Friday, June 29, 2007

Vlad the Inhaler?

Vladimir Putin is set for the Full Kenny [bunkport]:

American presidential expert Stephen Wayne from Georgetown University in Washington says this weekend's summit is "consistent with the approach of George W Bush to say: 'I'm a nice guy, you're a nice guy, we can talk'."

"He's obviously not bringing Putin to Kennebunkport to scold him. I think Bush is signalling that we can be two human beings and work towards our best interests together."

....As with most visitors to the area, Mr Putin is almost certain to get his share of the local fare: seafood.

Steve Kingston, owner of The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport has been working with the Bush family's private chef Ariel De Guzman preparing the menu for the summit.

"If it's lunch it's going to be boiled lobster and if it's dinner, we're going to do a lobster appetiser followed by swordfish," he told the BBC News website.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Out of the Kloset

The SCOTUS rules 5-4--with the usual suspects lined up as usual--that the Sherman Anti-trust Act per se rule against retail price maintenance agreements is overruled in Leegin v PSKS (Kay's Kloset).

Anthony Kennedy wrote the ruling that says agreements between manufacturers and their distributors should be evaluated for competitiveness on a case by case basis. To the victors belong the economists!

Break a Leg?

Be prepared to pay a bribe for your free medical care in Russia:

When Karen Papiyants lost his leg in a road accident last year, his medical nightmare was only beginning.

Although, like any Russian, he was entitled to free treatment, he says the doctors strongly suggested he pay $4,500 into their St. Petersburg hospital's bank account, or be deprived of proper care -- and perhaps not even survive.

Faced with that choice, the 37-year-old truck driver's relatives scrambled to scrape together the money. But Papiyants said that did not stop the nursing staff from leaving him unattended for most of the night and giving him painkillers only after he screamed in agony.

"It's nothing but blackmail and extortion on the part of doctors," Papiyants said.

In theory, Russians are supposed to receive free basic medical care. But patients and experts say doctors, nurses and surgeons routinely demand payments -- even bribes -- from those they treat. And critics say the practice persists despite the booming economy and the government's decision to spend billions to improve the health care system.

Medical care here is among the worst in the industrialized world, experts agree.

When Pigs Fly

It's because of European bureaucratic regulations:

Danish farmers are going to make pigs fly after new European Union rules on animal welfare made it longer and riskier to send them to Russia by truck.

Dan-Invest is planning to fly a total of 20,000 pigs this year and next for breeding at its five joint ventures in Russia, board chairman Kent Skaanning said Wednesday.

....Pig farming in Russia is growing rapidly, while Denmark offers some of the world's best breeding stock. But getting the pigs to Russia posed a challenge after EU rules went into effect at the beginning of this year that say livestock can travel no more than 24 hours without a 24-hour rest.

Not only do the rules make the four-day trip to Russian farms twice as long, but they also increase the risk of the pigs contracting an infection on the way, Skaanning said.

"It's important for us to protect the pigs," he said. "When the pigs reach the destination, we have a risk that they will be ill."

Flying pigs to Russia will come at twice the cost but take only five hours at most, Skaanning said. He said a Russian airline has offered to fly 600 pigs at a time, he said. That would make about 24 planeloads of pigs.

Back to the Future

Pisa found a stand-up guy or two:

The Leaning Tower of Pisa no longer leans quite so much after a £20 million project to save it was hailed a complete success yesterday.

The tower, which was on the verge of collapse, has been straightened by 18 inches (45 centimetres) returning it to its 1838 position.

"It has straightened a little bit more than we expected, but every little helps," said Prof John Burland, an expert in soil mechanics at Imperial College London, who was the only British member of the 14-strong rescue committee.

....Prof Burland said it could have collapsed "at any moment". However, it took nine years of bureaucratic wrangling before any work was done. "That was the difficult bit, getting the work going," Prof Burland said.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Follow the Money... it passes through Chris Matthews Hardball into the coffers of the Edwards for President campaign:

Elizabeth Edwards launched a new fundraising effort Wednesday, one day after pleading with conservative commentator Ann Coulter to "stop the personal attacks" on Edwards' husband, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

"John's campaign is about the issues — but pundits like Ann Coulter are trying to shout him down. If they will not stop, it is up to us cut through the noise. Help us fight back — please give what you can today," Elizabeth Edwards wrote in an e-mail letter that also appears on the campaign's Web site.

Not that this was lost on Ann; that Elizabeth's husband, in addition to being afraid to appear before Brit Hume, was also too cowardly to pull this fund raising stunt himself with the 98 lb blonde terror.

Inflationary Expectations

British kids can look forward to giving their I teeth:

The tooth fairy is worth £20 million a year to Britain's gap-toothed children.

The findings show that tooth fairy inflation has leapt by 500 per cent in the past 25 years. Over the same period, the cost of living has risen by 150 per cent.

The research found that the going rate for the average lost tooth is £1.05, compared to 17p when the children's parents were young.

Como se dice?

Words escape them:

MADRID - Spain has embarked on a thorny path toward trying to set words to a so far lyric-free national anthem.

The wordless Spanish national anthem has often caused consternation among onlookers from other nations at international events like soccer matches and Olympic games because all Spaniards can do is hum along to its tune.

''It gives me a very odd feeling that people should sing 'La, la, la, or chunda, chunda, chunda,''' said Alejandro Blanco, president of Spain's Olympic Committee.

Not So Big Mo'

They have a word for it, oxymoron:

France faces two years of stagnant economic momentum....
Well, at least their heart is in the right place:

...and must deepen structural reform by curbing wage growth, scaling back job protection and ensuring that older people stay on the job, the OECD said Wednesday.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned French authorities that measures designed to shield certain jobs and industries from competition would prove to be costly and ineffective.

....The OECD argued that increasing the minumum wage was not a "good instrument" for fighting poverty and called for an earned income tax credit targeting poor families.
It said the minimum wage should grow "at much slower rates in the future," rising no faster than productivity gains of low-skilled workers.

The report also called for an "overhaul" in French employment protection measures through a single contract under which protection would increase in line with experience in the company.
It added that "the judgment as to the economic relevance of a decision to dismiss one or several employees (should be left) to the employer alone."

Elsewhere it recommended that incentives to retire early should be scrapped, adding that "two decades of policies have encouraged workers to retire early in the unfounded belief that this might boost youth unemployment."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Days Without Mexicans

In the fields of eastern Washington, there is no one to harvest the crops:

A labor shortage that hurt Washington asparagus growers will likely continue as the agriculture industry moves into its busiest months.

Workers who had been harvesting asparagus spears recently moved on to the cherry crop, leaving some asparagus growers to plow up their remaining harvest.

"If we don't solve the labor issue soon, asparagus won't be anything but a very rare specialty in Washington," said Mike Miller, owner of Airport Ranch in Sunnyside, Yakima County.

Jim Middleton, chairman of the state's asparagus commission, is pulling out 45 of his 180 asparagus acres north of Pasco.

"It's strictly due to the lack of labor and it's gotten worse every year," he said. "This year I had some fields I could only cut until the middle of May. You can't stay in business without labor."

Weak Cheese

To heat, or not to heat. That is the question over whether there is something rotten in the state of the Camembert:

[François] Durand is an icon in Camembert country. He claims to be the last dairy farmer in Normandy to be making Camembert commercially from hand-ladled unpasteurized milk.

Each of the 400 rounds he produces daily, which weigh 270 grams, or 9.5 ounces, is stamped with the seal "appellation d'origine contrôlée" or "AOC" - a coveted certification that authenticates the content, method and origin of production of a French agricultural item.But Camembert purists like Durand are infuriated these days because two of France's largest dairy producers want to change the rules.

Citing health concerns, the companies, Lactalis and the Isigny Sainte-Mère cooperative, which together made 90 percent of the traditional raw-milk Camembert in Normandy, began this year to treat the milk used for most of those cheeses.

In doing so, they had to sacrifice their AOC status, the first time in French history that Camembert producers voluntarily did so.

But they also have asked the French government's food board to grant that status to their new Camemberts, arguing that the processing they use - either filtering or gently heating the milk - does not sacrifice the traditional taste and character of the cheese.

Perhaps it's unusual that the French realize it's not good business practice to poison one's customers, but M. Durand says it's his way, or the highway:

"Camembert that is not made with raw milk may be cheese, but it's not real Camembert," said Durand, who took over the family farm when he was 19 and has run it for 26 years. "To not know a real raw-milk Camembert - what a loss that would be. The variety, the diversity, the flavor of cheese - the very heritage of our country - will disappear."

'Diversity' being doing it only one way? The French, they are a funny race.

Dustbin of History Update

Norway's ambassador to China says, Commies goin' down:

Tor Christian Hildan, ambassador at the Norwegian embassy in Beijing has perturbed his Chinese counterpart in Oslo by predicting the fall of China's Communist Party.

...."I am fairly sure that the Communist Party will not survive this modernizing process in its present form," Hildan told Aftenposten, and said that the party would soon be a thing of the past.

Feng Ming Dong, press spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, expressed surprise at the remarks.

"We are very surprised and we wonder if his opinions are correctly quoted," Feng Ming Dong told

Asked if he considered the remarks undiplomatic, Dong replied: "If you think they are undiplomatic, I would say I agree."

Monday, June 25, 2007

When in Rome...

Get blitzed:

There is a struggle under way, in plain view, for the soul of Rome's historic center: In one corner sit the forces of restraint, etiquette and cultural preservation; in the other sit those with the unswerving desire for yet another round of drinks.

A leisurely midnight stroll on almost any summer night through Campo dei Fiori, Piazza Navona or the medieval neighborhood of Trastevere puts the issue in clear relief. It is "ladies night" at Sloppy Sam's, a popular pub on Campo dei Fiori just in front of the statue of the philosopher Giordano Bruno. Bruno was condemned to death in 1600 by the Roman Catholic Church for heresy. Shirtless male bartenders this night are serving up round after round of half-priced shots.

Around the corner, a stone's throw from where Julius Caesar met his treacherous end, the Zeta Lounge is offering two hours of "open bar" - all you can drink for one low price. ....

"There's been a change in the style of drinking," said Dermot O'Connell, who runs "The Almost Corner Bookstore" on Via del Moro, a main thoroughfare in Trastevere and a popular nocturnal destination because of its many bars. ....

"Why would you come to Rome to drink beer when you can do that anywhere else in the world? The value of Rome is its urban tissue," said Giuseppe Strappa, an architect and professor who has written extensively on the changing face of the city's historic center.

Strappa said the issue started to heat up more than a decade ago, when the city decided to transform the historic center, which he called the "best preserved" in the world, into an entertainment destination. That led many ancient palazzos to be gutted and turned into restaurants and bars. "If it continues like this for 10 years we will no longer have a historic center," he said.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Licenced to Kilt

Scotland cracks down on girly boys:

Kilt wearers could face prosecution if they do not have a licence for their sporran under new legislation which has been introduced in Scotland.

The laws are designed to protect endangered species like badgers and otters, whose fur used to be favoured by sporran makers.

The legislation applies to animals killed after 1994.

Applicants must prove that the animal was killed lawfully before they will be able to get a licence.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Is Paris Burning?

To hear that the man--and his wife--who put her behind bars , has similar infractions in his family that didn't result in any jail time:

First came the news, just as [Prosecutor Rocky] Delgadillo was taking Sheriff Lee Baca to task for freeing Hilton from her sentence for driving on a suspended licence after just three days, that his wife, Michelle, had also been found driving on a suspended licence.

Her sentence? Certainly no jail time.

Nor did she get into any trouble when she borrowed Delgadillo’s city-owned SUV to pop to the doctor‘s in 2004 and crashed it by backing into a pole. She was not insured to drive the vehicle and her licence was suspended at the time.

But the 2,000 odd dollar repair bill was quietly paid for using taxpayers’ money.

For three years Mrs Delgadillo drove without a licence. In 2005 she was again stopped by police for turning disobeying a street sign.

Then the Los Angeles Times discovered there was an outstanding arrest warrant for Mrs Delgadillo for failing to appear in court in connection to a 1998 traffic citation.

She went to court the day of the paper’s report and pleaded no contest to driving without a valid licence. She was ordered to serve a year of probation and to pay 431 dollars in fines and penalties.

Mrs Delgadillo blamed her (lack of) organisational skills.

''I was disorganised,'' she told a local television station. ''I was - there's no excuse for it. I'm not going to make excuses for myself. I have to be an organised person, there's no doubt about it. I made a mistake.''
Didn’t Paris Hilton say something similar about not having time to read her mail?

It also came out that in the last three years the Delgadillos were “chronically late in paying fines for at least five parking tickets”, the LA times reported. Mrs Delgadillo was responsible for all the tickets.

While she drove without insurance for two years, her husband wasn‘t quite as bad - he only drove uninsured for about a year. ....

Delgadillo, who at first refused to answer questions about his family’s poor traffic record, finally apologised on Monday and reimbursed the city for the cost of the repairs to his official car.

But there was more: then came news he’s been using city staff to babysit his children and run personal errands, a big no-no according to the municipal code for city officials.

Critique Littéraire

They're tough on writers in France:

Five farmers from a tiny hamlet in central France stood trial this week on charges of violently attacking a writer they accuse of revealing their family secrets to the world in a tell-all novel.

Pierre Jourde says his 2003 novel "Pays Perdu" (Lost Country) was an attempt to get under the skin of Lussaud, a village of 20 souls nestled in the green hills of the Cantal region, where his family roots go back three centuries and where he has spent every summer since childhood.

....Names and dates have been changed, but the two dozen residents of Lussaud -- Jourde's friends and neighbours, whose family stories are intertwined with his own -- easily recognised themselves and their kin.

In July 2005, when Jourdes arrived with his wife and three children for their annual summer stay, they were immediately encircled by six or seven of his neighbours, hurt and angry at what they had heard.

Quickly the scene turned nasty. Panicking, Jourdes says he punched one man to make him back away, sparking a volley of blows as well as racist insults against Jourde's children, who are of mixed race.

The writer's 15-month-old baby was hurt by flying glass in the face when stones shattered his car windows. Another of his sons was chased down the road under a hail of stones, before the whole family was hounded out of the village.

"It was a scene of collective hysteria, of unfettered hatred," Jourde said at the time. "I've known these people all my life, they're my neighbours."

Badly shocked by the attack, Jourde has not set foot in Lussaud since.

And, he'll make Amtrak run on time?

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter is all ga ga for Chris Dodd's call for wholesale violations of the 16th Amendment's ban on involuntary servitude (except as punishment for a crime):

The part of the plan that will likely engender the most opposition is Dodd’s call for mandatory high-school community service. Schools would be required to have their students to perform 100 hours of community service in order to graduate—or risk losing federal funds. ....

The only state currently requiring community service is Maryland. The idea has not caught on elsewhere because schools—and students—don’t like to be compelled to act virtuous. But Dodd’s idea of a whole generation that performs service as a “rite of passage” does require some kind of kick in the pants to go along with the incentives. His “Summer of Service” component (which would carry with it a $500 college scholarship) would even extend down into middle school.

....The point is to get a conversation going about what Dodd calls the “New American Patriotism”—the latest extension of a spirit of national service that extends back to Franklin Roosevelt and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Now it’s up to the other candidates to show how they would, in Dodd’s words, “move forward in this new century in common cause and with muscular purpose.”

All of which has a rather unfortunate pedigree:

Everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing above the state.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Yellow Dog Democrat?

In the county that couldn't vote straight, a woman registered her best friend:

Jane Balogh had a pretty good idea who was calling when the phone rang and the caller asked for Duncan M. MacDonald.

Duncan is the dog Balogh registered as a voter seven months before the November 2006 election.

Duncan's absentee-ballot envelope was signed with a picture of a paw print.

"You can't sign with a paw print," the election worker told Balogh on Nov. 9.

"I said, 'he can if he's a dog,' " answered Balogh, a 66-year-old grandmother and Army veteran who lives in Federal Way.

....Balogh will be arraigned in King County Superior Court on Tuesday on a misdemeanor charge of making a false statement to a public official.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Those Darned Etruscans

Originally from Turkey, thought Herodotus, and he was right says the DNA:

The ancient riddle of where the Etruscans came from has been solved, Italian scientists say.

....Comparing DNA from people living in what was once the Etruscan heartland in present-day Tuscany with that of today's inhabitants of Greek islands, the Middle East and other parts, a team led by Professor Alberto Piazza say they have found "a unique genetic component" shared only by central Tuscans and Turks.

....The discovery has been backed by another recent genetic study by the University of Piacenza which found that Tuscany's cattle, famous for their uniquely tasty and hefty meat, were "60% similar" to Turkish breeds. The Etruscans are believed to have formed the first advanced civilisation in Italy, based in an area called Etruria, corresponding mainly to present-day Tuscany and northern Lazio.

What's your grapeprint

Green wine?

"Will you be able to sell wine in the next 20 years if you are not organic," Bordeaux producer, Thibault Despagne, was asked by his San Francisco importer.

Despagne, who officially announced the Despagne Family Vineyards bio-fuel and waste management programme at Vinexpo this week, said he has seen an increased interest in environmental issues from both producers and consumers.

....In America, sales of organic wine have risen significantly -- "by 28 per cent in 2005," said Robert Joseph, founder of Greener Planet Wines with his partner Hugh Ryman. "That's 80 million dollars' (60 million euros') worth of wine. Out of a 21-billion-dollar total, that may not seem a lot, but it is growing."

....Greener Planet wines come in recycled glass bottles, carry non-wood paper labels printed with sustainable ink, and sales have, to date, generated 10,000 dollars of funding for a safe drinking water project in India.

....But being committed to organics is not as simple as seems, nor is it necessarily seen as environmentally friendly.

Critics of organic food say that taken to its logical conclusion, it will use too much space on the planet, being less intensively grown. Joseph says this is not a problem for wine since there is already too much. "We don't need more space, we need to produce less, but better quality, from what we have."

There is also the issue of copper - the reason why Despagne will never go organic. "The levels of copper you have to use in organic wines leave damaging traces, not only in the soil but in the wine itself," he said. Despagne believes that in 20 years time there will be a scandal about organic wine and copper.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

una lección familiar

The rules of economics translate universally:

MADRID - Government and private-sector economists agree that immigrants, who now represent 10 percent of Spain's population, have played a decisive role in boosting growth and productivity in the Iberian nation.

Although the research departments of the leading organizations disagree on what immigration has contributed to economic growth, all of them say that without foreign workers the increase in the gross domestic product, or GDP, would have been substantially lower.

The economic office of the prime minister said half the GDP growth in the past five years was attributable to immigration, while the Bank of Spain puts the figure at 25 percent.

What is clear is that Spain began the transition to democracy 30 years ago with a deep economic crisis and some 150,000 immigrants, while today the economy is growing at more than 4 percent and the number of foreigners exceeds the 4 million level.

The Girl Can Help It

Or, at least Sarko thinks she can:

A former lawyer and trade minister, Christine Lagarde on Tuesday became the first woman to head France's economy and finance ministry, confirming her status as one of the world's most powerful women.

Lagarde, 51, was appointed by President Nicolas Sarkozy to replace Jean-Louis Borloo who climbed to the number two position in government in a reshuffle following parliamentary elections.

A former champion synchronized swimmer, the silver-haired Lagarde was ranked by Forbes magazine as the 30th most powerful woman in the world in 2006 when as trade minister she was credited for a nearly 10 percent boost in exports.

While women have been named to junior economic portfolios, Lagarde will be the first to head the key ministry in a government that saw women appointed to seven of the 15 ministerial posts.

Honor Thy Mother the Car?

Someone in the Vatican has too much time on their hands:

The Vatican has issued a set of "Ten Commandments" for drivers, urging motorists not to kill, not to drink and drive, and to help fellow motorists in the case of accidents.

The 36-page "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road" contains 10 Commandments covering everything from road rage, respecting pedestrians, keeping a car in good shape and avoiding rude gestures while behind the wheel.

It also states that cars must not be used as a place of sin, or as an "expression of dominance and power".The document says: "Cars tend to bring out the 'primitive' side of human beings, thereby producing rather unpleasant results."

It appealed to what it called the "noble tendencies" of the human spirit, urging responsibility and self-control to prevent the "psychological regression" often associated with driving.

One part of the document, under the section "Vanity and personal glorification", will not go down well with owners of Ferraris in motor-mad Italy.

Snake in the Gnome

Someone in Britain, say the Aussies:

Australian customs officials have found live reptiles hidden in the hollowed insides of ceramic garden gnomes sent as gifts from England.

A total of seven snakes and eight lizards were found inside three of the pottery figurines.

The snakes, destined for two addresses in Sydney, were found when the parcels were opened by customs officials.

The two addresses where the gnomes were heading have been raided but no arrests have been made.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bunkers for Junkers

In Germany they haven't stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb. Now, the bomb shelter...

Germans are queuing up to pay £60,000 for the latest addition to the garden: a prefabricated nuclear bunker.

With fears of terrorism, natural disasters and a cold war revival on the rise, a German company has tapped into the climate of insecurity and produced the continent's first ready-made fallout shelter.

ABC Guard - its name a reference to the protection it is said to offer from atomic, biological and chemical warfare - invites potential customers to "rely on absolute security made in Germany" as it restores an industry thriving on fears that have not been felt in the country since the withdrawal of Russian troops from former East Germany.

Oliver Langwich, an ABC Guard sales engineer, said: "The war on terror is increasingly making the world an unsafe place and there is talk of a new cold war or even nuclear confrontation. And climate change is fuelling fears of natural disasters. Modern and safe protection 'made in Germany' is our answer to all that. We have found a market niche."

What if they gave a viewing, and

...nobody came to see it? That what Spanish theater owners think will happen:

MADRID - Most of the cinemas in Spain - around 4,000 - were expected to close Monday in protest at a proposed law requiring exhibitors to offer at least one Spanish or European film for every four shown.

The strike, being staged by the Federation of Spanish Cinemas, was expected to close ninety per cent of theaters resulting in the loss of millions of euros.

Rafael Alvero, head of the federation, told the national daily El Pais that the proposed law would force theaters to run films that are ''of very little interest to the public.'' The Culture Ministry said the law is necessary to protect the Spanish film industry.

The Cinema Law, now going through Parliament, unfairly penalizes cinemas for a waning interest in Spanish cinema and would cause theatres to lose millions of euros annually, Alvero said.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Give Them a Home

Where, if not the buffalo, at least the kids can roam:

When George Thomas was eight he walked everywhere.

It was 1926 and his parents were unable to afford the fare for a tram, let alone the cost of a bike and he regularly walked six miles to his favourite fishing haunt without adult supervision.

Fast forward to 2007 and Mr Thomas's eight-year-old great-grandson Edward enjoys none of that freedom.

He is driven the few minutes to school, is taken by car to a safe place to ride his bike and can roam no more than 300 yards from home.

Even if he wanted to play outdoors, none of his friends strays from their home or garden unsupervised.

The contrast between Edward and George's childhoods is highlighted in a report which warns that the mental health of 21st-century children is at risk because they are missing out on the exposure to the natural world enjoyed by past generations.

....The report's author, Dr William Bird, the health adviser to Natural England and the organiser of a conference on nature and health on Monday, believes children's long-term mental health is at risk.

He has compiled evidence that people are healthier and better adjusted if they get out into the countryside, parks or gardens.

Stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces, he says. Even filling a home with flowers and plants can improve concentration and lower stress.

"If children haven't had contact with nature, they never develop a relationship with natural environment and they are unable to use it to cope with stress," he said.

"Studies have shown that people deprived of contact with nature were at greater risk of depression and anxiety. Children are getting less and less unsupervised time in the natural environment.

"They need time playing in the countryside, in parks and in gardens where they can explore, dig up the ground and build dens."

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Pause That Refreshes?

British socialite says good men are hard to find these days:

The evening had been great. The wine had flowed, the conversation was effortless, and the man sitting opposite me in a London pub extremely handsome.

As a first date, it could hardly have been better. But at the back of my mind was a nagging question.

Steeling myself, I brought up the subject of drugs, and how I'd sworn never to date a cocaine user again.

His face fell. With just one look, I knew it was over before it began. But this wasn't any rock star, a model or even someone in the media - the stereotypical cocaine users. No, he was just a goodlooking builder. Hardly the glamorous type.

But I wasn't surprised to discover he had a habit. Over the past few years, I've come to realise cocaine is not just a problem in the well-documented 'showbiz' circles of the capital, but across every class and occupation in Britain.

In light of which, this might not be the route they want to go down:

The row over smacking children has been reopened today as the Government announced a review of the law less than three years since MPs rejected an outright ban.

Children's minister Beverley Hughes said parents and professionals would be consulted this summer over how present rules were working.

Restrictions were toughened in 2004 to prevent anyone claiming they had administered a "reasonable punishment" if it left visible bruising.

....Last month Britain's four child commissioners called for a total ban, insisting there was was "no room for compromise" on the issue.

Cognac Comrades

Thanks to those Russian and Chinese bon vivants, exports are at near record levels:

The Cognac industry of southwest France reported record exports Thursday, thanks to an explosion of sales to Russia and China.

Overseas sales grew by 9.7 percent in the year to April, to reach 157 million bottles.It was the highest figure since 1990, before a long period of decline led to the destruction of eight percent of Cognac vineyards.

"Cognac's good state of health is now confirmed, because 2007 is definitely a record year," said Jean-Pierre Lacarriere, president of the Cognac National Interprofessional Bureau (BNIC).

The US remains the biggest importer, thanks to a thriving market in the Afro-American and Hispanic communities.

But the biggest increases in sales were in Russia -- up by 55 percent in a year -- and China, up 49.3 percent. Sales to Russia have now been multiplied by seven in seven years.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Les derniers jours de la disco

Bounce this, says a French court:

Five employees from four Paris discotheques were fined on Thursday for discrimination after they turned away clubgoers of African and Arab origin.

The bouncers were fined as a result of an operation mounted in 2005 by the anti-racism organisation SOS Racisme in which groups of young blacks, Arabs and whites, dressed in similar attire, were sent to clubs across France to try to uncover incidences of discrimination.

A Paris court ordered one of the bouncers to pay 1,000 euros (1,330 dollars) and the three others were given a suspended fine of 1,500 euros.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Old Dogs; New Digs

In Japan, it's Old Fidos at Home:

TOKYO -- Japan will get its first nursing home for dogs with round-the-clock monitoring by doctors and a team of puppies to help aging pooches feel younger, a pet products company said Wednesday.

....Veterinarians at the home will offer round-the-clock monitoring and residents will be fed specially fortified food....

The home, which can accept 20 dogs at one time, will also employ puppies to play with the aging dogs to help them keep fit and feel younger, the release said.

Analysts say that a boom in pet ownership in Japan, coupled with better health care and a more balanced diet, has led to a surge in elderly pets in Japan.

No such thing as un repas gratuit

France struggles to pay for its welfare state, and discovers the cold hard truth:

PARIS, June 13, 2007 (AFP) - A plan to switch the financing of health care from payroll charges to increased sales taxes to help businesses withstand competition has enlivened legislative elections in France with charges the poor will suffer.

....In France, all taxes and social charges account for 44.4 percent of gross domestic product, a figure considered high by international standards.

....In France, various social charges falling mainly on employers but also on employees to finance health care and other benefits almost double the cost of employing someone compared with net take-home pay. This calculation does not include income tax.

Not all of these charges relate to the financing of health care. But the overall social charges weighing on business are now widely recognised to be seriously handicapping French firms.

In particular they are seen as a factor behind what is known here as "delocalisation," the shifting of production from France to low-cost countries, a hot and and emotive issue.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hold your tongue...

...your jaw, and your lips, to reduce your accent, say the big bucks accent reducers:

...Jennifer Pawlitschek, said that from her experience in New York, the field is growing. "Here it's hot, and I think it's because it's an international crossroads," she said, both because the United Nations is in the city and because of New York's role in global financial markets.

Pawlitschek, who has a Master of Fine Arts degree in drama from the University of California, Irvine, said "the posture of the mouth" affects accent. She teaches how to change "the way you hold your jaw, lips and tongue," along with stress and intonation.

....Another coach, Brian Loxley, has a doctorate in speech from Southern Illinois University as well as degrees in theater. He began helping foreign-born students in 1983, when he headed the speech and theater program at Pace University in White Plains, New York.

Loxley said speaking English correctly allows "people to look at you like you're a leader and your ideas count." His clients, he explained, are "educated and brilliant people but they're having trouble making themselves understood."

....Judy Ravin, who runs the Accent Reduction Institute, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said the institute works with clients directly and offers books, CDs and other teaching tools. Ravin developed her program, which is called the Ravin Method, in 1998 while teaching English pronunciation at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.

....Training fees and duration vary. At the Accent Reduction Institute, group training begins at about $40 an hour per person, and individual training at $100 an hour, with additional fees for materials. What Ravin calls "Webinars" can cost as little as $20 an hour, and clients "can dial in from anywhere in the world and have a live presentation." She believes "people should expect results quickly, after 10 to 15 hours."

Pawlitschek charges from $75 an hour for semiprivate lessons and $100 to $125 an hour for private ones.

Loxley coaches individually at a fee of $150 an hour, or $210 for a 90-minute session, plus material and travel time, though most clients visit him.

Cost of Bad Intentions

In Iran, it's the inflation, stupid:

Fifty-seven Iranian economists have launched a scathing attack on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

They have accused his government of ignoring the basics of economics.

The university professors say mismanagement is inflicting a huge cost on the economy, the brunt of which will be borne by people with modest means.

This comes as the price of housing has almost doubled in the last year and food is getting more expensive by the week in Iran.

....Inflation is said to be at unprecedented levels and that is visible in the shops where many housewives can no longer afford meat or fruit.

Mr Ahmadinejad's frequent trips to the provinces are criticised too - for promoting questionable projects not based on scientific, social or economic principles.

And the economists add that Iran's worsening international relations are imposing a huge cost on its economy which the next generation will pay for.

They say the new officials in government need to understand that economics has rules.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The state of the states...

is that they're flush with cash in the sixth year of the Bush Boom:

State lawmakers across the country, their coffers unexpectedly full of cash, have been handing out tax cuts, spending money on fixing roads, schools and public buildings, and socking something away for less fruitful years.

Budget surpluses have largely stemmed from higher than expected tax collections — corporate tax revenues alone were 11 percent higher than budget estimates — and booming local economies. There has also been some relief in Medicaid spending, which fell from an 11 percent annual growth rate to something closer to 7 percent in the past few years.

More than 40 states have found themselves with more money than they planned as they wound down their regular sessions. Governors in 23 of those states proposed tax cuts, and a majority of states with surpluses chose to shore up their roads, schools and rainy day funds.

....Over all in the 2007 fiscal year, which ends at the end of this month, state spending in the 50 states totaled $616 billion, an increase of about 8.6 percent over 2006, according to a report by the National Governors Association and National Association of State Budget Officers. The average annual growth rate over the past three decades has been 6.5 percent, the report said.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

An Embarrassment of Princes

Britain finds that when you want to do business in Riyadh, you do as the Riyadhies do

This authoritarian country, with its princes who are pious Muslims at home and libertines away, is also the one with which Britain signed its biggest export deal in 1985: the al Yamamah agreement to sell 72 Tornado and 30 Hawk warplanes for £43 billion, mostly paid in oil shipments, over 20 years. The deal, signed by the Saudi defence minister Prince Sultan and Britain's then defence secretary, Michael Heseltine, has been mired in controversy and corruption allegations for years.

The furore has erupted again. This time the claim is that BAE Systems, Britain's biggest arms manufacturer, paid more than £1 billion into two Washington accounts controlled by the former Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi defence minister's son, over more than a decade. The payments, made on a quarterly basis, were allegedly written into "secret annexes" of the al Yamamah contract for the provision of "support services'', with the full knowledge and approval of the Ministry of Defence.

MPs have demanded an inquiry into whether government ministers were involved in corruption. A criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office - which is understood to have discovered the payments but not whether they were illegal - was controversially dropped "in the interests of national security" last year, after Tony Blair warned that the Saudis, vital allies in the war on terror and a stabilising force in the Middle East, would stop sharing anti-terrorist intelligence if the inquiry continued.

Many who have lived and worked in Saudi Arabia or done business with the Gulf state say the claims, to be broadcast by BBC's Panorama tomorrow, show a failure to understand Saudi culture. "It's totally different from ours," says Jonathan Aitken, the former defence minister who took part in key negotiations over the al Yamamah contract in the early 1990s. "The Saudi monarchy is similar to a Tudor monarchy in that servants of the Crown are rewarded for doing their public service faithfully and well. They believe people are entitled to a slice of the action when they help with something like a big contract."

Friday, June 08, 2007

Bowing to the inevitable

Don't fiddle with the traveling violinists:

Top-flight violinists will be able to travel unhindered by endangered species restrictions after a compromise was reached on the wood in their bows.

Professionals frequently use bows made from the pau brasil tree.

....Conservation groups were disappointed that a bid to protect endangered cedar species failed.

....Pau brasil (Caesalpinia echinata), also known as Brazil wood or pernambuco, is the tree that gave the country its name. But over the centuries, about 95% of its original range in the Mata Atlantica coastal forest has disappeared.

es facil ser verde

And you can make a peso or two, tambien:

MADRID - Union Fenosa, Spain's third-biggest electricity company, will invest in nonpolluting electricity generators in Mexico, with a view to supplying power to California, the company said.

Union Fenosa's vice president, Honorato Lopez Isla, made the announcement after an annual general meeting of Union Fenosa shareholders. He told journalists the company would invest around EUR 600 million (US$808 million) in a project based near La Rumorosa, in northern Baja California, according to company spokeswoman Ines Garcia Paine.

....Union Fenosa intends to capitalize on California's requirement for ''green'' energy by exploiting Mexico's 2,700 hours per year of useful sunlight, Lopez Isla said.


Sarko wants to cut taxes for some familiar sounding reasons:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's government on Thursday unveiled details of an 11-billion-euro (15-billion-dollar) masterplan to "shock" the economy back to life, the first part of his ambitious economic and social reform drive.

The eight-chapter tax and finance bill seeks to exempt overtime work from taxation; make mortgage interest payments tax deductible; all but eliminate inheritance tax; and put a 50-percent cap on overall individual taxation.

It will be debated by the new parliament after this month's legislative election.

....By enabling people "to work more to earn more," Sarkozy's plan aims to drive up consumer spending, boost economic growth and make it possible to slash France's 8.2 percent jobless rate, among the highest in the 13-nation eurozone.

....The key plank in the new bill is the proposal to exempt overtime work from taxes and social security charges, which are seen by many employers as a crippling disincentive to hire.

That would undermine the popular 35-hour work week introduced by a previous Socialist government, without taking the radical step of scrapping it entirely.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Blonde has more fun...

...than her Tennessee counterpart...after throwing 1000 pitches:

After throwing more than 1,000 pitches in a week to lead Arizona to its eighth NCAA softball title, Taryne Mowatt finally admitted the obvious. "Now that the week is over, I can admit I'm extremely tired now," said Mowatt, who set a Women's College World Series record by pitching 60 innings. "My arm, it's felt better." But it was well worth it.

Mowatt (42-12) finished what she started and Arizona's batters broke loose against Tennessee ace Monica Abbott for a 5-0 victory Wednesday night.
In other girl athlete news:
A row between the world's two best known women golfers is raising the temperature for this week's LPGA Championship, with Annika Sorenstam saying Michelle Wie lacked class in dealing with a wrist injury.
Former world number one Sorenstam took issue with a decision by teenager Wie to withdraw from a tournament last week when she was 14 over par, citing a wrist injury, only to practice two days later.
"I just feel there's a little bit of a lack of respect and class just to leave a tournament like that and then come out and practice here," Sorenstam told a news conference.
....Wie, who is not a member of the women's tour and has played courtesy of sponsors' exemptions, including in men's events, refused to back down.
"I don't think I need to apologize for anything," she said. "I just have to take care of my body and mover forward and only think of positive things."
Adding intrigue to her withdrawal was an LPGA rule that any non-member who shoots 88 or worse in a round is barred from the tour for the rest of the season. Wie was two bogeys away from that ignominious score.
"I don't think about 88," she said. "I mean, that's just ridiculous."
Wie's troubles were compounded when her playing partners in a pro-am event on Monday at Bulle Rock lodged a complaint, prompting LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens to meet with Wie's father, B.J., and agent, Greg Nared.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Go Paint It On the Mountain

Then, go directly to jail :

CHAMONIX, France, June 6, 2007 (AFP) - French police on Tuesday arrested a Danish artist who planned to paint the peak of Mont Blanc red in a bid to raise awareness of environmental issues.

Marco Evaristti, 43, originally from Chile, was picked up by police after having used a
raspberry-based biodegradable dye based on the top of the famous Alpine peak.

Police spokesman Olivier Kim said the artist might be charged with damaging the environment on a listed site, namely Mont Blanc itself.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

de nada

For first doing no more harm, says Bruce Bartlett:

But what about the option of doing nothing? Why this is not considered a viable option is a mystery to me. It may be the least bad alternative.

Think about the current situation a little more carefully. Illegal aliens who come here do so primarily to work. I don't deny that. They do a lot of crappy jobs that, frankly, few of the native born would do. And they do so for far less than it would cost to induce the native-born to do such jobs. Moreover, aliens probably do a better job in many cases.

Furthermore, illegal aliens are much more willing to do jobs that need to be done for less than the minimum wage and for cash wages that save their employers from paying a lot of taxes, such as the employer's share of the payroll tax. Since these people will never qualify for Social Security benefits, why should they pay taxes for such benefits? Looks OK to me. I wish I had that option.

Finally, illegal aliens are not very likely to complain to the Labor Department or a union if they have some grievance. They are more worried about being deported than exploited, so they have no leverage. The result is that illegal aliens are willing to work cheap, which allows the native born to have inexpensive vegetables -- which doctors keep telling us to eat more of -- and other goods and services that improve our real standard of living.

Meanwhile, as miserable as their lives are, for most illegal aliens this is a good deal, too. They wouldn't come here -- braving a lot of hardship in the process -- if they didn't think they were coming out ahead on the deal. In short, the status quo is really a win-win for everyone.

We don't want to open the borders entirely, because that would let in a lot of riffraff. But we don't want to close the borders entirely, either, because we need the cheap labor. So, in my opinion, the optimum is to allow some illegal immigration, but with enough enforcement to keep it under control.

It is precisely because of their illegal status that these immigrants are valuable and willing to work cheaply. If they become legal, as the pending legislation would establish, the next thing you know they will be demanding the minimum wage, health benefits and unions, at which point they may no longer be a net benefit to our economy, but a liability.

Diplomacy is a Girl's Best Friend

Madame Sarkozy preps for the role:

French first lady Cecilia Sarkozy has hired a top-level diplomatic advisor to guide her steps on the world stage, where she intends to play an active role at her husband's side, a report said Tuesday.

Cecilia's diplomatic advisor, the career diplomat Nicolas de la Granville, 45, was hand-picked for her by President Nicolas Sarkozy's national security advisor Jean-David Levitte, according to Le Figaro newspaper.

Quoting sources at the presidency, the paper said Cecilia planned to play a "complementary" role to her husband, focusing on so-called "feminine" questions such as "children, women and humanitarian affairs, the French language and culture."

Monday, June 04, 2007

There goes the neighborhood...

Now that the gangsters are gone crime is rampant:

...if 360-degree CCTV cameras can't prevent Bestwood being the European burglary capital, what on earth will?

The answer is a shocking indictment of law and order in this country and a deep embarrassment for the police.

For many householders in the area say that the greatest deterrent to the casual burglar used to be the presence on the estate of one of Britain's most ruthless crime families.

....They were ruthless mafia-style operators. For example, if a "foot soldier" in this gang stepped out of line, he would be executed.

In one instance, they allegedly fed a man's body to pigs on a nearby farm.

But a major police effort in the past 18 months has seen two of the main figures in the organisation - both of whom lived in Bestwood - jailed for murder and drugs offences.

And while justice may have been done, the shocking truth is that burglary statistics in Bestwood have gone through the roof since the two were put away - whereas they had been falling.

Locals say it was the absence of the police that enabled the family to take control of the estate, after the uniformed presence was reduced from regular bobbies on the beat to the occasional patrol car.

...."The council treat us like scum but the family have respect. They have always treated us properly.

"If there was ever a problem on the estate, it was them who you went to see to sort it out."

....Another local said of the rise in the number of break-ins since the crime family was smashed: "There is now an element on the estate causing trouble.

"There are things going on which would have been sorted out by them - they would pull people into line when people were acting out of order in the community."

Strictly from hunger

Afghanistan's tax laws are, says a Frenchman, and he's going to prove it:

The French owner of one the most popular restaurants in Kabul went on hunger strike Monday to protest a tax bill of half a million dollars that he linked to xenophobia in the Afghan government.

Marc Victor, who opened L'Atmosphere four years ago, said he would refuse food until the government allowed his restaurant to reopen and cancelled all action against him.

This included scrapping demands for the 500,000 dollars, which he said was equivalent to more than a year's turnover and based on an overstated assessment of the size of his business.

Victor, who says he has paid tax every year amounting to 120,000 dollars since opening the restaurant, has also written to the finance minister to protest.

In a statement announcing his hunger strike, the 46-year-old asked how the government could reconcile "the urgent need" for foreign investment with the "quick-growing of xenophobia in this country," including among civil servants.

War of Succession

Who gets the rights to the Spanish treasure lost in 1708 may soon be decided:

The Spanish galleon San Jose was trying to outrun a fleet of British warships off Colombia's coast on June 8, 1708, when a mysterious explosion sent it to the bottom of the sea with gold, silver and emeralds now valued at more than US$2 billion (€1.5 billion).

Three centuries later, a bitter legal and political dispute over the San Jose is still raging, with the Colombian Supreme Court expected to rule this week on rival claims by the government and a group of U.S. investors to what is reputed to be the world's richest shipwreck.

Anxiously awaiting the decision is Jack Harbeston, managing director of the Cayman Islands-registered commercial salvage company Sea Search Armada, who has taken on seven Colombian administrations over two decades in a legal fight to claim half the sunken hulk's riches.

It seems that Colombia's word is something less than reliable:

Harbeston claims he and a group of 100 U.S. investors _ among them the late actor Michael Landon and convicted Nixon White House adviser John Ehrlichman _ have invested more than US$12 million (€8.9 million) since a deal was signed with Colombia in 1979 giving Sea Search exclusive rights to search for the San Jose and 50 percent of whatever they find.

But all that changed in 1984, when then-Colombian President Belisario Betancur signed a decree reducing Sea Search's share from 50 percent to a 5 percent ''finder's fee.''

Because, in the interval Harbeston's group announced they'd actually found the ship (1982). And, not it's peanuts in the hold:

Harbeston believes that if sold skillfully to collectors and museums, the San Jose's treasure could fetch as much US$10 billion (€7.4 billion) _ more than a third of Colombia's foreign debt.

The real value is impossible to calculate because the ship's manifests have disappeared. But the San Jose is known to have been part of Spain's only royal convoy to try to bring colonial bullion home to King Philip V during the War of Spanish Succession with England from 1701-1714.

''Without a doubt the San Jose is the Holy Grail of treasure shipwrecks,'' said Robert Cembrola, director of the Naval War College Museum in Newport, Rhode Island.

Though it might be as elusive as the holy grail:

In 1994, Colombia hired treasure hunter Tommy Thompson to verify Sea Search's coordinates. Thompson, an American who has since disappeared allegedly with millions in investors' loot from a previous deep-sea find, turned up nothing.

Another oceanographer, Mike Costin, who worked on a commercial submarine brought in by Sea Search for one of the company's early, booze-filled expeditions, also has his doubts.

''We found something, but I don't think it was the San Jose,'' he said.

An underwater video taken of the alleged wreck in 1982 show what looks like a corral reef-covered woodpile.

''But drink a glass of wine and it can look like almost anything,'' said Tony Dyakowski, a treasure hunter based in Vancouver, Canada. Dyakowski claims to have uncovered sea logs that put the San Jose miles closer to the mainland.

Harbeston shrugs off his detractors, saying, ''If everyone's so sure it's not down there, then why don't they let us finish what we've started?''

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Let the Market Force Be With You

Says, Steve Chapman. Because there isn't much you can do about it, anyway:

...illegal immigration is one of those phenomena that show the ineffectuality of laws in impeding humans from pursuing their interests. It would be nice if we could lay down lines on a map and expect people to stay on one side or the other. But when forces bigger than geography are at work, the decrees of nations often prove useless.

Mexicans and Guatemalans and other illegal immigrants come here out of an elemental and healthy desire to improve their lot. Once they arrive, they get willing cooperation from Americans who find these foreigners can also enhance our welfare.

Both illegals and natives gain something from this movement of people. To suppose that policies emanating from Washington can overcome these drives is like assuming that laws against sodomy can neutralize libidos.

Conservatives need no instruction on the value of market mechanisms in creating wealth. But the continuing illegal flow of people into this country, which so many conservatives decry, is a product of those mechanisms.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Where was the Ministry for Babysitting?

Parents, do you know where your children are?

A baby has died after being left in a parked car by his mother in the second such case in a week in Europe.

Teacher Ilse Donckers, 34, forgot to drop off her 11-month-old son Chris at a nursery before she went to work at a school in Baarle-Nassau, Holland - leaving the boy in his baby-seat in the car which she parked at the school on a hot day.

Five hours later fellow teachers noticed the boy's lifeless body inside the car left on the school car-park and tried in vain to revive him.

....The tragedy is a carbon-copy of the death of a five-month old Belgian baby Guy Ranson whose mum left him in the back of her car after she drove to work at a laundry in Halle, near Brussels last week.

He died of dehydration in a stuffy, locked car where the temperatures rose to 35-40 degrees. In the Dutch case police have not revealed the cause of death.

"The hectic pace of modern life is the root cause of both tragedies," said Belgian psychologist Theo Compernolle.

"It's too much to suppose that a woman can cope with so-called multi-tasking, keeping several balls in the air at the same time.

"The truth is that the brain is not able to cope with both a family's needs and a responsible job at the same time. The brain can only really focus on one thing at a time."

This just the BBC

The perfect is the enemy of the good!

The key to a happy relationship could be accepting that some miserable times are unavoidable, experts say.

Therapists from California State University and Virginia Tech University say accepting these problems is better than striving for perfection.

And they blame cultural fairytales and modern love stories for perpetuating the myth that enjoying a perfect relationship is possible.

The report was published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.