Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fat So?

Life is like a box of chocolates, except you do know what you're getting in this case:
Consumers appear to be comfort eating their way through the recession if the surge in profits of U.S. chocolate giant Hershey is anything to go by.

The firm, which makes Hershey's Kisses and Kit Kat, today posted results for the first quarter of the year, revealing profits had jumped 20per cent annually.

Consumer psychologists are suggesting people could be using chocolate bars as a relatively cheap pick-me-up during the economic downturn.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

No Mas

Britain expects every gardener to do her duty:
Householder Sandra Smith has been ordered to cover up her garden gnomes after complaints that the naked ornaments were upsetting local children.

The gnomes, one male and two female, have stood in Mrs Smith's front garden for around 15 years in Hunnington in the West Midlands.

The grandmother has been forced to put clothes on the ornaments after a neighbour complained to Bromsgrove District Council and an officer phoned her.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Growth Industry

The ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt makes a comeback in Seattle:
There's a bumper crop of new gardeners out there.

Business is booming at nurseries all [over] the Puget Sound [area], "It's easily been a 25 percent increase, if not more, this year in seed sales. Seed sales have been definitely huge for us," said Joe Abken of Sky Nursery in Shoreline.

And it's not just the brick and mortar stores. Gardening expert Ed Hume says his online seed sales in February were up 40 percent. Something he attributes to the current economic situation, "When you get a downturn in the economy, then the vegetable seeds start to sell."

....Gardening advocates, who have long struggled to get America grubby, have dubbed the newly planted tracts "recession gardens" and hope to shape the interest into a movement similar to the victory gardens of World War II.

Those gardens, modeled after a White House patch planted by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1943, were intended to inspire self-sufficiency, and at their peak supplied 40 percent of the nation's fresh produce, said Roger Doiron, founding director of Kitchen Gardeners International.

The National Gardening Association estimates that a well- maintained vegetable garden yields a $500 average return per year. A study by Burpee Seeds claims that $50 spent on gardening supplies can multiply into $1,250 worth of produce annually.

Battery Up

The Chinese expect their executives to take one for the team:
Chinese companies, such as BYD, have been lauded for developing advanced batteries that could power a revolution in motoring.

BYD, a former battery maker, was the first company in the world to start selling a heavily-electrified hybrid car last December, easily beating larger rivals such as Toyota to the market.

....The Chinese government has also committed to funding new technologies, such as BYD's iron-phosphate-based lithium ion batteries, with £1bn of research subsidies.

In a bid to demonstrate the safety of his batteries to the environment, Wang Chuan-Fu, BYD's chief executive, has actually drunk a vial of his own battery fluid.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Not easy being green

King County, Washington learns the cost of good intentions:
King County has agreed to pay $3.5 million to a former Seattle man and his wife after the man suffered a permanent brain injury when he was thrown from his bicycle on a road east of Redmond.

Lawyers for Jeffrey Totten and his wife Danielle Leavell said the county was at fault because it promoted Novelty Hill Road as a bike route but failed to maintain it in a safe condition.

....Physically, emotionally and cognitively disabled, Totten will never be able to work again. A Navy veteran, he bicycled daily from his home in Seattle's Fremont district to the energy firm where he worked in Issaquah.

The accident occurred while on a longer training ride with friends.

....John Christensen, an attorney for Totten and Leavell, said the family would have asked for more money if the case had gone to a jury.

....Christensen said Totten was put in danger because of a lack of communication between the county Parks and Recreation Division, which promoted Novelty Hill Road in online and printed maps as a bike route, and the Road Services Division, which allowed a hole around the survey marker to grow deeper with successive paving jobs.

Leavell said her husband was training for the 700-mile Paris-Brest-Paris bike event when the accident occurred.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Eliminate the Negative

Then, accentuate the positive, with a little help from a future POTUS, and go on to direct some pretty good movies:
Mr. [Edward] Dmytryk's story was a searing indictment of the [Communist] party. He described being part of a conspiracy to break up the American Federation of Labor in Hollywood and to replacing it with unions controlled by communists. He revealed that the party bullied filmmakers into molding the editorial content of pictures in keeping with the party line.

He also said that the party had twisted his legal battle into a First Amendment issue so as to demonize congressional investigations. "It was like everything else the communists do," he told the Saturday Evening Post. "They would go into a lynching case, but instead of trying to help the Negroes, what they are really after is to use the incident to stir up still more trouble. The Negroes don't matter -- they're just a means to an end."

[Ronald] Reagan was emphatic that Mr. Dmytryk go public. When Mr. Dmytryk agreed, Reagan built a coalition of liberals and conservatives to champion him. The team purchased a full-page ad in the Hollywood Reporter. "The Communist Party is now trying to destroy Edward Dmytryk," it read. "We will be surprised if there are not other attacks by the Party on other former communists who have the guts to stand up and be counted and to tell the truth."

Reagan argued to friends and colleagues that Mr. Dmytryk ought to be embraced for breaking with the Stalinists. The Reagan team even vouched for Mr. Dmytryk when he applied for life insurance.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Coase File

Green power, the salvation of the Obamanation, has a few problems of its own:
Wind turbines may supply power without pollution but they are also generating complaints about noise and even possible health effects for people who live near them.

Dan Williams says the 240-foot-tall turbines he can see from his hilltop home near Boardman in Eastern Oregon make so much noise they keep him awake at night.

Williams is among neighbors along Highway 74 demanding that Morrow County enforce state noise regulations on the Willow Creek Wind Energy Project or revoke its land-use permit.

The 40-year-old construction contractor told The Oregonian newspaper in Portland that wind-energy companies downplay the noise.

"They said this is going to be about as loud as your refrigerator in your house, which is a crock," he said.

....Other critics, including some in Oregon, cite work by a New York doctor who coined the term "wind turbine syndrome" to describe effects such as headaches, dizziness and memory loss of living near the machines.

"This thing is not rare," Dr. Nina Pierpont of Malone, N.Y., said of the syndrome.

....another resident of the area, Mike Eaton, agrees with Williams and other neighbors who complain about the noise and vibrations from the turbines.

The retired 61-year-old furniture maker said the turbines give him nausea by aggravating inner-ear and balance problems he's had since a 1966-67 tour in Vietnam subjected him to the constant pounding of an Army 155-mm artillery piece.

"I cannot live where I'm living now with these decibels and vibrations," he said.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

France: Danny Devito no genius!

The star of Other People's Money probably wouldn't do too well in this environment:
PARIS — When negotiations over the revamping ofCaterpillar’s operations in the French city of Grenoble broke down this week, the workers did what more and more of their countrymen are doing these days: They took their bosses hostage.

It was the fourth such incident in France in the last month.

This week, Fran├žois-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of PPR, the group that owns Gucci, was trapped by a group of employees who surrounded his car and blocked the road with garbage cans.

In two other incidents last month, workers at a 3M plant held their boss for more than 24 hours in a labor dispute, and workers at a Sonyplant held their boss overnight to gain better severance packages.

While detaining company executives against their will is not new in France, the tactic has been used only sparingly. But French labor policy experts say they expect more such actions because the despair and anxiety that drive employees to such acts is increasing as the labor market worsens.

“The traditional way of holding a strike is to occupy the workplace, showing that ‘it’s our company, too,’ ” said Antoine Lyon-Caen, a professor of comparative labor law at the University of Paris-Nanterre. “It’s not unheard-of that the managers get taken hostage, but it has been very rare.”

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

When Bernie Went Ponzi

Former head of the NYSE, Richard Grasso, speculates it was when the investment world went penny wise instead of 1/8 foolish in the late 90s. Which eliminated a very lucrative anomaly in trading, which Bernie Madoff had been exploiting:
How would you describe it to a layman?

His broker-dealer, Bernard Madoff [Investment] Securities, executed orders in Big Board-listed stocks away from the Big Board that were given to that broker-dealer by other broker-dealers in return for payment from order flow. He would pay a penny a share to many of the regional broker-dealers in the U.S. to effectively buy their order flow. And in return, he would execute those orders in-house, at Madoff [Securities], and take the risk of the offset—meaning that when he had an inventory, he would lay that inventory or sell that inventory back to the primary markets, principally to the NYSE. And when he had an exposure as a result of being short, he would cover, or buy shares to cover his risk on the primary markets. The broker-dealers who gave him that order flow effectively got a penny a share.

....When you saw what he was doing, did it seem to be profitable to you?

Extraordinarily profitable, because remember during the period of time when he was doing it, the minimum price variation was 12.5 cents—meaning the tightest the spread could be was separated by an eighth of a dollar, which meant that if he paid a penny coming in and paid a penny going out—meaning a penny to the buyer and a penny to the seller—it was potentially 10.5 cents of profit for the Madoff organization.

But that good thing came to a halt:
And how long did he get away with this?

Oh, I would say 20-plus years. You see, what killed that business was when we went to pennies. Because you crush the spread and you crush costs. And there’s no more opportunity for him to pay a penny coming in if the market is a penny bid offered at two cents.

Right. What year was that?

We started that process in 1997 by going from an eighth to a sixteenth, which, you know, took 50 percent of the profitability opportunity out. And then, by 1999, we went to a penny.

So could that have been the first problem he had?

Yes, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the economics of his primary business evaporated.