine?”

.... The [Arrogant Frog] label shows an imperious looking frog in an overcoat. It is available in “ribet red” and “ribet white”. This sort of marketing is not the only thing calculated to set some French oenophiles ranting about the end of civilisation.

It might “leap out of the glass with panache and élan”, in the words of the advertisements, but it is also sealed with — quelle horreur — a screw cap “designed to preserve freshness and youthful appeal”.

Jean-Claude Mas, the creator, is said to be still getting on with his neighbours. The chances are that they, too, are trying to come up with a funny label.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Limp Upper Lip II

Well, knock us over with a feather; there are more wimps in Britain:

A charity game in which people try to knock each other over with a 5ft conger eel has been banned after animal rights activists complained that it was "disrespectful" to the dead fish.

Conger cuddling has been staged annually for more than 30 years at the harbour in Lyme Regis, Dorset, as a fund-raising event for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Teams stand on 6in high wooden blocks and others take it in turns to swing a 25lb eel at them. The team with the most people left standing at the end wins.

....Rob Michael, the chairman of the Lyme Lifeboat Guild, said: "We have been advised by the RNLI headquarters at Poole to abandon the conger cuddling event following a local complaint from animal rights activists.

"The RNLI is not prepared to be involved in an event that may be seen by some to be a barbaric throwback due to its use of a dead animal."

A rubber buoy may be now used instead of an eel.

Friday, July 28, 2006

My kind of town...

Chicago isn't.

Now that the City Council has voted to destroy any hope of profitability to Wal-Mart stores located within the city limits, maybe they'd like to see what happened in Deutschland:

FRANKFURT - The world biggest retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc said Friday it was pulling out of Germany and selling its stores to Metro AG after it battled for to make a profit in Europe's biggest economy.

...."We have not achieved a turnaround," A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said. In a statement Michael Duke, Wal-Mart vice chairman said: "As we focus our efforts on where we can have the greatest impact on our growth and return on investment strategies, it has become increasingly clear that in Germany's business environment it would be difficult for us to obtain the scale and results we desire."


Limp Upper Lip

Not your father's Britain anymore:

A woman has been told by police that she must remove a sign on her garden gate that reads "Our dogs are fed on Jehovah's Witnesses" because it is "distressing, offensive and inappropriate".

Jean Grove, a pensioner, has displayed the sign for 32 years. Her late husband, Gordon, put it up after members of the Church banged on their door on Christmas Day 1974.

Mrs Grove, from Bursledon, Hants, said that police officers had taken her details and insisted that she remove the sign.

Though not everyone wilts in front of the Thought Police

Once they had left, she put it back.

Buy her a nice dinner, and avoid the Missionary Position

Not advice from Doctor Ruth, but good ideas for guy mantids:

Female praying mantids are notorious for eating males after they mate.

Now for the first time, scientists have experimentally shown that the males are hip to the risk and not too keen on being food.

The researchers toyed with the physical position of females and how hungry they were, then noted how males responded. "We know that hungry females are more likely to cannibalize and a head-on orientation makes it easier for her to attack the male with her predatory front legs," explained William Brown of SUNY-Fredonia.

The guys responded to greater risk by slowing their approach, increasing courtship behavior, and mounting from a greater—and possibly safer—distance, the scientists say.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Happy As a Pig in Beer

Australia has found a way to increase sales of Foster's:

Visitors to "Pub in the Paddock" in the island-state of Tasmania are invited to pour bottles of beer down the willing throats of resident pigs Priscilla and P.B.

Pub owner Anne Free said Wednesday she was outraged that the tourist attraction had been attacked as cruel in the latest edition of a magazine published by animal welfare group Choose Cruelty Free.

Free said the pigs liked beer. She also watered the beer down to ensure they never got drunk.

....The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals often investigates complaints about the pigs' drinking but have found the porkers unharmed.

"Whilst it is a difficult pill to swallow ... it's certainly not cruelty, unfortunately," RSPCA state chief executive Rick Butler told the ABC.

Choose Cruelty Free office manager Liz Jackson disagreed.

"It's not natural to give a pig beer," Jackson told The Mercury newspaper.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Thailand has had enough. Of the French:

BANGKOK, July 26, 2006 (AFP) - Thailand on Wednesday warned its citizens against non-essential travel to France, after its diplomats suffered a number of violent robberies around Paris.

"The ministry has received reports of four robberies in the last month. In the most recent incident, a Thai commercial officer attached to the embassy was attacked while travelling in an embassy car," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"The ministry urges all Thais, both those who reside in Paris and those who want to travel to France, to exercise increased vigilance over their property. Any unnecessary travel should be postponed or cancelled this summer," it said.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


The Gold Standard of Italy:

Almost one in 10 members of the Italian parliament is either on trial, awaiting an appeal, or has a conviction, only a decade after the political classes were purged by anti-corruption prosecutors.

Italy is also served by 25 MPs who have criminal convictions, the highest number ever recorded.

Research by the authors of a new book shows that another eight politicians have been sentenced but are awaiting appeal, a process that can take years, while 17 are on trial and 19 under investigation.

Italians believe that most of the people involved in running the state are furbi, or cunning, and politicians are sometimes described as diversamente onesti, or "differently honest".

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Russians are Coming. The Russians are Coming

As soon as they can get the toll road built:

Federal authorities hope to ease traffic congestion in Moscow by constructing a toll road around the city that will be used primarily by truckers, the state company responsible for the project said Monday.

But drivers weary of traffic jams have little reason to rejoice. The first section of the road is only expected to open in five years.

....The road is also expected to attract 70 percent of European cargo traffic now bypassing Russia via Ukraine, Belarus and Poland and to create 200,000 new jobs, said Roads of Russia, the state-owned enterprise that has commissioned the project.

....The road would circle the Moscow Ring Road at a distance of 30 kilometers to 50 kilometers, the spokeswoman said.

The company report puts the cost at 262.9 billion rubles ($9.7 billion). The region is expected to provide from 25 percent to 50 percent of investment in cash or land for the construction. Private companies are expected to invest the rest in exchange for the right to collect toll fees.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Now About Your Expenses...

The international investor consortium that leases Chicago's Skyway toll road reports increased useage and revenues:

The Chicago Skyway looks to be doing well from its transition to investor ownership with revenues up one third in a year. First quarter 2006 data released by Macquarie, the Australian partner in Skyway Concession Company show toll revenues running at an annual rate of $52m v. $38.5m first quarter 2006 v Q1-2005, a 35% rise.

Toll increases helped but traffic was also up strongly. ....

The increase in traffic accompanying a strong toll rate increase on a mature toll facility is extraordinary. It suggests motorists appreciate aggressive efforts by the new management to reduce delays at the toll plaza. This includes satellite toll lanes and introduction of transponder tolling 17th June 2005.

....Costs of operation are not being reported as yet but must be down substantially. Maintenance and operations are conducted by a team of non-union all-rounders who can be deployed in whatever activity is most urgent whereas under the city everything was unionized and demarkated between different departments. Toll collectors were paid over $20/hour by the City versus $12/hr now.

Interest expense on the $ 1.8 billion up front lease payment being well over $100 million dollars (we would surmise) they'll need every economy they can find to make this a wise investment.

You Know Who You Are

From an interview with Milton and Rose Friedman in the Wall Street Journal:

...I made a reflexive apology for not being an economist myself. "You mean you're not a trained economist," was Mr. Friedman's comeback. "I have found, over a long time, that some people are natural economists. They don't take a course, but they understand--the principles seem obvious to them. Other people may have Ph.D.s in economics, but they're not economists. They don't think like an economist. Strange, but true."

Friday, July 21, 2006


In France the candidates are vying with each other to lament that they're not cut from better cloth, like the English:

Sarkozy: speak English and work harder

THE French need to work harder and display less arrogance, if they are to recapture former glories, Nicolas Sarkozy, the Interior Minister, tells his countrymen in a highly personal 281-page book published yesterday.

....[it is] a tough political message on the cardinal value of work, a value that he says the French have abandoned in favour of such measures as the 35-hour working week.

Hailing modern Britain as an example, M Sarkozy urges voters to remove their heads from the sand, accept that France is in decline and embrace the market economy as the path to revival.

....Although he denies personal animosity for his rival, President Chirac, he makes no attempt to hide their fundamental political differences.

He criticises almost every significant decision that M Chirac has taken, including the threat to veto a UN resolution on the war in Iraq and approval of Turkey’s entry into the EU.

And in a comment that will infuriate traditionalists, he says that the French should no longer insist on speaking their own language in international negotiations and instead should use English.

Second Prize is a Two Week Vacation... Turkey. While First Prize is a one week vacation there?

The beaches of Turkey, crowded with women in bikinis or sunbathing topless, are witnessing a new phenomenon: neck-to-ankle swimwear worn by increasingly confident Muslim women.

....Religiously conservative women have traditionally shunned the beaches. If they did visit, they were unable to swim as they were unwilling to bare their flesh in public.

But more than 25,000 of the Islamic swimsuits have been sold in the past year and their leading maker, Hasema, is struggling to cope with demand. ....

The swimsuits come in a range of colours and patterns and the latest versions let the sun through, allowing the wearer to obtain a tan.

....Women's clothing is a question of politics in Turkey well as fashion. Since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern state as a secular country, headscarves have been banned in schools and universities and for civil servants. That has resulted in some religious female students wearing wigs instead of scarves to enable them to complete their studies. For some young women, wearing a headscarf has become associated with teenage rebellion.

....As well as the growing enthusiasm for the full body swimsuits, Muslim camping sites, spas and beach resorts that do not sell alcohol and segregate men and women have sprung up. For example, the Caprice Hotel, on the Aegean coast, advertises "a modern vacation complex... where the sound of prayer is heard five times a day".

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A fool for a client...

...deserves a fool for a lawyer. Hugh Hewitt finds that Joe Wilson is getting what he's paying for with Duke Law School professor Erwin Chemerinsky:

HH: Please tell me you're getting paid, Erwin.

EC: I'm not. I'm doing this pro bono.

HH: Unbelievable. Now Erwin, of course it's all nonsense, and Joe Wilson...what are you going to do when he gets on the stand and people try and reconcile his eight different versions of what he said and did?

EC: Oh, I don't think there's eight different versions. I think we have an extremely strong case. Here's what we all know at this point. Joseph Wilson wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, in which he showed that there were falsehoods in President Bush's State of the Union address. As a result of that, the Vice President, his top aide, Lewis Libby, and the President's key political advisor, Karl Rove, decided to reveal that Valerie Plame was a secret CIA operative. They did so by telling journalists like Robert Novak this, and was reported by Robert Novak in a column published three weeks ago Friday.

The problem being that (1) Wilson himself had to admit to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he had not debunked the '16 words' in the 2003 SOTU.

And, (2) they did not decide to leak Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak--someone else did that, and there is no evidence it was anything other than an inadvertent revelation that shed light on Wilson's deceitfulness in claiming he'd been sent by Dick Cheney to Niger.

This is a genuinely frivolous lawsuit, and Federal courts take a dim view of lawyers who file them.

This is rich

You can be too thin?

LONDON — Actress Kate Hudson has accepted libel damages from a supermarket tabloid that claimed she was dangerously thin, her lawyer said Thursday.

Lawyer Simon Smith said the British edition of the National Enquirer had agreed to pay undisclosed damages and print an apology for an October 2005 article that claimed Hudson was "way too thin" and looked "like skin and bones."

The magazine's U.S.-based publisher, American Media Inc., apologized for "the deep distress and acute embarrassment" caused by the allegations, which it acknowledged were false.

...."The allegations that I sued over were blatantly false and I felt I had no choice but to set the record straight by challenging them in court," Hudson, 27, said in a statement.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Booker Tse?

Restoration of the MGs underway, thanks to the Chinese:

April 2005: the Phoenix Consortium puts MG Rover group into administration and the factory's 6,000 workers are asked to go home. Later that month the MG Rover group goes into receivership

July 2005: Chinese automobile corporation Nanjing Automotive buys MG Rover with the hope of re-starting car production at Longbridge by 2007

July 2006: Nanjing Automotive announces plans to start limited production of the MGF sports car at the factory and that around 250 workers could initially be employed on the project

Friday, July 14, 2006

Blonde Joke

[Update: One of the causes for action claims, in the lawsuit, is that the Wilsons suffered a 'Violation of Fifth Amendment Right to Equal Protection of the Laws'! Which guarantee Blondie and Beau will find in the 14th Amendment, not the Fifth.]

Made for each other:

WASHINGTON – Former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, said today they decided to sue Vice President Dick Cheney and presidential adviser Karl Rove because they engaged in a "whispering campaign" to destroy her career.

Plame told a news conference that "I and my former colleagues trusted the government to protect us in our jobs" and said it "betrayed that trust. I'd much rather be continuing my career as a public servant than as a plaintiff in a lawsuit."

....In the suit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, Plame and her husband said that Cheney, Rove and Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, leaked her CIA status to reporters to punish Wilson for criticizing the Bush administration's motives in Iraq.

The lawsuit accuses Cheney, Libby, Rove and 10 unnamed administration officials or political operatives of putting the Wilsons and their children's lives at risk by exposing Plame, who left the CIA in January and is writing a book about what's happened to her.

The FLUBA Committee on Narcissistic Personalities wonders if the Wilson's are aware of the fate that befell Alger Hiss when he unwisely sued Whittaker Chambers for telling a Meet the Press panel that he'd known Hiss as a Communist in the 1930s?

Blonde Joke

Made for each other:

WASHINGTON – Former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, said today they decided to sue Vice President Dick Cheney and presidential adviser Karl Rove because they engaged in a "whispering campaign" to destroy her career.

Plame told a news conference that "I and my former colleagues trusted the government to protect us in our jobs" and said it "betrayed that trust. I'd much rather be continuing my career as a public servant than as a plaintiff in a lawsuit."

....In the suit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, Plame and her husband said that Cheney, Rove and Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, leaked her CIA status to reporters to punish Wilson for criticizing the Bush administration's motives in Iraq.

The lawsuit accuses Cheney, Libby, Rove and 10 unnamed administration officials or political operatives of putting the Wilsons and their children's lives at risk by exposing Plame, who left the CIA in January and is writing a book about what's happened to her.

The FLUBA Committee on Narcissistic Personalities wonders if the Wilson's are aware of the fate that befell Alger Hiss when he unwisely sued Whittaker Chambers for telling a Meet the Press panel that he'd known Hiss as a Communist in the 1930s?

If You Can't Stand the Heat

And, you work in Holland, whine about it:

AMSTERDAM — Trade union confederation FNV expressed shock on Thursday at the number and nature of calls it has received from workers who are suffering in the unusually warm weather.

The FNV said there have been 350 calls to a special telephone line in the last four days about the distress being caused by the 25 degree [Celsius, about 80 degrees F] plus conditions.

"Many of the situations reported to us were simply dangerous and it is disgusting to hear that employers are not allowing people to go home," FNV's health and safety expert Jan Verhagen said.

High temperatures can cause loss of concentration, headaches and in some cases breathing difficulties and fainting, he said.

....The union group is also advising its members on what can be done to compel employers to take measures to combat the heat in their work environments. Employees should be allowed to stop work if a company fails to act while the temperature rises about 35 degrees, the FNV said.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Being There

At the All Star Game, with Ichiro Gardener:

When asked what the Mariners needed to do to rid themselves of the tough times, Ichiro — who hit several balls over the right-field bleachers during batting practice — went deep.

"If there is a problem," he said, "we need to notice it, what creates the problem. The problem usually isn't just on the cover. You need to look much deeper.

"For example, if we're taking about a tree, and the tree has a problem, you need to look at the root. But you cannot see the root. The mistake is to keep watering the fruit. That's not going to solve anything. You need to find where the problem is first."

Unfortunately, Ichiro offered no revelations on the source of Mariners' woes en route to a 43-46 record that has left them last in the AL West, albeit just 2-½ games out of first place.

...."I didn't even know that number, 2.5," he said. "If you just look at the numbers, you can think that way. But until your team reaches a certain level and becomes a winning team, those numbers are not important.

"You need to look past that and care more about being a winning team. For a team that's not going good, the order is wrong, to look at the 2.5. You need to take care of other things, and then look at the numbers. That's actually related to the root thing I was talking about."

....Anticipating the expiration, after next season, of the four-year, $44 million contract Ichiro signed after the 2003 season, he was asked if there is anything he would like to see the Mariners do before he began talking about a new deal.

"No way I can answer that," he said. "No matter what I see, you guys [the media] will make it into a problem, make it bigger and bigger, and create a big mess."

The reporter replied that he was just trying to find the roots under the tree.

"If I answer that, basically, what I'm doing is ruining the fruit," he replied.

Monday, July 10, 2006

By any other name, you're just as drunk?

It's the Global War Over Vodka:

Finland is to wage an emotionally-charged vodka battle over the next six months as it seeks to purify the definition of vodka.

The Finns have promised to use their presidency to try to ban alcohol from using the name vodka if it is not made from potatoes or grains.

Many European vodkas made from molasses, sugar beet or grapes would have to be re-named 'spirit drink' if an amended EU law on stricter alcohol definitions is passed in the autumn.

....Finland can count on the support of Germany and the so-called 'vodka belt' of Nordic and Baltic states and Poland in its mission to protect the integrity of its national drink.

Finnish MEP Alexander Stubb said the matter was "an issue of national pride".

....British companies warned last week that changing the definition of vodka would either force up the price of certain brands as they switched raw ingredients or require producers to change their labels.

....The European Commission dismissed the claim as "ludicrous" and said it did not want to change the definition of existing vodkas.

But the final decision lies in the hands of the European Parliament and 25 national governments, all with their own vested interests at heart.

"The Nordics and their allies are waging a European vodka war," argued British Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson.

"This is blatant protectionism aimed at ring-fencing their own brands and seizing the market share enjoyed by the non-grain and potato based vodkas."

Stevenson — who staged a blind vodka challenge in the European Parliament — said only one in 10 MEPs and eurocrats had been able to tell the difference between 12 grape and potato-based vodkas.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Do You Know the Way in San Jose?

Bribery, but the right kind, says the mayor:

Until recently, most of San Jose associated scandal with [Ron] Gonzales due to his soap opera-like affair with a young intern. Now Gonzales has been indicted on charges of felony bribery, conspiracy and misuse of public funds for a deal he made with Norcal Waste Systems, a garbage company.

... in the late ‘90s, our new Latino mayor was addressing the Democratic National Convention and being talked about to succeed Gray Davis as governor of California.

After the [dot com] crash, our economic and political blueprint lost its allure, and so did our mayor. But once famous, it’s hard to go back to being known as a San Francisco suburb (as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom called us at a mayors’ conference earlier this year). We have been desperate to save face ever since.

The Norcal deal with Gonzales was a result of the obsession with appearances that has become a strategy for governance in San Jose. In 2000, Gonzales and his aide struck a private deal with Norcal Waste Systems—the mayor would help get the city to pay an extra $11.25 million to Norcal to cover Teamster wages. Investigations say that Gonzales later convinced the city council, which did not know of his agreements with Norcal, to raise garbage rates to cover the cost.

Gonzales originally denied any previous talks with Norcal, but acknowledged last summer that he made the agreement to support a future pay increase. But even after having been indicted by a grand jury, Gonzales refuses to leave office. What the district attorney’s office is calling bribery, he calls an attempt at “labor peace.” According to Gonzales, he was doing what he could to avoid the most publicly embarrassing of labor conflicts—a garbage strike.

People seemed shocked by his audacity, but I can see why Gonzales feels justified in staying on as mayor. He got caught reaching for an end he and the rest of the city’s leadership has been pushing since the dot-com bust—maintaining San Jose’s appearance as utopian and conflict-free, regardless of the means or the cost.

Take, for example, our new City Hall. A $380 million Star Wars-esque monstrosity planted in the heart of downtown....

That construction was marked by a scandal similar to the current one—city officials worked a secret deal with Cisco Systems to ensure that Cisco would win an $8 million dollar contract for the telephone and wireless systems used in the building.

But even after that initial hiccup, San Jose got back on track to build the most futuristic City Hall/Death Star replica it could. Now the city council is trying to approve a $300,000 subsidy to build a Starbucks inside its walls.

[Emphases in the above, the FLUBA Committee on It Couldn't Have Happened to a Nicer Guy]

Friday, July 07, 2006

Is 'nuance' the word you're looking for?

Mark Thoma isn't convinced that Richard Rahn is on to something with his Commentary piece on the importance of language in economics:

What nonsense. It's also funny that he thinks nobody can use a word in France and elsewhere until it's officially approved. If a researcher in France reads a new word in a science journal on the internet, I guess they have to close their brains until the word is approved.

I think it would be safe to say that I'm not convinced by these arguments.

But, the Government of France (the guys who fined Georges DuBouef for improving his wine, ha ha) apparently agree:

France hopes to soften hostile attitudes towards capitalism by promoting financial know-how and greater enterprise through the media.

A new body will try to boost financial literacy and communicate the benefits of wealth creation more effectively.

The rejection of an unpopular labour contract earlier this year is seen to have reinforced prevailing sceptical attitudes toward business in society.

Ministers want people to get a clearer understanding of France's economy.

....They are worried about what they see as an over-reliance on the state and a lack of entrepreneurial dynamism.

The Council for the Diffusion of Economic Culture will operate under the auspices of the finance ministry when it launches later this year.

.... A survey earlier this year revealed widespread ignorance of financial terminology including the meaning of issues such as debt and output.

The Love of Money...that dare not speak its name

In Russia:

Russia’s lower house of parliament passed in second reading Friday a bill that would ban lawmakers and other officials from using the terms “dollar” and “euro” in domestic economic debates, the RIA Novosti news agency reports.

“When speaking in public, including to the media, members of the government must not use foreign currency terms ... to give information about the cost of goods, work, services, property, the sums of closed deals, budget indexes at any level of the Russian budget system, state and municipal borrowings, or state and municipal debts,” the bill said.

....Following parliament’s first initiatives to promote the national currency, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said the government was unlikely to look on the bill favorably, adding that customs statistics and duties in Russia had been fixed in euros and its foreign debt was counted in foreign currency.

Kudrin rubbished the original idea, saying it would be ridiculous to talk about global economic matters in rubles. “This issue is absolutely unreasonable and absolutely absurd in its current form,” he said in May.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

c'est pleurer?

Eric Asimov comes to praise French wine, but buries himself in poor economics:

PERMIT me to speak briefly in praise of France.

Yes, France, the greatest wine producing nation in the world.

....Why is it necessary for me to state what should be obvious? Because a prevailing attitude toward France and its wines, in the New World at least, seems stuck somewhere between pity and glee for an industry supposedly rotting from within.

New World producers and journalists like to jeer at the sacred French notion of terroir as a myth constructed to preserve French status in the industry, and they laugh at the rigidity of the French appellation rules, which dictate what French growers can plant, where they can plant it, and how they should tend the vines. The European Union's recent decision to spend millions of dollars in an effort to diminish a European wine glut by digging up vineyards and turning excess wine into ethanol contributed to a confused perception of industry-wide crisis.

Only someone with a coeur of stone wouldn't laugh at that.

....Business-oriented types look at the French wine industry as old and tired. Through rigidity, bureaucracy and lack of creativity, they say, once-dominant France clings to old and outdated ways, and can no longer compete with modern wine powers like Australia, the United States, Chile and South Africa.

Those sympathetic to France heave a sigh, shrug their shoulders and say, What can you do? Meanwhile, some of the harshest critics are among the French themselves, particularly growers and winemakers in less prestigious areas, or entrepreneurs who feel hamstrung by French wine laws.

Oui, we've heard that ourselves.

.... oceans of cheap, occasionally palatable wine, sold for immediate consumption under lowly appellations, like plain Bordeaux or Beaujolais, for example, rather than the more prestigious and more specific St.-Julien or Juliénas. This industry is indeed in a deep crisis, with many growers hurting badly. Historically, much of this wine was for domestic consumption, and this segment has taken the biggest hit as the market has shrunk. Producers who would like to sell these wines overseas say they feel hampered because they cannot compete against the cleverly branded bottles of New World producers, who often use winemaking techniques unavailable to French producers.


Producers like Sylvain Pitiot, who makes the seductive, voluptuous Clos de Tart, a grand cru Burgundy, are doing exceptionally well, regardless of how many gallons of French wine the European Union wishes to convert to fuel. Like Clos de Tart, much of the high-quality end of the business is prospering.

In many ways, the French A.O.C. laws, for appellation d'origine contrôlée, which protect quality at the top, are simultaneously responsible for the demise of the low end. In other words, the law that insures the meaning of St.-Julien by dictating what the wine is made of and how it is labeled can stifle the producer of ordinary Bordeaux, who might want to legally blend some syrah into the cabernet sauvignon, or call the wine by a cute, memorable brand name — not Yellow Tail, but maybe Red Head. But while a producer in the Languedoc might wish he could pull out all his grenache and replace it with syrah, a Burgundy producer like Mr. Pitiot would be appalled at the idea of somebody wasting precious pinot noir territory by replacing it with merlot.

It may be that both ends of the French wine industry can only work at cross purposes, with the Old World tradition of exalting specific place names struggling against the New World merchandising power of the brand name. For France to try to accommodate the low end by compromising the standards that have insured its high-end dominance might in the end be catastrophic for the whole industry.

Which is where the poor economics comes in. The high end brand names don't need government 'protection', any more than Nordstrom, Mercedes Benz, or Harrod's.

But poor Georges DuBouef needs to be able to improve the quality of a poor vintage of his Beaujolais Nouveau. And when he tried, he was prosecuted as a felon...for trying to give the consumer a good value.

Gray skies are gonna clear up?

Somebody will soon put on a happy face (in addition to the lawyers) when they get this decision:

Frown-inducing accusations have been flying in a trademark dispute between Wal-Mart Stores and a company owned by a French family over American commercial rights to the ubiquitous yellow symbol for happiness. Both parties say they expect victory when the United States Patent and Trademark Office rules on the case this summer.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, says the yellow face has long personified its price-reducing policy, while SmileyWorld, the London-based company that first registered rights to the symbol decades ago, says its globally established business stands at risk.

.... Marc E. Ackerman, a New York-based partner at the White & Case law firm and a specialist in United States trademark law, said, "Here in the U.S., we consider how heavily a trademark is used, and that would give SmileyWorld a big uphill battle."

....To Wal-Mart, which has photographs of smiley faces in its stores dating back to 1996, Mr. Loufrani is a trademark troll registering the symbol in as many product categories as possible.

"They are applying for rights over the smiley face in product categories that include animal semen," John Simley, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said. "It shows they are trying to trademark everything they possibly can."

Well, no wonder they're smiling.

Wal-Mart lodged a notice of opposition to SmileyWorld's trademark application and then filed a separate application to trademark the smiley face in relation to retail services.

.... With legal fees topping half a million dollars, the Wal-Mart dispute is the most costly ever faced by SmileyWorld, said Mr. Loufrani's son, Nicolas, 35, who now runs the company.

Old Wine In New Seals?


It's starting to look a lot like Soviet days in the liquor stores in Moscow, and, no surprise, it's the government's doing:

My friend arrived at my dacha the other night bearing six bottles of wine. Oh joy! I had drunk my last half a glass of shiraz the night before.

“It’s as if I had brought ice cream in 1983!” she commented.

“Or toilet paper in 1978!” I echoed.

The current history-as-farce episode has Russia facing a shortage of imported alcohol. If you had said this to a person living in the Soviet Union in the 1970s or 1980s, he or she would surely have responded with a laugh, saying, “I wish I had your problems.”

Sure, it is easier to forgo good wine and whisky than it is to do without toilet paper, but the remarkable thing about the current alcohol crisis is how much of the Soviet deficit era it brings back. All the hallmarks are there: the empty shelves, the stocking-up, and the purchasing by pulling strings.

.... So what’s going on? As you probably know by now, the Cabinet decided to require new tax seals on all imported alcohol because the market in counterfeit seals was getting too hot. The changeover date is July 1, by which time importers have to unload their inventories: new seals cannot be pasted on old bottles. But no new seals have been printed — apparently because the Cabinet dragged its heels on passing the relevant resolution — so the imported-alcohol market is going to shut down completely in three days.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

USA Today on the Bandwagon

And willingly paying its tolls:

In the past decade, usage of interstates rose by more than 30%, according to the Department of Transportation, while additions of routes and added lanes increased capacity by only 4%. The problem is simple. Gasoline taxes and tolls, already unpopular, provide a fraction of the money needed to keep traffic from getting worse.

Now comes an idea to get around this problem. A number of states, most visibly Indiana, have proposed leasing major toll roads to private companies. By doing so, they can raise billions of dollars needed to make road improvements elsewhere.

....Indiana provides an example. ...Mitch Daniels .... solution is to lease the Indiana Toll Road, which stretches 157 miles across the top of the state, for 75 years. The winning bid of $3.8 billion — more than anyone expected — was accepted last week. He also wants to finance construction of a new portion of Interstate 69 south from Indianapolis by offering it for lease when finished.

Similar proposals involving new or existing highways are sprouting up from New Jersey to California. They have many selling points:

• They raise enormous amounts of money....

• They reduce congestion. The higher tolls that private companies will charge in return for their big payments inevitably will be unpopular. But unless the laws of supply and demand are applied to road capacity, drivers will pay in the form of lost productivity while waiting in traffic.

It's gotta be embarrassing when the professional economists know less economics than the editorialists at USA TODAY

Jacques Cade Award Winner

[Updated, below]

Shakespeare had Jack Cade--Henry VI, Part 2--proclaim:

There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny; the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it a felony to drink small beer.

In France, the felony is for small wine being improved:

A French wine producer who rose from humble origins to claim the laurel of the "King of Beaujolais" was yesterday convicted of defrauding wine drinkers by mixing low-grade wine with fine vintages.

Georges Duboeuf, 72, the erstwhile toast of connoisseurs and top chefs, was found guilty of "fraud and attempted fraud concerning the origin and quality of wines" and fined 30,000 euros (£21,000).

....The ruling comes as a further blow to the French wine industry, already in crisis over dwindling domestic consumption, slumping exports and the rise of New World wines.

Duboeuf has been credited with almost single-handedly transforming Beaujolais Nouveau into a global phenomenon.

But the court found that the illegal mixing was performed to ensure consistent quality in other wines produced on his vineyards after a patchy harvest in 2004.

Grapes from the superior Beaujolais "crus", or growing areas, such as Juliénas, Saint-Amour and Morgon, were mixed together and in turn added to the lesser Beaujolais--Villages, whose 2004 harvest was considered poor quality.

Such practice is banned under strict rules governing the wine trade, even though the aim was to improve the inferior wine.

It was condemned as "shocking" by appellation controlée inspectors. "Everything was being mixed," the prosecutor, Francis Battut, said in a statement.

Which helps to explain why California has been--our metaphor mixer has been turned on--eating France's lunch over the last 30 years.

[Update] Here is a brief explanation of the history of the stifling regulations that Napa-Sonoma Valley winemakers had the good fortune to be unencumbered by.

Which regulations would have likely made it impossible for people like Mike Grgich to produce the 1973 vintage Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that took first place at the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Because that vineyard was in its first year of operation by Grgich and his partners, and they didn't have any grapes growing then. They purchased grapes from several other vinyards and blended them under the Montelena label.

Short of money?

Financial mastermind, Governor Jon Corzine says; shut down your cash generators:

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — New Jersey's casinos ushered the last of the gamblers away from slot machines and tables Wednesday, and janitors locked the doors behind them as a state government shutdown claimed its latest victims.

In the first mass closure in the 28-year history of Atlantic City's legalized gambling trade, all 12 casinos were under state orders to lock up.

Atlantic City's casinos are lucrative for New Jersey. They have a $1.1 billion payroll, and the state takes an 8 percent cut - an estimated $1.3 million a day. But as a stalemate over the state budget entered its fifth day Wednesday with no deal in sight, even they had to shut down.

With no state budget, New Jersey can't pay its state employees, meaning the casino inspectors who keep tabs on the money and whose presence is required at casinos are off the job.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Workin' in the coal mine (not)

Longer hours at work bring higher rewards. Bill Gates call your office (thanks to Mahalanobis):

...around 1970, the share of employed men regularly working more than 50 hours per week began to increase. In fact, the share of employed, 25-to-64-year-old men who usually work 50 or more hours per week on their main job rose from 14.7 percent in 1980 to 18.5 percent in 2001.

This shift was especially pronounced among highly educated, high-wage, salaried, and older men. For college-educated men, the proportion working 50 hours or more climbed from 22.2 percent to 30.5 percent in these two decades. Between 1979 and 2002, the frequency of long work hours increased by 14.4 percentage points among the top quintile of wage earners, but fell by 6.7 percentage points in the lowest quintile. There was no increase at all in work hours among high-school dropouts.

As a result, there has been a reversal in the relationship between wages and hours. In 1983, the most poorly paid 20 percent of workers were more likely to put in long work hours than the top paid 20 percent. By 2002, the best-paid 20 percent were twice as likely to work long hours as the bottom 20 percent. In other words, the prosperous are more likely to be at work more than those earning little.

....many salaried men work longer because of an increase in "marginal incentives" to supply hours beyond the standard 40 per week. These workers don't immediately get overtime pay for the "extra" hours. But over a longer time period, they get a substantial reward in the possibility of earning a bonus or a raise within their current position, or they may win a promotion to a better job, or simply signal to the labor market that they are productive and ambitious and thus suitable for a better job in another firm. Alternatively, the longer hours may enable them to acquire extra skills or to establish networks and contacts that could be rewarded in their current firm or in another one.

....U.S. firms have changed their methods of compensation for skilled, salaried workers over the past quarter century. It could be that longer-than-normal workweeks help firms to produce better products and services in "winner-take-all" type of markets.

[emphases above, the FLUBA's]

Move It On Over

Recycling to create space for burials:

A cemetery is offering second-hand graves, with "refurbished" monuments including headstones, obelisks and crosses, to be used again.

Recycled burial plots, complete with the original memorials, still contain the remains of those who died at least 75 years ago - the names of the dead are simply scoured from the monuments to allow new inscriptions.

The City of London cemetery is selling 1,000 such plots advertised as "traditional-style graves" to be "adopted" by families willing to pay £3,000 to lease them for 50 years.

The 200-acre cemetery, built in 1853 by the Victorians in Manor Park, east London, is one of the largest in Europe. But, like cemeteries across the country, it is running out of burial space.

Manor Park is understood to be the first to consider selling memorials with old graves as part of the solution.

The City of London corporation says many graves were dug deep enough to allow for more coffins and re-using the memorials is good conservation.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Crosses to Bear

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has ordered a stay on the order to the city of San Diego to remove a cross atop Mount Soledad. As the above picture at an American military cemetery demonstrates, the original court decision is a bit ahistorical.

And, would they have to change the name of the city to just plain Diego?

a votre sante

Politicians and the good life:

Thousands of bottles of vintage wine amassed by Jacques Chirac during his lavish two-decade reign as mayor of Paris are to be auctioned off from the town hall's vast cellar.

....In all, the current Socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, expects the sale, which includes 191 bottles of 1976 Krug champagne, to raise around £350,000.

Until now, the whereabouts and contents of the wine cellar, situated deep in the bowels of the Hôtel de Ville, had been a well-kept secret.

....During his time as mayor of Paris, from 1977 to 1995, President Chirac and his wife, Bernadette, were known for their penchant for good food and fine wine, on which they are said to have spent £1.5 million of taxpayers' money between 1987 and 1995. ....

Bernard Bled, a long-time political ally of Mr Chirac and his successor, Jean Tiberi, was outraged at the imminent sale of prized bottles. "These wines were bought in order to keep our rank, as capital of France, in global prestige," he said. "I chose them myself. I am devastated that they haven't been drunk."

Two Hoofs Down

Can they get the guy who starred in The Horse Whisperer:

Seattle filmmaker Robinson Devor has begun filming this month for his new documentary, "In the Forest There Is Every Kind of Bird." The film examines the widely reported 2005 incident of a man in Enumclaw who died after having sex with a horse.

Devor, whose previous film, "Police Beat," premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year, hopes to bring the new film to Sundance in 2007. It will continue filming through July and into August.