Tuesday, August 30, 2005
California Winning Race to the Bottom
More than 6.5 million Californians under the age of 65—more than one in five—lack health insurance, according to the study that covers 2001-2003.
....The study, which was funded by the California Endowment and the California Wellness Foundation, does not estimate additional costs to government for use of its programs.
Nowhere does the study’s message hit harder than in California’s racial and ethnic communities.
Non-elderly Latinos and American Indian/Alaska Natives report the highest rates of non-insurance. While 66.6 percent of non-Hispanic white workers report having employment-based health coverage, only 34 percent of Latino workers were similarly insured—the lowest rate among all groups.
....Shana Alex Lavarredo, the other author of the study, says the disparity in job-based health insurance is due to issues of citizenship, education, and lower-paying service, retail and restaurant jobs—all of which work against California’s Latino population.
....In Beverly Hills, there are 2,022 physicians for every 100,000 people....
...In Bell—a mainly Latino community about 20 miles away—there are 19 physicians for every 100,000 people.
Monday, August 29, 2005
Speaking of Leeches
without their input:
WASHINGTON - Flesh-eating maggots and blood-sucking
leeches were once the tools of quack doctors and shamans. But they have
experienced a quiet renaissance among high-tech surgeons, and for two days
beginning today a federal advisory board will discuss how to regulate them.
Leeches, it turns out, are
particularly good at draining excess blood from surgically reattached or
transplanted appendages. As micro- surgeons tackle feats such as re-attaching
hands, scalps and even faces, leeches have become indispensable.
Maggots clean festering wounds that
fail to heal, as happens among diabetics, better than almost anything in use,
although the use of maggots in the United States has been slight, in part
because of squeamishness.
But neither leeches nor maggots, despite
their long histories of use, have ever been subject to thorough regulation by
the Food and Drug Administration.....
Since 1976, the agency has required
that makers of medical devices prove that their products are safe and effective.
Those already on the market had to prove their worth; those invented later had
to get approval before marketing.
A national Christian women's organization is accusing the Seattle-based coffee maker [Starbucks] of promoting a homosexual agenda because of a quote by author Armistead Maupin, whose "Tales of the City" chronicled San Francisco's homosexual community in the 1970s and 1980s.
Maupin's quote — one of several dozen in "The Way I See It" promotion — says his only regret about being gay is that he repressed it for so long.
....Concerned Women for America, which promotes itself as the antithesis of the National Organization for Women and boasts 8,700 supporters in Washington, says most of those quoted on the coffee cups are liberal.
Which would seem to be justified by the way The Seattle Times allows the issue to be framed:
...experts say that on controversial issues, no company can please all its customers all the time. Corporations, they say, need to pick their battles, staking out a position on issues they believe to be just.And, no the FLUBA Committee on Clueless Experts is not making this up.
"There are many religious-based social issues that are so hard for society to address right now — things like abortion and capital punishment — they're better left for another time," said Leo Hindery, author of "It Takes a CEO: Leading with Integrity."
"But there are a couple of places where it is clear to me that there should be no ambiguity of corporate responsibility — the environment and civil rights," Hindery said. "As a corporation, you cannot let the desire for unanimity override your obligation for fairness."
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Belgian Burka Boomerang
BRUSSELS — In the Limburg city of Maaseik the first fine for wearing an Islamic burka has been issued.
Police booked a young woman of Moroccan origin three weeks ago for wearing the all-concealing Islamic veil, newspaper 'De Standaard' reported on Thursday.
The woman will now be required to pay a EUR 125 fine, Maaseik Mayor Jan Creemers said on Wednesday.
Ironically, the city will probably end up paying the fine because the woman is receiving social security payments from the OCMW benefits office.
The woman will not be the only one fined however. Police have already booked four other women for the same crime.
The incidents may also lead to the payment of fines, but Maaseik will also end up paying their fines because the women are on social security recipients also.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
No Ditch in Crawford for This Guy
A businessman from the Turkish city of Iskanderun has applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), demanding the U.S. and Great Britain pay him $1 billion in compensation each for his Russian wife divorcing him, RIA Novosti reported.
The man, who does not want to reveal his name, claims that his wife suffered severe mental stress due to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, fearing Turkey could intervene in the conflict, which resulted in her filing for divorce and returning to Russia together with their child. The couple had lived together for 10 years.
The lawsuit, described as the first of its kind, has been accepted by the ECHR.
Bet Cindy wishes she'd thought of this first.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
This Is Where We Came In
TOKYO -- Japanese electronic maker Toshiba has given up on negotiations with a rival camp led by Sony Corp. to agree on a unified format for next-generation DVDs, a media report said late Tuesday.
Toshiba Corp. leads a group of companies that support the HD DVD format and has been in talks with a Sony-led bloc, which backs the Blu-ray format.
"It is regrettable but unavoidable that two formats will remain (on the market)," Kyodo News agency quoted an unnamed Toshiba official as saying.
Officials were unavailable for immediate comment late Tuesday.
The two blocs developed their DVD formats separately, but growing concern about confusion among consumers over the different formats prompted Sony and Toshiba to start negotiations on a unified format earlier this year.
Kyodo said, however, that two rival formats were certain to continue as Toshiba's move follows a decision by Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. from the Sony camp to also abandon the negotiations.
Sony's Blu-ray disks have a more sophisticated format and play back 25 GB of data compared with HD DVD's 15, but are more expensive to produce.
Hunters working for the government's wildlife agency will be stalking ponds in south-west France this weekend, aimed with flash-lights, rifles, silencers and night-vision sights.
They have been mobilised for the most intensive effort so far to terminate a plague of giant Californian bullfrogs which is threatening to disrupt the ecology of the Gironde, Dordogne and several other départements.
The aggressive and voracious bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana), introduced illegally 37 years ago, can grow to more than 4lbs in weight and almost 2ft long. It consumes other frogs, fish, lizards and even small birds.
Since the frogs were first released, as a joke, on a private pond near Libourne in 1968, they have colonised ponds, lakes, marshes and gravel pits all over the département of the Gironde.
....Destroying the frogs is not easy, however. The Gironde fisheries protection association attacked a pond full of bullfrogs with electricity a few years ago. The frogs fought back. The hunters battled with them for two hours. They killed just one frog before they gave up.
....Game-keepers and volunteers working for the Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (National Hunting and Wild-life Agency) have now developed night-fighting techniques. The frogs are easier to locate at night because their eyes reflect torchlight.
"Shooting them with rifles is the most effective method we have found," said an environmental campaigner, Luc Gueugneau.
"It seemed like a rather mean-spirited approach at first but we found that it was the best way of killing all the adults."
You've Got Me in Reality, But theoretically....
The 2000 election is still an open sore on the body politic. That was clear from the outraged reaction to my mention last week of what would have happened with a full statewide manual recount of Florida.
This reaction seems to confuse three questions. One is what would have happened if the U.S. Supreme Court hadn't intervened; the answer is that unless the judge overseeing the recount had revised his order (which is a possibility), George W. Bush would still have been declared the winner.
Which is exactly what the FLUBA Shadow Krugman Committee pointed out last week:
The Democrats didn't ask for a 'full manual recount'. They asked for, and were granted by four members of Florida's Supreme Court, a targeted recount. And one in which there most certainly would not have been enough time to complete and certify before the date in December scheduled for the Electoral College to cast its ballots.
Which means that the Florida legislature would have cast its electoral votes for George W. Bush.
Meaning that any talk of a 'full manual recount' is a classic red herring.
The FLUBA SKC also reports that far from being outraged at that or any other Paul Krugman claim, it is highly amused at the spectacle of a John Bates Clark Medal holder shredding his credibility by his never ending displays of self-unawareness with such as, open sore on the body politic.
Only for perennial sore losers, Paul.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Isn't It Organic?
The level of malpractice extends to producers passing off food as organic and the use of incorrect or unregulated certification.
Concerns are now growing that consumers are paying inflated prices for organic produce that is no different to regular foodstuffs.
...The organic food industry has grown dramatically and is now worth £1.12 billion per year, a ten-fold increase over eight years.
....TO QUALIFY as "organic", food must meet strict standards laid down by the European Union and incorporated into British law.
Growers, processors and importers selling organic food must be registered with organic-certification bodies, which in turn are regulated in the UK by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
There are ten such bodies in Britain, including the Soil Association and the Scottish Organic Producers' Association, which regularly visit farms to check fertilisers and pesticides being used are approved for organic use.
Food must be made from at least 95 per cent organic ingredients to carry an organic label.
....Standards also extend to the processing of food, including the milling of flour, baking of bread and the making of pizzas.
Researchers analysed the results of 16 trials involving adults taking the drug paroxetine, mostly sold under the brand name Seroxat. In Scotland, more than 325,000 prescriptions were written for paroxetine in the year to March 2004.
There's No Such Thing as Free Parking in Berkeley
Devin Pope, an economics graduate student at UC Berkeley....
Since he moved into UC Berkeley’s family-oriented Smyth-Fernwald Housing Complex several years ago, Pope has had his own parking space and available visitor parking near his apartment.
But this month UC Berkeley stripped residents of their roughly 90 parking spaces. Now, with the university’s Department of Parking and Transportation controlling the spaces, students insist this year they will have less available parking, even though as young parents they said they need cars to get around more than other students.
“My parents will probably have to park across town and we’ll have to pick them up,” said Pope from his hilltop apartment that boasts a bay view, but few nearby parking spaces. “How are we ever going to get anybody to visit us?”
...students said they were getting a good deal with a two-bedroom apartment going for just over $900, parking included.
Until this month, Smyth-Fernwald residents managed the nearby parking spaces, and residents were effectively granted free spaces for one car and paid a small fee for a second car.
But free parking for residents will soon be a thing of the past. Under the new rules, incoming residents will have to pay the standard $79 a month for a student parking pass. Current residents will be allowed to keep their free parking spaces. Also any UC Berkeley student with a parking pass will be able to park at designated spaces beside the housing complex, meaning fewer spaces for visitors.
“We’re simply trying to treat our students the same across the board,” said UC Berkeley Director of Parking and Transportation Nad Permaul.
“Why should [Smyth-Fernwald residents] pay less for parking than other students all over the university?”
....The residents have squabbled with UC officials in recent years. Last year, the university prohibited residents from selling their spaces to Cal football spectators on game days,... deprived the community of the roughly $10,000 it annually collected from football parking and used for social events.
Would 21st century Berkeley students be a bunch of wusses if they take this without a Free Parking Movement? Or a Park-in Demonstration?
Friday, August 19, 2005
The Party That Can't Vote Straight
Two different news media consortiums reviewed Florida's  ballots; both found that a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore.
Krugman's source for that claim is a book, "Steal This Vote", by Andrew Gumbel. But whether or not Gumbel is correct, is irrelevant. The Democrats didn't ask for a 'full manual recount'. They asked for, and were granted by four members of Florida's Supreme Court, a targeted recount. And one in which there most certainly would not have been enough time to complete and certify before the date in December scheduled for the Electoral College to cast its ballots.
Which means that the Florida legislature would have cast its electoral votes for George W. Bush.
Even more amusing is Krugman's not mentioning the one certain voting scandal of 2004; the Washington state gubernatorial election.
Of course, that's where Democrats in King County managed to create more than enough illegal votes to give that election to Christine Gregoire. A judge ruled that while there were 1,678 illegal votes cast in that county--which went overwhelmingly (78%) for the Democrat Gregoire--but he couldn't tell what effect that would have had on the 129 vote margin of victory!
It doesn't seem to phase the Princeton economist that all the voting problems occur in areas controlled by Democrats for a very good reason:
...votes were suppressed by long lines at polling places - lines caused by inadequate numbers of voting machines - and that these lines occurred disproportionately in areas likely to vote Democratic.
Which would be the fault of the Democrats administering the elections, one would think.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Oye Como Va
A former personal assistant to rock star Carlos Santana and his wife, Deborah, says he was fired after his consciousness was "calibrated" and determined to be too low.
Bruce Kuhlman, 59, ... has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in which he contends a man known only as "Dr. Dan" was brought in to "calibrate employees' consciousness."
"Deborah's goal was for Dr. Dan to improve plaintiff's consciousness or awareness level, which would bring him closer to God and make him a better worker," the lawsuit states. "In Deborah's view, the higher a person calibrated with Dr. Dan, the better employee they were because they were more 'spiritually evolved.'"
....The complaint alleges Kuhlman was discriminated against because of his age, gender and religion - and that the Santanas, longtime San Rafael residents, did not want to share proceeds of what was becoming a profitable line of their business.
....Kuhlman is asking for monetary damages for lost wages, emotional distress, unpaid overtime and for legal code violations, as well as punitive and other damages.
Moo Juice for Alice B. Toklas Brownies
Cattle-breeders in Russia’s Urals will feed cows with confiscated marijuana over the cold winter months, Novye Izvestia daily reported.
Drug workers said they adopted the unusual form of animal husbandry after they were forced to destroy the sunflowers and maize crops that the 40 tonnes of marijuana had been planted among.
“There is simply no other way out. You see, the fields are planted with feed crops and if we remove it all the cows will have nothing to eat,” a Federal Drugs Control Service spokeswoman for the Urals region of Sverdlovsk told the paper. But he stressed that he does not know what the milk will be like after such unusual fodder.
Cows in Russia are traditionally fed with clover and sunflower.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
For digitally dehancing Maria's breasts:
The Rogers Cup management has decided to have two of the tournament promoting banners depicting Maria Sharapova hauled down and digitally doctored to retouch delicate portions of the famous Russian’s storied physique, or more precisely her nipples, the Star reported Tuesday.
...When tennis fans and celebrity hounds converge upon the Rexall Centre tennis stadium at York this week, they will be greeted by rows of huge banners draped from the stadium’s concrete facade, each showing one or another of the top women’s tennis stars who will be competing at the tournament this year — Amelie Mauresmo, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and Sharapova.
But, in some cases, spectators will be seeing only the bowdlerized versions of those photos, the Star adds, since after hot debates it was decided Sharapova’s nipples needed retouching.
“I don’t see the sporting necessity of having Maria Sharapova’s breasts falling out of her top,” Richard Powers, professor of sports marketing at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said. “What are they selling here? I don’t think it’s in good taste.”
In Canada, he qualifies as a marketing professor?
Yo, Russkies, You're So Sixties
[A] Monument to the Russian alphabet letter, an e with an umlaut, pronounced as “yo” is planned to be erected in the Central Russian city of Ulyanovsk.
This letter called “yo”, the only Russian character with an umlaut, was introduced in 1797 by the famous Russian historian and writer Nikolai Karamzin who was born not far from Ulyanovsk, then called Simbirsk.
....Linguists to this day dispute the utility of the letter. It is replaced by the simple e in official documents.
Controversy that has for years delayed permission to proceed with the monument centered mainly on the fact that to the Russian ear the “yo” sound is closely associated with a range of colorful profanities or other exclamations considered in poor taste....
to 40 years late copyrights:
[A] Regional court in St. Petersburg has found the use of smileys in the Siemens cell phones illegal because smileys were invented and patented by a local resident.
45-year-old Viktor Petrov,...sued Siemens’ Russian branch in 2002 over usage of his invention, .... Before suing, he wrote a letter to the Siemens office proposing cooperation but received no answer. His claim was answered on August 2, 2005.
Petrov applied on a patent for a “way of a directed regulation of human psycho-emotional state” in April 1999. In 18 months, he received a Russian patent.
Of course, someone might have a big Mr Yuk for the above:
Richard Ball, co-owner of an advertising and public relations firm in Worcester [Mass.], designed the Smiley Face in 1963 to help ease the acrimonious aftermath following the merger of two insurance companies.
A vice president ordered a "friendship campaign" to ease tensions between the bickering workers and hired Richard Ball to come up with a suitable graphic for a button.
"I made a circle with a smile for a mouth on yellow paper, because it was sunshiny and bright," he recalled in a 1996 interview with The Associated Press. Turning the drawing upside down, the smile became a frown. Deciding that wouldn't do, Ball added two eyes and the Smiley Face was born.
Monday, August 15, 2005
We'd Rather Be Working
France's handful of "fetes folles," or crazy festivals, attract a regular cult following and throngs of incredulous holidaymakers. One fete features an acclaimed lying contest; another boasts a distance spitting competition.
But the annual Pig Festival and French Pig-Squealing Championships in Trie-sur-Baise, a remote farming village in the foothills of the Pyrenees, are acknowledged to be in a class of their own.
Besides the pig-squealing, there were awards in the Sunday competition for pigging out - this year's winner ate 1.2 meters (nearly 4 feet) of blood sausage in under five minutes - and heavy gambling on the final eight-piglet race.
C'est la vie.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Though Not as Easy as Being a Berkeley Economist Today
In the 1930s the Great Depression made it very easy to be a Communist: no matter what the criticism, you could answer it with, "Oh yeah? And you'd rather have the system that gave us the Great Depression."
The Great Depression being worse than the famine in Ukraine? The purges and show trials in Moscow? The slave labor camps? The Great Terror? The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact?
At least The Great Depression was accompanied by Cole Porter and the Gershwins.
Allez a l'ouest, jeune homme
Fed up with a country they describe as rigid, racist and old-fashioned, French youngsters are opting for a new start in Britain, Canada, America or New Zealand where they can find housing and jobs more easily than in France.
Unemployment among the under-25s in France stands at 23.3 per cent, and 40 per cent of 18-30 year-olds describe their financial state as "difficult".
Many cite French employment practices as being at the root of the problem.
....The French tradition of offering university graduates low- paid short-term work experience, rather than full-time employment, is also blamed for the precarious financial situation in which many young French people find themselves.
....Sociologist Olivier Galland believes a cultural gap is opening up between the young and the rest of French society.
"Eighteen- to 30-year-olds have an image of a rigid, authoritarian country lacking flexibility," he said. "They are looking for a more flexible hiring system... and they head for those countries where the culture of little jobs is more developed."
Young French people are also drawn to move by a climate of tolerance and dynamism which they can miss in French society.
Which may be why Paul Krugman likes France so much.
A Plague of Locusts on the WaPo
What the Post story doesn't tell us is that Niger has had twin disasters, drought and locusts, that devasted the 2004 Niger crops:
“It was very clear from October last year. We monitor this region very closely due to its vulnerability. The warnings were given very early,” says Jean Senahoun, of Global Information and Early Warning System in Rome, a part of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
Senahoun was among the researchers involved in the December 2004 special report on the Niger food forecast, which predicted the country would fall short of nearly 300,000 tonnes of food – about 7% of the country’s total need – before the next harvest in October 2005. The devastating failure of the October 2004 harvest was two-thirds due to severe droughts and one-third due to the locust infestation that swept through West Africa.Which would mean food in short supply, meaning prices rise.
[Update] Melana Zyla Vickers adds that there's very little free trade involved here:
The obstacles to new business development and foreign business participation are manifold. Much of the agricultural sector is still government-run. Worst of all, tiny Niger, in which only 15% of the land is arable and non-desert, depends on its neighbors for cereal imports every year. But this year, those command-controlled neighbors, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mali, are restricting exports to Niger, despite the fact that they've signed trade treaties against such hoarding. In other words, Niger's children are starving because of a failure to trade freely, and not a failure of the free market.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
It's August in France...
The French now have so much free time that they cannot afford to enjoy it, tourism professionals said yesterday, blaming a sharp fall in summer hotel and restaurant revenues on the average Gallic tourist's newfound parsimony.
With many employees entitled to up to 11 weeks annual leave, thanks to the 35-hour-week laws introduced four years ago, the French are taking more breaks. However, they tend to be shorter and holidaymakers have less cash to spend when they are away.
....France's faltering economy and unemployment rate is not helping either. A recent survey by Ipsos polling group found that 52% of French people planned to spend less than €1,500 (£1,038) of their budget on holidays this year.
The proportion taking at least one break away from home is also falling. Nearly 16% of the population have never been away and half of all French holidaymakers now stay with friends or family.
The trend is being particularly keenly felt along the Mediterranean and south-western Atlantic coast, where most of the year's income is earned in July and August.
Wherein We Reprise Man Sans Q's FISA Work
For instance, from an interview of September 24, 01 with Herbert Rommerstein Musil quotes:
Romerstein: ....Church put in motion a whole series of concepts, that you had to restrict your intelligence services, both your foreign intelligence service, the CIA, and your domestic security, the FBI, because they are the real enemy. They are "rogue elephants," they want to do terrible things to U.S. persons, and you’ve got to stop them.
....In 1979 the Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA]. This provided that the FBI had to get a warrant to wiretap somebody they knew to be a foreign intelligence agent or an agent of a "foreign power," ....
....The liberal Democrats decided that this was not a big enough hurdle for the FBI to overcome, so they put up another obstacle to gathering intelligence through wire taps. One of the issues was, "What do you do with Mr. X, who has not engaged in spying in the past or has not engaged in terrorism, but is a member of an organization which has traditionally engaged in espionage or terrorism?" ....the liberal Democrats wanted a provision in the bill that said that you can wiretap only leaders of foreign powers that engage in espionage or terrorism activity, but not the rank and file.
In other words, under the law that passed, the FBI could wiretap bin Laden—if he had been in the United States—but not the guys who took over the airline. They would be considered "rank-and-filers."
[then congressman John] Ashbrook had put in an amendment to cover rank-and-file members of foreign powers or foreign entities, but the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Eddie Boland [D.-Mass.], came over to us and said, "John, we’re giving you your amendment. We’re not going to fight it, but just add it to the bill." I said, "John, we won." But John said, "No, we lost, because if we voted on it and got a big enough vote, the House would have to fight for the provision in a Senate-House conference on the bill. But since we didn’t vote on it, they are going to throw it away in conference." And they did.
And so, in the law that eventually passed the Congress, the FBI was unable to wiretap a member of a foreign power engaged in hostile intelligence or terrorism, rank-and-file members of the Soviet controlled Communist Party, for example. ....
Up From Felon Voting
James C. Garrett, a fringe candidate for mayor of Seattle, argued at an administrative hearing yesterday that his name should appear on the primary-election ballot despite a felony conviction for assaulting then-Mayor Paul Schell with a bullhorn four years ago.
At yesterday's hearing, Garrett, 59, offered a rambling challenge to the authority of the U.S. government and said he suffered from "post-traumatic slavery syndrome."
Garrett said he was still challenging the validity of his felony conviction in federal court and claimed he never received notice that he could not register to vote again after being released from prison.
Garrett, also known as Omari-Tahir Garrett, was sentenced in 2002 to 21 months in prison for the assault on Schell. As a convicted felon, his voting rights were revoked.
King County elections officials allowed him to register to vote again last year and accepted his mayoral candidacy on June 29 despite records indicating his voting rights had never legally been restored.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Spotted Owl...Shot Same
The northern spotted owl, which won federal protection in the forests of the West 15 years ago, is in serious peril despite logging restrictions that cost thousands of jobs.
One culprit: the barred owl, described yesterday as the "bigger and nastier" cousin that is contributing to the demise of the little spotted owl.
The Washington Forest Practices Board took testimony on the worsening problem and one early strategy: Federal agents plan to shoot some of the barred owls in a California experiment to see if the spotted owl will rebound.
The barred owls migrated to the West from the Great Plains and prey on the food of the smaller birds, push them out of nesting areas, mate with them and even kill them. Their numbers are exploding, displacing spotted owls, which are in a steep decline, experts told the panel.
"They're just bad news," said Steven Courtney, a scientist with Sustainable Ecosystems Institute, a nonprofit group of more than 300 affiliated scientists based in Portland. "We don't have a final scientific prediction of where this will all end up, but it is a major threat at this time."
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Letter to Paul
Esteemed Dr. Krugman -
If, as you assert in your column, the French earn less than Americans because they want to, can't it also be true that women might earn less than men because of an innate preference?
Help me out here,
Larry Summers - Cambridge MA
Because It Wouldn't Be Fashionable
The United States is awash in human rights groups, feminist organizations, ecological foundations, and committees for the rights of minorities. How come there is not a huge voluntary effort to help and to publicize the efforts to find the hundreds of thousands of "missing" Iraqis, to support Iraqi women's battle against fundamentalists, to assist in the recuperation of the marsh Arab wetlands, and to underwrite the struggle of the Kurds, the largest stateless people in the Middle East? Is Abu Ghraib really the only subject that interests our humanitarians?
....Dr. Alaa Tamimi, the mayor of Baghdad.... is a civil engineer and convinced secularist who gave up a prosperous exile in Canada to come home and help rebuild his country. He is one among millions who could emerge if it were not for the endless, pitiless torture to which the city is subjected by violent religious fascists. ....
Question: Why have several large American cities not already announced that they are going to become sister cities with Baghdad and help raise money and awareness to aid Dr. Tamimi?
....For day after day last month I could not escape the news of the gigantic "Live 8" enterprise, which urged governments to do more along existing lines by way of debt relief and aid for Africa. Isn't there a single drop of solidarity and compassion left over for the people of Iraq, after three decades of tyranny, war, and sanctions and now an assault from the vilest movement on the face of the planet? Unless someone gives me a persuasive reason to think otherwise, my provisional conclusion is that the human rights and charitable "communities" have taken a pass on Iraq for political reasons that are not very creditable.
Monday, August 08, 2005
Au Contraire, Monsieur K
The French — particularly the young and educated — are leaving their country in ever growing numbers in search of a better life abroad. Britain is one of the favourite destinations, according to the French foreign ministry. Its figures suggest that the biggest exodus since the 1789 revolution is under way. The number of French people living overseas has risen by more than 40% over the past decade to 1.25m.
The numbers officially registered as living in Britain have risen from 46,000 in 1993 to 91,630 — and the real figure is believed to be more than twice that since most expatriates do not register with French consulates.
....London’s image as a dynamic, progressive city not only helped it to outclass Paris in the competition to host the 2012 Olympics; it also beats Paris in its appeal to French people dreaming of starting their own business.
To them the French business world seems a hostile, over-regulated environment in which connections and diplomas count for more than merit and chutzpah. French labour laws make it extremely difficult to sack anyone and the high cost of employing workers, who are obliged to put in no more than 35 hours a week, has driven many small and medium-sized businesses overseas.
“In France it is a nightmare, a complete nightmare,” says PY Gerbeau, the 39-year-old chief executive of X-Leisure who came to London in 2000 to take charge of the Millennium Dome.
“If you want to achieve something, if you want to start a business or want to have a career, it is really very difficult because, first of all, you cannot work hard because the employment laws stop you from working more than 35 hours.”
Hombres de Telepropaganda
...Telesur, the brainchild of Cuban communist Fidel Castro and his ideological spawn Hugo Chávez. They say that it was created to both compete with foreign media conglomerates and offer a side of the news that is uniquely Latino. Independent, they say, from any voice but that of the people. The truth, however, is far from their propaganda platforms. Telesur is being funded by the leftist governments in Uruguay, Argentina, and Cuba, with Venezuela alone controlling 51% of the company. It will be housed in Caracas at the headquarters of Venezuela state media, where Chávez regularly opines for hours on end about impending imperialist invasion to the delight of only 2% of the Venezuelan public.
Perhaps the cast of other characters involved helps explain that:
Chávez's recently resigned Minister of Information [and Propaganda] Andres Izarra will head the corporation, and the board will indeed be diverse. Pakistan-born British leftist Tariq Ali and French Le Monde Diplomatique editor Ignacio Ramonet will join the likes of Uruguayan writer by day, Marxist by night Eduardo Galeano. In another assurance of indisputable quality, Danny Glover, the star of such world-renowned films as "Lethal Weapon," will be in on the act.
Contributing last is infamous Marxist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel....
And look who else is part of the team:
At the end of April [Chavez] met with Castro and hundreds of regional communists in Havana before flying to Brazil for the first ever Arab-Latin America summit, where he met with the Qatari delegation to work on a deal to exchange footage and material with Al Jazeera, with whom Tariq Ali is connected. The deal is finally getting attention, earning Telesur the name "El Jazeera," for good reason.
As with all good dictators competition is discouraged:
...many [Venezuelan] stations and newspapers are practicing self-censorship because of inane laws making it constitutionally illegal to "offend or show disrespect for the president."
Opposition-aligned Globovisión was recently indicted on 20 violations of constitutional law, with a separate harassment for simply forgetting to refer to the Republic of Venezuela as "Bolivarian" in a newscast.
Say buenos noches, amigos.
Friday, August 05, 2005
Glen Hubbard Can't Get a Real Answer Either
HUBBARD: ...to solve our entitlements problem with tax increases, it would not just be a matter of restoring 1970s tax rates. It’s not just that top rates would have to go up. I am describing a tax increase of 50 percent. And I don’t mean for the rich. I mean every tax collected in America.
KRUGMAN: Every federal tax.
HUBBARD: You could not raise that amount of money on a soak-the-rich strategy.
PETERSON: A tax increase can’t provide the bulk of the solution.
KRUGMAN: I don’t see why not. Even if we raised it all through taxes—something I wouldn’t support, by the way—the total tax take in America would go from roughly 27 percent of GDP, including state and local, up to 35 percent. In many advanced countries, the take is close to 40 percent.
HUBBARD: That’s about a 50 percent increase in federal taxes. You ought to know that.
KRUGMAN: That’s what I just said. The federal government takes around 17 percent of GDP now; a hike that big would take it up to 25 percent.
HUBBARD: That wouldn’t strike you as a large departure in fiscal policy? The best estimates from the research suggest that tax increases of that size would reduce the economy’s potential growth by as much as a percentage point. That is a huge hit to future standards of living.
KRUGMAN: I would dispute that. Look, Sweden is actually doing pretty decently these days—their economy grew at 3 percent last year....
Funny he didn't mention France or Germany with their 10% unemployment rates.
In the days after President Bush won a second term, the number of U.S. citizens visiting Canada's main immigration Web site shot up sixfold, prompting speculation that unhappy Democrats would flock north.
But official statistics show the number of Americans actually applying to live permanently in Canada fell in the six months after the election.
On the face of it this is not good news -- Canada is one of the few major nations seeking to attract immigrants -- but Immigration Minister Joe Volpe was philosophical.
...."I guess I'm happy Republicans and Democrats have found a way to live together in peace and in harmony," he said.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
Bottoms up, Paul?
Proving once again that he's a master of poor timing, Princeton's Paul Krugman tells us that:
Above all, we need to put aside our anti-government prejudices, in the same week that the European Union is trying to get Bavarian serving wenches to cover up because they might be exposed to the sun in a beer garden:
Bavarian barmaids typically dress in a costume known as a "dirndl", a dress and apron with a tight, low-cut top whose figure-hugging effect is enhanced by a short white blouse.
Under the EU's Optical Radiation Directive, employers of staff who work outdoors, including those in Bavaria's beer gardens, must ensure they cover up against the risk of sunburn.
Bavarian bar keepers have been told that the dirndl, generally rather revealing, will have to be replaced as it offers no protection against what the directive calls "natural sources of radiation", meaning sunlight.
Employers now face heavy fines if they fail to protect their workers from the threat of sunburn or skin cancer.
"This is European law-making at its most pedantic," said Munich's mayor, Christian Ude. "A waitress is no longer allowed to wander round a beer garden with a plunging neckline. I would not want to enter a beer garden under these conditions."
Integrate or Die?
Of the students who received diplomas last May, only 6 percent had earned their degree in the normal four years, and only 21 percent in six years. Those numbers, incredibly, reflected improvement from prior rates.
....Nationally, the historically black colleges and universities have a six-year graduation rate of 38 percent... roughly 40 percentage points lower than for blacks at elite schools.
.... With the desegregation of colleges and universities in the South and the increased recruiting of black students by top universities, what W. E. B. DuBois famously called the "talented tenth" no longer heads to places like Texas Southern by default. In fact, the top 10 percent of graduates from any Texas high school are guaranteed admission to the state university system.
As a result, the students who come to Texas Southern arrive less prepared and sometimes less committed than their forebears. Roughly one-third of them require remedial classes before they can enter college-level courses. More than 100 of the available spaces in the Summer Academy went unclaimed, even though the program charges no tuition and provides a stipend for books that is worth several hundred dollars.
WHY don't they attend? That's the question of the decade," said Dr. Jacqueline Fleming, the director of Texas Southern's academic center. "The single biggest factor is a lack of motivation. Their world is BET, ghetto rap, going to school dressed like you're going to a club. They're here because their grandmother said to be here, or because their parole officer said it was this or jail."
Don't Call Us...
More than a century after telephones came to towns like Seattle, a small company called WeavTel is pushing to connect Stehekin (pronounced sta-HEE-kin) to the outside world. But instead of embracing the idea, many of the town's 100 or so year-round residents are fighting hard to keep WeavTel and the telephones out.
....Some lifelong residents, descendants of Stehekin's first white settlers, fear the phone system would further diminish the town's already eroding spirit of self-reliance. They fume over a federally mandated subsidy program that would enable WeavTel to make money even if many of the residents never hook up.
['WeavTel, a small company based near Chelan, has proposed building a $2 million system to provide telephone and high-speed Internet service.
['The cost: To pay for the system, WeavTel hopes to tap so-called "universal service" subsidies. Under a provision of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, everyone who pays a phone bill is assessed a monthly "universal service" fee. A portion of that money is used to subsidize phone service to rural areas nationwide where there aren't enough customers to cover the costs. In rural Washington, for instance, more than 400,000 homes and businesses receive about $68 million a year worth of subsidized phone service.']
....The phone opponents won a big battle last week when the National Park Service, citing, in part, local opposition to WeavTel's plan, announced it would not allow the company to construct its phone system on public land. The Park Service owns much of the property in and around Stehekin.
But WeavTel is not giving up. The company this week plans to ask the Park Service to reconsider its ruling against laying lines and erecting towers on public land.
....There are no roads to Stehekin. To get here, most people take one of three small ferries that make daily runs in the summer up Lake Chelan. The lake, nearly 1,500 feet deep in places, snakes 50 miles through a deep gorge that serves as a gateway to North Cascades National Park.
Not really a town, Stehekin is a mix of rustic log cabins and a few modern summer homes scattered nine miles along the Stehekin River valley. Most residents work for the park or for one of the local tourism businesses. There are as many bikes as cars, which must be barged in.
People seldom lock their homes or cars. Kids ride without bike helmets; grownups often don't bother with seat belts. Waving to passers-by is the custom, even if it's someone you saw minutes earlier.
For years, locals bought their gas on the honor system — just write down how much you pumped and pay later. That's still the way things are bought at the local bakery.
There's no ATM and the only shopping in town is at a tiny convenience store that caters mostly to tourists. For groceries and supplies, locals send orders — along with signed blank checks — "downlake" to Chelan.
....Bill Paleck, superintendent of the North Cascades National Park, said of the nearly 60 letters the Park Service received, fewer than five were from people in favor of the phones.
Presumably Paul Krugman (as Scrivener noted) wouldn't understand why these people would not look on government as their savior, for providing them something they don't want.
Modern American politics is dominated by the doctrine that government is the problem, not the solution ... You don't have to be a liberal to realize that this is wrong-headed.
Sam Walton Was a True Friend to the Poor
Consider, for example, the conclusions of the McKinsey Global Institute's study of United States labor productivity growth from 1995 to 2000. Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics and an adviser on the study, noted that the most important factor in the growth of productivity was Wal-Mart. And because the study measured productivity per man hour rather than per payroll dollar, low hourly wages cannot explain the increase.
Second, most of the value created by the company is actually pocketed by its customers in the form of lower prices. ...Wal-Mart saves its consumers something like $16 billion a year. And because Wal-Mart's presence forces the store's competitors to charge lower prices as well, this $16 billion figure understates the company's real impact by at least half.
These kinds of savings to customers far exceed the costs that Wal-Mart supposedly imposes on society by securing subsidies, destroying jobs in competing stores, driving employees toward public welfare systems and creating urban sprawl. Even if these offenses could all be ascribed to Wal-Mart, their costs wouldn't add up to anything like $16 billion.
Similarly, the savings to customers also exceed the total surplus the company generates for its shareholders- a surplus that would be wiped out if Wal-Mart's million-plus employees were to receive a $2-per-hour pay increase, modest though that sounds. .... the more than 100 million Americans who shop at Wal-Mart would most likely just end up paying higher prices.
This last point suggests that the debate around Wal-Mart isn't really about a Marxist conflict between capital and labor. Instead, it is a conflict pitting consumers and efficiency-oriented intermediaries like Wal-Mart against a combination of labor unions, traditional retailers and community groups.
....Wal-Mart's customers tend to be the Americans who need the most help. Our research shows that Wal-Mart operates two-and-a-half times as much selling space per inhabitant in the poorest third of states as in the richest third. And within that poorest third of states, 80 percent of Wal-Mart's square footage is in the 25 percent of ZIP codes with the greatest number of poor households. Without the much-maligned Wal-Mart, the rural poor, in particular, would pay several percentage points more for the food and other merchandise that after housing is their largest household expense.
So in thinking about Wal-Mart, let's keep in mind who's reaping the benefits of those "everyday low prices" - and, by extension, where the real conflict lies.
[Thanks to N.C. State's Craig Newmark]
Senior Mayhem Watch
Richard Bubacz, 65, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Rita Bubacz, 61, who lived with her brother in an apartment in the 2400 block of West Albion Street, prosecutors said.
The accused allegedly used a hammer and knife to kill his sister Sunday, prosecutors said in court Wednesday at 26th and California.
After the slaying, Bubacz allegedly called 911 and told the dispatcher his sister had killed herself. When paramedics arrived, Bubacz allegedly revealed stab wounds to his own chest, neck, genitals and abdomen, and explained he had tried to kill himself, prosecutors said.
Rita Bubacz was found slain in her bedroom, prosecutors said. Richard Bubacz later admitted to police and paramedics that he had killed his sister because she had been nagging and complaining.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Really Smart Money On Oakland A's
Economists, like everyone else, are much better at explaining the past then predicting the future. But, given the odds at Tradesports, I just put down a little money on the A's to win more than 88.6 games this year.
I can be accused of many things, but doggedly sticking to false conclusions in the face of new evidence is not one of my weaknesses.
Stephen Vincent R.I.P.
I'd wanted to introduce Layla to the Gary Cooper side of America, and I felt I'd succeeded. Instead of the evasive, over-subtle, windy Iraqi, fond of theory and abstraction, here was a to-the-point Yank, rolling up his sleeves with a can-do spirit of fair play and doing good. "I want to have a positive effect on this country's future," the Captain averred. "For example, whenever I learn of a contracting firm run by women, I put it at the top of my list for businesses I want to consider for future projects." I felt proud of my countryman; you couldn't ask for a more sincere guy.
Layla, however, flashed a tight, cynical smile. "How do you know," she began, "that the religious parties haven't put a woman's name on a company letterhead to win a bid? Maybe you are just funneling money to extremists posing as contractors." Pause. The Captain looked confused. "Religious parties? Extremists?"
Oh boy. Maa salaama Gary Cooper, as Layla and I gave our man a quick tutorial about the militant Shiites who have transformed once free-wheeling Basra into something resembling Savonarola's Florence. The Captain seemed taken aback, having, as most Westerners--especially the troops stationed here--little idea of what goes on in the city. "I'll have to take this into consideration..." scratching his head, "I certainly hope none of these contracts are going to the wrong people." Not for the first time, I felt I was living in a Graham Greene novel, this about about a U.S. soldier--call it The Naive American--who finds what works so well in Power Point presentations has unpredictable results when applied to realities of Iraq. Or is that the story of our whole attempt to liberate this nation?
Collecting himself, "But should we really get involved in choosing one political group over another?" the Captain countered. "I mean, I've always believed that we shouldn't project American values onto other cultures--that we should let them be. Who is to say we are right and they are wrong?"
And there it was, the familiar Cultural-Values-Are-Relative argument, surprising though it was to hear it from a military man. But that, too, I realized, was part of American Naiveté: the belief, evidently filtering down from ivy-league academia to Main Street, U.S.A., that our values are no better (and usually worse) than those of foreign nations; that we have no right to judge "the Other;" and that imposing our way of life on the world is the sure path to the bleak morality of Empire (cue the Darth Vader theme).
But Layla would have none of it. "No, believe me!" she exclaimed, sitting forward on her stool. "These religious parties are wrong! Look at them, their corruption, their incompetence, their stupidity! Look at the way they treat women! How can you say you cannot judge them? Why shouldn't your apply your own cultural values?"
It was a moment I wish every muddle-headed college kid and Western-civilization-hating leftist could have witnessed: an Air Force Captain quoting chapter and verse from the new American Gospel of Multiculturalism, only to have a flesh and blood representative of "the Other" declare that he was incorrect, that discriminations and judgment between cultures are possible--necessary--especially when it comes to the absolutely unacceptable way Middle Eastern Arabs treat women. And though Layla would not have pushed the point this far, I couldn't resist. "You know, Captain," I said, "sometimes American values are just--better."
Monday, August 01, 2005
A Flying Horse, Designed by a Committee
To truly grasp the challenge of building a space shuttle, think about its flight. The ship includes a 60-by-15-foot open space, narrow wings, and a large cabin where men must be provided that delicately slender range of temperatures and pressures they can endure. During ascent, the shuttle must withstand 3 Gs of stress--inertial drag equivalent to three times its own weight. While all five engines are screaming, there will be acoustic vibrations reaching 167 decibels, enough to kill an unprotected person. In orbit, the shuttle will drift through -250°F. vacuum, what engineers call the "cold soak." It's cold enough to embrittle and shatter most materials. During reentry, the ship's skin goes from cold soak to 2,700°F., hot enough to transform many metals into Silly Putty. Then the shuttle must glide along, under control, at speeds up to Mach 25, three times faster than any other piloted aircraft has ever flown. After reentry, it cascades through the air without power; finally thunking down onto the runway at 220 m.p.h. The like-sized DC-9 lands, with power, at 130 m.p.h. Rockets are throwaway contraptions in part so that no one piece ever has to endure such a wild variety of conditions. The shuttle's design goal is to take this nightmare ride 100 times.
The main cause of delay is currently the shuttle's refractory tiles, which disperse the heat of reentry from the ship's nose and fuselage. Columbia must be fitted out with 33,000 of these tiles, each to be applied individually, each unique in shape. The inch-thick tiles, made of pyrolized carbon, are amazing in two respects. They can be several hundred degrees hot on one side while remaining cool to the touch on the other. They do not boil away like the ablative heat shieldings of capsules and modules; they can be used indefinitely. But they're also a bit of a letdown in another respect--they're so fragile you can hardly touch them without shattering them.
"The tiles are the long pole holding up the tent," says Mike Malkin, NASA's shuttle project director. Fixing them to the Columbia without breaking them is like trying to eat a bar of Bonomo Turkish Taffy without cracking it. Most of the technicians swarming over Columbia are trying to glue down tiles. The tiles break so often, and must be remolded so painstakingly, the installation rate is currently one tile per technician per week.
Well, the Columbia blew up in 1986, the Challenger in 2003. Easterbrook at that time wrote in Time Magazine The Space Shuttle Must be Stopped :
... the space shuttle was designed under the highly unrealistic assumption that the fleet would fly to space once a week and that each shuttle would need to be big enough to carry 50,000 lbs. of payload. In actual use, the shuttle fleet has averaged five flights a year; this year flights were to be cut back to four. The maximum payload is almost never carried. Yet to accommodate the highly unrealistic initial goals, engineers made the shuttle huge and expensive....
Capitalism, of course, is supposed to weed out such inefficiencies. But in the American system, the shuttle's expense made the program politically attractive. Originally projected to cost $5 million per flight in today's dollars, each shuttle launch instead runs to around $500 million. Aerospace contractors love the fact that the shuttle launches cost so much... Any new space system that reduced costs would be, to the contractors, killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
Just a few weeks ago, NASA canceled a program called the Space Launch Initiative, whose goal was to design a much cheaper and more reliable replacement for the shuttle. Along with the cancellation, NASA announced that the shuttle fleet would remain in operation until 2020, meaning that Columbia was supposed to continue flying into outer space even when its airframe was more than 40 years old!
True, B-52s have flown as long. But they don't endure three times the force of gravity on takeoff and 2000° on re-entry.
Brit Obit as Movie Script
Lieutenant-Colonel Freddie Allen, who has died aged 92, won two DSOs in 1945 in the battles of the Ardennes [aka, The Battle of the Bulge] and the Reichswald.
In December 1944, the Germans broke through in the Ardennes in what was their last substantial counter-offensive on the Western front. The 1st Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, part of the 53rd Welsh Division, was deployed in thickly wooded country interspersed with steep, icy, snow-covered tracks. The men were dug into slit trenches in temperatures well below freezing point. It was too cold to sleep, and cases of frostbite and physical exhaustion were beginning to appear.
On January 7 1945, after three days in an exposed position under accurate enemy shelling and mortar fire, the East Lancashires, under Allen's command, were ordered to attack the village of Grimbiemont. The battalion formed up in a snowstorm driven by an arctic wind, but just before beginning the attack their Advance HQ group received a direct hit.
The adjutant and several intelligence personnel were killed and the communication equipment was destroyed. Allen, who was close by and escaped injury, quickly reorganised his HQ and moved forward....
...Allen moved up to his forward companies and the attack went ahead across 1,500 yards of open ground, uphill, knee-deep in snow towards the Germans who held the summit. The inter-company wireless sets were knocked out and when a series of machine gun posts opened up, casualties mounted swiftly.
Allen directed his battalion under heavy fire from artillery and mortars, and handled his reserves with such skill that the momentum of the attack was sustained and the objective taken. The citation for his DSO paid tribute to his coolness under fire and his complete disregard of danger in a very critical situation.
.... Early in February 1945, the Allies launched operations to clear the area between the Rivers Maas and the Rhine. The Reichswald, a forest of densely packed trees which concealed the pill-boxes and bunkers that formed a northern sector of the Siegfried Line, was a formidable obstacle.
On February 11, the East Lancashires were advancing towards Klosterhufe when the leading company was held up by self-propelled guns, mortar and small arms fire. Allen went forward to help them but he was hit on the chin by a bullet and knocked out. He regained consciousness soon afterwards, however, and under his leadership his men fought their way through to their objective and arrived there after dark.
Allen reorganised his position in the knowledge that many of his fighting vehicles were stuck in the mud of the forest tracks and the enemy had cut his communications to the rear. No outside help could get to him during the night and German forces in strength were on three sides of him.
It was impossible to move food and water forward and he was unable to evacuate his casualties.
The next day, the enemy, using Panzer units, put in several fierce counter-attacks but these were beaten off with heavy losses. ....
In May, during the occupation of Hamburg, the East Lancashires were allocated part of the dock area. Late one evening, a solitary barge was observed gliding surreptitiously past on its way to the mainstream of the Elbe. At first it ignored a signal to pull in, but a burst of machine gun fire across the bows brought about a change of mind and it came in for examination. On board were cases of excellent wine and spirits that had been looted from all over Europe and were on their way to Schleswig-Holstein for the senior Nazis still holding out there. These spoils were off-loaded and, with a formal note of thanks for timely delivery, the empty barge was sent on its way to Admiral Doenitz.
When the war ended, Allen, who spoke fluent German, was involved in the reconstruction of Germany.
That's, 'pre-owned vehicle'
Thanks to a new clampdown on unlicensed vehicle imports by Burma's military junta, the price of even a second-hand jalopy is beyond the reach of all but the richest people.
A 1981 Ford Cortina can sell for £2,500 - several times what it was worth when new. A 20-year-old Nissan with half its dashboard missing will go for £5,000, while a humble 1985 Toyota Corolla will fetch up to £10,000.
Until recently, motorists imported cars illegally from Thailand to avoid the sky-high customs duties and the cost of obtaining an import permit. Now, however, unlicensed vehicles are being confiscated, which has sent the value of officially-registered cars rocketing.
.... the sudden hike in car prices is a direct result of the dictatorship's own bizarre economic management, which in the past has also included hiring astrologers as advisers and issuing currency in multiples of nine.
Most business legislation also tends to line the pockets of the ruling elite. One beneficiary of the car import restrictions is said to be a son-in-law of Than Shwe, the junta's leader, who reportedly controls one of the biggest second-hand car firms.
At the same time the regime is also rumoured to be rewarding cronies and paying off opponents with import permits, worth up to £50,000 on the open market.