Saturday, September 29, 2007

And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses

It was the color of money:

Caramel: It's the shade Marc and Kristina Weiss used to stain a 12-foot section of cedar fence at their Redmond [Washington] town home.

And it's a stain that proved impossible to get out, even after members of the town-home association's board insisted on piña colada.

The Weisses restained with Nantucket white, but they refused to repaint their fence piña colada.

The color war raged for months and finally landed in the hands of an arbitrator.

The result? Vindication for the Weisses and more than $85,000 in legal fees on the association's tab.

....Arbitrator Jerome O. Cohen ruled caramel was in fact an approved hue, and that the Weisses were never required to use the piña colada color.

He also found the shade resulting from the caramel-Nantucket white combination — dulce de leche, maybe? — was so close to piña colada that the two shades were indistinguishable under "reasonable observation."

Cohen ordered the Sammamish Forest Manors Homeowners Association to reimburse the Weisses' legal fees, which came to more than $39,000.

Together with its own legal fees, the town-home association will spend more than $85,000 on the color war.

Attack of the Killer Amoebae

Things aren't always going swimmingly in Lake Havasu:

PHOENIX — It sounds like science fiction, but it's true: A killer amoeba living in lakes enters the body through the nose and attacks the brain, where it feeds until you die.

Even though encounters with the microscopic bug are rare, six boys or young men have been killed this year. The spike concerns health officials, and they are predicting more cases.

....According to the CDC, the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri (nuh-GLEER-ee-uh FOWL-erh-eye), killed 23 people in the United States from 1995 to 2004.

....Although infections tend to be found in Southern states, the amoeba lives almost everywhere in lakes, hot springs, even dirty swimming pools, grazing off algae and bacteria in the sediment.

Beach said people become infected when they wade through shallow water and stir up the bottom. If someone allows water to shoot up the nose — say, by doing a somersault in chest-deep water — the amoeba can latch onto the olfactory nerve.

The amoeba destroys tissue as it heads to the brain, where it continues the damage, "basically feeding on the brain cells," Beach said.

Infected people tend to complain of a stiff neck, headaches and fevers. In later stages, they will show signs of brain damage such as hallucinations and behavioral changes, he said.

Once infected, most people have little chance of survival. Some drugs have stopped the amoeba in lab experiments, but people who have been infected rarely survive, Beach said.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Phoning It In

The novel:

Like many other young Japanese, Rin, 21, punches her mobile phone keys very quickly. Holding her phone with two hands, and moving her thumbs deftly and smoothly, she quickly generates sentences on the small screen.

But unlike others, her main reason for typing on her keitai (mobile phone) is not to send e-mails, text messages or check the Internet. Instead, she writes bestselling novels. Rin is one of the most popular authors in the fast-expanding genre of keitai shosetsu (mobile-phone novels).

....Original novels and other writings released and widely read on cell-phone Web sites have been one of this year's booming phenomena, with several titles as well as Rin's making the bestseller lists after being published in book form.

....Mobile-phone book editors attribute the novels' popularity to the fact that they fit the lifestyle of high-school girls and women in their 20s. This demographic not only habitually communicate by typed keitai messages, but also read on their small screens while on the train, at home or anywhere. As well, keitai-novel sites have become the nodes of a community by making it possible for users to have interactions together and access a huge number of titles. Writers, too, can have easy access to readers' responses and then draw on them to further develop their stories.

"An interesting aspect of keitai novels is that readers and writers often overlap. In many cases, readers who were inspired by stories on the sites have started writing by themselves," said Mayumi Sato, an editor at Goma Books, which published three of the five bestselling keitai books in the first half of this year.

Pregnant Pause

In Japan there's often no room at the inn:

There were at least 191 cases where a pregnant woman being transported by ambulance was turned away by five or more hospitals between 2004 and 2006, a survey showed Thursday, underscoring the growing hardships of ambulance crews forced to scramble by the dearth of obstetricians in the country.

The number of cases in which one or more hospitals refused to admit pregnant women, including the 191, was 2,780 in the three-year period.

In the survey, carried out by Kyodo News, the 47 prefectural governments were asked about the current situation for emergency care services for pregnant women, and 27 had responded as of Thursday.

Those figures are expected to swell in a government survey to be released shortly.

The Alan: 'Soak the Rich'

Fools and their money are soon parted, and that's allright with the Maestro:

The former head of the US Federal Reserve has denied that regulators failed to foresee the problems which caused the global credit crunch.

Alan Greenspan said they had not acted on concerns about complex and risky financial deals because only very wealthy people invested in them.

...."We did know what was going on and the reason we didn't stop them was that to a large extent these types of questionably egregious actions are taken by people who have their own money invested," he said.

"Hedge funds, who are presumably the largest culprit of all of this, are organisations in the US in which wealthy investors invest.

"I must admit that I do not have considerable concern about their net worth going from 40 million to five million, which in many cases is what's happened."

Brazil Nuts

The police shoot first and answer questions later:

A Spanish tourist and an Italian visitor to the Brazilian city of Fortaleza were wounded by gunshots fired by police, who apparently confused them with robbers trying to make a getaway.

....Spaniard Marcelino Ruiz, 38, suffered the most serious injury - a bullet wound in the spine that could render him paraplegic....

Ruiz had arrived in Fortaleza for a short vacation just minutes before the incident....

....The car in which the couples were riding ... a black Toyota Hilux pickup truck, was apparently mistaken by police for another of the same make and color that had just been used in a robbery.

Police said they ordered the driver of the vehicle to stop and, when that command was not obeyed, began shooting. The tourists, for their part, said they received no such warning before the bullets were fired.

The vehicle carrying the two couples had 18 bullet holes and two of its tires were punctured.

Inventory Control

Just in time?

A debt-ridden French shoplifter who sold stolen supermarket items on eBay is to face justice after police became suspicious about her low-priced loot, officials said Thursday.

The 33-year-old woman, who is estimated to have stolen more than 85,000 euros' (120,000 dollars') worth of goods from the Leclerc store in her hometown of Doubs, eastern France, since 2005, is due to appear in court December 7 following her arrest.

...."On her arrest at the beginning of July, she told us that one day, while she was waiting in line at the cashier's, she saw a child take out objects without setting off the alarms," one of the investigators, Philippe Pintapary, said.

He explained that the incident gave the woman -- who was deeply in consumer debt -- the idea for her scam.

Shop security failed to notice that the woman visited the store up to five times a day, ostensibly to buy small-ticket items, and walked out with a bag stuffed with pilfered products.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gente Viejo en la Casa

Donald Rumsfeld had it right, it is Old Europe:

Europe is losing its youngsters and rapidly aging, according to a report by the Institute for Family Policies released this week in Spain.

The 2007 Report on the Evolution of the Family in Europe found that the number of young people aged below 14 had slumped 23 million across the continent, defined as the 27 EU states, between 1980 and 2005, falling from a 22.1 percent to a 16.2 percent share overall.

Lola Velarde, president of the European Network Institute for Family Policies, revealed that whereas in 1980 youngsters outnumbered adults by 36 million, the latter were now in the ascendancy.

"Europe is getting old," said Velarde, alluding to falling birth rates which she described as "worrying for the future" with the population of the United States projected to rise above that of the EU by 2060.


Worrying for the future of their welfare states, that is?

Sour Grapes?

French winemakers are befuddled (what else is new):

Strange weather we're having, said winemakers in Bordeaux this week. The 2007 grape harvest has started and never, not in the last 15 years, not in 20 years, not in 35 years, has anyone seen anything like it.

Wine expert Denis Dubourdieu, a professor at Bordeaux's main university and consultant to a number of chateaux, says it's the first time in his 35-year career he has seen vines flower so early in the year, and grapes ripen so late.

"We have never been in a situation like this," he said. "It could be good. We don't know. Could it be global warming, who knows? It could be Nicolas Sarkozy [the new French president]. There is no explanation. It could be simply the irregularities of an Atlantic climate."

The problems, mainly, relate to the weather.


But, not all the problems are weather related:

"The euro is killing us," [Californian wine merchant, Jeffrey] Davies said. "The payments for the 2006 wines (which are pre-sold as futures prior to bottling) are due this month, and I'm concerned some US clients may cancel their orders," he said, adding that currently selling anywhere outside of the eurozone was going to be an added problem for Bordeaux wines.

"There is still a fair amount of the 2005 vintage which has not been sold to the end user, but it might go in the OND period - October, November, December - which is when 60 percent of wine is sold in the US," he said. Otherwise, he fears, there could be a bottleneck with the 2006's, which would be compounded by the 2007's.

Asked how much he thought prices should go down for the 2007 vintage Davies said, the more the merrier. "Let's get this stuff out of here and get people drinking it, not collecting it."
"Bordeaux is producing some of the best wines in the world, but we need to get back to parity with the dollar in terms of pricing and make it more accessible," he said.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Roach Maternity Motel

Britain's NHS suffers another black eye:

Health bosses have been forced to close a hospital maternity unit - because of a cockroach infestation.

Patients were packed into a cramped temporary ward in the children's department with beds separated only by curtains after the creepy-crawlies were spotted.

The unit at Rochdale Royal Infirmary, Greater Manchester had to be shut down and the children's play room used for storage while fumigation took place.

It was expected that the unit - earmarked for closure in a shake-up announced by health secretary Alan Johnson - would be shut for almost a week after the shock discovery of the bugs, which can carry salmonella, several viruses or even polio.

.... Days earlier, the Infirmary was forced to stop admitting patients to the children's ward because of staff shortages.

Meanwhile, South of the Border

The Spanish Socialists are cutting taxes and enjoying it:

Spain's public debt will fall to around 34 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) next year from the 36.2 percent forecast for this year, Economy Minister Pedro Solbes has said.

The country's public debt stood at 46.2 percent of GDP when his Socialist government came to power in 2004 and will drop by 12 percentage points to sit at 34.2 percent of output by the end of its term in office next year, he told parliament on Tuesday.

The government, which is facing a general election next March, approved a 2008 budget that forecasts a budget surplus of 0.3 percent of GDP and calls for EUR 2.3 billion in tax cuts.

The government expects the Spanish economy, one of the most dynamic in the 13-nation eurozone, to expand by 3.3 percent next year after growth of 3.8 percent this year.

Faucon de Croissance

Just growing pains, says Sarko:

President Nicolas Sarkozy's government on Wednesday unveils its first budget since taking office, with state spending under scrutiny after the prime minister warned that France was bankrupt.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon caused a stir last week when he said the nation was "in a situation of bankruptcy" after decades of accumulated budget deficits and called for a change in mindset.

....Despite the dire state of public finances, Sarkozy dismissed suggestion that the nation was headed toward a belt-tightening austerity plan and said economic growth was key to filling state coffers again.

"I have committed myself to getting public finances under control in France and I will do it," Sarkozy said in New York on Tuesday where he attended a session of the UN General Assembly.

There will be no austerity plan," he added. "France's economic problem is very simple: we have discouraged hard work and we must encourage it (...) to gain growth."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Talk Not Cheap

For a Hollywood director:

Die Hard director John McTiernan has been sentenced to four months in prison after a judge refused his request to withdraw a guilty plea.

....McTiernan, 56, pleaded guilty last year to making false statements to FBI agents investigating disgraced celebrity detective Anthony Pellicano.

He tried to withdraw his plea, claiming insufficient legal representation.

The 56-year-old's lawyer has indicated that an appeal will be mounted.

....When he entered his guilty plea last year, the film director told a judge that he had denied knowing about Anthony Pellicano's alleged wiretapping activities during his FBI interview.

But he then admitted he had used the detective to wiretap Charles Roven, who he worked with on the film Rollerball.

Sleeping With the Enemies

And several others, including Napoleon:

Lady Jeanne Campbell , who has died aged 78, was a journalist who reported for the Evening Standard from New York for many years; she was also the former wife of Norman Mailer, the daughter of the reprobate 11th Duke of Argyll and the favourite granddaughter of Lord Beaverbrook.

....Lady Jeanne was wild. So numerous were her love affairs that James C Humes (a speechwriter for many American presidents) claimed in his memoirs, Confessions of a White House Ghostwriter, that she was the only woman to have known "Biblically" Presidents Khrushchev, Kennedy and Castro — and all, he claimed, within the space of a year. Humes suggested that Kennedy went through his paces at her Georgetown house in October 1963; Khruschev at his dacha in April 1964; and Castro in Havana the following May.

[She] was the daughter of Ian Campbell, the handsome playboy who was heir to Niall, the bachelor 10th Duke of Argyll, his eccentric first cousin once removed. Her mother was Janet Aitken, daughter of the proprietor of the Daily Express.

Jeanne's parents had met at a casino in Le Touquet, when Janet was 17 and Ian 24. Janet later recalled that her husband had been "long on charm but short on judgment at the gaming tables". They married in December 1927, but the union got off to an unpropitious start when the groom — intending to instruct his bride in her marital duties — took her to watch a display of graphic lovemaking in a brothel. He was soon selling his bride's jewels to pay his gambling debts.

Jeanne was born on December 10 1928....

After the war Jeanne trained as an actress, even joining the Old Vic, before going down with pneumonia. In 1949 she went to live with Beaverbrook, and travelled with him to the Far East, Europe, Barbados and the United States.

While she remained close to her grandfather, particularly in his old age, he frequently berated her for her wilful and extravagant behaviour....She attributed this characteristic to his Presbyterian background; whenever he had acquired a mistress, he felt guilty about her, and thus began treating her badly.

When Beaverbrook died he left Jeanne the income from a $500,000 trust. Jeanne grew up rather "fresh", in the words of one of her passing admirers, Claus von Bulow. In 1953 it appeared that she might be about to marry William Ropner, a scion of the British shipbuilding clan, but instead she outraged her grandfather by succumbing to the charms of Sir Oswald Mosley, Bt, the former Blackshirt leader and a well-practised seducer.

By this time Jeanne was tall, vivacious, somewhat buxom and possessed of sparkling eyes. Mosley pursued her partly because he saw her as a conduit to Beaverbrook and hoped for favourable publicity for his Union Movement. The old man was not taken in, however, and the couple met clandestinely in a series of London flats. In the end Beaverbrook threatened to cut her off if she stayed with Mosley, and in 1956 he dispatched her to New York to write for the Evening Standard.

....Between 1959 and 1961 Jeanne had an intense affair with Henry Luce II, founder and owner of Time-Life Inc, and the husband of the redoubtable Clare Booth Luce. Jeanne had met him on holiday with Beaverbrook, at a time when she was working as a researcher at Time. He secured her a job at Life magazine, and came close to leaving his wife for her.

In the spring of 1961 Jeanne met Norman Mailer, and soon became pregnant by him.

....After a short, tempestuous marriage, which ended with Mailer's infidelity, she left him, and they were divorced in Mexico in 1963. He rewarded her by depicting her as the bitch in his novel An American Dream. He later described her as "a dear pudding of a lady" and "a remarkable girl, almost as interesting, complex and Machiavellian" as himself.

....It was said that Jeanne received a large advance on her memoirs but blew it on a villa in Greece without ever writing the book. Latterly she lived in a tiny walk-up flat in Greenwich Village, New York, and slept in her last surviving treasure — Napoleon's campaign bed.

It's a Numbers Game

In which things aren't adding up for the mothers and children relying on Britain's National Health Service:

A leaked report at the weekend revealed that claims for medical negligence related to NHS childbirth stand at a staggering £4.5?billion, of which £3.3?billion relates to children who developed cerebral palsy as a result of oxygen starvation at birth.

...a report by researchers at Salford University found that 70 per cent of the incidents they studied, in which babies were starved of oxygen at birth, were linked to staff shortages.

Later this week, Professor Jason Gardosi, director of the Perinatal Institute in Birmingham, will present the results of a 10-year study showing that poor training among overworked doctors and midwives leads to 1,000 stillbirths a year.

....This is a point driven home by Prof Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, incoming president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who says the numbers of consultants and midwives at up to half of Britain's hospitals "aren't adequate", endangering the lives of expectant mothers and babies.

The Royal College of Midwives has been banging the staffing drum for years. In 2005, when I was making The Truth about Childbirth, a Channel 4 documentary, I was told that 2,000 extra midwives were needed merely to provide adequate cover, while an extra 10,000 were required to provide the sort of proper, gold-standard care that new mothers deserve.

Now, just under three years later, the RCM says that a booming birthrate means that a further 5,000 midwives are urgently needed in the system by 2012 – again, that's just to provide adequate care.

Monday, September 24, 2007

What Udink of That?

An Oregon family is offending that state's DMV...by existing:

MERLIN, Ore. — A Merlin family has been ordered to turn in the vanity license plates for their cars because the state finds their Dutch name can be interpreted as offensive.

The plates, UDINK1 UDINK2 and UDINK3 are on the vehicles of Mike and Shelly Udink and their son Kalei.

Two of the plates are 5 and 7 years old. One was issued last year.

Last summer Kawika Udink's application for Udink4 was rejected and the state ordered the other three plates returned.

The plates are now invalid and the 90-day temporary registrations sent to the family in June are also likely expired, according to David House, spokesman for the state Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division.

The plates were deemed offensive by a 10-person DMV panel that approves custom, or "vanity" plates, which cost an extra $80.

House, who serves on the panel, said the reasons were the sexual references that can be associated with the name, which can be treated as a verb.

"DINK has several derogatory meanings," wrote panel member Yvonne Bell. She said it also can be a racial slur, especially toward Vietnamese.

House said the "U" in the front could be construed as "You."

It seems unreal to Mike Udink, whose name is Dutch. He says it is a common name in the Netherlands.

"Since when can a panel dictate whether your name's offensive or not?" asked Udink, a lineman for Pacific Power.

One For the Price of Two

Since the governments haven't stepped up to the plate, the maker of the '$100' laptop are seeking private donors:

"I have to some degree underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a check written," said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the nonprofit project. "And yes, it has been a disappointment."

But Negroponte, the founding director of the MIT Media Laboratory, views the problem as a temporary one in the long-term pursuit of using technology as a new channel of learning and self-expression for children worldwide.

And he is reaching out to the public to try to give the laptop campaign a boost. The marketing program, to be announced Monday, is called "Give 1 Get 1," in which Americans and Canadians can buy two laptops for $399.

One of the machines will be given to a child in a developing nation, and the other one will be shipped to the purchaser by Christmas. The donated computer is a tax-deductible charitable contribution. The program will run for two weeks, with orders accepted from Nov. 12 to Nov. 26.

....The machine, called the XO Laptop, was not engineered with affluent children in mind. It was intended to be inexpensive, with costs eventually approaching $100 a machine, and sturdy enough to withstand harsh conditions in rural villages. It is also extremely energy efficient, with power consumption that is 10 percent or less of a conventional laptop computer.

....Late last year, Negroponte said he had hoped for orders for three million laptops, but those pledges have fallen short. Orders of a million each from populous Nigeria and Brazil did not materialize.

Still, the project has had successes. Peru, for example, will buy and distribute 250,000 of the laptops over the next year — many of them allocated for remote rural areas. Mexico and Uruguay, Negroponte noted, have made firm commitments. In a sponsorship program, the government of Italy has agreed to purchase 50,000 laptops for distribution in Ethiopia.

Paradise Lost and Found

For Scottsboro boys and girls, or anyone else who likes to hunt for bargains:

The building is situated on the edge of the sleepy town of Scottsboro in Alabama.
It does not seem like the kind of place that would attract a million visitors a year, but bargain hunters from around the world converge on the centre every day, eager to see what treasures the Unclaimed Baggage Center has uncovered.

It is a company that buys all the lost and unclaimed luggage from airlines across the US and then sells on everything from clothes to expensive jewellery at discount prices.

"When they come in, we always tell people to plan a few hours to go on their treasure hunt," says Brenda Cantrell, the centre's marketing manager.

"Dig through it, have fun with it, you never know what you might find."

....One woman discovered $1,000 (£500) hidden in the lining of a case she bought for pocket change, while another found out that the glass vase she had bought as a trinket was actually worth a small fortune.

"I was here Friday, Saturday, yesterday and today and I'll probably come back tomorrow," says Abby Gentry-Benson, who is festooned with diamonds, silver and gold jewellery all purchased at the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

Abby, who describes herself as a Chanel No. 5 girl, has been coming to the warehouse for more than 30 years and bought most of her jewellery for around half-price.

....The Unclaimed Baggage Center started down the road in a shack, when the founder began the business by buying lost luggage from the Greyhound Bus Company.

Getting Down with Sarko

As the French learn there's no such thing as a Déjeuner libre, Nick is looking a little less favorable:

A total of 61 percent of those surveyed in September were either very happy with or generally satisfied with Sarkozy, down from 69 percent last month, the IFOP poll to appear in Sunday newspaper Journal du Dimanche showed.

Thirty-six percent were very or rather unhappy with his performance, up seven percentage points from August.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon also saw his popularity rating fall, with 56 percent of those surveyed either very happy with or generally satisfied, down from 63 percent in August.

....Sarkozy this week unveiled plans to overhaul pensions for some public employees and streamline the civil service, the boldest moves yet in his reform drive since taking office four months ago.

Eight unions representing French public sector employees said they would announce on October 1 whether they will launch strike action to protest against Sarkozy's reform agenda.

Friday, September 21, 2007

There goes the neighborhood

Amsterdam's famous Wallen begins to change:

The city of Amsterdam announced Thursday that it will invest up to EUR 15 million to help clean up its famous red light district by buying brothels there.

The city will help a real estate developer buy 51 storefront windows where prostitutes ply their trade to convert them into apartments or commercial premises.

....The Wallen, as the prostitution district is known in Dutch, is one of the oldest and most picturesque areas of Amsterdam and draws hoards of tourists, although they mainly flock there to gawk at the women.

"It is not about chasing prostitution of the Wallen, but it's about fighting crime," Cohen stressed.
City council member responsible for finance Lodewijk Asscher said closing down the prostitute windows should not have a negative impact on tourism.

"We are talking about what we call vertical drinkers, people who walk around the district drink in hand and never even sit down in the area's bars and restaurants," he said of the tourists attracted to the area.

Save the Rainforest

Let the planet warm:

Climate change may lead to lush growth rather than catastrophic tree loss in the Amazonian forests, researchers from the US and Brazil have found. A study, in the journal Science, found that reduced rainfall had led to greener forests, possibly because sunlight levels are higher when there are fewer rainclouds.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Loonie Mania

Parity, eh?

The Canadian dollar reached parity with the U.S. dollar today for the first time since November 1976.

Known as the loonie because of the bird pictured on the one-dollar coin, the Canadian dollar has been gaining ground on its American counterpart since hitting an all-time low of 61.79 U.S. cents on Jan. 21, 2002.

....This week the loonie rose sharply against its U.S. counterpart after the Federal Reserve announced a dramatic half-point cut in its benchmark interest rates. The Bank of Canada, meanwhile, has kept its equivalent rates stable.

As a result, the spread between U.S. and Canadian interest rates widened, making Canada a more attractive place for German, Japanese, American and other foreign investors to put their money.

The soaring loonie also reflects the strong fundamentals of the Canadian economy, which has benefited from record world crude-oil prices and strong demand for metals, coal, chemicals and grain.


Well, just wait til we roll out our new designer five spot:

Honest Abe will become Colorful Abe with splashes of purple and gray livening up the $5 bill.


....The changes are similar to those already made, starting in 2003, to the $10, $20 and $50 bills. In those redesigns, pastel colors were added as part of an effort to stay ahead of counterfeiters and their ever-more-sophisticated copying machines.

Originally, the five wasn't going to be redesigned. But that decision was reversed once counterfeiters began bleaching $5 notes and printing fake $100 bills with the bleached paper to take advantage of the fact that some of the security features were in the same locations on both notes.

To thwart this particular scam, the government is changing the $5 watermark from one of Lincoln to two separate watermarks featuring the numeral 5. The $100 bill has a watermark with the image of Benjamin Franklin.

The security thread embedded in the $5 bill also has been moved to a different location than the one embedded in the $100 bill.

"We wanted this redesigned bill to scream, 'I am a five. I am a five,'" Larry Felix, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"We wanted to eliminate any similarity or confusion on the part of the public between the $5 bill and the $100 bill."

Je suis un vieux cowhand...

Equal opportunity offender Sarko:

...through the voice of his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, the French president has created an uproar in the sphere of foreign policy.

Discussing the crisis over Iran's nuclear programme late Sunday on French television and radio, Kouchner said, "We will negotiate until the end. And at the same time we must prepare ourselves."

Asked what he meant about preparation, he replied, "It is necessary to prepare for the worst," and added, "The worst, sir, is war."

....it is difficult to discern Sarkozy's real motivation in repeatedly angering his European allies. He himself has suggested that he is driven by the desire to shake things up. "I get things moving by breaking taboos," he said.

In that regard, he has attacked almost every aspect of European policy. The EU's monetary policy is not conducive to economic growth, he said. Its trade policy? Naive. The farms policy is backward, the immigration policy is inefficient and the EU's stance on Iraq is too soft.

....his go-it-alone activism has already begun alienating France's traditionally closest partners, the Germans.

"Relations have dramatically worsened," the foreign affairs expert from the centrist FDP party, Werner Hoyer, said recently. "And it is much more than simply a series of beginner's mistakes."

It has also called into question his competence on the issues he is addressing. The president of the German Bundesbank, Axel Weber, said that M. Sarkozy had demonstrated "zero" understanding of economic realities in his constant criticism of the European Central Bank.

Finally, Sarkozy risks losing real influence on major issues. On Tuesday, reacting to Kouchner's remarks, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, "We do not take the comments seriously."


If we can judge a politician by the quality of his enemies....

What a revoltin' development this is

And entirely foreseeable, since it's happened before:

French trade unions called a rail strike on Wednesday to protest plans to reform public sector pension benefits, in the first major show of union power since the election of President Nicolas Sarkozy in May.

The call by five unions for strikes on October 17 has echoes of 1995, when striking rail workers crippled the country in a protest about pension reform.

Sarkozy said this week that he wanted his government "to reform without delay" the special benefits for public sector workers.

He promised that the so-called "special regimes" -- which allow state rail and power employees and some other categories of worker to retire early and on higher pensions -- would be reformed in the next "few months."

Stupid is, as...

An 'honest broker of the news' filing a lawsuit over his, 'fake but accurate', 2004 story:

Dan Rather filed a $70 million lawsuit against CBS and his former bosses Wednesday, claiming they made him a "scapegoat" for a discredited story about President Bush's military service during the Vietnam War.

Rather, 75, whose final months at the network were clouded by controversy over the story, said the actions of the defendants damaged his reputation and cost him significant financial loss.

....In his lawsuit, Rather maintains the story was true, but if any aspect of the broadcast wasn't accurate, he was not responsible for the errors.

....CBS fired the story's producer and asked for the resignation of three executives because it could not authenticate documents used in the story, and Rather was forced out of the anchor chair. Rather's lawsuit says he was forced to apologize, although "as defendants well knew, even if any aspect of the broadcast had not been accurate, which has never been established, Mr. Rather was not responsible for any such errors."

He also claimed that after removing him as anchor of the "CBS Evening News," the network gave him fewer and less important assignments.

At the time, Rather was making $6 million a year, the lawsuit says.

The Trouble with Eddie

This time it's the Screen Actors' Guild on the receiving end, rather than Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver:

The actor who played Eddie Haskell on TV's "Leave It to Beaver" is suing the Screen Actors Guild, claiming the union is sitting on $8.1 million it collected from foreign royalties and should distribute to actors.

Ken Osmond, 64, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court accusing SAG of unjust enrichment and violations of the state's business code. The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of at least 30,000 actors and others.

....Osmond contends that since at least 1996, SAG has collected royalties for use of TV and movie productions outside the United States in the form of levies for video rentals, private copying, cable transmissions and other uses of the productions.

Osmond claims SAG collected the funding on behalf of himself and other actors without obtaining their permission and without telling them it had done so. The lawsuit also contends that the guild has collected more than $8 million but paid out only about $250,000.

Fool for Love

How not to show off for a babe:

In early August, snake collector Matt Wilkinson of Portland grabbed a 20-inch rattler off the highway near Maupin in Central Oregon.

Three weeks later, in a show of daring for an ex-girlfriend, Wilkinson stuck the snake in his mouth. Near death with a tongue swollen to the point it spilled out of his mouth and blocked his throat, he sought emergency-room treatment. Trauma surgeons at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) saved his life.

...."You can assume alcohol was involved," he said. Actually, not just beer. Something he chose to describe as a "mixture of stupid stuff."

Friends were over for a barbecue. A pit was being readied for a backyard bonfire. He himself had downed a six-pack. An ex-girlfriend at the party asked him for a beer. He handed her one, not realizing said snake was also in his hand.

"She said, 'Get that thing out of my face,' " Wilkinson said. "I told her it was a nice snake. Nothing can happen. Watch."

He stuck the snake in his mouth. "It got ahold of my tongue," he said.

In pain and finding it hard to breathe, he quickly arranged to be driven to the hospital by his ex-girlfriend. "She was the only one sober," Wilkinson said.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Russian Oil for Russian Oils

Repatriating their art by selling their raw materials:

One of the greatest collections of Russian art in the West – put together by Mstislav Rostropovich, the celebrated Russian cellist and conductor, while he was living in exile in Britain and France – is going home as Moscow's new-found wealth starts to be used to repatriate its heritage.

Alisher Usmanov, said to be the 14th richest man in Russia with a metals and mining fortune estimated at £5 billion, has snapped up the entire collection for more than £20 million on the eve of it being broken up in a two-day sale due to start at Sotheby's in London today.

Mr Usmanov, who has previously saved the Bolshoi from bankruptcy and is now fighting to win control of Arsenal football club after buying a 15 per stake for £75 million, said yesterday that he would give Rostropovich's collection to the Russian government.

The cellist and his wife, the former Bolshoi soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, arrived in the West in 1974 after fleeing the Soviet Union. ....

Russian art – much of it had arrived in the West during the Revolution – was cheap then and over 30 years Rostropovich built up a huge collection of 18th to 20th century paintings and porcelain. He died in April aged 80.

Driven by new Russian wealth, prices in Western auction houses are now soaring and patriotic oligarchs keen to curry favour with President Vladimir Putin have snapped up Russia's lost art treasures and returned them to the state.

In a similar pre-emptive deal, leaving another auction in New York cancelled, Viktor Vekselberg, an oil and metals tycoon, paid £60 million for nine gem-encrusted Fabergé eggs which had belonged to the Romanov dynasty and put them on display in the Kremlin.

Sotheby's UK sold £75 million of Russian art last year, compared with £4.5 million in 2001.

Monday, September 17, 2007

You talkin' to me?

Follow that car, it might be part of the crime wave:

A large number of Oslo taxi drivers already have been charged with tax evasion and welfare fraud. Now Oslo police suspect around 40 drivers and even more taxi owners of having close contact with Pakistani gangs, and operating as couriers of arms and drugs.

....in some cases, the taxis are used as getaway cars after gang offensives in Oslo and the surrounding area.

....Local tax officials claim 337 taxi owners have failed to report an estimated NOK 406 million in income, while 589 drivers have driven black-market taxi operations to the tune of NOK 116 million.

....Nearly 900 taxi owners and drivers have received more than NOK 100 million in state welfare payments, at the same time they're believed to have driven black-market operations. More than 100 of them have been reported to police, and 20 have been convicted of welfare fraud. Another 350 have been warned that they face welfare reimbursement demands totalling NOK 57 million.

Aftenposten reported on Sunday that a 39-year-old taxi owner sold his house just before he was forced into bankruptcy for failure to pay millions in taxes and fees owed to the state. It's unclear what became of the proceeds of the sale, however, and the 39-year-old now lives on Norwegian welfare, even though he's linked to successful businesses in Pakistan including a bus company, a gas station and several retail stores.

Other taxi owners and drivers charged with tax evasion in Norway are known to have large, expensive homes in Pakistan, where their families live affluent lives.

Playing Mumbley Peg

The Alan revises and extends his remarks:

Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, said in an interview that the removal of Saddam Hussein had been "essential" to secure world oil supplies, a point he emphasized to the White House in private conversations before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Greenspan, who was the country's top voice on monetary policy at the time Bush decided to go to war in Iraq, has refrained from extensive public comment on it until now, but he made the striking comment in a new memoir out today that "the Iraq War is largely about oil." ....

...Greenspan said that at the time of the invasion, he believed, like Bush, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction "because Saddam was acting so guiltily trying to protect something." While he was "reasonably sure he did not have an atomic weapon," he added, "my view was that if we do nothing, eventually he would gain control of a weapon."

His main support for Hussein's ouster, though, was economically motivated. "If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands," Greenspan said, "our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first gulf war. And the second gulf war is an extension of the first. My view is that Saddam, looking over his 30-year history, very clearly was giving evidence of moving towards controlling the Straits of Hormuz, where there are 17, 18, 19 million barrels a day" passing through.

Greenspan said disruption of even 3 to 4 million barrels a day could translate into oil prices as high as $120 a barrel -- far above even the recent highs of $80 set last week -- and the loss of anything more would mean "chaos" to the global economy.
Given that, "I'm saying taking Saddam out was essential," he said. But he added that he was not implying that the war was an oil grab.

Lose the Girl

The French socialists make much ado about Segolene:

France's defeated presidential candidate Segolene Royal came under withering attack from fellow Socialist Lionel Jospin Monday, who described her as a "secondary figure in public life" unfit to head their party.

Jospin, who was the last Socialist prime minister, urged members not to choose her as their next leader at a congress next year, on the grounds that she "has neither the human qualities not the political capacities" to put the party back on track.

He made the comments in a book -- "The Impasse" -- extracts of which were printed in the left-wing Liberation newspaper.

Calling her "the candidate least capable of winning", Jospin described Royal's election campaign against Nicolas Sarkozy earlier this year as a "narcissistic face-to-face with public opinion".

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Enid Fogel, RIP

The wife, and collaborator of Robert Fogel passed away recently:

Enid M. Fogel, retired associate dean of students at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, died Sunday, September 2, at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Mrs. Fogel, 84, was a resident of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Her husband, Nobel Prize–winning economist Robert W. Fogel, credited her work as a researcher in helping him succeed in his career.

Robert Fogel is the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of American Institutions at the Graduate School of Business. At the time of her death, Mrs. Fogel and her husband were writing two books: Simon Kuznets and the Empirical Tradition in Economics and The Transformation of Economics, 1914-1980: Interviews with Economists.

“Over the years, Enid has been both my most confident supporter and my keenest critic,” Robert Fogel wrote in his autobiography posted on the Nobel Prize web site. “No individual has done more to help me pursue a career in science than my wife. When I was an assistant professor, she combined care of the children with many hours of unpaid labor as a research assistant in library archives. She helped boost my self-confidence when my unorthodox findings provoked controversy and criticism, and she often provided insightful suggestions for the improvement of my lectures, papers, books, letters, and research proposals.”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

You May Have Already Lost $500,000

The Minnesota DOT is willing to pay for a few bright ideas:

Next week, four teams bidding to replace the fallen Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis will learn which has the inside track on a project that could be worth a quarter-billion dollars.

But even the losers won't walk away empty-handed.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is ready to pay $500,000 to each of the unsuccessful bidders, which a spokesman said is the largest stipend the agency has ever offered. If they accept the money -- they are free to turn it down -- the department gets the right to use any ideas losing teams submit.

....Stipends are a common feature of design-build transportation projects, an increasingly popular approach where a contractor is responsible for both the design and construction. The money is meant to make the projects more attractive to bid on because developing a proposal can be expensive.

Civil engineering professor Keith Molenaar of the University of Colorado at Boulder has studied the use of stipends and deems them valuable.

"You can't ask the industry to do all these thousands of hours of work and not be compensated," he said. "I believe in the long term the cost of the stipend is far outweighed in the benefit of the innovation and time savings."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Miracle Whip

Now, for the jelly:

Millions of malnourished African children could beat starvation if a Malawian pilot scheme to hand out food supplements, which are similar to peanut butter, is spread across the continent.

Studies by American scientists have found that 89 per cent of severely malnourished children regained their health after they were fed the special compound, which is based on the popular breakfast spread.

The results echo reports of aid agencies working with malnourished children, who have long administered 'Plumpy Nut', a peanut-based, high-calorie paste given out during food crises.

...."The peanut-butter feeding has been a quantum leap in feeding malnourished children in Africa," said Dr Mark Manary, a paediatrics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who has led the studies in Malawi.

"The recovery rates are a remarkable improvement from standard therapy."

Now He Knows One More Big Thing

Sleeping in a pile of dirty laundry isn't safe:

A hedgehog is recovering after surviving a spin in a 40-degree washing machine cycle.

The female creature was nicknamed Lucky by staff who have been caring for her at the Brent Lodge wildlife hospital, near Chichester, in West Sussex.

Hospital manager Penny Cooper said the hedgehog wandered into a private home and burrowed into a pile of washing that was then put into the machine.

...."We monitored her [at the hospital] to make sure there was no chest infection and none of the water had gone into her lungs," she said.

"She didn't seem disorientated, she was fine, and very clean....

Thursday, September 13, 2007

First they came for the tortillas...

Now it's the pasta eaters who are outraged:

Italians were called to join a pasta strike on Thursday to protest against the inexplicable increase of prices.

Outraged over hikes in pasta prices, organisers and supporters of the strike have threatened to go for 24-hours without buying any pasta in the shops.

Consumer groups warn that pasta prices, specifically those for spaghetti, have gone up by 27 percent, a shock for Italians used to a steady diet of spaghetti, fettuccine and ravioli.

....According to news reports, durum wheat, which is used to make pasta, is now being used as a bio-fuel, raising demand and therefore the price.

Another reason is improved diets in emerging countries where putting more meat on the table is raising the demand for feed for livestock.

As a result, wheat stocks worldwide are being depleted and grain prices are soaring.

Higher wheat prices have led to a rise in flour prices and therefore pasta, bread and pizza prices have also gone up.

National Health Socialists

Acting the part in earnest:

A builder who broke his ankle in three places has been refused an operation by doctors - because he smokes.

Gutted John Nuttall, 57, fractured his joint while at work but medics have told him he cannot undergo surgery.

They say unless he gives up his 20-a-day habit he will not be eligible for an operation.

....John, of Newlyn, Cornwall, said: "I'm in agony. I can feel the bones grating. "I've begged them to operate but they won't. I've tried my hardest to give up smoking but I can't.

...."We've paid our stamps all our lives and now we're being shut out of the NHS."

....A spokesman for the Royal Cornwall Hospital confirmed Mr Nuttall's operation had been postponed because of "issues relating to nicotine".

He said: "Smoking has a very big influence on the outcome of this type of surgery and the healing process would be significantly hindered."

In June the then health secretary Patricia Hewitt ruled that doctors could deny smokers operations unless they give up smoking for at least four weeks.

Patients' groups argue the move is more about saving money than improving care. The ruling is expected to affect 500,000 patients this year.

If you can't stand the kitchen

There's always the competition, unless the kitchen puts the heat on:

A sandwich maker has been ticked off by police for taking orders from schoolchildren and delivering butties through the school fence.

Youngsters at Standish High in Wigan, Greater Manchester, are not allowed to leave the grounds during lunch-time.

But, rather than have a school meal, some pupils have been phoning their sandwich orders to Michael Daley.

41-year-old Mr Daley, who runs Standish Kitchen, on Preston Road, Wigan, then delivers the orders - with southern chicken wrap being the most popular.

But the school - which has won Healthy School status in the wake of the Jamie Oliver-inspired crusade - has put a halt to his food run.

Michael said he was "staggered" when a police officer visited the shop and told him to stop taking orders to the school.

...."I don't think I'm doing anything wrong. I'm on a public highway, not school grounds. It's crazy. I'm a businessman, and I give customers what they want. They just don't like the food being served in the school."

Headteacher Hugh Crossan said: "We were one of the first schools in Wigan to win the 'Healthy Schools' status and we offer a wide variety of school meals which the overwhelming majority of children are extremely satisfied with.

"There will be days when one or two pupils don't like anything that's being offered, but they are welcome to approach staff and request different types of food. They are also welcome to bring in their own sandwiches from home.

Death Spiral

In Zimbabwe, it continues to get worse:

According to the World Health Organisation, Zimbabwe now has the world's lowest life expectancy - 37 years for a man, 34 for a woman.

Funerals are about the only growth industry.

....Hospitals, already dealing with the Aids epidemic and malnutrition, are preparing themselves for a further catastrophe. The first deaths from cholera have already been reported.

"The problem," said one doctor, "is that people's immune systems are already so weakened by hunger they can't resist the horrors that the government is throwing at them."

The food queues start at dawn and wind around several blocks of the city. ....

For now, one of the most patient, well educated and resourceful people in Africa are devising ever more ingenious coping strategies.

Twenty per cent of the city of Harare has been dug up to make way for random plots of vegetables. People do not leave home without wheeling barrows or carrying buckets and bags, always on the look-out for an unexpected delivery. You see the desperate sifting through rubbish skips for scraps of food.

....The Institute of Migration estimates that four million people, more than a quarter of the population, have already left the country - three million to South Africa.

"I had no choice," one refugee said as she got off the bus in Johannesburg. "There is no food. My children are starving. Robert Mugabe is killing us".

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Would Hsu stand up and walk out on me?

With a little help from his friends, who bankrolled his largesse for Democrat candidates for office:

Where did Norman Hsu get his money?


....A company controlled by Mr. Hsu recently received $40 million from a Madison Avenue investment fund run by Joel Rosenman, who was one of the creators of the Woodstock rock festival in 1969. That money, Mr. Rosenman told investors this week, is missing.

Mr. Hsu told Mr. Rosenman the money would be used to manufacture apparel in China for Gucci, Prada and other private labels, yielding a 40% profit on each deal, according to a business plan obtained by the [Wall Street] Journal. Now the investment fund, Source Financing Investors, says Mr. Hsu's company owes it the $40 million, which represents 37 separate deals with Mr. Hsu's company. When Source Financing recently attempted to cash checks from the company, Components Ltd., the investors say they were told the account held insufficient funds.

...."Norman Hsu has an extraordinary ability to deceive," says Seth Rosenberg of Clayman & Rosenberg, a lawyer representing Mr. Rosenman.

....Mr. Hsu himself has donated $750,000 to Democrats and Democratic parties out of his own pocket since 2004, according to campaign-finance records.

In checks no larger than $2,300 apiece -- the legal limit for donations to single candidates for a primary or a general election -- Mr. Hsu also raised more than $850,000 for New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign.

....Mr. Rosenberg, the attorney for Mr. Rosenman, asked politicians to hold on to the funds so that Source Financing and other investors can be made whole. "It appears that Source Financing Investors joins Hillary Clinton...and many others as his victims," Mr. Rosenberg said in an interview. "We urge candidates who received contributions from Mr. Hsu to retain those funds so that they may be returned to victims of the scheme."

Miss Y2K?

Step back in time to Ethiopia:

Amid clouds of incense and swathed in white robes, priests of Ethiopia's ancient Christian Orthodox Church yesterday chanted their last Mass ahead of today's new millennium.

The country's unique calendar runs almost eight years behind the West's Gregorian version, meaning that millions of people marked New Year's Eve 1999 last night.

Pilgrims gathered in the medieval capital, Lalibela, where 800-year-old monolithic churches are carved below ground out of the solid rock of a 8,500ft-high basalt plateau.

"We thank God that we are alive at this important time, when we can honour our ancestors and our Church and pray for another 1,000 years of worship," Aba Gebera Yesus, Archbishop of Lalibela, said.

....Ethiopia's tourism office proudly peppers hotels, restaurants and airport lounges with a colourful poster boasting the country's "13 months of sunshine".

Its unique Ge'ez calendar, based on the ancient Egyptian system, is seven years, nine months and 11 days behind the one adopted by Pope Gregory in 1582.

It also has 13 months per year - 12 of 30 days and a final month of five or six days depending on whether it is a leap year.

Locals joke that the word millennium in Amharic, the country's unique language, is "menem yellum", which translates as "there is nothing".

If you could bottle it...

...and you can now:

The way fresh water is supplied to disaster-hit regions could be revolutionised after an Ipswich-based businessman invented a £190 bottle that makes foul-smelling water drinkable in seconds.

Michael Pritchard hopes that the bottle could be a life-saver for refugees in disaster regions where access to clean drinking water is vital.

However, the military are already latching on to his idea. Four hours after Mr Pritchard launched his new "Life Saver" bottle at the DESI defence show in London yesterday, he sold out his entire 1,000 stock. "I am bowled over," he said. Military chiefs are excited because the bottles, which can distill either 4,000 litres or 6,000 litres without changing the filter, will have huge benefits for soldiers who hate drinking iodine-flavoured water.

....Conventional filters can cut out bacteria measuring more than 200 nanometres but not viruses, which typically are 25 nanometres long.

Mr Pritchard's bottle can clean up any water - including faecal matter - using a filter that cuts out anything longer than 15 nanometres, which means that viruses can be filtered out without the use of chemicals.

Amnesty

For alien coathangers, in Britain:

They lurk at the back of wardrobes, beneath beds and half concealed under chests of drawers.

Chances are at least a dozen are lying around your home, waiting to trip up the unwary.
But now could be the time to act against the menace of unused coat hangers.

Marks & Spencer has declared an amnesty on all plastic hangers, from whatever store, inviting the public to return them for recycling.

Research suggests Britain has 540 million surplus coat hangers, weighing 17,000 tons.

It is suggested as many as 100million a year are thrown away and sent to landfill, where they take more than 100 years to degrade.

It Tolls for Thee (a continuing series)

Virginia announces new highway construction. Largely paid for by investors:

Virginia has reached agreement with Transurban DRIVe and Fluor on most of the details of a 75-year toll concession to build 22.5km (14 miles) of 2+2 HOT lanes on the Capital Beltway between the Springfield Interchange at I-95 through the Tysons Corner/Dulles Toll Road area. The project has grown in scope and cost to $1.4b for the design-build portion and $1.7b including financing and planning.

Under the agreement now reached the state will provide $409m or 24% of the estimated project cost of $1.7b. Investors will have to come up with around $1,291m. Any cost over-runs will be borne by Transurban DRIVe/Fluor.


The details of the tolls being even more interesting:

- the HOT lanes will be free for vehicles carrying 3 or more persons, the rest will be tolled

- if free high occupancy vehicles go above 24% of traffic in the HOT lanes the concessionaire will be entitled to revenue from VDOT for the surplus amounting to 70% of the prevailing toll rates for the first 40 years of the concession or until the project rate of return exceeds a threshold level of 10%- there are no restrictions on VDOT's right to add free lanes alongside, although the concessionaire can seek compensation for lost toll revenues

.... - there are no caps on toll rates

In toll lanes alongside free lanes toll rates have to be free of concession caps so price can be set sufficiently high to prevent traffic overload. If they aren't set high enough overload will occur, traffic flow will break down, and the HOT lanes will become worthless, offering no advantage over the free lanes alongside.

The concession contract will require Transurban to maintain free flow traffic conditions by preventing overload although the profit motive will also drive that.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Make 'em Laugh

Now that they're free to do so:

Turn on the sitcom that is the hottest television show in Russia, and it all seems so familiar. Moored to his living room couch is a shoe salesman who is more interested in watching sports than conjugal relations. His wife has shocking hair and an even more shocking mouth. A couple of ne'er-do-well teenagers round out this bawdy, bickering bunch.

In fact, the show is an authorized copy of the U.S. sitcom "Married . . . With Children," with a Russian cast and dialogue but scripts that hew closely to those of the original. This knockoff is such a sensation, especially among the young viewers coveted by advertisers, that its actors have become household names, and billboards are plastered around Moscow.

....The show's success says something not only about changing tastes here but also about Russia's improved standing as a whole. Sitcoms are typically grounded in middle-class life and poke fun at it. The popularity of the Russian version of "Married . . . With Children," and other adaptations of American sitcoms suggests that Russia has attained enough stability and wealth in recent years that these kinds of jokes resonate.

" 'Married . . . With Children,' with its satire on the American middle class, fits the style of our channel well," said Dmitri Troitsky, a senior executive at the Russian channel TNT, a Gazprom-owned network whose programming bent is roughly similar to that of the Fox network in the United States. "It seemed interesting and topical for us to do a parody on the Russian middle class."

These days, U.S. visitors in Russia could be forgiven for thinking that they had stumbled upon some bizarre realm of sitcom reruns. In addition to "Married . . . With Children," adaptations of two other shows, "Who's the Boss?" and "The Nanny," are hugely popular here.

...."The Nanny," which was first broadcast in Russia in 2004, was such a hit that after running out of episodes to copy, Sony commissioned some of the show's original American writers to come up with 25 more episodes just for Russia, said Ron Sato, a Sony spokesman.

Frost Ya?

If you're an investor, it should:

Struggling US snack foods giant Krispy Kreme slid deeper into the red as second quarter losses grew to $27m (£13.3m) from $4.6m in 2006.

Shares in the doughnut maker fell 25% in reaction to the latest bad news to hit Krispy Kreme, which is in the midst of a restructuring operation.

Healthier eating trends were one of the factors blamed for declining sales.

Competition from rival Dunkin'Donuts and franchisees filing for bankruptcy have also damaged
Krispy Kreme.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Don't want your burger super-salted? Have it your way:

UNION CITY, Ga. - A McDonald's employee spent a night in jail and is facing criminal charges because a police officer's burger was too salty, so salty that he says it made him sick.

Kendra Bull was arrested Friday, charged with misdemeanor reckless conduct and freed on $1,000 bail.

Bull, 20, said she accidentally spilled salt on hamburger meat and told her supervisor and a co-worker, who "tried to thump the salt off."

On her break, she ate a burger made with the salty meat. "It didn't make me sick," Bull told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

....Police said samples of the burger were sent to the state crime lab for tests.

City public information officer George Louth said Bull was charged because she served the burger "without regards to the well-being of anyone who might consume it."

Sunday, September 09, 2007

HIP, HIP, HOOEY

Britain's homeowners find that their government is interested in their bedrooms:

'The men came to do the HIP - two of them - and I am still in shock," says Stanley Parr. "We were interrogated about the date of construction, our central heating and loft insulation, and whether or not we used low-energy light bulbs. They photographed everything - I was amazed."

For the 73-year-old pensioner, from Pershore, Worcestershire, the stressful ordeal of selling a house has been made even more unappealing since the arrival of Home Information Packs (HIPs), which were introduced for houses with four or more bedrooms last month.

"The whole process is extremely unnerving because strangers can now come into my home on government orders to take all these details and enter them on a national database," he says. "Burglars will have a field day if they access it, which, no doubt, they will."

Mr Parr has chosen to carry on with his sale, despite the difficulties. But many more have not. ....

Fifty-three per cent of chartered surveyors reported a drop in the number of four-bedroom houses put up for sale in August, compared with the same month last year. The average reported drop was 51 per cent - rising to 67 per cent in London and 62 per cent in the North-West.


Apparently due to the simple expedient of removing a bed from a room, and calling the room something else:

Canny sellers can avoid the packs in a number of ways.

One is to remove a bed from a bedroom to create a three-bedroom house with a study or boxroom; another is to cancel a pack after it has been ordered - a pack need only have been "ordered", not purchased, to market a property; a third is paying the £200 penalty fine if caught without one - far cheaper than a HIP, and getting caught is unlikely in any case, as trading standards officials have admitted that they don't have the resources to enforce the packs.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Shipping Out

Norway's socialist government finds itself trapped by the economics:

The very idea is distasteful to members of the Socialist Left Party (SV), led by Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen. The last thing SV wants to do is grant any tax relief to groups it views as among the wealthiest in Norwegian society.

Such groups, SV has long argued, should pay more taxes than others, not less.

But the shipowners long have lobbied, largely successfully, for low tax levels in order to match those of other countries. If they can't stay competitive, they'll re-flag the rest of their ships and simply sail away to more tax-friendly countries.

Good riddance, say some members of SV, but others may be forced to swallow tax breaks for the shipowners anyway. Intense negotiations are reportedly going on among the government coalition's three parties, with the Center Party and some aspects of Labour siding with the shipowners.


No doubt because the shipowners employ some of their constituents.

Dutch Chocolate

Sweets for the...depressed?

AMSTERDAM - To make them forget the rainy weather this summer the Dutch en masse sought consolation in sweets. Figures published by marketing research agency AC Nielsen showed that more sweets, chocolate and biscuits had been sold this summer than usual.

....Sales figures of small and large bars of chocolate rose by 14 percent while those of chocolate sweets went up by 11 percent. The total turnover of chocolate increased by 10 percent to EUR 73.5 million.

Biscuits were very popular with Dutch consumers (up 10 percent). Liquorice too was favourite in rainy Holland and saw a rise of 4 percent.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Burn the Beef

Maybe the bickering Belgians should take heed:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has become the patron of South Africa's Barbecue (Braai) Day, saying the pastime is a unifying force in a divided country.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate celebrated his appointment by donning an apron and tucking into a sausage outside his office.

"This is something that can unite us. It is so proudly South African, so uniquely South African," he said.

Braai Day takes place on September 24, which is also National Heritage Day.

...."We've shown the world a few things. Let's show them that ordinary activities like eating can unite people of different races, religions, sexes... short people, tall people, fat people, lean people," he added.

The retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, who won the Nobel Prize in 1984 for his anti-apartheid struggle, continues to speak out against injustice at home and abroad.

He is linked to a peace foundation and HIV and TB centres, and he is patron to a number of organisations, including children's hospitals, hospices, nutrition clinics, orphanages and a soccer team.

However, he admitted that he had lost count of the groups he backed.

"Sometimes I am surprised when people say, 'You are our patron'," he said.

Divorce, Belgian Style

North is Flemish, and South is Walloon, and the twain ain't meetin' to form a government:

Almost three months after elections, Belgium has no government, efforts to form one are on hold, and unity appeals by King Albert II have been ignored, eroding the prestige of a monarchy often hailed as the glue holding this bilingual nation of 10.5 million together.

....'I don't want the end of Belgium, but I fear it will happen,'' says Gerard Deprez, a former Christian Democratic leader from French-speaking Wallonia.

Elio di Rupo, the Francophone Socialist leader, says the danger of Belgium's disintegration ''is greater now than it was on June 10'', when elections triggered the protracted haggling over forming the government.

....Many Flemish grumble that their wealthier, service-based economy subsidises Wallonia. Dutch-speakers view the Francophones' dilapidated cities and 14 percent unemployment - double their rate - as the legacy of hard-line Socialist rule.

....''Living together in one country is impossible if year after year the minority prevents the majority to realise its most important desires,'' Het Laatste Nieuws, Belgium's largest daily, argued recently.

Seeing politicians ''at each other's throats'' in linguistic spats makes Belgians believe divorce is possible, says Jos Geysels, a commentator said in the daily De Morgen.

Chris Peeters, an Antwerp resident, sees widespread support for Flemish independence ''because all the difficulties we have had over the last 10 years in Belgium ... are coming from the French part. So it would be a solution for Belgium to split apart.''

....The demise of Belgium would bring this country full circle.

In 1912, Jules Destree, a Francophone Socialist, wrote King Albert I a letter saying his nation - whiwh gained independence from the Netherlands in 1830 - was an artificial nation with no regard for reality on the ground.

Flemings and Walloons are complete opposites, Destree argued.