Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Breaking In

Down Under, they do things differently:

A former prisoner in Australia has decided to buy his own jail cell.

Graeme Alford spent several years in Pentridge Prison, Melbourne, for embezzlement and robbery.

But he is not planning to actually live in the cell again. It is being turned into a wine storage facility as part of the prison's commercial redevelopment.

Mr Alford, a former barrister, said the purchase was "purely an investment" as he swore to stop drinking after his release in 1980.

....Mr Alford ended up in jail when addictions to gambling and alcohol led him to become heavily in debt.

He started stealing from trust funds and used a sawn-off shotgun in a failed bank robbery.
But after leaving prison, Mr Alford turned his life around.

He stopped drinking and gambling and became a motivational speaker, writing the top-selling book Never Give Up about his experiences.

When he saw the heritage-listed building was being redeveloped, he thought the opportunity was too good to miss.

"I thought that not too many people have bought their own jail cell back," he told local media.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


They've done it before; village destroyed...then saved:

The resilience of the Vietnamese-American community in New Orleans is a bright spot for a city still missing roughly one-third of the 455,000 residents who lived here before the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane.

An estimated 90 percent of the 25,000 Vietnamese-Americans who lived in southeastern Louisiana before Katrina had returned within two years of Katrina's onslaught, according to community leaders. They were among the first to start rebuilding their homes and reopening their businesses, and their community is recovering much more rapidly than some other parts of New Orleans.

Like many of her neighbors, Kinh Nguyen didn't wait for the government's help to repair her home, a modest, ranch-style house. She moved her family back in in March 2006, about 18 months before she received a federal housing grant.

To save money, she gutted the house and removed the mold herself, using directions she found on the Internet. Friends and relatives helped with some of the most grueling labor. Even the Catholic priests from her nearby church, Mary Queen of Vietnam, pitched in and helped her fix her kitchen.

"Hand in hand, we support each other," she said.

Adversity is nothing new to New Orleans' Vietnamese. Many families lost everything before they fled their homeland three decades ago.

"Katrina itself is almost like a bug bite for us," said Anh "Joseph" Cao, a lawyer who ran for state representative this year in a district that includes part of eastern New Orleans. "It's sort of bothersome. It itches. But it's not something we're terrified of."

This dog will hunt

Unfortunately for an Iowan:

A man out hunting in Iowa was shot in the leg after a hunting dog stepped on his gun, authorities said.

The accident happened after James Harris, 37, put his gun on the ground to retrieve a fallen pheasant.

One of a pack of hunting dogs following behind stepped on the trigger, and up to 120 birdshot pellets hit Mr Harris in the left calf at short range.

A local official told a news agency the injury was "not life-threatening, but will give him trouble for a long time".

Alan Foster, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, told the AFP news agency it was not uncommon for hunters to be shot by their dogs.

"I hear about it a couple times a year," somewhere in the country, he said.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Render Unto Bureaucrats

They're not having any of the wall of separation stuff in the European Union:

Brussels has demanded the Spanish Roman Catholic Church opens its books to reveal any fiscal advantages it enjoys which may break EU laws. The European Commission has asked the Spanish Government discloses the ‘fiscal benefits’ of the Church.

....The EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: “I would only like to say that there is an investigation into the fiscal benefits of the Spanish Church. We want to see if they are justified or excessive or constitute an illegal subsidy.”

....Last year, the Church received €5.05million in tax benefits and every year is paid around €30m directly from the State. The Church still enjoys many financial advantages granted under the regime of the late dictator General Francisco Franco. It is exempt from council tax, income tax and inheritance tax. It is also not taxed on donations.

In Spain, all taxpayers have a portion of their income tax paid to the Church if they give permission. If they refuse to let their taxes go to the Church, the state makes up the difference.

Every year fewer people give their income tax contributions to the Church. In 1993, 42 percent of Spaniards allowed their income tax to be paid to Rome, while in 2004, it had fallen to 33 percent.

To Match the Elephants...

The Japanese will be seeing?

France's 2007 Beaujolais Nouveau wine has gone pink for its Japanese fans, with rose bottles to hit the shelves alongside the traditional red, a winegrowers' body said Wednesday.

....Japan is the biggest importer of Beaujolais Nouveau, with a record 11 million bottles ordered last year. Even though beer and Japanese sake remain far more popular than wine, Beaujolais Nouveau has become a seasonal fad, sold everywhere from fine restaurants to convenience stores.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

How Blonde Was My Valerie

From Mrs. Joseph Wilson's Fair Game (p. 95):

Iraq under its cruel dictator Saddam Husein, was clearly a rogue nation that flouted international treaties and norms in its quest for regional superiority. The U.S. intelligence community was not the only actor that found Iraq's provocations alarming. The Center for Nonproliferation Studies...was also concerned. Here's what some of their research revealed about the state of Iraq's WMD programs in 2001:


With sufficient black-market uranium or plutonium, Iraq probably could fabricate a nuclear weapon

...could produce weapons-grade fissile material within several years.

Engaged in clandestine procurement of special nuclear weapon-related equipment.

Retains large and experienced pool of nuclear scientists and technicians.

Retains nuclear weapons design, and may retain related components and software.

Mrs. Wilson, in the book, also loudly criticizes the office of the Vice President for its interest in the CIA's intelligence information on Iraq.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Legally Blonde

Valerie Plame Wilson on page 303 of her book Fair Game:

Congressman Lynn Westmoreland...'Just to kinda keep score--not that you would put yourself in any political category--but would you say you are Democrat or a Republican?' Westmoreland asked this with the hint of a smirk. I was taken aback and looked quickly to Congressman Waxman for some guidance. Wasn't that an illegal question, like asking someone his or her religion?

Watching His Spending

And enjoying every Pound of it going toward the good life:

Sir John Bourn, the Government's spending watchdog, spent £365,000 in travel expenses and £27,000 in restaurant bill in just three years as head of the National Audit Office (NAO).

The auditor general is currently one of the few officials who cannot be sacked by the Government and can only be dismissed after votes in both houses of Parliament. However, following pressure from MPs, Sir John announced yesterday that he would step down in January.

....His six-figure expenses bill is particularly embarrassing for the Government as Sir John was also recruited in 2006 to a new position to police the ministerial code of conduct, which sets out standards of behaviour for ministers. Downing Street said yesterday he would also step down from this role when he retires.

....The Liberal Democrats' Cabinet Office spokesman, Norman Baker, said: "Sir John Bourn has made the correct decision and he should be thanked for the work he has done.

"But the next incumbent cannot end up in a position where he embarrasses the National Audit Office through expenses claims and perceived conflicts of interest."

Earlier this month, the NAO revealed Sir John had been on 43 foreign trips in three years, often accompanied by his wife. They travelled first class on 22 separate occasions including to San Francisco, the Bahamas, Brazil, Lisbon and Venice, at a cost of £76,000. He had also enjoyed 164 lunches and dinners since 2004, including meals at the Ritz, Savoy, Dorchester, Wiltons, Mirabelle and Bibendum. The most expensive bill cost taxpayers £301.

It later emerged he attended sporting events with defence firms, including those who have come under investigation by the NAO for Government deals.

Che it ain't so!

Private property, freely exchanged between consenting adults, doesn't happen unless both sides to the transaction think they will benefit:

Strands of hair said to have been taken from the corpse of Ernesto Che Guevara by a former CIA operative have sold for $119,000 (£58,000) at auction.

....The sale is not a first for Heritage Auction Galleries, which has sold locks from the heads of Abraham Lincoln, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

....Heritage Auction Galleries had tightened security for the sale, because of fears of protests from socialists unhappy that profits were being made from the revolutionary's death.

Mankiw Very Much

The Pigou Club has another member:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday called for a national "carbon tax" on global-warming pollutants and a European levy on imports from countries outside the Kyoto Protocol.

Sarkozy mentioned no names, but any such levy is bound to be targeted at imports from the United States and Australia, the only advanced economies that remain outside the UN's landmark pact on greenhouse-gas emissions.

....Sarkozy said he would consider shifting part of France's tax burden from labour to pollutants, a key demand of environmentalists.

...."We need to profoundly revise all of our taxes... to tax pollution more, including fossil fuels, and to tax labour less."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Unlicensed to Crush

In Australia they aren't going to take it anymore:

An Australian barmaid who entertained customers by crushing beer cans between her bare breasts and hanging spoons from her nipples has been fined.

Police in Western Australia said Luana De Favari, 31, admitted twice exposing her breasts to patrons at the Premier Hotel in Pinjarra, south of the state capital, Perth.

She was fined A$1,000 dollars (£439) after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Liquor Control Act

De Favari "is alleged to have also crushed beer cans between her breasts during one of the offences", in breach of hotel licensing laws, police said in a statement.

Off-duty barmaid Tracey Leslie, 43, was fined A$500 (£220) for helping to hang spoons from De Favari's nipples, police said.

The hotel manager was also fined A$1,000 for failing to stop the pair.

Supt David Parkinson said: "It sends a clear message to all licensees in Peel that we will not tolerate this type of behaviour in our licensed premises."

Siga el dinero

Woody explains why he's working in Europe:

Allen is currently wrapping up work on his first-ever movie to be filmed in Spain, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", which stars his current muse, Scarlett Johansson, along with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem and is set in Barcelona.

It is Allen's fourth straight film to be shot in Europe. He filmed his last three features -- "Match Point", "Scoop" and the soon to be released "Cassandra's Dream" -- in London.

"I film in Europe because my films get financing here," he told the radio station.

Barcelona city hall and the government of Spain's affluent northeastern region of Catalonia both provided funding for Allen's latest film, a move criticised by some local residents who said aid should go to home-grown works.

Call to Arms

Revamping the marketing team, in France:

France has set up a special arms sales task force to react rapidly to any opportunity to sell the country's weapons, a presidential envoy said Wednesday.

"We have to take political and military decisions very quickly and deals need to be made as a matter of urgency," said a senior Elysees official.

France is the world's second largest arms exporter at 7.9 billion dollars (5.5 billion euros), second only to the United States at 12.9 billion dollars. Russia comes third with sales of 5.6 billion dollars.

....News of the "rapid response" unit came as France admitted defeat in its effort to sell its Rafale fighter jet to Morocco at the end of a visit there by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Rabat has decided to buy American F-16s instead.

The Rafale warplane, built by Dassault, is still to find a buyer outside of the French military after 13 years of fruitless marketing.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Turismo del Sexo

Just another efficient market, say the Spanish:

Prostitution is legal in Spain. The Spanish themselves have open minds on the subject and see no real social stigma in going with a prostitute.

....Club Paradiso is large, three floors high, with a huge bar - clean, smart, gaudy, brash.

....You pay the uniformed bouncers EUR 5 to enter. You get a drink, and you get the girls.

Experienced women - working, professional prostitutes, who pay their taxes, pay the club for the use of its facilities, pay for their own weekly medical examinations.

The men stand at the bar, laughing and chatting with their friends, and the girls approach them, girls who speak several languages, girls from all over Europe and Asia.

....Leave morality out of it, and it’s just a business, like any other.

Beyond the cruelty, the depravity of the lowest end of the business, the virtual slavery of the roundabout girls, and it’s just another, lucrative business, supply and demand, market forces at work.

Josie Brennan is in her late forties, is still attractive, has a good figure and takes care of herself.

Josie comes from South London, where she worked as a self-employed prostitute for years, earning well in excess of GBP 100,000 a year, after tax.

....“I came out here to visit friends, and saw the opportunity to make a career change. Well, sort of,” she says.

Josie reasoned that Britons like to deal with their own kind.

“If they’ll pay extra for British builders, well, I figured they pay for a British working girl. So I came out here for a season, rented a flat, put an ad in the paper, and made twice as much as I would have done in London.”

Josie is an entrepreneur. She bought a villa, contacted a few other working girls from Britain, and opened what is, essentially, a brothel.

Each girl pays Josie for the daily use of a room, and for shared resources, telephone answering and security.

“The girls work around three days a week, not in the evening. They make more than, say, a builder would make in a fortnight, and they’re their own bosses," says Josie.

"Most are saving up, two or three years of this and they’ll move on, with a good little nest-egg to buy a business.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Drinking While an Indian Elephant can be hazardous:

Six Asiatic wild elephants were electrocuted as they went berserk after drinking rice beer in India's remote northeast, a wildlife official said today.

Nearly 40 elephants came to a village on Friday looking for food. Some found beer, which farmers ferment and keep in plastic and tin drums in their huts, said Sunil Kumar, a state wildlife official.

They got drunk, uprooted a utility pole carrying power lines and were electrocuted in Chandan Nukat, a village nearly 150 miles west of Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya state, Kumar said.

"There would have been more casualties had the villagers not chased them away," said Dipu Mark, a local conservationist.

The elephants are known to have a taste for rice beer brewed by tribal communities in India's northeast. Four wild elephants died in similar circumstances in the region three years ago.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Crime doesn't pay?

In Italy, it pays well:

Revenue from organized crime amounts to an estimated $127 billion annually in Italy, making it the largest segment of the economy, a lobby group for small businesses said Monday.

The figure, representing about 7 percent of the country's gross domestic product, is made from illicit activities such as extortion, drug trafficking, loansharking and prostitution rings, the Confesercenti lobby said in a report.

....One of the major issues is the "pizzo," as extorted "protection" money is known. Many businessmen in southern Italy have long considered it an unavoidable expense. A business lobby of industrialists in Sicily recently said it would expel any member who pays the "pizzo."

But eliminating the "pizzo" has been met with violent resistance. Some merchants, factory owners and industrialists who have denounced extortion attempts by mobsters have seen their businesses torched or company vehicles damaged in recent years.

A small number of businessmen have also been killed for refusing to pay the protection money.

Live Fires of the Rich and Famous

In Malibu, they're not very different from us:

Some of Malibu's wealthy denizens may reign over Hollywood, but Mother Nature has once again shown who's really in charge of their picturesque seaside retreat.

Since wind-driven wildfires erupted in Malibu's canyons before dawn on Sunday, hopscotching flames and embers have wrecked havoc on this affluent enclave in the hills and beaches west of Los Angeles for the second time this year.

....Five homes were destroyed on Sunday, including a landmark castle that belonged to philanthropist Lilly Lawrence, who estimated her losses "way up in the double-digit millions."

....A-list actors like Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson and Sean Penn have property in the area, as do singers Sting and Olivia Newton-John. Media mogul David Geffen recently invested some of his considerable wealth in the Malibu Beach Inn, turning the landmark lodge into a luxury hotel.

With the outbreak of fire, Geffen opened the inn to two dozen evacuees for free, as well as to 80 firefighters who slept there in shifts.

"Why be empty? I'd rather it go to good use," managing director Alan Goldschneider said. "They try to throw down money and their credit cards, but we're not charging a soul. They're saving our houses."

In a similar vein, a local supermarket established a special no-charge checkout lane for firefighters and other emergency personnel.

What goes up, must...

stay there, because the firemen might get hurt trying to take it down:

The crews have been barred from cleaning up after their community's Gala Day, which took place in early July.

The annual event is always marked with colourful bunting throughout the Bedfordshire market town.

In previous years officers have pitched in afterwards to help take it down. But this year, nearly four months after the event, the bunting is still in place.

Councillor Mark Smith, the former mayor, said: "The reason the festival bunting is still up arises from the fact that due to local health and safety advice the local fire brigade is unable to take the bunting down."

....Deputy chief fire officer Graeme Smith said: "Yes it sounds like the world has gone mad. Firefighters will climb ladders to rescue people from burning buildings but not to remove bunting after a festival.

....It is not the first time firefighters have fallen foul of health and safety laws.

In August 2006, staff at Devon fire brigade were told to use the stairs instead of sliding down their poles - in case they hurt themselves.

Health and safety officials decided the poles were a hazard despite them being used to shave off vital seconds for 130 years.

As a result, Devon's newest fire station - the £ 2.4million Greenbank station in Plymouth - was built without one - leaving officers flabbergasted.

At the time, Station officer Ken Mulville said: "I would say it takes about a second and a half to slide down the pole, as opposed to 15 or 20 seconds to run down two flights of stairs - but those seconds could be critical."

Gloucestershire Fire Brigade was the first in Britain to ban its firemen from using their poles in 2002 after taking into account European safety directives.

....In December 2005, fire crews in Merseyside were also banned from going running – in case they injured themselves and claimed damages.

The order was imposed after colleague Gavin Bassie, 38, won £100,000 for injuries sustained when he slipped as he was running at his base.

Firefighters were then told: "All forms of running as part of physical training will be prohibited for all service personnel until further notice."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Like Pulling Teeth

To get a dentist in Britain:

Lisa is just one of 45,000 Britons who have travelled abroad for dental treatment in the past 12 months. She did so because, like 78 per cent of people in Britain, she was unable to find an NHS dentist willing to carry out bridge work and she could not afford to pay for treatment at a private practice. Those she called quoted prices from £18,000 to £48,000.

A survey, last week, of 5,000 patients and 750 dentists revealed that Britain is now so woefully short of state-funded dentists that one in 20 people say they have resorted to some style of DIY dentistry — a handful agonisingly pulling out their own teeth with pliers — because the soaring cost of private treatment is way beyond their means.

The lengths to which some have gone is mind-boggling: desperate patients have plugged crowns with chewing gum, poured Polyfilla into cavities and used Super Glue to replace teeth that have fallen out. One in five people say they now go without treatment, again because they cannot afford private prices.

But the real scandal of the pitiful state of NHS dentistry is the spiralling numbers of those who feel forced to go abroad to receive treatment that they should get here.

While Hungary and the Czech Republic are the most popular, other countries that offer private services to Britons at a fraction of the cost are Thailand, Mexico, India and Poland.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Something's Happening There

And what it is, is clear: A Reaganesque leader can inspire even the French:

French commuters faced a second day of disruption on the rail network Friday, as unions discussed more strikes against government plans to reform pension privileges enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of public sector workers.

....The government has said it will not be budged from plans to overhaul the country's so-called "special" pension systems, which are enjoyed by 1.6 million rail, energy and other workers.

Invoking social equity, Sarkozy has begun moves to lengthen contribution periods for these workers from 37.5 years to 40, closer in line with other public and private sector employees. Currently some railway staff can retire on a full pension at the age of 50.

Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand invited unions to talks next week, and said concessions could be possible on the "level of pensions payments." But he insisted the governemnt would not give way on the contribution period.

"If we want to guarantee our pensions, we have to work longer," he said.

An opinion poll in the centre-right newspaper Le Figaro found that a large majority of the public does not want the government to give way.

Sixty-seven percent said the government should not "yield to the union's demands".

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Is Paris Buying?

Ethical fashion seems to be an oxymoron in France, for the time being:

At Paris's Ethical Fashion Show, currently the world's largest event spotlighting eco and fair-trade fashion, California's Maia Anderson concluded her first European order, for a store in London.

"I think Brits like well-designed but down-to-earth urban wear," she said of her Convoy label clothing made of recycled, organic and sustainably grown materials. "But tell me, why London or Switzerland, why not orders for Paris?"

....though the event clearly is attracting widening interest, the question even the organisers were asking was whether ethical fashion was really taking off? And if so, where?

....In France, hypermarket chains such as Monoprix and Carrefour are featuring ethical fashion designers and also produce house brand organic cotton T-shirts. But the buzz has yet to hit the streets.

"Frankly," said Florence Godinho, owner of a boutique in an upscale western Paris suburb, "though I'm interested in the whole ethical fashion thing, my customers know little about organic cotton and don't seem interested in the women's coops in India or Kenya who make the clothing."

"I'm looking for a couple of labels to sell in my store," she said at the event, "but I have little demand for organic anything."

Even mighty La Redoute sees a snail's progress ahead for now. "Mentalities are changing here, but slowly and not at any price," said Elisebeth Cazorla, the firm's ethical fashion head.

"Consumers must be able to wear the product to buy it, and the fact that it is fair trade is secondary," she said.

"In spite of steps we and others have taken, the move to ethical fashion has been much slower here than in London."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Taking the ball, and going home

Now that France is out of the World Cup, the railroad doesn't go there anymore:

A strike by French rail unions could play havoc with fans desperate to get to the rugby World Cup final on Saturday.

A major stoppage will be held across France on Thursday and Friday over planned changes to retirement schemes but several unions have called for the strike to continue Saturday.

The industrial action could affect the line which serves the Stade de France in the north of the city where the final will kick off at 1900GMT between England and South Africa.

The Unexplodeds of Cherbourg

Better late than never, we guess:

A huge mission to clear the waters off Normandy of mines from the last two World Wars began Tuesday, French authorities said.

...."This operation is designed to search, find, identify and destroy all historic mines in order to improve the safety of this navigation," French maritime police spokesman Yann Bizien said.

"Fishermen still often find old mines when they haul in their trawler nets."

Barely 15 percent of the mines laid in the sea during World Wars I and II have been destroyed, officials said.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The Social Security surplus takes its first hit:

The baby boomers' stampede for Social Security benefits has begun.

The nation's first baby boomer, a retired teacher from New Jersey, applied for Social Security benefits Monday, signaling the start of applications from the post-World War II boomer generation.

Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue called it "America's silver tsunami."

Kathleen ...Casey-Kirschling was born one second after midnight Jan. 1, 1946, gaining her recognition as the first baby boomer — a generation of nearly 80 million born from 1946 to 1964.

She will be eligible for benefits after she turns 62 next year. ....

An estimated 10,000 people a day will become eligible for Social Security benefits over the next two decades....

Going to the big surplus store in the sky

The one Al Gore invented:
They're counting down the days until Dec. 21, the last day of business for their bit of heaven that encompasses 50,000 square feet of warehouse space, and thousands upon thousands of items.

Boeing has announced that the surplus store, a local landmark for 35 years, is closing and going to the Internet.

Oh, how the guys — and it's mostly men who come here — will miss it.

....It's a special club to which they belong, where joy is finding that mercury vapor analyzer that's practically a steal at $70.

The deals they could find:

• Heavy metal desks that scream out "1970s office" at $20 each. They're so sturdy that some guys buy them as platforms on which to rebuild car engines.

• Desktop computers with respectable 1 GHz microprocessors at $25 each. They're so popular that a sign at the entrance warns, "3 CPU's per person. NO EXCEPTIONS!"

....Scott Bacher, 50, of Everett, was among those standing at the front of the line early on a recent weekday....

Bacher works as a self-employed airplane mechanic. He comes here because he can buy an air-powered tool for $25 that'd sell new for $900.

"Boeing is so big that what they throw away is a delight for somebody like me," Bacher said.

Many of the others waiting in line were resellers.

There was Ed Williams, 55, of Federal Way. On this morning, he was peering through the window at the equipment on Table 4, which had something called densitometers for sale. Maybe he could pick them up for $35 each and resell them on his Web site for $75 to $200 apiece.

"This is the only place left where you can go running in the door, and grab something for $35 and get a deal," he said.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Addicted to golf? That's what they're hoping for, in Britain:
Junkies are being offered rounds of golf at the taxpayers' expense under a drugs rehabilitation programme.

Drug users have been kitted out with free shoes, gloves and clubs through the Drugs Intervention Programme (DIP).

....Since the scheme was launched, there has been a significant fall in crime with the number of offences such as theft, robbery and burglary dropping by 27 per cent amongst those on the scheme.

....The DIP Partnership bought two sets of golf clubs and other equipment after coming to an agreement with Hartlepool Power Station to use the nine-hole course at the Tees Road plant.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Be thankful I don't take it all

'Cause I'm the taxman

(if you drive a car, car;) - I’ll tax the street;
(if you try to sit, sit;) - I’ll tax your seat;
(if you get too cold, cold;) - I’ll tax the heat;
(if you take a walk, walk;) - I'll tax your feet.

Now it needs updating:

Confidential orders to council tax snoopers, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, say 'friendly' pubs with quiz nights, football teams or dartboards will be forced to pay higher business rates, which will pay for Labour's public-spending programme.

The plan, which could lead to big tax rises for bars deemed 'popular', was last night condemned by the Tories, who claimed it could lead to landlords cancelling quizzes and other social events.

....The pub-quiz tax is disclosed in guidance notes drawn up by the Government-run Valuation Office Agency, which is carrying out a review of every business in the land using a 60-page instruction booklet entitled the Non-Domestic Rating Referencing Manual.

The agency is carrying out a similar survey of all UK homes using a £13million computer database run by secretive American contractors.

Guidance on how to set the rates for a pub tells inspectors to take into account a number of factors: 'Note any TV (including satellite) facility, quiz nights, pool, darts or football teams in leagues. Does the pub appear friendly and popular?'

In addition, pool and darts 'facilities' must be logged along with 'beer gardens, children's play areas and bowling greens'.

The inspectors must obtain price lists of beers, wines and spirits and assess the type of pub, such as 'standard local, village pub [or] student venue', suggesting pleasant locals will have to pay more than scruffier student bars.

Invest Wisely

In politicians who are in a position to direct money your way:

Tucked away on Seattle's Portage Bay, a sleek, 85-foot speedboat sat idle for years — save for an annual jaunt to maintain its engine.

The Navy paid $4.5 million to build the boat. But months before the hull ever touched water, the Navy gave the boat to the University of Washington. The school never found a use for it, either.

Why would the Navy waste taxpayer dollars on a boat that nobody wanted?

Blame it on Sen. Patty Murray and Congressmen Norm Dicks and Brian Baird. All three exercised their political muscle to slip language into a 2002 spending bill to force the Navy to buy the boat from Edmonds shipbuilder Guardian Marine International.

Year after year, the Washington lawmakers did favors for the tiny company, inserting four "earmarks" into different bills to force the Navy and Coast Guard to buy boats they didn't ask for — $17.65 million in all. None of the boats was used as Congress intended.

The congressional trio say they were helping Guardian Marine because it had a great product. But each has also received generous campaign donations from the company's three executives, its sole employees: $14,277 to Baird, $15,000 to Murray, and $16,750 to Dicks.

The article goes on to describe many more products the military was forced to purchase at the behest of Pacific Northwest politicians, both Republican and Democrat; polyester shirts that couldn't be used in combat because they might melt and burn the wearers, computers attached to helmets that had the side effect of blocking the vision of the soldier.

Which isn't a surprise to students of Public Choice Economics--certainly not to Nobel laureate James Buchanan. But, the article does a nice job of matching practice to theory when it says:

People who benefit from earmarks generally give money to those who deliver them: Of the nearly 500 companies identified as getting 2007 defense earmarks, 78 percent had employees or political action committees who made campaign contributions to Congress in the past six years.

....The 2,700 earmarks Congress put in the 2007 military spending bill cost $11.8 billion. The Pentagon didn't ask for the money in its budget and, because its budget is capped by law, cuts had to be made to find room for the favors.

Nearly all members of Congress dole out earmarks. Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, an earmark critic, calls the practice "circular fundraising" because of the perception that tax dollars given out as favors come back as campaign donations. ....

Winslow Wheeler, formerly a congressional aide who dealt with defense earmarks for years, said no one in Congress asks for campaign donations in exchange for earmarks because they don't have to; everyone understands the process.

....Murray, Dicks and Baird say emphatically that their favors to defense contractors never come with strings attached. The distinction is critical because soliciting a campaign contribution in exchange for an earmark is a crime.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Don't take the bus...

leave the flying to us, and walk into the US:

Mexican discount airlines are using rock-bottom fares to cater to legal and illegal migrants heading for the USA.

The airlines — known among fliers as Aeromigrante, or "Migrant Air" — take passengers from central or southern Mexico to cities along the northern border such as Tijuana and Mexicali. From there, customers make their way across the U.S. border.

The flights are part of a booming services industry for the estimated 13 million Mexican and Central American migrants who reside in the USA. Passengers who used to make bus trips of several days can arrive at the border well-rested for the often dangerous crossing.

Return flights south are often nearly empty of passengers, and some routes offer only one-way service. One of the airlines, Tijuana-based Avolar, estimates that 70% of its customers have the USA as their final destination.

"The most productive routes we have are cities where you have those passengers who are traveling with the idea of the American dream," said Luis Ceceña, a company spokesman.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Man May Work From Sun to Sun

But the British woman's work is done...

when she heads out the door:

When it comes to housework, women have long been martyrs - and men have long been absent.

Not any more, it seems. Today's mothers are so busy they can squeeze in only four hours of housework a week - half the time they managed 30 years ago, according to a survey yesterday.

The main reason is longer office hours and hectic social schedules cutting the time available for vacuuming, dusting, washing and cleaning.

But, according to the research, it appears that men have also begun to take on a fairer share of the domestic chores than they once did.

Grinch to Steal Christmas

In Britain, they may still deck the halls with boughs of holly, but Christmas lighting is going the way you'd expect in a regulated society:

Health and safety killjoys are threatening Britain with a Christmas blackout, council bosses warned yesterday.

Crippling insurance costs and absurd safety requirements mean many local authorities have abandoned their traditional lighting displays.

Insurers insist on strict adherence to health and safety guidelines, which require councils to use expensive specialist equipment to put up lights and test the security of fittings.
A string of requirements has pushed the cost of even a modest festive display up to £25,000.

They state that hydraulic platforms must be hired for putting up lights, as ladders are deemed too dangerous.

Every surface to which a light is attached must undergo a rigorous 'pull-test' to make sure it is strong enough to hold a cable.

Many councils have also been ordered to use a pressure gauge to test every bolt which holds a cable or light fitting to a wall.

Lampposts are often deemed unsafe to hang lights from and some roads have even been deemed 'too wide' for festive illuminations.

Stephen Alambritis, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "The festive period is looking darker and bleaker.

"Towns everywhere are facing the prospect of no Christmas lights – because councils simply can't afford the insurance.

Concert Musicians Need Not Apply

If they expect to be allowed to practice in Britain's public housing. At least in Manchester:

Two musicians are looking for a new home after council officials threatened to seize their violins because of "noise nuisance".

Oliver Morris and Hazel Ross, both 25, received a letter from Manchester's anti-social behaviour action team, telling them their violin practice "will not be tolerated" and "the behaviour must not continue".

Mr Morris, who has performed with the Halle and BBC Symphony Orchestras, said: "We are definitely moving because of the situation and because of the way it has been dealt with."

The council's letter said further practice would lead to a Noise Abatement Notice being issued, which could be followed by a warrant to enter the property and seize the violins.

Vous avez besoin de boules en cuir pour jouer au rugby?

Ever since they elected Sarko:

With President Nicolas Sarkozy cheering in the stands, more than 16 million fans glued to their television sets and players like "Caveman" Sebastien Chabal gaining star status: France has succumbed to rugby-mania.

Les Bleus are preparing to face England at the Stade de France near Paris on Saturday, riding a wave of enthusiasm after last week's win over New Zealand's All Blacks.

Some 16.6 million viewers in France watched Les Bleus knock out the rugby powerhouse -- an all-time record in France for a televised rugby match that is expected to be shattered on Saturday evening.

...."There is real passion. The stadiums are full. We are getting record television audiences. It's really extraordinary," said Alain Doucet, the general secretary of the French Rugby Federation.
Enrolment in rugby schools is up as legions of French children have discovered the sport during the World Cup that France is hosting until October 17, said Doucet.

Even Sarkozy, a long-distance runner and soccer fan, has been a willing cheerleader, travelling to Cardiff at the weekend to watch the match against New Zealand along with several members of government.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pot, Kettle, Black Award Winner

Former President Jimmy--444 Days Hostage Crisis, Over Our Inordinate Fear of Communism, Learned More About the Soviet Union in the Last 24 Hours, Double Digit Inflation, Gas Lines--Carter, had this to say:

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Wednesday denounced Vice President Dick Cheney as a "disaster" for the country ....

The Stealth Tax

In Britain, under Labour, apres Blair, le deluge:

Families will be paying £2,600 [approximately $5,200] more tax every year under Labour plans contained in the pre-budget report, a leading economic think tank says.

Alistair Darling's proposals had been billed as offering tax cuts to millions with an eye-catching announcement that the inheritance tax threshold would be doubled for couples.

But those claims began to unravel after analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies showed that by 2012 millions of households will be facing an annual tax bill of more than £20,000, an increase of around £50 a week.

The revelation has echoes of Gordon Brown's final budget as Chancellor last March when his pledge to cut income tax masked a series of proposals that saw many middle class families facing higher bills.

....George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said: "The Chancellor said the budget represented a tax cut. But independent experts now find that there is a £50 a week tax bombshell for families. This shows just how cynical and calculating Gordon Brown's government has become."

....The revelations came as Mr Brown endured a torrid afternoon in the Commons at the hands of David Cameron, who taunted him for being a "phoney".

Inhospitable Hospital

Worse, even. Downright Deadly, is the National Health Service:

Crowded wards, a shortage of nurses and financial problems led to 1,176 people contracting Clostridium difficile over two and half years at three hospitals in Kent.

Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary today described the failures as a "scandal", and said he would send the damning report to all hospital bosses in Britain so lessons would be learned.

Though the superbug was rife on the wards, managers failed to act. Isolation units were not set up, nurses were so rushed they did not have time to wash their hands and patients were left in soiled beds. Bedpans were not decontaminated properly and beds were not cleaned as well as they should have been.

The health watchdog, the Healthcare Commission, concluded that the infection probably or definitely killed at least 90 patients and was a factor in the deaths of a further 241.

Fourteen patients who died were found to have C.diff but it did not contribute to their deaths. In total 345 people died with the infection.

....The report said some patients at the hospitals run by the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Hospital Trust should have made a full recovery from their initial illness. But they caught the bug and died. Police will determine if there are grounds for criminal charges.

In May 2004 the chief executive of the trust, Rose Gibb, told the BBC she had known about the cleanliness problem for six months. But by September last year the hospitals were in the grip of their second outbreak.

Ms Gibb resigned on Friday before the release of the report. The commission found cases where the patient probably died as a result of their C.diff infection but it was not mentioned on the death certificate.

The number of people who died also turned out to be far higher than declared to the media and the commission.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It's a Dog's Life

For Michael Vick:

The disgraced quarterback lost the first round in his financial battle with the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday, when an arbitrator ruled that Vick should repay just over half the bonus money he got while secretly bankrolling the long-running dogfighting operation.

The case is far from over. The NFL Players Association said it would appeal the ruling by Stephen Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, who oversaw the arbitration hearing in Philadelphia.

The Falcons argued that Vick, who pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting charges, knew he was in violation of the contract when he signed a 10-year, $130 million deal in December 2004.

The team said he had used proceeds from the contract to fund his illicit activities and sought the repayment of $19.97 million in bonuses he was paid over the past three years.

Re-Tune Your Piano Business

If you're going to survive the Chinese challenge:

The company, founded in Paris by the Austrian composer Ignaz Pleyel, has struggled through two world wars, the emergence of electronic music and the rise of Japanese pianos. To stem three decades of losses and tackle the latest threat - competition from China - the last piano maker in France is cutting annual production to 30 of the most expensive instruments from 600. It is eliminating upright pianos from its repertoire.

"I can't fight against the Chinese," said Arnaud Marion, the chairman of Pianos Pleyel. "I have no choice but to focus on quality, become the Hermès of piano manufacturing," he added, referring to the French maker of luxury scarves and handbags.

Pleyel is banking on a new grand piano, the P280, that is 2.8 meters long, or 9.2 feet, to put the company's instruments back into concert halls. Two of the P280s, with a price tag of more than €100,000, or $141,000, have been sold in Japan, and one in China. Its classic baby grands start at €30,000; those decorated by artists like Marco del Re begin at €80,000. By comparison, a concert grand made by Steinway, the U.S. piano maker, sells for almost €114,000.

Hmm. That means Pleyel's annual revenue would only be about $ 4-1/4 million dollars. Meaning wages would have to be kept verrrry low, to make a manufacturing business work. Because, later in the article, we read:

Pleyel reported a net loss of about €1.9 million in 2005 on sales of €4 million.

The numbers are playing a grim song:

French consumers can buy a Chinese-made Pearl River piano for €1,500. It costs Pleyel €2,500 just for the raw materials to produce a similar instrument.

Pleyel's soundboard is made from red spruce that grows on the northern face of the mountains in the Fiemme Valley of Italy. The white keys of concert pianos are made from the tusks of prehistoric Siberian mammoths, a few of which are exhumed each year.

"The material gives a piano its primary personality," said Cyril Mordant, a tuner at Pleyel.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 100 piano makers in France, and Pleyel's original factory in Saint Denis was the world's largest, said Marion, the company's chairman. It made 3,600 pianos in 1913, selling them in London, New Orleans and Sydney. Today, Pleyel's domestic market is shrinking: About 10,000 new pianos are sold in France each year, down from 45,000 two decades ago.

Getting Their Irish Up

This Belgian wasn't waffling:

Federation of Enterprises in Belgium (VBO)...Chairman Jean-Claude Daoust said on Tuesday that the country could take a lesson from the Irish economic model.

....Between 1993 and 2000, the Irish economy had an average annual growth of 8 percent. The unemployment rate of 4.2 percent is exceptionally low and more than 1,200 foreign companies have set up business there. A young, highly-trained population, an active immigration policy, tax reductions and efforts to attract foreign investors are a number of the keys to this success, according to VBO chairman Daoust. ....

Daoust referred to a reduction in tax, among other points. In Ireland, corporate tax comes to just 12.5 percent; in Belgium this is 33.99 percent. The VBO argues for a reduction in tax to 25 percent, roughly the European average.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Old dog, same tricks, in India:

Prakash Karat and the organization he leads, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), would seem like anachronisms in the roaring capitalist economy that is India today.

But quite improbably, by seizing on India's deepening friendship with the United States, Karat and his party have lately emerged as a sharp and dangerous weapon against the coalition government, making it plain that though the Communists do not have the strength to rule India, they have the power to spoil the plans of those who do.

....India's electoral math makes it impossible for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition government, which is led by the Congress Party, to govern without the backing of its Communist allies, principally Karat's party. And so, if Karat carried out his veiled threats to withdraw support, the government could not continue, and fresh elections would have to be called before its five-year term expires in 2009.

....The Communists, long a part of the Indian political fabric, have rarely wielded as much influence as they have in the past three years as the government's allies. They have been blamed for blocking further liberalization of the economy, including the entry of foreign retail chains, for putting the brakes on proposed changes in labor laws and for opposing the nuclear deal on the basis of a lingering cold war mind-set.

"There is a knee-jerk anti-Americanism," said the historian Ramachandra Guha. "In some sense they can't forgive America for having won."

When vegetables are outlawed, only...

in Zimbabwe will outlaws have vegetables:

Ten white farmers appeared in court in Zimbabwe yesterday accused of growing crops on their land — in a country where millions of people will need food aid within the next few months.

The case in Chegutu district, 70 miles southwest of Harare, exposes the perversity of President Robert Mugabe's policies. Commerical agriculture was the mainstay of the economy in the days when Zimbabwe was a food exporter.

Since 2000, when the government began seizing white-owned farms, many of them violently, the agricultural sector has collapsed and the economy has gone into freefall, with inflation now at 6,600 per cent, the highest in the world.

The World Food Programme estimates that it will be feeding 4.1 million Zimbabweans, one third of the population, by the end of the year.

Keep the Changer

In jail...til they can find out who he is, and what he was up to:

A man who handed over a counterfeit million-dollar bill to a cashier at a Pittsburgh supermarket and asked for change has been arrested.

Police told the BBC the man became abusive when a manager at the Giant Eagle store confiscated the fake note.

He broke an electronic funds-transfer machine at the counter and reached for a scanner gun, said police.
There is no real US bill worth $1m (£490,000). Since 1969, the $100 note has been the highest in circulation.

....After refusing to give his name to police, the suspect, who was not carrying identification, was charged with forgery and criminal mischief.

....Police are investigating whether the bogus note was among a batch distributed last year as a publicity stunt by a Dallas-based religious ministry.

Not that he was an original.

A US woman has been charged with forgery after trying to use a fake $1 million bill at a supermarket.

Alice Pike, 35, pulled out the note at a Georgia Wal-Mart store to pay for $1,672 worth of goods and asked for change, police said.

The cashier immediately noticed the bill - bearing the picture of the Statue of Liberty - was fake and called her manager who alerted the police.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Land of Opportunity

According to Claudio Michelacci and Josep Pijoan-Mas, it isn't Europe.

Since the early 1970s Americans have gradually outworked their European counterparts so much, that today GDP per capita is 30% higher in the U.S. And, hours worked explains just about all of that gap. They write:

...we argue that workers view working hours as an investment as well as a source of current income. By working longer hours, they acquire greater skills, get promoted more frequently or switch to better jobs. The greater the expected career gains, the greater the incentive to work longer hours. ...Europeans and Americans...face different incentives during their working lives.

And what explains the different incentives? It's--Paul Krugman, call your office--our old friend, income inequality:

Individuals work longer hours when wage inequality is higher. ...for the U.S. and in...Germany, there is evidence that individuals work longer hours in occupations with larger wage inequality.

But, income inequality has increased little in Germany in the last 35 years. Not so, the U.S.

The fraction of prime age male workers working very long hours has increased substantially in the US. ...this is a side effect of the higher inter-temporal return to hours worked caused by the increase in wage inequality.

Hillary Care to Comment?

On the nursing situation in Britain:

The Health Service is wasting millions a year on agency nurses - with one hospital paying a nurse more than £1,000 for a single shift.

The payment is the most extreme example of the huge sums being spent on expensive temporary staff at a time when the NHS is rationing life- saving cancer drugs it says it cannot afford.

Agency staff were being hired as cash-strapped trusts were forced to cut the number of permanent nurses and hundreds left the service to work abroad.

The money doesn't all go to the nurses themselves, but to the temp agency that provides them. Still, $200 per hour does seem a bit extravagant in light of these problems:

The Department of Health insisted in 2001 that growth in the NHS workforce would reduce the demand for agency staff. But spending on temporary nurses rose from £795million in 2000 to £1.09billion in 2005.

Last year financial problems in many trusts meant more than 20,000 nursing jobs were cut, according to the Royal College of Nursing.

More than 8,000 demoralised nurses have registered with the RCN to work abroad.

Frontline staff say patients will die as a result of plans to downgrade or close A&E units.
Campaigners say more than 20 casualty units in England are threatened with closure while ambulance services put the figure at up to 50 of the 200 currently open all hours. Critically-ill patients will have to go to 'super A&Es' which may be many miles away.

Good things come in small packages...

and, at high prices:

Baby Organic Parisienne carrots will sell for £1.45 for a 300g punnet, which equates to a hefty £4.83 a kilo.

That makes them more than four times the price charged for supermarket organic carrots, which sell for £1.11 per kilo.

While they are well over seven times the cost of ordinary supermarket loose carrots, which are just 64p per kilo.

However, the producers insist this latest incarnation of the carrot is worth the higher price, for it has some key advantages over its ordinary cousins.

They are particularly sweet-tasting and the skin is so thin and soft that they do not need to be either peeled or chopped.

While they have a stronger flavour than other types, which means they taste nice eaten raw, with dips, sliced into rounds or fried into carrot crisps.

The carrots will be sold by Marks & Spencer which believes the fun shape - they are about the size of a 50p piece - will also mean they appeal to children for school lunchboxes.

Parisienne Carrots were originally grown in window boxes in Paris in the early 1900s so that they could be picked as they were needed.

Today they are sold in French farmers' markets and are much sought after by gourmet chefs because of their superior flavour. They are picked early which partly accounts for their tiny size.

Organic carrot sales have soared in the last year and are now the biggest selling organic vegetable. Sales are up by almost 10per cent in the last 12 months, according to retail analysts TNS.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Supersize Our Fries

Sarko the Magnificent strikes at the Evil Empire Wannabe:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy levelled a new charge against Russia on Thursday, accusing the country of complicating the world's problems, and urging it to start helping resolve them.

Russia "should understand that big countries have not only rights, but also responsibilities," Sarkozy said during a question and answer session with students during a visit to the University of Sofia.

"And among those responsibilities, there are two, to be exemplary in the domain of democracy and helping to resolve the big issues in the world and not being a country which complicates the resolution of the world's big problems," he added.

The French president's statement comes ahead of his first official visit to Russia on Tuesday and Wednesday, at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin.

No 'I' in Team Award

We have a winner in Pullman, Washington:

This week, 6-foot-5 guard-forward Marcus Capers of Winterhaven, Fla., committed to WSU for 2008-09 — after WSU junior guard Taylor Rochestie decided to give up his scholarship. Rochestie's decision allowed the Cougars to squeeze in Capers with the NCAA maximum of 13.

"For somebody to do something for me, when they've got it [a scholarship] already, I'm truly blessed," said Capers, who this year is attending Montverde Academy, about 30 miles from Orlando.

....WSU informed Jerome Capers that it had no available scholarships, with a projected class of four recruits for 2008. Then Rochestie, whose Santa Barbara, Calif., family is able to afford the loss of the scholarship, broached the idea to WSU coach Tony Bennett.

"After I talked to my dad about it, I knew it was a no-brainer," Rochestie said in a statement.

"The recruits I met are exciting, athletic and are special kids. To be able to set something up for the future and continue what we've got going means the world to me."

Maybe it's a sin to tell a lie...

But it isn't illegal in the state of Washington:

Government has no business trying to stop political candidates from deliberately lying about each other in campaign ads, a divided state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In the 5-4 decision upholding a lower-court ruling, the high court said a state law aimed at punishing political candidates for false advertising is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

....The case stems from a 2002 state Senate race in the 35th Legislative District, which covers Mason and parts of Thurston, Grays Harbor and Kitsap counties.

During the campaign, Green Party candidate Marilou Rickert sent voters a brochure claiming the longtime incumbent, Democrat Tim Sheldon, "voted to close a facility for the developmentally challenged."

Sheldon, in fact, had twice voted against a budget that closed the facility.

After the election, which Sheldon won easily, he filed a complaint with the state Public Disclosure Commission. He said Rickert had violated a state law that prohibited candidates from sponsoring "with actual malice" political advertising that "contains a false statement of material fact about a candidate for public office."

The PDC sided with Sheldon. It said Rickert had acted with "reckless disregard" for the truth and slapped her with a $1,000 fine, the maximum.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

In the Happily Thereafter...

they'll be burning books that disappoint:

Children's books that don't have happy endings should be banned, it was claimed yesterday.

Youngsters are already exposed to enough misery in their lives and should be protected from such stories, says a parents' group.

The Happy Ending Foundation is planning a series of Bad Book Bonfires for later this month, when parents will be encouraged to burn novels with negative endings.

The foundation has also written to school librarians across the country to coincide with Children's Book Week, which began on Monday, urging them to take ' controversial' books off shelves.

Mood Indigo

That feelin' goes stealin' down to my fenders:

Ron, a peacock , has begun attacking any bright blue cars which drive into his territory at a stately home.

In his latest assault, on a blue Lexus, he scratched and dented every panel - causing £4,000 worth of damage.

Ron's owner, Sir Benjamin Slade, said: "He doesn't seem to be bothered by other birds, but the peacock-blue cars just drive him wild.

"He suddenly becomes aggressive and can't control himself."

....Ornithologist Quenton Spratt, at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said it was likely the peacock saw blue cars as a threat.

He said: "I've come across this in the past. I suspect the peacock thinks the car is a bird.

Watering Heights

4 b-rms, vu, 4 sale:

Just two miles from Blackheath, in ...south-east London, a converted Victorian water tower has recently come onto the market....

A product of the late Victorian drive to bring clean water to the surrounding area, today the tower is being marketed as a super-smart four-bedroom home.

...the tower contains eight storeys, negating any need for a home gym.

Each floor holds one room only: the largest measures just over 12ft long by 10ft wide....

...if any aspect of the property could prompt agent hyperbole it is the tower's crowning glory, the glass observatory. Unsuitable for the vertiginous, the far-reaching views are best enjoyed from the balcony, which wraps around the tower.

....The observatory has been fashioned into a cosy living space complete with cocktail area, plasma screen TV and low sofas, making it the ultimate pulling pad to entice any damsel keen on letting her hair down à la Rapunzel.

For owner Alan Rowell, who developed the tower as a commercial venture, this is his favourite spot: "It's just so relaxing and is a great chill-out room." Alan Rowell took on the tower conversion after being inspired by an architect's vision, but admits that it was not the most financially successful of projects.

"It has been challenging and difficult but it's also been a lot of fun and I'm really proud to have done it," he says.

Feet of Clay?

Call them The Saints?

The Vatican has pledged to clean up Italian football after buying its own club.

The Italian Bishop's Conference now has a controlling stake in AC Ancona, currently top of Italy's third division, after the money was provided by a group of Roman Catholic businessmen.

Edoardo Menichelli, the Archbishop of Ancona, said the move would help bring more morality into football.

"We want to bring some ethics back into the game, which has been undergoing a grave crisis in terms of sportsmanship," he said.

The Vatican aims to introduce an ethical code which will punish Ancona's players for any foul play.

....Fans will be forbidden from taunting and insulting the opposition, and from unfurling offensive banners and flags.

....Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, is a fanatical football fan and has openly spoken about his ambition to create a football team of priests.

Last year, he established the Clericus Cup tournament for priests and seminarians in Rome.

The tournament was widely seen as a success, although there was rather more dirty play than anticipated.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

While the Getting Was Good

They got out:

Shareholders and executives at Airbus parent EADS engaged in "massive" insider trading, a press report said Wednesday, citing a document that also alleges the government had been aware of difficulties at EADS prior to the lucrative sale of shares.

Le Figaro said the French market regulator AMF had provided the public prosecutor with a note detailing the alleged illegal trade, which reportedly saved participants a total of 90 million euros (127 million dollars) after a 2006 profit warning prompted a collapse in the EADS share price.

Quoting the document, the paper said a total of 1,200 alleged cases of insider trading on the shares were detected....

According to the paper the documents are "damaging" for the French media and defence group Lagardere and German automaker DaimlerChrysler, both shareholders in the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, as well as key executives at EADS and Airbus.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

4 Wheel Droning

Look Ma, no hands on the wheel:

During a recent test on property owned by manufacturer Oshkosh Truck Co., TerraMax barreled down a dusty road with its driver seat empty. It stopped at a four-way intersection and waited as staged traffic resolved before obediently lurching on its way.

If the Defense Department gets its way, vehicles like TerraMax - about as long as a typical sport utility vehicle and almost twice as high - could represent the future of transportation for the military's ground forces.

Consider 80 soldiers driving a convoy of 40 trucks across the Iraqi desert, said Joaquin Salas, spokesman for the Oshkosh, Wis.-based company. If most of those vehicles could drive themselves, the same convoy might manage with just 10 soldiers.

"You're reducing the number of people susceptible to enemy fire," said Salas, who served eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps. "It's simply amazing technology."

....The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has sponsored a series of contests since 2003 in which prototype vehicles must navigate rough terrain and avoid obstacles.

Oshkosh Truck, a public company that in August projected its 2008 sales would be about $7 billion, is fielding one of 35 teams whose vehicles passed qualifying tests this year. Some teams see the competition as a way to improve automotive technology.

....Early on, DARPA competition results were disappointing. In 2005, only five of 23 vehicles completed the 132-mile course, led by the Stanford team that won the $2 million top prize with its modified Volkswagen Passat station wagon.

This year's competition is expected to be stiff. Squads from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University are among those invited to participate in an Oct. 26-31 qualifying event in Victorville, Calif., along with industry teams that include employees of Delphi Corp. and Ford Motor Co. The entrants include modified cars, pickups and SUVs.

Salas said he's tempering his optimism about how TerraMax will do.

"Everybody's extremely competitive," he said. "We're so much further, the entire industry, than it was just two or three years ago. It's absolutely incredible how advanced the technology has become."

Don't know the half of it

In Holland they're just wishin' and hopin', rather than askin' the boss:

More than half of workers in the Netherlands (57 percent) would like to work part time. But only one quarter of those who work actually hold part time positions.

This emerged from the Randstad Work Monitor for October, which surveyed more than 800 working people. For the purposes of the survey part time work was defined as a job involving at least 24 hours and no more than 34 hours a week.

....10 percent of the workers say they have difficulty balancing work and private life, the survey shows. One in five says the employer does not provide enough latitude for reaching a good balance. More than 40 percent feels that the employer should also actively support staff members in finding this balance.

Despite their wishes, few workers who want to work part time actually broach this with their employers. Many workers also turn down the opportunity to work less when presented with it. They are not eager to accept a lower salary and worry about getting a bad reputation. They have the impression they will be regarded as less ambitious and committed to work.