Saturday, March 31, 2007

Headless Daffodils Found...

Gardening, the blood sport:

A spectacular avenue of daffodils has been decapitated in a devastating overnight raid on a village.

The act, performed under cover of darkness, has raised the possibility of sabotage by gardening rivals a week before judging takes place for the prestigious Britain in Bloom competition.

Peter Dungworth, 63, spent £500 and several years planting 5,000 bulbs along verges near his cottage to create the carpet of golden flowers.

....He said: "At first I thought it was vandals having a bit of fun on their way home from the pub but that is definitely not the case.

"It has taken somebody or several people a few hours to carry out the work. The flowers weren't just pulled up.

"They were carefully snipped off - you could say almost professionally done - with secateurs. There is no doubt this was a professional job.

"In this case it's not wanton vandalism but a calculated act by jealous rivals who could be from another village."

Friday, March 30, 2007

Double your pleasure. Double your fun.

'Xerox your paycheck.', went an old joke. So, are these guys having fun yet?

The money spread across the table at Bellevue City Hall on Thursday looked like $50 bills, with a picture of President Grant on the front.

But they really were $5 bills and were supposed to display an image of President Lincoln.

They were counterfeits, picked up by the Bellevue Police Department at Bellevue Square, where three people were arrested on suspicion of trying to pass bad bills totaling more than $3,000.

....[Police] said the counterfeiters bleached $5 bills and used a computer to print scanned images of $50 bills over them....

On one of the bills, the faint image of the original $5 marking still was visible.

By printing over the smaller-denomination bill, the counterfeiters were able to use the material of real money and leave the watermark and other security features intact....

Plum Out of Luck

Those pesky EU bureaucrats want to define what's in a name:

In April a new regulation is to go before the European Parliament which - if passed - would define slivovice as a spirit made from plum juice with alcohol added to it. If this is approved, it means that the traditional distilled Moravian liquor would no longer be able to call itself slivovice. ....

I spoke earlier with the owner of a small, family-run distillery in Moravia, Martin Zufanek, and asked him what Moravian slivovice is actually made from:

"Slivovice has always only been made from plums. Here in Slovacko we have always made Slivovice from various kinds of plums. We use ordinary, plain plums as well as different cultivated plums, such as the Stanley. So, it's a mixture of plums, but, it's always been just plums and nothing else."

...."If the new EU regulation is approved and the new definition of slivovice means that it becomes kind of liquid made from fruit juice with alcohol added to it, our company would have to think about a new name for our products. We take pride in producing our slivovice and various fruit liqueurs using nothing but fruit, without any extra alcohol added. The new legislation would therefore have a negative impact on our company's strategy and philosophy. At the moment, I don't know what exactly we would do..."

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nice work, if you can get it

And, you can get it, if you apply:

Durex has launched its first UK recruitment drive for thousands of condom testers.

The condom maker wants a panel of 5,000 people who are single, married, or in couples to report their experiences of using its condoms and lubricants.

Men and women of all ages, ethnic groups or sexual orientation have been asked to apply on its website.

Durex was inundated with 14,000 applicants on the first day it started a similar scheme in France.

Other People's Money

The FLUBA received an e-mail this morning pointing us to this NY Post piece:

KEVIN Love, O.J. Mayo and Eric Gordon are each contributing $4 million-plus toward making next year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament as good as this year's.

But they aren't contributing the money willingly. The players are being forced to by an unlucky interpretation of a law.

Mayo, Love and Gordon are, you see, among the best high school basketball players this year.

The millions are what the experts think a great high school player could get if allowed to turn pro.

....because of an unfortunate tweaking of federal antitrust laws - the too-boring for too-long Sherman Antitrust Act - Mayo, Love and Gordon will have to play at least one year for free at the least reprehensible college of their choice.

Actually, as our correspondent pointed out, a Federal judge ruled (in the Maurice Clarett case) that professional players' unions were immune to anti-trust laws. Which means that the NBA's agreement with its union, to prohibit high schoolers from jumping directly to the league is legal--even if it's 'not nice'.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Won't Dance, Don't Ask Us

Nofunistan in Central Asia:

President Emomalii Rakhmon has banned high school graduation parties in this largely Muslim Central Asian country, The Associated Press news agency reports.

Rakhmon said he was concerned about the “pompous” and “excessive luxury” of school festivities, according to his press service. Earlier, he ordered a ban on the use of cellphones and private cars at high schools.

In recent years, end-of-the-year graduation celebrations have become elaborate and lavish, with wealthy families buying teenagers new dresses and suits, and renting limousines, restaurants and ballrooms for parties, a trend made all the more jarring given Tajikistan’s widespread poverty.

Rakhmon also urged all new parents to drop Russian-style endings for infant surnames. Names, he said, should be according to “historic traditions,” and he also urged parents to drop from birth certificates Russian patronymic middle names that commonly end with “ovich” or “ovna.”

Be a Sport

Or, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?:

Woodinville [Wash.] High School's 64-0 fastpitch softball win over Franklin last week prompted the KingCo 4A coaches to meet Tuesday night to discuss ways to avoid any kind of repeat performance and led to some soul-searching by Woodinville coach Jim Weir.

....Weir said he was "shocked" by the final score after the March 21 game ended. He said he was concentrating more on making sure his players were playing the game right and had lost count of the score.

"If anything positive can come out of this, it's that we can implement some new rules so this never happens again," Weir said.

The meeting, held at Juanita High School, was closed to the public but Tim Crowder, Juanita athletic director in charge of KingCo 4A fastpitch, said one proposal was to change the "mercy rule" — when a game is ended early because of a lopsided score.

A 15-run lead after three full innings would be the new standard, replacing a 10-run lead after five innings. Fastpitch games normally last seven innings, and state rules require a game to go at least five innings for it to be official.

....Another suggestion at the meeting involved moving Franklin to a full-time junior-varsity schedule for the rest of the season. The Quakers' struggling program has been beaten 30-0, 24-0 and 13-0 in its three other games.

....Franklin principal Jennifer Wiley said her school's softball team will have to learn how to define success for itself, apart from the scoreboard.

Bear with us

The Italians are in yet another diplomatic dispute with neighbors, this time over a dead brown bear:

Bruno, born in the Italian Alps, wandered over into Austria and Bavaria where he was judged a "problem bear" because he was not shy of humans and kept coming close to farms and villages in his hunt for food.

At one point, while specially trained bear hunters with sniffer dogs were looking for him high up in the Alps, he nonchalantly strolled into a village and sat on the steps of a police station. He was shot because authorities deemed him a risk to humans.

The Bavarian government wants to have Bruno stuffed and put in a museum. He is being kept in a freezer and his location is being kept secret for security reasons, according to the Bavarian Environment Ministry.

It's unclear whether this is to prevent a raid by Italian commandos or a vigil by the many Bruno fans for whom the bear remains an unforgotten tragic hero.

A Spiro for France?

Political battlelines are firming up in the French Presidential election thanks to revolting yout's:

In scenes reminiscent of the three weeks of rioting that shook France in November 2005, 13 people were arrested at the Gare du Nord in seven hours of confrontations triggered by an attempt to detain a fare-dodger.

Commuters cowered in dismay as groups of young people threw projectiles at police, smashing shop-windows, advertising hoardings. A sports-shoe shop was looted. Police responded with tear-gas and baton charges, and calm was not restored till after midnight.

"We've got to this situation because for a long time the police has been used exclusively as a force for repression -- ever since the arrival of Nicolas Sarkozy at the interior ministry," said Bayrou.

Sarkozy stepped down on Monday from the post of interior minister, which he held for four out of the last five years.

"Of course travellers should pay for their tickets. But when a simple ticket check degenerates into such violent confrontations it proves that something isn't right," said Royal.

"After five years of a right-wing government which made law and order its campaign theme, we can see the failure. People are pitted against each other, they are afraid of each other," she said.

But Sarkozy -- who was at the Gare du Nord Wednesday morning to catch a train to Lille -- praised the actions of the police.

"If Madame Royal wants to regularise all illegal immigrants and if the left wants to side with people who don't pay for their train tickets, that's their choice. It is not mine," Sarkozy said.

"I will not side with the cheats, the fraudsters, the dishonest. I am on the side of the victims," he said.

Looks a lot like those of the 1960s in America. Say:

Confronted with the choice, the American people would choose the policeman's truncheon over the anarchist's bomb.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More things in heaven and earth...

...are not only dreampt of in two economists' philosophy, but are actively traded. And, that is a good thing, they say:

The improvement in consumer welfare via increased variety has tended to go unmeasured. In most economic statistics, coffee is coffee and beer is beer. However, in the recent study "Globalization and the Gains from Variety," [University of Chicago's Christian] Broda and David E. Weinstein of Columbia University argue that by ignoring the increased choice that international trade provides, economists have underestimated the gains from globalization for the United States. Their study is the first to measure the consumer gains from new imported varieties.

....In the United States, trade has been growing faster than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for many decades. The rise in U.S. trade has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the number of imported varieties. Between 1972 and 2001, the variety of imported goods more than tripled.

How beneficial is variety to U.S. consumers? To answer this question, Broda and Weinstein measured the quality, quantity, and degree of substitution between all imported varieties of products.

Broda and Weinstein find that U.S. consumers were willing to pay $260 billion a year, or nearly 3 percent of their income,to have access to the wider set of varieties available in 2001 rather than the set of varieties available in 1972. This represents a large gain from trade that had not been previously quantified, since estimates of the traditional gains are confined to changes in the prices of existing products.

"When you consider your opinion on globalization, it's important to take into account that having access to new products increases your choices, and has value,"says Broda. "Next time you buy strawberries in winter, remember that it's international trade making such a purchase possible."


More than 'just one word', but still good advice:

There's an old joke that if you were reincarnated, you might want to come back as a polystyrene foam cup.

Why? Because they last forever. Ba-dum-bum.

Despite being made 95 percent of air, polystyrene foam's manufactured immortality has posed a problem for recycling efforts. More than 3 million tons of the durable material is produced every year in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Very little of it is recycled.

Help may come from bacteria that have been found to eat polystyrene foam and turn it into useable plastic. This is the stuff recycling dreams are made of: Yesterday's cup could become tomorrow's plastic spoon.

....converted it into biodegradable plastic known as PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates).

PHA can be used to make plastic forks and packaging film. It is resistant to heat, grease and oil. It also lasts a long time. But unlike polystyrene foam, PHA biodegrades in soil and water.

Which is of interest to the cruise ship industry and the US Navy:

A biodegradable plastic that dissolves into nontoxic components in seawater could make it environmentally safe to ditch "disposable" forks, spoons, wraps and other such waste overboard from ships to free up valuable space.

....Cruise liners, naval warships and other vessels generate huge volumes of plastic
trash, such as stretch wrap for large cargo items, food containers and eating utensils. This junk often remains onboard for long spans of time until ships make port. Simply dumping such junk overboard is hazardous because conventional plastics can take years to break down and may result in toxic byproducts.

When exposed to seawater, the new plastics can dissolve in as few as 20 days.

She thinks not, therefore...

..she sues for not being warned it's dangerous to dance on a rooftop while intoxicated:

A young graduate who crashed through a skylight while dancing on her roof during a drunken party is suing her landlords for not warning her of the dangers.

Anna Mayers was celebrating her 24th birthday at the flat she rented with university friends when the near-fatal accident happened.

....But the High Court heard that Mrs Mayers, who was studying for a postgraduate Master of Philosophy degree at University College, London at the time, was a 'highly intelligent' woman who should have known better.

....The court heard that Mrs Mayers and her friends had used a window to get on to the roof of a garage attached to her flat in Islington, North London, at midnight on February 9, 2002.

The group, who were all graduates of the University of Leeds, had gone out there to dance, but Mrs Mayers stepped backwards on to the glass skylight, falling through it.

James Couser, for the flat's owners Piyush and Naginbhai Patel, of Hendon, North-West London, said the decision to go onto the roof was "foolhardy".

Not only was she a "trespasser" with no right to go on to the garage, which was not part of the flat she was renting, but it was dark and she had been drinking, he said.

Mrs Mayers, who is now aged 29, had drunk "four or five" glasses of wine and eaten vodka jelly, he told the court.

'What's your sign?'

And, 'Come here often?'. The French wine industry is learning new tricks from the Yanks and Aussies:

Inspired by the success of up-market wine centres in California and Australia, a French wine merchant from Bordeaux this month opened a new 20 million-euro (26-million-dollar) complex, the first of its kind in France.

....In a tongue-in-cheek draw, the "Winery" offers visitors, for a fee, a blind wine tasting to determine their oenological rather than astrological sign -- "eternal rising aesthete", sensually muscular" or "trendy gourmet".

"It's a one-hour tasting to analyse a person's individual wine preferences and tastes, to help them understand what they like," said manager Yves Bontoux.

Responses to six different wines -- old, modern, trendy, sweet, fruity or complex -- are analysed by computer to produce an individual "oenological star sign", together with a personalised list of wines available in the boutique.

....Located only 25 kilometres away from Bordeaux, the Winery, which includes an amphitheatre for concerts and shows, as well as meeting rooms and a restaurant, is the most ambitious wine tourism project to hit Bordeaux in recent times.

Break a Leg

And set it immediately thanks to technology:

A portable plastic splint that heat-welds itself around broken limbs is being developed to aid skiers and others who take part in extreme sports.

To apply the splint, strips of tough but flexible plastic bandage are wrapped tightly around a broken limb and attached to one another using Velcro. Once the strips have been applied, a solution of sodium citrate gel is poured onto the splint.

This triggers a chemical reaction with metal strips embedded in the bandage, which the makes the solution rapidly crystallise to form a solid. The same process generates heat, providing warmth to the injured limb.

....The splint can be easily carried by skiers or snowboarders in a rucksack and, in the event of an accident, as many strips as needed can be used to cover and protect an injury. After rescue, the splint can be cut away by doctors.

Earlier in March, the splint won the Grand Prize at the Design and Innovation in Plasturgy competition, which is sponsored by the French plastic industry.

Monday, March 26, 2007

We saw this coming

The legacy of the Southern District of NY and Patrick Fitzgerald:

WASHINGTON — Monica Goodling, a Justice Department official involved in the firings of federal prosecutors, will refuse to answer questions at upcoming Senate hearings, citing Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, her lawyer said today.

"The potential for legal jeopardy for Ms. Goodling from even her most truthful and accurate testimony under these circumstances is very real," said the lawyer, John Dowd.

....The potential for taking the blame for the department's bungled response "is very real," Dowd said. "One need look no further than the recent circumstances and proceedings involving Lewis Libby," he said, a reference to the recent conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff in the CIA leak case.

We're sure Martha Stewart would agree: Just say nothing. Don't cooperate with investigators, because you might be charged with a crime for so doing.

YouTube Oughtn't to be in Pictures

First Mover Advantage bites back yet again--aka; The Revenge of the Liebowitz--as Google gives away its product and tries to make it up on volume:

"We bought YouTube because of the traffic and because of the community," Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt told investors at a San Francisco conference earlier this month.

The site was losing gobs of money, but that didn't bother Google. Traffic was climbing, and still is. Since the deal, YouTube's audience has grown 40 percent. According to comScore Media Metrics, YouTube's 136 million monthly visitors made up 18 percent of the global Internet audience in January.

One definition of an Internet URL is "Ubiquity first Revenue Later," Schmidt joked at the Bear, Stearns conference.

But the joke could end up being on Google, which paid $1.7 billion for YouTube's URL on the bet that it could turn reruns into revenue.

....Meanwhile, YouTube is still groping for an effective business model.

....YouTube in 2006 sold less than $15 million in ads, according to a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission — not enough to cover the site's bandwidth costs, as calculated by outside experts.

Battle of E.I.B.

Kevin Hassett scores the Limbaugh-Governator debate:

Much of the news coverage focused on the outsized personalities of the two, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. But the content of their exchange was surprisingly important. Indeed, this squabble may well receive extensive treatment in the history books.

The Republican Party is at a historical crossroads. If you are Republican, the odds are you're ideologically either with Rush or Arnold. Only one side can win. And as is so often the case, California is the canary in the political coal mine of America.

....Schwarzenegger appeared on Limbaugh's radio show, and the exchange was lively and telling. Limbaugh railed against the $1.25 increase in the minimum wage. Schwarzenegger defended himself, saying the Democrats wanted $2.50.

The exchange continued in that vein, until Rush closed with this telling summary: ``The problem with that is the liberals and the Democrats aren't going to punt their ideology, because it defines them. And so when we end up agreeing with them just to get compromise, even if the numbers they want aren't as much as they wanted, we are still compromising our ideology. They are not.''

If you could find a workable crystal ball and tune it forward to the first major debate of the Republican presidential primaries, my guess is that the main point of contention would be the same.

....Schwarzenegger's might seems to suggest that the compromisers will win, but I am not so sure. Republican policy in the past six years, especially the burgeoning size of government, has been so far from mainline conservative theory, that many in the party must hunger for a candidate who returns the party to its roots.

If you read Rush's exchange with Arnold, there was a clear victor. Rush won by a knockout. It is hard to imagine that a presidential debate covering the same territory would go differently.

An hour later the mice are hungry again?

China prepares to mouse the Olympic Village:

White mice are to take part in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing - their task to protect international athletes from food poisoning.

The mice will be fed milk, alcohol, salad, rice, oil and seasonings, the city's health inspectors said.
Mice show adverse reactions within 17 hours, while laboratory tests take much longer, they said.

Poor hygiene in food handling and low standards in distribution have made food poisoning rife in China.

The move is part of the huge effort the Chinese are making to ensure the showpiece event passes off smoothly.

....The BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Beijing says nothing is being allowed to stand in the way of the perfect Olympics.

Stray cats and dogs will vanish from the streets, he says, and anti-aircraft guns, small planes and rockets will be used to disperse rain clouds, ensuring there will be blue skies over Beijing for the duration.

It's 'For the people', of course

Look for food to become more expensive in Venezuela as that country moves toward Mugabeism:

Venezuela's government has seized more than 330,000 hectares (815,450 acres) of land to redistribute them under an agrarian reform programme.
President Hugo Chavez said 16 farms - which he described as large and unproductive - had been expropriated.

His government was moving towards a "collective property" policy as part of its "drive towards socialism", he said.

Critics say land reform has failed so far to revive the agricultural sector and end dependence on food imports.
....In the past five years, almost 2m hectares have been seized after being declared unproductive or because the owners did not have the property documents in order.

Mr Chavez, who was re-elected with a large majority last year, has pledged to turn Venezuela into a socialist state.

Miles to go?

The SCOTUS revisits retail prices:, the Supreme Court will hear arguments that it should do away with its nearly century-old opinion in Dr. Miles Medical Co. v. John D. Park & Sons Co., a decision that has meant retailers are free to price products at less than what the manufacturer thinks they should. Miles Medical, which later changed its name to Miles Laboratories, wanted to set a minimum price for its elixirs.

Although Miles Medical lost its case, the decision allowing price discounts came to be known by Miles' name.

Some economists argue that the Dr. Miles rule has outlived its usefulness and is unnecessary as an antitrust weapon in a modern economy. Consumer groups counter that the restriction has saved shoppers hundreds of billions of dollars.

....The issue at stake is the court's decision in 1911 that a manufacturer's requirement that a reseller not price the company's goods below a set minimum violates the Sherman Antitrust Act. Proponents of a change argue that such requirements should not be categorically deemed violations but should be evaluated case by case, under a "rule of reason," to decide whether they interfere with market competition.

The current case is about handbags.

Leegin Creative Leather Products is a California company that makes purses, belts and other accessories under the brand name Brighton. It said it would refuse to sell its goods to any retailer that didn't comply with its "Brighton Retail Pricing and Promotion Policy," which mostly bans discount prices for Brighton products.

....But Kay's Kloset, a women's boutique in the Dallas suburb of Flower Mound, refused to abide by the rules and placed all of its Brighton products on sale. Leegin stopped selling to Kay's Kloset, the store's business suffered, and Kay's parent company, PSKS, sued.

A jury, finding that Leegin's actions were automatically a violation of the Sherman Act, awarded Kay's Kloset $1.2 million, damages that were tripled because the actions violated antitrust laws.

....Leegin contends in its brief to the court that the Dr. Miles decision is "premised upon the antiquated common-law rule" and that it "squarely conflicts with the modern economic understanding that resale price-maintenance agreements can have significant procompetitive effects."

Such a free-market economic analysis holds that minimum resale pricing ensures retailers would make enough profit to provide better service to customers and promote the manufacturer's products. It would eliminate so-called free riding, in which a consumer might try out the latest tennis racket at the pro shop down the street and then hit the Internet to find the cheapest price.

Even if setting a minimum price hurts "intrabrand" competition by forbidding stores to set their own prices, free-market thinking holds, it doesn't affect "interbrand" competition. Not every manufacturer would take advantage of such a rule, they say, nor would any manufacturer price itself out of business.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Love Me or Leave Me

Agatha Christie missed this plot:

A woman outraged by her husband’s unwillingness to make love to her wrapped up his penis with scotch tape and tried to force him into sexual intercourse. Her plan failed the woman wrapped her husband’s hands, legs and head with the tape and went to bed. The man died from suffocating, the website Pravda.Ru reported Thursday.

The incident occurred in Bashkortostan, Central Russia, in the village of Sidyakbash.

And this one rang in the New Year by having her boyfriend for dinner:

A court in the Russian internal republic of Bashkortostan has passed an 11-year sentence to a woman who killed her boyfriend with an axe and then cooked him in a variety of dishes which she fed to her guests at a New Year party.

The Komsomolskaya Pravda daily reports that the incident took place in the small town of Sterlitamak.

The 44-year old woman suspected her boyfriend, who was younger than her, of unfaithfulness and in a heated row grabbed an axe and hacked him to death.

Then, the woman flayed and dismembered the body. She threw away the head and used the rest to cook a New Year dinner. She minced some meat and used in meatballs and dumplings and also made jellied meat with hands and feet — she later bartered that dish for liquor with neighbors.

On a Slow Bridge to Tacoma

If the bridge can't come to Tacoma, can Tacoma come to the bridge:

COEUR d’ALENE, Idaho – A massive piece of the new Tacoma Narrows bridge remains stranded at the Washington-Idaho state line where officials say it’s too heavy to move across Evergreen State roads.

The 73-foot-long expansion joint, which will be used to connect the bridge to the Gig Harbor side of the Narrows, tipped the scales at 330,000 pounds Saturday when it rolled into the Washington weigh station 20 miles east of Spokane. The weigh-in includes the tonnage of the custom-built trailer carrying the steel-and-neoprene joint.

The piece has been stranded along Interstate 90 at the state line ever since, and weigh station officials say it won’t budge unless the trucking company hired to ship the part makes it right.

“They’re going to have to figure that out,” Nicholas Hopper, spokesman for the Washington State Patrol’s Commercial Vehicle Division, said Thursday.

One solution might be spreading the object’s weight out over more axles, Hopper said. The 130,000-pound trailer already has 21 axles – in trucker speak that makes it an 84-wheeler.

Big Boat Movers, a Texas-based trucking company, is charged with making the Minnesota-to-Tacoma haul. Owner Mike Love said Thursday that adding more axles might not be practical, partly because more trailer means the more weight, but also because a longer load would present traveling problems.

The 15-foot-wide trailer already stretches to 149 feet. An addition to the body would extend that to 200 feet, and push the cost of the trailer to more than $100,000.

The movers headed out from Minnesota on March 1 and made it through five states without being stopped, Love said, and on fewer axles.

They anticipated being asked for more axles in Washington and stopped in Idaho to boost the trailer’s count from 18 to 21. The addition increased the weight of the load by 6,000 to 16,000 pounds, depending on who’s asked.

....The bridge project, now in its 54th month, is running four months behind schedule, so Tacoma Narrows Constructors is in a hurry for the accordion-like expansion joint, which would keep the mile-long bridge grounded in an earthquake or other bridge-moving event.

Another expansion joint has yet to be shipped from Minnesota.

And the one stranded more than 300 miles from Tacoma?

“We’re open to suggestions,” Love said. “What I’ve told them is, ‘We’ll do this anyway we can.’ If it’s impossible, then it’s real easy: Y’all can build the bridge in Idaho.”

Here's looking at you, kids

Even if you didn't want us to:

A new biography of Ingrid Bergman casts fresh light on the making of the 1942 classic "Casablanca," in which none of its three stars wanted to appear. They never suspected that their roles would become the best-remembered of their careers.

In the newly published "Ingrid," Charlotte Chandler tells of a lunch Bergman and Humphrey Bogart had before filming. She comments that "Ingrid remembered that the only subject they found in common was how much they both wanted to get out of 'Casablanca."'

Paul Henreid, newly arrived from Europe, also objected to his casting as Victor Laszlo, the underground leader and husband of Ilse, Bergman's character. He complained to his friend Bette Davis that his secondary role would harm his new career in Hollywood.

....All three stars were concerned that the "Casablanca" script was unfinished. Unanswered was the question of whether Ilse would stay in Morocco with her lover, the hard-bitten cafe operator Rick, or escape with her husband. It was agreed to film two endings.

After the first ending was shot -- Ilse's escape with Victor -- it was mutually decided that it was the logical ending to "Casablanca." A second version was never made.

2+2 = Foucault

In New York City's public schools:

THERE'S a fifth column in New York City's public schools - radical teachers who openly undermine Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's curriculum mandates and use their classrooms to indoctrinate students in left-wing, anti-American ideology.

One center for this movement is El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice in Brooklyn, the city's first "social justice" high school. The school's lead math teacher, Jonathan Osler, is using El Puente as a base from which to organize a three-day conference in April on "Math Education and Social Justice."

....[one] of the math conference's "experts" is Cathy Wilkerson, an adjunct professor at the Bank Street College of Education. Her only other credential mentioned in the program is that she was a "member of the Weather Underground of the 60s."

Some credential, indeed. On March 6, 1970, she was in a Manhattan townhouse helping to construct a powerful bomb to be planted at a dance attended by civilians on the Fort Dix, N.J., army base. The bomb went off prematurely, destroying the townhouse and instantly killing three of the bomb makers.

Wilkerson escaped unharmed. After resurfacing years later and serving a year in prison, she became a high-school math teacher and, presumably, developed expertise on how to bring the revolution into the classroom.

....You might think that boasting in public about indoctrinating fourth graders with canned lessons in Marxist agitprop isn't the best way for a public-school teacher to advance either his career or the radical cause. Nor would a former domestic terrorist make the best poster girl for selling the idea of social-justice teaching. Surely, someone with responsibility for safeguarding public education in New York City should have stepped forward by now to say this goes too far, this violates every commonly accepted standard of ethical and professional responsibility for public school teachers. But the city's Department of Education has so far turned a blind eye.

Indeed, the radical teachers are even funded by members of the capitalist class. El Puente was founded with help from uber-capitalist Bill Gates via his education foundation. And the conference on social-justice math has received a grant from an organization called Math for America, headed by billionaire hedge-fund entrepreneur James Simons.

Hate it when this happens

Absent minded professorism in New York City:

A couple can proceed with a lawsuit against a fertility clinic they filed after the wife gave birth to a daughter whose skin they thought was too dark to be their child, a judge has ruled.

Thomas and Nancy Andrews, of Commack, New York, sued New York Medical Services for Reproductive Medicine, accusing the Manhattan clinic of medical malpractice and other offenses. They claim the Park Avenue clinic used another man's sperm to inseminate Nancy Andrews' eggs.

Three DNA tests — a home kit and two professional laboratory tests — confirmed that Thomas Andrews was not the baby's biological father, state Supreme Court Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam quoted the couple as saying.

The couple says that they have been forced to raise a child who is “not even the same race, nationality, color ... as they are,'' the judge said in the ruling.

....The judge found Carlo Acosta, the non-physician embryologist who processed the egg and sperm for creation of an embryo, also could be held liable.

Euro Care

Hurry up and wait, or die. Whichever comes first:

MADRID – A woman discovered by chance during a visit to her doctor that her husband had a malignant tumour in his prostate.

After tests for prostate cancer in June last year, the husband was told he would have to wait for the results until October 2007.

Despite his worries, the man was told by authorities this was normal.

When his wife went to see her doctors about something different, she asked him if her husband’s results had come through.

The doctor checked the results which showed he had a cancerous tumour in his prostate.

And, if you do get treatment you might get a surprise:

AMSTERDAM – Operation room personnel at hospitals fail to check adequately whether instruments or bandages have been left in the body of a patient after an operation. Employees of the Catharina hospital in EIndhoven and the University hospital in Maatricht have concluded this in an article in the medical journal Medisch Contact on Friday.

....About a third (28 percent) of the hospitals have protocols for counting instruments. The researchers say that it has emerged that the small instruments are often counted, but the large clamps are forgotten and regularly left inside patients.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

He reads Angry Bear!

International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Assn. Director Pat Jones isn't amused by political hacks:

Jones said opponents of toll concessions are blocking improvements to our transport networks.
"We hear many arguments today in which people take common everyday words and turn them into profanities. Good words like private, investment, foreign, profit and lease. The opponents of tolling use these perfectly good words to stand in the way of entrepreneurs and risktakers who seek to improve the performance of our transportation system by investing in our highways and seeking a legitimate return on their investment - in the tradition of American capitalism."

Tolling has historically taken on and accomplished great highway projects quite beyond the capabilities of funding through normal budgetary cycles by means of taxes, he said. It did this by creating entities that acted like businesses spreading the risk over different projects.

And it doesn't sound as if he liked Ike:

The nation's first superhighways were created by quasi-government toll authorities, but the start of major federal grants (in 1956) ended this.

"Why would anyone go to the trouble of to plan and 'sell' such (toll) projects when he federal government was giving money away?" Jones asked.

But, he said, after 50 years the gas tax collection has diminished in value so much that it has become inadequate even for sustaining let alone improving our roads. This inadequacy of the tax-and-grant system has led to "a resurgence of interest" in toll financing.

But, there's a solution:

New technologies, Jones said, offer the opportunity for earning "large amounts of money" while also providing "the tolls we need to manage our highway system more efficiently" he said in a reference to using variable tolls to maintain free flow operations. The public is willing to pay for time savings, for convenience and for accessibility so long as they get that service, and tolling can now provide that service.

Freeways provide "brownout" equivalent twice daily

The free roads, Jones said provide "the equivalent of an electrical brownout twice a day, ever day, in every major metropolitan area in this country," referring to the collapse of morning and evening peak hour traffic collapses in traffic flow from congestion.

"Tolling technologies give us the tools to manage this congestion... so that we don't spend $63 billion a year in lost wages, delays and wasted fuel."

Mission Impossible

Scientists who have been busy lately predicting warmer weather to come later in the century, find out they don't know much about the sun:

The restless bubbling and frothing of the Sun's chaotic surface is astonishing astronomers who have been treated to detailed new images from a Japanese space telescope called Hinode.

...."Everything we thought we knew about X-ray images of the Sun is now out of date," says Leon Golub from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US. "We've seen many new and unexpected things.

....The spacecraft carries an optical solar telescope (SOT), an X-ray telescope (XRT) and an ultraviolet spectrometer. It orbits the Earth in a permanent twilight zone between night and day, which gives it a continuous view of the Sun.

Hinode has sent back startling images of the Sun's outer limb. Where astronomers expected to see a calm region called the chromosphere, they saw a seething mass of swaying spikes ....

....Another surprise sighting is that of giant magnetic field loops crashing down onto the Sun's surface as if they were collapsing from exhaustion, a finding that Golub describes as "impossible". Previously, scientists thought they should emerge from the Sun and continue blowing out into space.

"Almost every day, we look at the data and we say – what the heck was that?" says Golub, a member of the XRT science team.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ver mas de Paz?

We're all for it, if it works:

MADRID – A new row broke out on Tuesday over a controversial new law which is designed to promote Spanish cinema.

The law, which is due to be approved in a cabinet meeting on Friday, will oblige television companies to invest 5 percent of their earnings to promote home-grown productions.

In return, television production companies will get an 18 percent tax deduction.

The law means Spanish channels have to show a quota of Spanish and European films as opposed to Hollywood productions.

One in three must be Spanish or at least European.

Napolean Complex

Tall, not so dark, handsome, an economist, he's running for office in France:

...His Imperial Highness Charles Napoleon - or "Napoleon VII" - plans to recapture this dynastic town through the ballot box.

"In my family elected politics was considered dirty," said the Prince Imperial. "But I love contact with people."

Mr Napoleon - great-great-grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte's brother Jerome, King of Westphalia - is standing for parliament in Fontainebleau and environs. A pro-European, he's campaigning under the centrist banner of presidential candidate François Bayrou.

If Mr Bayrou, head of the Union for French Democracy, wins the French presidency - a prospect no longer improbable - Mr Napoleon stands a good chance of being elected on his coat tails, ousting the current Right-wing UMP deputy Didier Julia, in power since 1967.

....Incredibly, Mr Napoleon is also 1,120th in line to the British throne, thanks to the marriage in 1807 between Jerome Bonaparte and German princess Katherine of Wurttemberg.

Mathematically, his chances in French politics are much better.

Tax Cuttin' Guy

And he's the socialist:

Paving the way to replace Tony Blair as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown announced a surprise cut in income tax and also promised to reduce the tax burden on companies.

The basic rate of income tax will fall by two pence in the pound to 20 per cent, while corporation tax will drop to 28 per cent from 30 per cent with effect from next year.

Mr Brown is the overwhelming favourite to succeed Tony Blair in No 10 Downing Street later this year. But today's Budget forms an essential part of his bid to win public support in the run up to a general election expected in 2009.

Polls suggest he's lagging behind Tory leader David Cameron.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Superhero Broccoli... replacing Clark Kent Brussels Sprouts for statisticians in Scotland:

BRUSSELS sprouts, much maligned for generations, have suffered their final indignity - they have been eclipsed by their flashy younger cousin, broccoli, in the government's shopping basket.

Yesterday, the Office for National Statistics said it would use broccoli instead of sprouts as one of the items used to measure inflation.

....It is a cruel blow for the sprout, whose days were numbered when broccoli was recently named a "superfood" for its nutritional and cancer-fighting properties. Both vegetables come from the cabbage family.

Now broccoli has found itself in a love affair with the British public.

"We love brussels sprouts and they have been part of our basket for 60 years, but consumers are spending more on broccoli and there is no way to hide it," a spokesman for the ONS explained yesterday.

Old Scotch Verdict

Not proven that the Health Service is up to the task:

PATIENTS are having to wait longer for routine operations such as hip and knee replacements, despite claims that waiting lists are at an all-time low.

Figures obtained by The Scotsman show that since 1998, median waiting times have increased for 17 out of 25 common procedures.

In some cases, patients are being forced to wait for more than two years for surgery. And there are massive variations in the performance of individual health boards, with patients in some areas waiting twice as long, on average, as elsewhere in the country.

Patients' groups said Scots waiting for routine surgery were paying the price as the NHS concentrated on treating killer diseases like cancer.

Fenomeno Monetario

Siempre y en todas partes del mundo:

CARACAS: Of all the startling measures announced by President Hugo Chávez this year, from the nationalization of major utilities to threats of imprisonment for violators of price controls, none have baffled economists quite like his venture into monetary reform.

First, Chávez said the authorities would remove three zeroes from the denomination of the currency, the bolívar. Then he said the new bolívar, worth 1,000 old bolívars, would be renamed the "bolívar fuerte," or strong bolívar.

Finally, at the behest of Chávez, the central bank said last week that it would reintroduce a 12.5-cent coin, a symbol of prosperity in the 1960s and 1970s before freewheeling oil booms ended in abrupt devaluations. The coin has been out of circulation for three decades.

Chávez champions these ideas, which will take effect in January, as ways to combat inflation, which in recent weeks crept up to 20 percent, the highest in Latin America.

Officials blame "hoarders" for shortages of basic goods and price increases for food on the black market. Chávez says that the renaming and redenominating of the currency will instill confidence in it.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Scott Soshnick explains supply and demand to some thick skulled golfers:

Rich Beem has gone mad. So, too, have Brad Faxon and Heath Slocum.

The testy trio, names casual fans might not recognize, is taking aim at the golden goose of golf, which, of course, isn't a goose at all. It's a Tiger. Beem and his misguided malcontents are, to use Beem's word, ``insulted'' that the world's No. 1 player, Tiger Woods, is getting his own tournament.

Actually, they're unhappy that Tiger's party isn't an open house. No riff-raff. It's a more selective, invitation-only affair.

....Tiger's tournament replaces the International, a Colorado event dropped from the schedule because -- and here's where Beem and his boys need to pay close attention -- organizers couldn't find a sponsor without assurances that Tiger would tee it up.

In other words, no Tiger meant no sponsor, no TV, no prize money, no nothing.

If Tiger doesn't show, at least periodically, there's a good chance the tournament dies.

....Like it or not, Tiger is, indeed, more powerful than the PGA Tour.

....As it stands, television ratings rise as much as 50 percent when Tiger joins the field. Make no mistake, the Tour needs Tiger more than Tiger needs the Tour.

....Will someone, anyone, please explain to Beem and his boys that any event, even an invitation-only tournament, is better than nothing.

....Tell me this: When was the last time a prospective sponsor or TV network executive demanded to know ahead of time whether Rich Beem, Brad Faxon or Heath Slocum was in the field.

Never. Sponsors don't care about Beem because the public doesn't care if he shows up or not.

Nice little plantation you've got here

And Chiquita thought it would have been a shame to have anything happen to it, so they paid protection money:

WASHINGTON — Banana company Chiquita Brands International admitted in federal court today that, for years, it paid terrorists to protect its Colombian banana-growing operations.
The company pleaded guilty to one count of doing business with a terrorist organization. ....

Prosecutors say the Cincinnati-based company and several unnamed high-ranking corporate officers agreed to pay about $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as AUC for its Spanish initials.

....Prosecutors said the company made the payments in exchange for protection for its workers.

....Chiquita stock has risen sharply since the deal was announced last week. Company shares were trading down 6 cents at $13.46 in midmorning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Northward Ho

Global Warming; the good news:

Global warming, blamed for melting polar bears' icy Arctic habitat, could be a boon to the shipping and oil industries in the far north, according to a new US report.

The dramatic decrease in sea ice above the Arctic Circle means formerly impenetrable shipping routes are now or soon could be open for much of the year, the US Arctic Research Commission said in a report released last week at a summit of Arctic scientists in the US.

....The cost difference is dramatic, according to Mead Treadwell, the commission chairman. The estimated cost of transporting a shipping container between northern Europe and Alaska's Aleutian Islands is about US$500 ($728) he said; moving the same container between Europe and the port of Yokohama, through the Suez Canal, costs about US$1500.

....Beyond shipping, less sea ice means easier access for offshore oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic, which is thought to contain about 25 per cent of the world's remaining oil and gas reserves, the report said. It also noted that about half of the fish consumed in the United States comes from the Bering Sea off the Alaskan coast.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Game of Love

Played out on 64 squares, say the Masters:

I came in search of Brazilian dancing girls, sex, violence and castling. So far, I have found only the castling. ....

Recent events would lead a man to expect much more from an evening of chess. Emilio Cordova, 15, an international master from Peru, was crowned South American chess champion in January. The teenager celebrated by running away to Brazil and reappearing in the arms of Adriane Oliveira, a 29-year-old single mother from Sao Paulo.

Miss Oliveira was variously described as "an exotic dancer" (the commonly reported version) or "an NGO worker dedicated to putting on shows" (what Emilio told the world and his father).

Last week, Emilio returned home a Latin American hero. He had proved that chess was no longer a game for the socially maladjusted genius. Chess was sexy.

Nor is it only Latin Americans:

....Maria Manakova, a 33-year-old grandmaster. She's there at number eight in the World Chess Beauty Contest, organised by Vladislav Tkachiev, a grandmaster from Kazakhstan. ....

Someone in the international chess community is unwise enough to provide her Moscow phone number. "Chess is very sexy game," breathes Miss Manakova, in heavily accented English. "When two people make moves, like in sex, like in love, they do some moves to win. Yes, not only he, but she, the woman. There are very close parallels between these two things: chess and sex. No, I don't mean sex. I mean the game of love.

"When I first played my ex-husband Miroslav Tosic - he is Yugoslav grandmaster - I made a move. I didn't go with my king to the corner, I went to the centre, and my ex-husband thought, 'Oh, she's so brave'. He fell in love with me immediately, because in this move was my character, my wish to be with him. Maybe I didn't want to show it, but maybe I wanted him to win a little bit. I surrendered myself to him. He liked that."

Friday, March 16, 2007

You should be so lucky

And, at one time, you were, Professor. Then you decided to delete comments from people who disagreed with you at your blog.

...we are interested in Friedman as intellectual adversary--where his arguments are strong enough to make the reality-based among us rethink our positions and change our minds, and where his arguments lead us to strengthen and better understand our own. As John Stuart Mill wrote in his 'Essay on Coleridge,' every liberal should pray for an intelligent conservative intellectual adversary....

And, btw, what did you think of the book you were supposedly reviewing?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Take it easy!

Steve Landsburg talks about increased inequality in America:

How can we close the gap? Well, I suppose we could round up a bunch of assembly-line workers and force them to mow the lawns of corporate vice presidents. Because the gap I'm talking about is the gap in leisure time, and it's the least educated who are pulling ahead.

In 1965, leisure was pretty much equally distributed across classes. People of the same age, sex, and family size tended to have about the same amount of leisure, regardless of their socioeconomic status. But since then, two things have happened. First, leisure (like income) has increased dramatically across the board. Second, though everyone's a winner, the biggest winners are at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

....First, man does not live by bread alone. Our happiness depends partly on our incomes, but also on the time we spend with our friends, our hobbies, and our favorite TV shows. So, it's a good exercise in perspective to remember that by and large, the big winners in the income derby have been the small winners in the leisure derby, and vice versa.

Second, a certain class of pundits and politicians are quick to see any increase in income inequality as a problem that needs fixing—usually through some form of redistributive taxation. Applying the same philosophy to leisure, you could conclude that something must be done to reverse the trends of the past 40 years—say, by rounding up all those folks with extra time on their hands and putting them to (unpaid) work in the kitchens of their "less fortunate" neighbors. If you think it's OK to redistribute income but repellent to redistribute leisure, you might want to ask yourself what—if anything—is the fundamental difference.

How'ya gonna keep down on the server farm...

When they've seen Quincy [WA]:

This Grant County town, 20 miles west of Moses Lake, struck digital gold in December 2005 when Microsoft Corp. chose a 75-acre bean field near downtown for an eventual 1.5 million-square-foot, six-building data center complex. Since then, four other companies have chosen to plant their digital data in this area.

The data centers have transformed Quincy's economy, with 1,400 new houses under development and two new schools. Entezar Development Group of Bellevue plans a 1.9 million-square-foot shopping mall and 120-room hotel downtown. Farmland that once fetched $5,000 an acre goes for $30,000 to $50,000. House prices and rents have doubled.

During the past two years, Quincy and its Central Washington neighbors have evolved into the nation's hottest spot for server farms. More than $3 billion of new construction is under way in the region.

....High-tech companies come here for the nation's cheapest hydroelectric power rates, thanks to Grant County's two enormous dams, which pump out power as cheap as 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, said Tim Snead, the city's administrator. That compares with a national industrial rate of 9 cents. The data centers gobble up 40-plus megawatts of electricity each.

Hell freezes over en Espana

When macho is outlawed, only the hombres will be too scared to vote no:

Spanish Parliament passed on Thursday a broad affirmative action bill aimed at getting more women in elected office and corporate boardrooms,and more men heating baby bottles and changing diapers.

"Today is the first day of a different society," socialist Presdient Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said during debate before a vote on the bill.

The final tally in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies was 192 in favor, zero against and 119 abstentions. The latter were from the conservative Popular Party, which has derided the bill as too interventionist.

Speeding, Gonzalez?

Then it's hasta la vista, senores:

PHOENIX -- Three Phoenix area high school students were deported to Mexico after a police officer stopped the car they were in for drag racing and called federal immigration officials.

The officer asked the driver of the car, 16-year-old Jaime Cisneros, for his driver's license.
The teen told the officer he only had a Mexican driver's license.

The officer turned the three juveniles over to Immigration and Customs officials, who confirmed that the teens were in the country illegally. The students were then returned to Mexico.

The other teens were identified as 17-year-old Johany Nafarrate and 16-year-old Omar Galvez.

The three boys said they live in the Phoenix area with their families and attended high school here.

A Games By Any Other Name

Such as Scam or Boondoggle. The inevitable is happening to the Cursed Winner:

The budget for the 2012 London Olympics has risen to £9.35bn, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has told MPs.

Construction costs were now estimated at £5.3bn, she said - which compares with an initial £2.4bn budget. There is also now a £2.7bn "contingency fund".

The rest of the budget increase comes from extra security and tax costs. To help pay for the games £675m more will be taken from the National Lottery.

The Tories said she had lost control of costs which had trebled in a year.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Since Tom Maguire has disturbed our microeconomics blogging with a link at Instapundit, we'll take the opportunity to have the Official Spanish Tomato of the Fly Under the Bridge Academy show off her hometown.

The French Have a Word For It

Thanks to English:

Despite the country's famous pride in its culture and language, more English words have entered the French language in the past decade than in the preceding century, a French government official conceded in an interview published on Wednesday.

"We have not stopped borrowing massively from English for the past 10 years," Xavier North, the director of the French foreign ministry's department responsible for the promotion and protection of the French language, told The Daily Telegraph.

"We are even taking English words without giving them a French pronunciation, like 'standing ovation' or 'stock options'," North said.

North added that every month, 18 government "terminology commissions" produced a list of new words that could be used by public sector workers to make French "a productive language apt at expressing modernity."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Monopolist says, 'Hurry up and wait.'

Supply and demand misaligned again, thanks to the Usual Suspect of America:

Overwhelmed by a record demand for passports, the State Department said it was running weeks behind in issuing the vital documents, panicking thousands of peak-season travelers.

Passport agency employees have been ordered to work overtime, including nights and weekends, and 49 new employees were hired in March. Even so, the backlog is so high that it will probably take 10 weeks — instead of the usual four to six — to get a passport.

"These are extraordinary circumstances," said Derwood Staeben of the department's Bureau of Consular Affairs. "We are seeing record demand for passports and we are issuing them in record numbers ... It's obvious from the results that we didn't quite anticipate the spike that we're seeing right now."

Susan Fogwell, a United Airlines flight attendant from Princeton, N.J., said she called for three days trying to get an appointment recently in Philadelphia, her nearest regional center, to renew her passport. When Fogwell showed up for her appointment, a line stretched around the block.

"It looked like a Rolling Stones concert 25 years ago," Fogwell said. "People have to be forewarned. If they think they're flitting off to Paris in two weeks, it's going to be a nightmare."

March is always the busiest month for passports as travelers firm up spring and summer trips. But this year, the paper chase has been complicated by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which took effect Jan. 23.

Passports are now required when flying to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. But some travelers may be confused about the law, Staeben said, and may not realize that people traveling to those places by land or sea will not need a passport until 2008.

Pardon Us For Not Getting Up

The Telegraph notes the passing of a cultural giant:

Robert Adler, who has died aged 93, was the co-inventor of the television remote control.

Although an earlier version existed - it used cables and was called Lazy Bones - in 1956 Adler and a colleague came up with a wireless version using ultrasonic sound.

....In 1955 the American company for which Adler worked, Zenith, produced the Flashmatic, a wireless remote that was basically a flashlight pointed at photo cells located at the corners of the television set; unfortunately the photo cells reacted to sunlight as well as the remote.

Adler's solution was to have the remote communicate with the set not by light but by sound, specifically ultrasound, at frequencies higher than the human ear can hear.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Who are these guys?

The romance goes off the rails:

The romance of sleeper train travel in Italy has taken on a distinctly wild west edge as a new breed of Butch Cassidy outlaws target night trains for stick-ups.

Devotees of continental couchette culture who expect to be woken up at their destination by a polite porter bearing a cappuccino are increasingly startled to find the porter beaten and bleeding and their luggage missing.

"Italian sneak thieves have always operated on the trains here, but this is a new generation of eastern Europeans who go armed with knives and stab and lock up the guard when challenged," said Dario Balotta, transport secretary for the CISL union in Lombardy.

The modus operandi of the gangs owes much to the memories of the cowboy bandits of Hollywood fame. Three to four men pose as passengers to board the trains, which are often heading south from Milan, subdue the guard, rob the couchettes and then pull the emergency cord to enable them to jump off and be picked up by accomplices in the countryside.

Last year there were 29 such robberies, up from eight in 2005 and only four in 2004. One night journey in December even witnessed a brawl between two rival gangs over the right to rob the train they had boarded.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

No Fun Party

If Margaret Thatcher were still alive.... Well, anyway she wouldn't have joined forces with Al Gore and expected to win any elections:

The Tory Party will unveil radical proposals for a set of new environmental taxes intended to curb air travel today - but their plans are already facing a backlash from airlines.

Harsh new taxes on air travel, including a strict personal flight "allowance" are part of a plan that would penalise business travellers, holidaymakers and the tourist industry.

...The Conservatives will also suggest - most controversially of all - rationing individuals to as little as a single short-haul flight each year; any further journeys would attract progressively higher taxes, a leaked document entitled Greener Skies suggests.

The Tories' radical green taxes form one of the most ambitious programmes ever put forward by a mainstream political party. But they sparked an immediate war with Labour last night, while the travel industry branded them a "tax on fun".

In a further departure from Tory tradition, the party will underline its green credentials by welcoming Al Gore, the Democrat former US vice-president, to a meeting of the shadow cabinet on Thursday.

Friday, March 09, 2007

White Man's Burden

Was borne pretty well, says African Black man. Too bad the era is over:

The average African is worse off now than during the colonial era, the brother of South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki has said.

Moeletsi Mbeki accused African elites of stealing money and keeping it abroad, while colonial rulers planted crops and built roads and cities.

"This is one of the depressing features of Africa," he said.

...."The average African is poorer than during the age of colonialism. In the 1960s African elites/rulers, instead of focusing on development, took surplus for their own enormous entourages of civil servants without ploughing anything back into the country," he said.

In July, a United Nations report said that Africa was the only continent where poverty had increased in the past 20 years.

Get Me to the Church on Time

To worship the environment:

BRUSSELS - Belgian Defence Minister André Flahaut chartered a military helicopter to make it on time to a screening of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," according to La Libre Belgique.
The documentary is aimed at raising environmental awareness and promoting efforts from the public to combat climate change.

Flauhaut chartered the flight from Brussels to Hasselt. The two-hour flight produced 12 to 20 times more CO2 greenhouse gas than a car journey of the same distance. The newspaper also said the cost of operating the helicopter is estimated at about EUR 2,500 an hour.

The minister was questioned in Parliament about the matter on Wednesday. He said that the flight "did not cost the defence department any extra: it was included in the annual budget for the use of the helicopters." He added that the CO2 produced by the Belgian army only comes to 1 percent of the emissions produced by civilian aviation in Belgium. Environmental expert Els Keytsman said this was an asburd defence of his action.

They may not know much about art...

...not even what they did with it:

Amsterdam – More than 2,800 works of art loaned by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science to other ministries and local governments cannot be found.

More than 2,055 items have been lost at ministries, and “several hundred” have gone missing at municipalities and education and healthcare institutions. Education and Culture Minister Ronald Plasterk has written this in a letter to Parliament.

Plasterk has reached a financial settlement with the ministries to compensate for the lost artwork. The settlement involves an amount of almost EUR 3 million.

....The minister has set stricter conditions on loaning artwork and promised to monitor the contracts more closely so as to avoid problems like this in the future.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Speech, Speech!

Some economists see unreadable novels, and ask 'Why not read them?'.

At the Fly Under the Bridge Academy, the Committee on Prof. Irwin Corey, Expert on Everything, asks, Why, oh why does this sound like a post by the economists at Angry Bear:

However…I accept this financial stipulation – ah – stipend in behalf of Richard Python for the great contribution which to quote from some of the missiles which he has contributed…

Today we must all be aware that protocol takes precedence over procedure. However you say – WHAT THE – what does this mean…in relation to the tabulation whereby we must once again realize that the great fiction story is now being rehearsed before our very eyes, in the Nixon administration…

...indicating that only an American writer can receive…the award for fiction, unlike Solzinitski whose fiction does not hold water.

Comrades – friends, we are gathered here not only to accept in behalf of one recluse – one who has found that the world in itself which seems to be a time not of the toad – to quote Studs TurKAL.

And many people ask “Who are Studs TurKAL?” It’s not “Who are Studs TurKAL?” it’s “Who AM Studs TurKAL?”

This in itself is an edifice of the great glory that has gone beyond, and the intuitive feeling of the American people, based on the assumption that the intelligence not only as Mencken once said, “He who underestimates the American pubic – public, will not go broke.”

This is merely a small indication of this vast throng gathered here to once again behold and to perceive that which has gone behind and to that which might go forward into the future…we’ve got to hurdle these obstacles.

This is the MAIN deterrent upon which we have gathered our strength and all the others who say, “What the hell did that get?” – WE DON’T KNOW. We’ve got to perforce with all the loving boy…

And as Miller once said in one of his great novels – what did the … that language is only necessary when communication is endangered. And you sit there bewildered, and Pinter who went further said “It is not the lack of communication but fear of communication.” THAT’S WHAT THE GODDAMN THING IS that we fear – communication.

Oh – fortunately the prize has only been given to authors – unlike the Academy Award which is given to a female and a male, indicating the derision of the human specie – God damn it!
But we have no paranoia, and Mr. Pynchon has attained, and has created for himself serenity, and it is only the insanity that has kept him alive in his paranoia.

We speak of the organ…of the orgasm…WHO THE HELL WROTE THIS? And the jury has determined to divide the prize between two writers – to Thomas Pynchon for his Gravity’s Rainbow.

Now Gravity’s Rainbow is a token of this man’s genius…he told me so himself…
...that he could…in other words, have been more specific, but rather than to allude the mundane, he has come to the conclusion that brevity is the importance of our shallow existence.

God damn. Ladies and Gentlemen. To the distinguished panel on the dais and to the other winners, for poetry and religion and science. The time will come when religion will outlive its usefulness. Marx, Groucho Marx, once said that religion is the opiate of the people. I say that when religion outlives its usefulness, then opium…will be human…

All right…However, I want to thank Mr. Guinzburg, Tom Guinzburg of the Viking Press, who has made it possible for you people to be here this evening to enjoy the Friction Citation – the Fiction Citation. Gravity’s Rainbow – a small contribution to a certain degree, since there are over three and a half billion people in the world today. 218 million of them live in the United States which is a very, very small amount compared to those that are dying elsewhere…

Well, I say that you will be on the road to new horizons, for we who live in a society where sex is a commodity and a politician can become a TV personality, it’s not easy to conform if you have any morality…I said that myself many years ago…

But I do want to thank the bureau…I mean the committee, the organization for the $10,000 they’ve given out…tonight they made over $400,000 and I think that I have another appointment. I would like to stay here, but for the sake of brevity I must leave.

I do want to thank you, I want to thank Studs TurKAL. I want to thank Mr. Knopf who just ran through the auditorium and I want to thank Breshnev, Kissinger – acting President of the Unites States – and also want to thank Truman Capote and thank you.

(The reference to 'Mr. Knopf who just ran through the auditorium', was to a streaker.)