Thursday, July 31, 2008

Horse Sense

For the equestrian for whom money is no object:
The £40,000 virtual reality riding machine combines a mechanical horse with a host of electronic sensors and a screen, to recreate the joys of an outdoor ride without the need for mucking out.

The Ridemaster Pro, which is made by Racewood Simulators, is proving a hit with those who live in cities or who want to ride but don't want to brave the elements.

Designer and company managing director Bill Greenwood said: "Private individuals buy them who don't have space for a horse in central London.

...."We also sell to Scandinavian countries where the weather is miserable and raining and to Dubai where it's 40 degrees centigrade and too hot to ride."

Racewood Simulators, based in the village Tarporley, Cheshire, says the Ridemaster Pro simulates a real 15.2 hands high (5ft 2ins), medium-build horse.

The 'horse' is described as being perfectly schooled and capable of doing advanced movements such as 'medium trot, medium canter, lateral work and rein back'.

If the mountain won't come to Mohammed

Ship his sports car to London:
A wealthy Arab sent his 'Batman' Lamborghini on a 6,500 mile round-trip to London for an oil change - at a cost of more than £23,000.

The £190,000 vehicle travelled on a scheduled flight from Qatar to Heathrow, and was flown back to the Middle East after the service.

The Murcielago LP640, a two-seater coupe, features in the latest Batman film The Dark Knight.

....According to reports, the black and gold car cost £3,552 to service at an approved dealer, plus around £20,000 to freight to Britain and back.

....Friends of the Earth transport campaigner Richard Dyer said the trip was "ludicrous".

"We urge the individual to get their car serviced closer to home," he added.

Mark Steyn, call your office.

It's the new Europe, for sure:
According to reports coming from France, sunbathers on the Cote d'Azur, who once adopted a "laissez faire" attitude to nakedness, have turned against displaying too much bare flesh.

Even regulars at La Voile Rouge beach club on Pampelonne's Beach, in St. Tropez, where it all started shortly after [Brigitte Bardot's] film And God Created Woman, prefer to keep their top on.

.... For some it is simply a change in fashion, for others it marks a new conservatism sweeping France. Yet others say it is to do with increased health concerns about skin cancer and sensitivities to the growing Muslim community.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Billion Here...

Zimbabwe makes its millionaires disappear overnight:
Zimbabwe announced Wednesday that it is knocking 10 zeros off its hyper-inflated currency - a move that turns 10 billion dollars into one.

....Central Bank Gov. Gideon Gono announced he was dropping 10 zeros from Zimbabwe's currency, effective Friday. The move comes a week after the issue of a 100 billion-dollar note - still not enough to buy a loaf of bread.

Gono said the new money would be launched with 500-dollar bills. He also said he was reintroducing coins, which have been obsolete for years, and told people to dig out their old ones.

....Gono acted because the high rate of inflation was hampering the country's computer systems. Computers, electronic calculators and automated teller machines at Zimbabwe's banks cannot handle basic transactions in billions and trillions of dollars.

Inflation, the highest in the world, is officially running at 2.2 million percent in Zimbabwe but independent economists say it is closer to 12.5 million percent.

How Many Poles...

...does it take for China to shape up:
A nightclub activity mostly considered the domain of strippers in the United States, pole dancing — but with clothes kept on — is nudging its way into the mainstream Chinese exercise market, with increasing numbers of gyms and dance schools offering classes.

The woman who claims to have brought pole dancing to China, Luo Lan, 39, is from Yichun, a small town in Jiangxi Province in southeastern China. Her parents teach physics at the university level.

"I'm not good at science like my parents. I'm the black sheep of my family, in that sense," she said.

Luo said she struggled in 20 different occupations — secretary, saleswoman, restaurateur and translator among them — before deciding to take a break. She traveled to Paris in 2006 for vacation. It was there that she first saw pole dancing.

"I wandered into a pub, and there was a woman dancing on the stage," she said. "I thought it was beautiful."

Luo, who quickly discovered that pole dancing for fitness was popular in America, realized that if she could take away the shadier aspects of the erotic dance and repackage it into an activity more acceptable to mainstream Chinese women, she might create a Chinese fitness revolution.

....Upon her return to Beijing, Luo invested a little under $3,000 of her savings to start the Lolan Pole Dancing School. She placed advertisements in a lifestyle newspaper and called friends to get the word out.

Slowly, young women trickled in to take a look.

....Before long, Luo was contacted by several magazines. In March 2008, Hunan Television, a nationally broadcast network, invited her and a group of her students to perform on a talk show.

"Most of the people in the audience had no idea what this was," said Hu Jing, 24, an instructor at the Lolan School. "They just thought it was fun and clapped afterward."

Since the broadcast, pole dancing for fitness has spread through China. The school now has five studios with plans to open six more this year. A rival pole dancing school, Hua Ling, opened half a year after the Lolan School.

Pole dancing's move onto the fitness scene, however, has been a rocky one. Many Chinese, who disapprove of its sexual movements, consider it unruly and licentious.

Go, Chuckie, Go

No b bueno:
Few stars can afford to walk out on a concert the way Chuck Berry did last Saturday. Fans in Estepona were left high and dry when the 82-year-old rock 'n' roll legend decided at the last minute not to attend either that concert or another one near León, where he was also scheduled to play on Sunday.

Instead, the star got on a plane to Chicago. The reason, apparently, was an argument with his daughter, who did not allow the octogenarian to drive as fast as he pleased on the highways of Britain, where he had performed the day before.

Berry is known for his love of speed and was seen zooming up and down Spain two years ago in his own Cadillac.

....The firms that were organising both Spanish concerts are now considering pressing charges against the musician, and have promised to refund fans. But recovering the EUR 72,000 that Berry had already been paid in advance (50 percent when the contract was signed and the rest a month before the show) could take up to three years.

"And that's if he doesn't die before that," said a spokesperson for Br Music, the organiser of the Estepona gig.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Bridge Too Near

Minnesota seems determined to prove that they're the pennywise-pound foolish champion; bridge maintenance division:
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) -- 1,200-pound chunk of concrete tore off the underside of an overpass and rained down on motorists but caused no injuries, nearly a year after the deadly collapse of a Mississippi River bridge in neighboring Minneapolis.

The 6-foot-by-9-foot section fell Saturday from the Maryland Avenue bridge onto two vehicles, choking traffic on Interstate 35E for more than eight hours as crews inspected the overpass that shuttles nearly 140,000 motorists per day through downtown St. Paul.

The state Department of Transportation has deemed the 50-year-old bridge "structurally safe," said state bridge engineer Dan Dorgan.

The bridge was inspected last August. Officials knew the bridge deck was breaking down, but nothing suggested pieces would break off within the year, Dorgan said.

Deterioration of the concrete that caused the accident can be attributed partly to age, freeze-and-thaw cycles and road salt, he said.

....There are no plans for a broad inspection of freeway overpasses.

A Very Rare Bird is the Publican...

Who's making a go of operating his business in England:
Beer sales in British pubs have slumped to their lowest level since the Great Depression, including a 10 percent drop in pints drawn in just the past year, an industry group said Monday.

Blame a nationwide smoking ban that took hold last year, rising costs, competition from supermarkets and an economic downturn that has more Britons tossing back a Newcastle or Boddingtons at home and skipping the local watering hole.

....The Campaign for Real Ale, a consumer group promoting traditional pubs, says more than 1,400 pubs made their final "last calls" last year. The campaign says more than half of British villages are dry for the first time since the Norman Conquest of 1066.

It's not that Britons are walking away from beer altogether. The same report showed sales in shops and supermarkets rose nearly 4 percent. The pub industry has criticized supermarkets for selling beers in packs at a lower cost to draw business.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Free to Flog

In England, they take their eccentricities seriously:
In a ruling with potentially wide implications for press freedom in Britain, a judge ruled Thursday that a tabloid newspaper breached the privacy of Max Mosley, the overseer of grand prix motor racing, when it published an article in March claiming that he had participated in a sadomasochistic "orgy" with a Nazi theme.

The judge, Sir David Eady, awarded Mosley, 68, damages equivalent to about $120,000 and legal costs estimated to be at least $850,000 in his lawsuit against The News of the World.

The ruling upheld the central arguments by Mosley and his lawyers: that there had been no Nazi theme to the five-hour sex session in an apartment in the Chelsea district of London that was secretly filmed by the newspaper, and no issue of public interest in its decision to splash the article on its front page and post video on its Web site.

The judge said that Mosley had a "reasonable expectation" of privacy for sexual activities that took place on private premises and that did not involve violations of the criminal law.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rolls...and you Rolls Alone

For nearly a quarter century sitting meekly in Customs:
The owner of one of the largest trucking companies in the Port of Seattle has been convicted of stealing a Rolls-Royce that once was owned by the Saudi royal family and held by U.S. Customs for more than 20 years.

....Prosecutors say that in 2004 [Eric] Rangeloff took the 1983 Silver Spirit sedan from a Customs "Foreign Trade Zone," an area where some imports are held before clearing Customs to enter the United States.

The car's owner was identified in court papers as Gary Gaffner, a former Boeing engineer and airplane salesman who bought the car in Saudi Arabia for more than $100,000. The U.S. Attorney's Office said the car had been owned by the Saudi royal family and had been customized for use by a Saudi princess.

Gaffner had intended to import the car, but it couldn't pass U.S. safety and emissions requirements. The car had sat in the warehouse for more than 20 years while Gaffner waited for a 25-year deadline to pass so he could bring the car into the United States without the alterations, according to court documents.

Gaffner, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Thomas, had paid more than $20,000 in storage fees.

He gave up his quest to import the car shortly after the 2004 theft and it has since been auctioned to a collector in Rotterdam, according to testimony and court papers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Paul Gigot Dines

On cold cuts, best eaten with gusto:
Angelo Mozilo was in one of his Napoleonic moods. It was October 2003, and the CEO of Countrywide Financial was berating me for The Wall Street Journal's editorials raising doubts about the accounting of Fannie Mae. I had just been introduced to him by Franklin Raines, then the CEO of Fannie, whom I had run into by chance at a reception hosted by the Business Council, the CEO group that had invited me to moderate a couple of panels.

Mr. Mozilo loudly declared that I didn't know what I was talking about, that I didn't understand accounting or the mortgage markets, and that I was in the pocket of Fannie's competitors, among other insults. Mr. Raines, always smoother than Mr. Mozilo, politely intervened to avoid an extended argument, and Countrywide's bantam rooster strutted off.

I've thought about that episode more than once recently amid the meltdown and government rescue of Fannie and its sibling, Freddie Mac. Trying to defend the mortgage giants, Paul Krugman of the New York Times recently wrote, "What you need to know here is that the right -- the WSJ editorial page, Heritage, etc. -- hates, hates, hates Fannie and Freddie. Why? Because they don't want quasi-public entities competing with Angelo Mozilo."

That's a howler even by Mr. Krugman's standards. Fannie Mae and Mr. Mozilo weren't competitors; they were partners. Fannie helped to make Countrywide as profitable as it once was by buying its mortgages in bulk. Mr. Raines -- following predecessor Jim Johnson -- and Mr. Mozilo made each other rich.

What if they gave an Olympics...

And forgot to let the tourists come:
Hotels in Beijing are slashing room rates for next month's Olympics after tighter security — among other measures — dashed an expected windfall of visitors, hotels and travel industry executives said Tuesday.

....The usual pre-Olympic festive atmosphere host cities experience has not hit Beijing yet, with some hotels feeling empty and listless. In June, the number of visitors to Beijing, including overseas and domestic, declined by 19.9 percent from a year earlier, according to the Beijing Tourism Authority.

Now average room prices in three-star hotels are down to $60 per night from $100 in previous months, the China Daily newspaper said Tuesday. Four-star hotels have dropped to about $117 a night, from $220, it said.

Beijing was expecting 500,000 foreign guests for the Aug. 8-24 Olympics, but has been scaling back that estimate. Some people have been scared off by high prices, while others have had trouble getting visas.

China has ratcheted up security for the games, tightening visa rules even for foreign travelers who hold Olympics tickets. Multiple-entry visas have also been restricted, causing a drop in business travel.

The government has said the games are a target of terrorism, and has reported breaking up plots to attack the games by Islamic radicals in the western province of Xinjiang. In a show of force, China's military has stationed a ground-to-air missile battery just 300 yards from one Beijing Olympic venue.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

No such thing as a free ride?

For Australian pensioners there is:
PARAMEDICS responding to emergency Triple-0 calls in Sydney's west are instead being used as de facto taxi drivers to local shops.

Older residents are the main offenders - using their pensioner entitlements to secure a free ride in an ambulance instead of paying a taxi fare to go shopping, ambulance sources have confirmed.

An ambulance ride to Mt Druitt Hospital costs $290, but the fee is waived for pensioners and other entitlement card holders.

Paramedics have watched in horror as patients miraculously recover from headaches and other feigned ailments to go shopping across the road, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Head Start

Norwegians were already there:
Most consumers in Norway aren't reeling from the effects of spiraling food prices elsewhere in the world, at least not yet -- largely because food prices in Norway already are so high, and so are incomes.

Norway's produce, meat and dairy industries are highly regulated, mostly to protect the country's agriculture industry against cheaper imports. That means consumers in Norway have long been accustomed to paying anywhere from double to four times the food prices found in many other countries, even for such basic items as milk, tomatoes or bread.

....Higher energy costs and inflation, however, have sent prices for several Norwegian products up, not least milk. Some individual products are suddenly up as much as 20-30 percent at the grocery store. Food prices overall, though, have gone up just 3 percent over the past year, compared to 44 percent globally.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Brush Off

Nor drilling, and soon rather than late:
The dentists' drill could be consigned to the past while the future of the toothbrush is under threat, with the arrival of two radical new inventions that could be available within five years.

Scientists at Leeds Dental Institute have created a solution that mimics the way the body forms new teeth, which can be used to repair holes naturally without the need for drilling and filling.

The same researchers have also formulated a mouthwash that kills the bacteria that cause plaque when a light is shone into the mouth.

They believe the mouthwash could be available in as little as three years or less while the alternative to drilling could be ready for use within five years.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Catfish Row

Meet more bio-fuels fallout:
The catfish industry is in free fall, unable to cope with the soaring cost of corn and soybean feed. Producers across the South are draining their ponds and wondering what comes next.

"It's a dead business," said John Dillard, who pioneered the commercial farming of catfish in the late 1960s. Last year Dillard & Company raised 11 million fish. Next year it will raise none. People can eat imported fish, Dillard said, just as they use imported oil.

As for his 55 employees? "Those jobs are gone."

Corn and soybeans have nearly tripled in price in the last two years, for many reasons: harvest shortfalls, increasing demand by the Asian middle class, government mandates for corn to produce ethanol and, most recently, the flooding in the Midwest.

This is creating a bonanza for corn and soybean farmers but is wreaking havoc on consumers, who are seeing price spikes in the grocery store and in restaurants. Hog and chicken producers as well as cattle ranchers, all of whom depend on grain for feed, are being severely squeezed.

Perhaps nowhere has the rise in crop prices caused more convulsions than in the Mississippi Delta, the hub of the nation's catfish industry. This is a hard-luck, poverty-plagued region, and raising catfish in artificial ponds was one of the few mainstays.

Then the economics went awry. Feed is now more than half the total cost of raising catfish, compared with a third of the cost of beef and pork production, according to a Mississippi State analysis. That makes catfish more vulnerable. But if the commodities continue to rocket up and some analysts believe they will other industries will fall victim as well.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Short for Fanatic

Dying to be at the game:
...supporters of a German club are the latest to be invited to extend their loyalty further with the opening of a cemetery reserved just for them.

Hamburg HSV [Hamburger Sport-Verein] has opened a specially designated cemetery within earshot of its Nordbank arena where fans can be buried in club colors on a soccer stand-shaped lawn reached via a goal-shaped entrance.

Club organizers say the 100,000 euro (US$159,000) scheme, financed by the supporters’ club and sponsors, is open to all fans regardless of age and offers burial contracts of 2,500 euros payable over 25 years.

The idea for the cemetery, which can take up to 500 graves, came after repeated requests from fans wanting to have their ashes scattered on the pitch of the Bundesliga club.

But as the scattering of ashes is illegal in Germany, the concept of offering burial plots close to HSV’s stadium was born.

Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires, Argentina, has a similar scheme, although not within earshot of its stadium.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hamburger Paradis

On a sesame seed bun. You deserve a boeuf today:
Beginning a few years ago but picking up momentum in the past nine months, hamburgers and cheeseburgers have invaded [Paris]. Anywhere tourists are likely to go this summer — in St.-Germain cafes, in fashion-world hangouts, even in restaurants run by three-star chefs — they are likely to find a juicy beef patty, almost invariably on a sesame seed bun.

"It has the taste of the forbidden, the illicit — the subversive, even," said Hélène Samuel, a restaurant consultant here. "Eating with your hands, it's pure regression. Naturally, everyone wants it."

...."It's not just a fad," said Frédérick Grasser-Hermé, who, as consulting chef at the Champs-Élysées boîte Black Calvados, developed a burger made with wagyu beef and seasoned with what she calls a black ketchup of blackberries and black currants. "It's more than that. The burger has become gastronomic."

Some of the most celebrated chefs in the city have taken up the challenge. Yannick Alléno, who earned a third Michelin star in 2007 for his precise, rarefied cuisine at Le Meurice, serves a thick, succulent hamburger at his casual restaurant, Le Dali. Alléno's baker, Frédéric Lalos, a winner of one of the country's fiercest cooking competitions, makes the buns. With smoked bacon, lettuce, dill pickles, mustard, mayonnaise and fries, the burger at Le Dali costs 35 euros, about $56.

They may not know much about art

But, they know how to spend money on it:
Just over 40 million pounds (80 million dollars) for a Monet water lily painting, a record-smashing 15 million pounds for Italian futurist Gino Severini, four million for a Henry Moore sculpture and 5.5 million for a work by fashionable Russian modernist Natalia Goncharova were among the highlights of the recent annual impressionist and modern art auctions at Christie's and Sotheby's [in London].

Total results exceeded previous records, as buyers spent 144 million pounds at Christie's - the most-ever in a European art sale - while Sotheby's sale made 102 million pounds.

....The influx of new buyers, particularly from Russia, but also from the Gulf states and South-East Asia, is generally seen as being behind the growing strength at the top end of the market.

Bidding was dominated by hedge fund owners, Russian billionaires, Chinese industrialists, Indian technology entrepreneurs and Middle Eastern sheiks, reports said.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Fewer Frenchmen the Better

Says the Foreign Ministry, when it comes to partying like it's 1789:
France's Bastille Day parties in embassies worldwide on Monday are by invitation-only this year due to budget constraints, marking a break from the past when the fete was open to all French expatriates.

With the world's second largest network of embassies after the United States, the French foreign ministry this year decided to scale back national day receptions as a cost-cutting measure.

Ambassadors were told "to think about cutting those costs and that reducing the number of guests was a way of reducing costs," said foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier last week.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Indy Girl

Barack Obama has apparently given up on sponsoring a NASCAR entry, but Cindy McCain sounds like she'd like to drive one:
Cindy McCain’s been a racing fan since she was 14 years old. Her father invested in a racecar and brought her along to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to check out the car. But in those days, women weren’t allowed in the pits, so young Cindy was left fuming outside the gate.

“Gasoline alley, the pits, no way. They wouldn’t let girls in,” she recalled in an interview with The Tennessean. Even so, she was hooked.

....McCain’s eye for the track comes from years of racing herself. In 2004, she and her oldest son, Jack, rebuilt a drift car themselves and began racing as the only mother-and-son team on the circuit. Drift racers deliberately skid their rear tires around turns until the car begins drifting sideways.

“It is hilariously fun to do. It’s just a barrel of fun,” said McCain, who is also a licensed pilot. Mother and son ride tandem in the car and so far, she said, “we’ve done OK,” in their races together. They came in first one time, then again, they’ve also had a bumper fall off their car in the middle of a race.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Affirm life...hoist a brewski, says George Will:
...consult Steven Johnson's marvelous 2006 book "The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic -- and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World." ....

"The search for unpolluted drinking water is as old as civilization itself. As soon as there were mass human settlements, waterborne diseases like dysentery became a crucial population bottleneck. For much of human history, the solution to this chronic public-health issue was not purifying the water supply. The solution was to drink alcohol."

...."Dying of cirrhosis of the liver in your forties was better than dying of dysentery in your twenties." Besides, alcohol, although it is a poison, and an addictive one, became, especially in beer, a driver of a species-strengthening selection process.

Johnson notes that historians interested in genetics believe that the roughly simultaneous emergence of urban living and the manufacturing of alcohol set the stage for a survival-of-the-fittest sorting-out among the people who abandoned the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and, literally and figuratively speaking, went to town.

To avoid dangerous water, people had to drink large quantities of, say, beer. But to digest that beer, individuals needed a genetic advantage that not everyone had -- what Johnson describes as the body's ability to respond to the intake of alcohol by increasing the production of particular enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenases. This ability is controlled by certain genes on chromosome four in human DNA, genes not evenly distributed to everyone. Those who lacked this trait could not, as the saying is, "hold their liquor." So, many died early and childless, either of alcohol's toxicity or from waterborne diseases.

The gene pools of human settlements became progressively dominated by the survivors -- by those genetically disposed to, well, drink beer. "Most of the world's population today," Johnson writes, "is made up of descendants of those early beer drinkers, and we have largely inherited their genetic tolerance for alcohol."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

You have nothing to lose but your spare change

China's recyclers are urged to beat it for a few weeks:
A relentless campaign by Beijing to present a sanitized, modern city to millions of Olympic Games visitors has led to a government shutdown of scores of garbage recycling centers that provide these migrant workers with an income.

As the Olympic Games approach, the number of garbage pickers has visibly dropped across Beijing, including at Qianbajia, a recycling station where about 200 households live among towering piles of plastic, building materials and scrap metals.

....Most of the city's more than 170,000 recyclers will have left before the Aug. 8 opening ceremony - a necessary measure to guarantee the health and safety of Games visitors, according to Wang Weiping, a Beijing government adviser.

Wang, one of Beijing's foremost experts on the recycling industry, submitted a report recommending officials "convince" the collectors to return to their home provinces for the duration of the Olympics.

The workers process up to a third of Beijing's trash and have a "positive effect" on society, but most have criminal records, leave second-hand environmental pollution and pose a health threat, Wang said.

"According to our studies, more than 70 percent have contracted infectious diseases, such as dysentery, hepatitis and typhoid, and can easily infect others in the city," Wang said.

"I hope these people can temporarily sacrifice their interests and go home and then come back after the Olympics," he said, adding, "Their losses won't be that great."

I'm not like you, so vote for me

Fringe, and proud of it:
Senator Barack Obama is forcefully addressing concerns that he has moved too quickly to the political center, acknowledging complaints from "my friends on the left" about his statements on Iraq, his approaches to evangelicals and his remarks on other issues that have alarmed some of his supporters.

"Look, let me talk about the broader issue, this whole notion that I am shifting to the center," he told a town hall-style meeting on Tuesday in this Atlanta suburb. "The people who say this apparently haven't been listening to me.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Grrrrr8 Food!

At the economic summit, they don't eat economically:
Shortly after calling on the world to waste less food, the G8 premiers and their wives sat down for an eight-course "Blessings of the Earth and the Sea Social Dinner" in Tokyo, courtesy of the Japanese Government.

The world food shortage was nowhere to be seen.

As the champagne flowed, the couples enjoyed 18 "higher-quality ingredients", beginning with amuse-bouche of corn stuffed with caviar, smoked salmon and sea urchin pain-surprise-style, hot onion tart and winter lily bulbs.

The main course brought the "meat sweats" - poele of milk-fed lamb flavoured with aromatic herbs and mustard, as well as roasted lamb with black truffle and pine seed oil sauce.

For the cheese course, the Japanese offered a selection with lavender honey and caramelised nuts. It was followed by a "G8 fantasy dessert" and coffee served with candied fruits and vegetables.

The wine list included Le Reve grand cru/La Seule Gloire champagne; a sake wine, Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Nakadori; Corton-Charlemagne 2005 (France); Ridge California Monte Bello 1997 and Tokaji Esszencia 1999 (Hungary).

Sixty chefs were flown in for the occasion.

Getting Up for the Olympics

And other big games:
Viagra dilates blood vessels to take more blood to the penis and thus improve a man's sexual performance. However, experts think the same process takes more oxygen and nutrients to muscles and can be a non-negligible aide in explosive disciplines like sprinting

....Like Viagra, Cialis is used to treat erectile dysfunction. According to some experts in sport, its use helps performance at high altitude and with high pollution.

Beijing, the city where the 2008 Olympics are set to be held in August, features significant pollution levels, to the point that Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie declined to run the marathon there.

....Viagra has a great advantage for sports professionals: it is legal, it is not a banned substance.

....The effects of Viagra in high-performance sports have been the object of debate for a long time."

Scientifically, the only proof that Viagra improves sports performance happened at high altitude. That is why it was decided not to include it in the list," the Brazilian Eduardo de Rose, president of the medical commission of the Pan-American Sports Organization (PASO), told dpa."You will hardly get to play a football match on Mount Everest," he graphically concluded.

Such an effect at high altitude led Israel to study giving its Air Force pilots pills similar to Viagra, so that they perform better on board their fighter planes. In turn, a group of Argentine scientists proved that hamsters that have taken Sildenafil can recover 50 per cent faster from jet-lag after a long flight.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Hello, HAL do you read me, HAL?

Take your car...but leave the driving afar:
...Nady Boules is so enthusiastic about the prospects of putting technology into vehicles that will change the way we drive and even think about personal transportation. He is director of General Motors' (GM) electrical and integration laboratory, and thus is at the center of the automaker's research into what technology is possible and how well consumers might embrace it. "All of this will be made possible and practical by use of computers, sensors, and radio transmitters, and I think we are coming to realize that they can operate a vehicle or even a plane better than humans can behind the wheel," says Boules.

For now, GM can claim bragging rights among automakers for advancing autonomous driving. Last November, a Chevy Tahoe nicknamed "Boss," engineered by a team drawn from GM, Continental Teves, Caterpillar (CAT), and Carnegie-Mellon University, beat out 85 other teams and entries for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, Urban Challenge.

....The "Boss" SUV was packed with thousands of dollars of advanced equipment and software that's not yet commercially available, such as an enhanced global positioning system, radar and sonar, and radio transmitters. On the test course it had to maneuver around vehicles driven by humans, as well as other driverless vehicles.

At a four-way stop with another autonomous vehicle, the Boss and its fellow "car-bot" communicated with one another, negotiating which would go first. "They are more polite than people," says Boules.

.... According to the recently completed Emerging Technologies Study, conducted each year by J.D. Power and Associates, there's a lot of interest in the individual systems that will make autonomous driving possible: 76% of those surveyed are interested in blind-spot detection; 74% want backup assist; 62% want a collision mitigation system; 60% want adaptive cruise control, and 46% want lane-departure warning. However, those percentages drop a bit when price tags are suggested for each system.

The $1,300 GM "Driver Awareness Package," offered on the Cadillac CTS and DTS and Buick Lucerne, includes lane-departure warning, blind-spot detection, and heads-up instrument-panel display. So far this year, 5% of CTS sedan buyers have opted for the package.

....The bigger payoff in having drivers spend a few thousand dollars to embrace autonomous vehicles is the huge improvements they promise in safety and fuel economy.

.... Vehicles would be so safe that automakers could dramatically reduce the weight of cars and trucks by eliminating a lot of steel, bumpers, etc. Even airbags eventually could be eliminated.

Much more of the vehicle could be made from plastics and other synthetics, even recycled paper and other cellulose-based material. With weight reduction comes fuel economy.

....Older people will have the greatest incentive to embrace the newest technology, a reversal of the usual trend with emerging technology. As baby boomers age into their 70s and 80s, living longer thanks to drugs, artificial joints, heart valves, and the like, they will want to continue driving as long as possible. The biggest beef against elderly drivers today is that their reflexes and eyesight deteriorate before their desire to drive their own cars.

With an autonomous car that can be driven safely on autopilot, it's the car's eyesight and reflexes that will matter more than the driver's.

The DWI would be a thing of the past!

Not at a snail's pace

The laws of supply and demand at work:
PARIS - Gourmets will have to dig deeper into their pockets if they want to be served snails after an insufficient 2008 harvest, the French canning and preservation industry federation said Friday.

The main reason for the drop is a shortfall from countries in central and southeastern Europe where collecting snails is less and less popular as those countries' economies develop rapidly, a FIAC statement said.

In a bid to motivate potential gatherers in countries which have recently joined the European Union, prices paid for live snails have gone up sharply.

A nation of shopkeepers...

...meets a naggle of politicians:
The Government is to launch a campaign to stamp out Britain's waste food mountains as part of a global effort to curb spiralling food prices.

Supermarkets will be urged to drop "three for two" deals on food that encourage shoppers into bulk-buying more than they need, often leading to the surpluses being thrown away. The scandal of the vast mountains of food that are thrown away in Britain while other parts of the world starve is revealed in a Cabinet Office report today. It calls for a reduction in food waste: up to 40 per cent of groceries can be lost before they are consumed due to poor processing, storage and transport.

The report says UK households could save an average of £420 per year by not throwing away 4.1 million tonnes of food that could have been eaten.

Gordon Brown said he would make action to tackle the soaring cost of food a priority at the G8 summit starting today in Japan. "If we are to get food prices down, we must do more to deal with unnecessary demand, such as by all of us doing more to cut our food waste which is costing the average household in Britain around £8 per week," he told journalists on board the plane to the summit.

Mr Brown's determination to act follows The Independent's campaign to reduce waste through excessive packaging of food in supermarkets. The Government is to launch a major offensive to encourage supermarkets, restaurants, schools and all public sector bodies as well as householders to try to cut down dramatically on the amount of food they throw away.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Food Fight

Remember the good old days when they fought over territory:
France's bid to have its cuisine enshrined as a Unesco world cultural treasure appears heading for the chop after a top official of the United Nations body all but wrote it off.

....Cherif Khaznadar, president of the Unesco assembly of states that have signed the convention to safeguard "intangible" cultural heritage, said that gastronomy does not fit the criteria.

Unesco began drawing up its list of "intangible" cultural treasures, including dance and carnival, in 2003.

....Since France announced its bid, several other countries have protested that their cuisine is equally unique, in particular Italy.

"Italian gastronomy takes priority," said top Italian cook Massimo Mori in a recent duel with French celebrity chef Guy Savoy over the issue.

"In the Middle Ages, our merchants imported spices, salt, sugar, and Venice invented courtly high gastronomy."

"Be objective," hit back Mr Savoy.

"We have an infinitely superior variety of specialities, without even mentioning wines. What real dessert do you offer besides tiramisu?"

But Italy has now teamed up with Spain, Greece and Morocco to get Unesco to pick the traditional "Mediterranean diet," whose abundant use of olive oil coupled with moderate wine consumption is said to be the healthiest in the world.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

What to do...What to do?

Axel Leijonhufvud thinks we live in interesting times:
The important economic problem of today is the current financial crisis centred in the United States. What might we learn from Keynes about it? The current situation is almost the opposite of the one that Keynes dealt with in the General Theory.

....The Treatise on Money contains a piece of analysis that I have found illuminating. It deals with the financial side of a business downturn. Keynes assumes an initial equilibrium disturbed by a decline in expected future revenues from present capital accumulation.

Firms cut back on investment and, as activity levels decline, direct some part of cash flow to the repayment of trade credit and of bank loans. As short rates decline, banks choose not to relend all these funds but instead to improve their own reserve positions. Thus the system as a whole shows an increased demand for high-powered money and simultaneously a decrease in the volume of bank money held by the non-bank sector.

....What makes this analysis relevant in today's context is that it describes a process of general deleveraging as part of a business downturn. Causally, it is the decline of investment expectations and the consequent contraction of output that prompts deleveraging. Today, we are faced with the converse question of whether or not the deleveraging that the financial sector is rather desperately trying to carry through will of necessity bring about a serious recession.

Immediately following the above are some interesting thoughts on the Japanese and Scandinavian economic crises of the 1990s, that need not detain the FLUBA here. What does is, this delinetion of the current situation in the USA:
As in the Japanese case, the lesson of the Depression is that a collapse of credit cannot be reversed and that the consequences linger for a very long time. It is also true,
however, that until only a year or two ago Chairman Ben Bernanke was a consistent and outspoken advocate of a monetary policy of strict inflation targeting, which is to say, of a central banking doctrine that required an exclusive concentration on keeping consumer prices
within a narrow range with no attention to asset prices, exchange rates, credit quality or (of course) unemployment.

....There are two aspects of the wreckage from the current crisis that have not attracted much attention so far. One is the wreck of what was until a year ago the widely accepted central banking doctrine. The other is the damage to the macroeconomic theory that underpinned
that doctrine.

Critical to the central banking doctrine was the proposition that monetary policy is fundamentally only about controlling the price level.....The goal of monetary policy... could only be to stabilise the price level (or its rate of change). This would be most efficaciously accomplished by inflation targeting, an adaptive strategy that requires the bank to respond to any deviation of the price level from target by moving the interest rate in the opposite direction.

This strategy failed in the United States. The Federal Reserve lowered the federal funds rate drastically in an effort to counter the effects of the crash. In this, the Fed was successful.

But it then maintained the rate at an extremely low level because inflation, measured by various variants of the CPI, stayed low and constant. In an inflation targeting regime this is taken to be
feedback confirming that the interest rate is right.

In the present instance, however, US consumer goods prices were being stabilised by competition from imports and the exchange rate policies of the countries of origin of those imports. American monetary policy was far too easy and led to the build-up of a serious asset price bubble, mainly in real estate, and an associated general deterioration in the quality of credit. The problems we now face are in large part due to this policy failure.

Now for the really bad news; he doesn't think we know what to do about it:
In the old monetarism of Milton Friedman, the real interest rate was determined by real factors and could not be manipulated by the Central Bank. Any attempt to do so would quickly destabilise the price level in Wicksellian fashion. This property was carried over into rational expectations monetarism and then into real business cycle theory and dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) theory in general.

The Federal Reserve System under Greenspan put this proposition to the test in the years following the crash, pursuing an extreme low interest policy.

The result was more Keynesian than Monetarist and...more Austrian than Keynesian: virtually
no CPI inflation, but drastic asset price inflation and very serious deterioration of credit standards (Leijonhufvud 2007c).

The problem is that the real interest rate does not exist in reality but is a constructed variable. What does exist is the money rate of interest from which one may construct a distribution of perceived real interest rates given some distribution of inflation expectations over agents.

Intertemporal non-monetary general equilibrium (or finance) models deal in variables that have no real world counterparts. ....

Modern financial theory is incorporated as a component of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium theories. Its core assumption that future returns are normally distributed
fits neatly into rational expectations models but has been proven false innumerable times. The
repeated occurrence of financial crashes or crises hardly seems consistent with intertemporal equilibrium theory.

....The usual objection to representative agent models has been that it fails to take into account well-documented systematic differences in behaviour between age groups, income classes,
etc. In the financial crisis context, however, the objection is rather that these models are blind to the consequences of too many people doing the same thing at the same time, for example, trying to liquidate very similar positions at the same time. ....The representative lemming is not a rational expectations intertemporal optimising creature. But he is responsible for the fat tail problem that macroeconomists have the most reason to care about.

....the main alternative to Real Business Cycle Theory has been a somewhat loose cluster
of models given the label of New Keynesian theory.

New Keynesians adhere on the whole to the same DSGE modeling technology as RBC macroeconomists but differ in the extent to which they emphasise inflexibilities of prices or other contract terms as sources of short term adjustment problems in the economy. The New
label refers back to the rigid wages brand of Keynesian theory of 40 or 50 years ago.

....The obvious objection to this kind of return to an earlier way of thinking about macroeconomic problems is that the major problems that have had to be confronted in the last twenty or so years have originated in the financial markets - and prices in those markets are anything
but inflexible.

....Today's problem is the ongoing credit crisis and its gradually unfolding consequences.

....standard Keynesian policies are not the answer. Neither is the central banking doctrine that has dominated in recent years. Fortunately, Ben Bernanke and Mervyn King have shown that they realise that we must move beyond that doctrine. ....I conclude that dynamic stochastic general equilibrium theory has shown itself an intellectually bankrupt enterprise.

But this does not mean that we should revert to the old Keynesian theory that preceded it (or adopt the New Keynesian theory that has tried to compete with it).

Never trust anyone under 35

If you're an aging Boomer academic:
Individual colleges and organizations like the American Association of University Professors are already bracing for what has been labeled the graying of the faculty. More than 54 percent of full-time faculty members in the United States were older than 50 in 2005, compared with 22.5 percent in 1969. How many will actually retire in the next decade or so depends on personal preferences and health, as well as how their pensions fare in the financial markets.

Yet already there are signs that the intense passions and polemics that roiled campuses during the past couple of decades have begun to fade. At Stanford a divided anthropology department reunited last year after a bitter split in 1998 broke it into two entities, one focusing on culture, the other on biology. At Amherst, where military recruiters were kicked out in 1987, students crammed into a lecture hall this year to listen as alumni who served in Iraq urged them to join the military.

In general, information on professors’ political and ideological leanings tends to be scarce. But a new study of the social and political views of American professors by Neil Gross at the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons at George Mason University found that the notion of a generational divide is more than a glancing impression. “Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s,” they wrote, making up just under 50 percent. At the same time, the youngest group, ages 26 to 35, contains the highest percentage of moderates, some 60 percent, and the lowest percentage of liberals, just under a third.

When it comes to those who consider themselves “liberal activists,” 17.2 percent of the 50-64 age group take up the banner compared with only 1.3 percent of professors 35 and younger.

“These findings with regard to age provide further support for the idea that, in recent years, the trend has been toward increasing moderatism,” the study says.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Thin, Smart and Happy

Aboard the Straight Talk Express Senator-Turned-Investment-Banker Phil Gramm is interviewed:
Most of his former colleagues probably can't fathom why Wall Street bankers make tens of millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses each year. How would he justify these fat pay days? "It's simple," he lectures, sounding very much like the Texas A&M economics professor that he was in the 1970s:

"In economics, we define labor exploitation as paying people less than their marginal value product. I recently told Ed Whitacre [former CEO of AT&T, who retired with a $158 million pay package] he was probably the most exploited worker in American history because he took Southwestern Bell, which was the smallest of the former Bell companies, and he turned it into the dominant phone company on earth. His severance package should have been billions."

Mr. Gramm says that today there is "a lucrative premium for talent. When we were all hunters and gatherers, and you were better with a bow and arrow than I was, there were limits on how much more game you could kill than me. Today, CEO decisions about whether to acquire or not acquire a company, to shut down one part of the company or not shut it down, get into a market, get out of a market, where those decisions mean billions of dollars, is it surprising that people are willing to pay tremendous amounts of money for people who make those decisions right?"

As for government regulation, he's still the same after all these years:
Mr. Gramm's biggest worry about Wall Street is that, in the wake of the Enron scandal and now the subprime meltdown, the regulatory pendulum has swung too far toward more government meddling – which could put America's financial-market supremacy at risk.

"It used to be that it was a sign of your importance in the world to be listed on the big board," he warns. "Now many of the largest IPOs in the world are occurring on other markets. In the six years that I have been a banker, I have seen decisions made to open functions in London rather than New York because of a better regulatory climate. Every American should worry a lot about this. We have benefited enormously from New York being the financial capital of the world because we had a more efficient regulatory structure than other nations did."

He fingers the U.S. corporate income tax as another competitiveness killer: "We can't possibly compete with a 35% corporate tax rate that is so punitive that if a company opens a plant in Ireland it costs them a billion dollars less than in the U.S. over 10 years because of the difference in corporate taxes." Mr. Gramm urged Mr. McCain to add a corporate income tax cut (to 25%) as part of his economic package.

"Why is America the richest country in the world?" he asks. "It's not because our people are more brilliant; it's because we have a better free-market system. Why has Texas created 1.6 million jobs in the last 10 years whereas Michigan has lost 300,000 jobs and Ohio has lost 100,000 jobs? Because governance matters, taxes matter, regulation matters. Our opponents in this campaign are so dogmatic in their goal of having more government because they love the power it brings to them that they're willing to let it impose costs on the working people that they say they want to help. I am not."

The past versus the future:
Mr. Gramm made his own quest for the presidency in 1996. But despite raising plenty of money, he didn't make it very far. That was partly because he never had Ronald Reagan's sunny demeanor, and Mr. Gramm puts it this way: "I'm too ugly to be president."

....So have I been speaking with the next Treasury secretary? Almost certainly, yes, if Mr. McCain wins in November.

"I don't feel any burning desire to do it," Mr. Gramm tells me. "Look, I had a great career and I quit when I was at the top of my game. I'm not eager to come back." Then he chuckles and says only half-jokingly, "I know a lot of people on the left, who would hate like hell to see me come back."

Soak That Tiger!

Hank Adler says it'll happen in Obamanation:
WHEN Tiger Woods collected his $1,350,000 check for winning the US Open golf championship last month, his federal and California taxes approximated $586,000. So, Tiger got to keep about $764,000, or 57 percent of his winnings.

It was fortunate for Tiger that he won in 2008. ....

...[Barack] Obama's twin tax proposals are to: 1) remove the "cap" from Social Security taxes for individuals earning over $250,000, a plateau Tiger has long since surpassed in 2008, and 2) eliminate the "Bush" tax cuts, thereby raising the top marginal federal income tax rate to 39.6 percent.

This would increase Tiger's taxes on his winner's check to about $776,000, a boost of almost $190,000. Instead of keeping 57 percent of his earnings and the government taking 43 percent, Tiger's federal and California taxes under the Obama proposals would amount to 57 percent of his winnings, leaving Tiger with just 43 percent.

Prefer baseball?

The New York Yankees have a 2008 payroll of about $208 million. Under the Obama proposals, the 24 Yankee players would be hit with an aggregate increase in federal income taxes of just over $22 million - with slugger Alex Rodriguez single-handedly getting dunned with $2.6 million in added federal taxes. The Yankees' owner would owe another $7.5 million of federal taxes.

Ticket prices would need to rise about $65 million so that the owner and players could have the same after-tax income as before- an average $16 per ticket. This would more than double the cost of a seat in the bleachers, now $14.

Drop (us hints) til you shop

Mall developers have a new idea; giving the customers what they say they want:
...whether using consultants or focus groups, some developers are paying more attention to customers and their emotional connection to a store or shopping center.

With so many options available, women shoppers now want to feel as though retail centers have been "customized" to meet their needs, said Tracey Gotsis, the executive vice president for marketing and development at Macerich, a real estate investment trust based in Santa Monica, California

Instead of relying on questionnaires or formal focus groups, Macerich, Gotsis said, often takes boxed lunches to the workplaces of more than a dozen local women who are acting as a "sounding board" for the company's redevelopment of Santa Monica Place, an older enclosed mall that is scheduled to reopen in the fall of 2009.

There, the company is now planning to add more luxury retailers and stores that meet the needs of women in the 35-to-55 age group, after it discovered that the women thought too many nearby retailers were focusing on teenagers and the so-called "junior" market.

The women also wanted more restaurants and different types of restaurants, and Macerich is now talking to a half-dozen restaurateurs as well. It also has plans to add a double-deck carousel to the food court at the center as well as an outdoor amphitheater for children's performances.

"Our network of women is telling us they want more things to do with children," Gotsis said.

In Gilbert, Arizona, the company first put plans for developing SanTan Village before about 90 women from the area in 2002. They told the company they wanted considerably more restaurant space than originally envisioned, and also sidewalks that were far wider than the five feet it usually installed in outdoor centers.

SanTan Village opened last autumn, with sidewalks that are at least 10 feet wide, and in some cases 15, so that women shoppers can navigate them easily with strollers and children in tow.

At Caruso Affiliated, a development company based in Los Angeles, Rick Caruso, the president and chief executive, said that four years ago he heard a young mother complain about the lack of nursing stations in shopping centers. That, he says, prompted him to make sure that the company's upcoming mixed-use development in central Glendale, California, the Americana at Brand, would have a large children's playroom in the main lobby ("usually they're stuck behind the garbage area") and private changing rooms (fully stocked with diapers), two private nursing rooms and a small kitchen for heating baby bottles.

Caruso said that because so many women with children drive large cars, his company has been building parking spaces at least nine inches wider than the eight-and-a-half-foot-wide spaces that tend to be the industry norm.

See You in Court...

...and don't forget to eat your vegetables, kids:
The widow of a millionaire businessman is suing her own children - aged one and three - over her husband's fortune.

Actress Taryn Dielle, 42, has launched the action because she claims the law does not let her have enough of the money to look after daughter Molly, three, and son Maximillian.

Her husband, Mark Butler, died last year from cancer aged 45 leaving an estate worth £2,231,201.

However, he failed to leave a will, meaning his wife is entitled to just £125,000.

The rest of his assets will go to the children while Miss Dielle is entitled to just £50,000 in interest a year.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Really Big Oil

Yes, we can, say the Saudis:
Khurais, about 90 miles east of Riyadh, the Saudi capital, is one of the planet's last giant oil fields. The Saudis say that it holds 27 billion barrels of oil — more oil than all the proven reserves of the United States — and that it will significantly bolster the kingdom's production capacity once it starts pumping a year from now, easing global need.

Some oil traders and analysts doubt that. Their pessimistic forecasts of dwindling oil supplies have helped propel the current increase in prices, which pushed past $140 a barrel last week and seem to be heading higher.

....Starting in June 2009, the field will produce 1.2 million barrels a day, enough to satisfy the expected growth in global demand next year. The Saudis say they are investing more than $10 billion, with 26 contractors, 106 subcontractors and 28,000 employees. It is the largest piece of a five-year, $60 billion effort to expand oil production capacity at a time of fast-rising demand.

....Aramco officials acknowledged that they faced unusual challenges here, including a plan of daunting complexity in a tight contractor market. There are also risks: if the current high prices drive down demand, the Saudis could find their market for all this oil shrinking.

But they said they were on schedule or ahead of it, with the pipeline network 88 percent complete and the main processing plant 55 percent done. They also vehemently disputed the claims of oil-supply skeptics.

A variety of new technologies, including multiple lateral wells and microscopic robots swimming through rock pores deep underground, will allow the company to start recovering much more of the oil in its fields, said Mohammed Saggaf, who runs Aramco's advanced exploration research wing. The company expects to increase the amount of oil it can recover from its fields to 70 percent from 50 percent over the next 20 years, Saggaf said, adding another 80 billion barrels to reserves.

With all this oil becoming available, the Aramco officials said they were baffled that the market seemed to be behaving as though there were a shortage.

"We've asked all the international oil companies that buy from us if they want more oil," Nasser said. "But we can't find customers."

Muscle Car Bound

To Terminator his green cred:
Arnold Schwarzenegger has risked accusations of green hypocrisy by driving around in a gas-guzzling Dodge Challenger Coupe.

The Hollywood star-turned Californian governor has built a reputation as a leading green campaigner and last Friday told a climate-change meeting in Florida: "America is so addicted to oil it will take us years to wean ourselves from it, and to look for new ways to feed our addiction is not the answer."

In an interview last year, the governor spoke of his wish to create "a whole new industry of clean cars and clean engines and components to build those engines."

....The vehicle, which does just 13 miles to the gallon, boasts a 6.1 litre V8 engine and can reach 60mph in under five seconds.