Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Evil That Men Do...

Perhaps responsible for the demise of cars like the classic 1957 Chrysler 300 pictured above, one of the worst of the 20th century's pop socialist economists passes away at age 97:

John Kenneth Galbraith, the iconoclastic economist, teacher and diplomat and an unapologetically liberal member of the political and academic establishment that he needled in prolific writings for more than half a century, died yesterday at a hospital in Cambridge, Mass. He was 97.

....Mr. Galbraith was one of the most widely read authors in the history of economics; among his 33 books was "The Affluent Society" (1958), one of those rare works that forces a nation to re-examine its values. He wrote fluidly, even on complex topics, and many of his compelling phrases — among them "the affluent society," "conventional wisdom" and "countervailing power" — became part of the language.

An imposing presence, lanky and angular at 6 feet 8 inches tall, Mr. Galbraith was consulted frequently by national leaders, and he gave advice freely, though it may have been ignored as often as it was taken.

Not ignored as often as he deserved unfortunately, as he was an important figure in both FDR's wartime price control office and adviser (and speech writer) to LBJ's Great Society programs (which are largely the source of the Federal government's future budget woes) .

His major positive contribution to economics was to provide Nobelist George Stigler with an unending series of opportunities for use of his rapier wit. Such as this from Do Economists Matter directed at Galbraith's silly claim that advertising existed solely to create a desire in consumers for unnecessary products:

...consumers generally determine what will be produced and producers make profits by discovering more precisely what consumers want and producing it more cheaply. Some may entertain a tinge of doubt about this proposition, thanks to the energy and skill of Professor Galbraith, but even his large talents hardly raise a faint thought that I live in a house rather than a tent because of the comparative advertising outlays of the two industries.

Unfortunately Stigler did not live to be 97.


In the first of a three part series in the Los Angeles Times we can see a possible answer to the problem of illegal immigration into the United States; make the immigrants international investors:

SANTA MARIA AYOQUEZCO,Mexico —The prickly plants started in Catalina Sanchez's garden and now stretch across her neighbors' fields as far as the eye can see. They pop up on acre after acre as word gets around: This village of dirt floors and outdoor toilets expects to get rich exporting cactus.

The seed money comes from men who couldn't make a living here and left for California, the idea from one of the women they left behind.

As their corn crops failed in thinning soil, a generation of men migrated to pick lettuce in the Salinas and San Joaquin valleys. The cash they wired home bought food, but little hope for a better life.

Then Sanchez got busy in her backyard. She started plowing her husband's wire transfers into a waist-high patch of nopal. The paddle-like cactus leaf has a succulent taste and, she suspected, a market far beyond impoverished Oaxaca state. Soon other peasant women joined her, investing cash from their men in California.

Two thousand miles away, Erasmo Alonzo imagined that the wages of his back-breaking labor were buying a TV, a washing machine and indoor plumbing. On his first visit home, "he did not find any of those things," Sanchez recalled. "Look outside," she told him, proudly pointing to her rows of nopal. "That is our future."

With additional financing from migrants in California and the Mexican government, Sanchez's co-op is building a food-processing plant that will employ dozens of this Zapotec Indian community's 5,750 inhabitants. Starting this summer, the co-op's 134 growers plan to supply 10,000 1-pound jars of organically grown, pickled cactus each week to an expanding specialty-food market in the United States.

The article goes on to detail the nuts and bolts of the investment process, such as:

One end of the lifeline is the field near Salinas where Erasmo Alonzo started work before dawn one morning.

For eight years, he had been stooping over those fields for up to 10 hours a day, reaping a chronic back pain that felt "like an ugly wound." But on that July morning, he moved as nimbly as his youthful co-workers as they extracted row after row of lettuce from the soil with 12-inch knives.

Alonzo had been off the day before, a Sunday, and devoted part of the day to the ritual that defined his purpose in America: wiring money home to Mexico.

"It is a struggle to get a decent amount together, but I send $500 every two or three months," he said. On this Sunday, he had wired home $200 and paid 10 percent in commission to a licensed agent of AFEX, a worldwide transfer company.

Fed by millions of such transactions, Mexico's annual remittance inflow has doubled since 2002 and reached $20 billion last year, second only to petroleum as a generator of wealth for the country.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Estamos Numero Uno

Except for the honor, rather be in Philadelphia?

MADRID — Spanish companies suffer the highest tax burden in the European Union, a survey has found.

A report by the German Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) found the average corporation tax in Spain was 36.1 percent.

This compares with the EU average of 23.7 percent among the 25 members.
The report did not account for tax breaks but did factor in inflation.

Spain has one of the highest rates of inflation in the eurozone.

After Spain, the highest corporation tax rate was found in Germany, where companies pay an average 36 percent.

The lowest was in Cyprus, which has an average of 9.7 percent.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Soy Tarzan, Usted tiene el derecho...

Spain proposes a Universal Rights of Ape:

MADRID — The Spanish Parliament is debating a bill which would give great apes rights.

The bill, which is backed by the Spanish arm of the Seattle-based Great Ape Project, would stop apes from being caged, marketing or improperly used for research.

The group presented the objectives of the international programme to deputies in Spain's lower house.

But the idea has met with the widespread ridicule.

....The group is pursuing the aim of securing a U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Great Apes that would confer certain moral and legal rights on them, including "the right to life, the freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty and protection from torture".

"Regardless of who it hurts, we human beings are great apes," said biologist Joaquin Araujo, the president of the Great Ape Project in Spain.

He claims because of their close biological kinship with humans, protecting the basic rights of apes is "an ethical responsibility".

Araujo lamented the fact that some have sought to make "ridiculous" comparisons between the Great Ape Project and the ape protection bill presented in Parliament by lawmaker Francisco Garrido of the Green Party, which is part of the ruling Socialists' majority grouping.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jeu du hasard...

ou c'est enfantin?

PARIS, April 26, 2006 (AFP) - The French government is to launch an Internet game called Cyberbudget to help teach the public about the difficulties of balancing the country's books, Budget Minister Jean-Francois Cope said Wednesday.

In a speech announcing new arrangements for income tax collection, Cope said the game will be available online by the end of May.

"It is an idea which comes from Japan and we've adapted it for the public at large. Players have to take my place as budget minister, draw up the state budget and then manage it in the face of unforeseen circumstances. It should be a fun way to think about budget issues," he said.


Bottles of beer on the head. 24 bottles of beer:

At his birthday party, a paratrooper from St. Petersburg, fresh home from his 2 years of military service, broke 24 bottles against his head before sinking to the floor in a drunken stupor.

The young man had served in the Russian Air Force, considered the army elite, the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily said Wednesday. He was having a birthday party with friends, when one of the guests asked whether he thought he could break a brick over his head.

The young man, annoyed by the doubt thrown on his abilities, made a bet for a box of vodka that he could, before setting off to look for a brick. However, finding no there were bricks in his apartment, he went for the next best thing — empty beer bottles. He was breaking the 24th bottle, much to the delight of the guests, when he suddenly fell to the floor unconscious. The guests, afraid that he had killed himself, left the apartment, leaving the unconscious paratrooper on the floor where he was discovered the next morning by his parents.

The parents took the young man to hospital, where doctors said he was deep in a drunken sleep. Apart from alcoholic intoxication, the doctors found a number of bruises to the head and a concussion.

When the man regained consciousness, he refused to stay in hospital for further treatment and left as soon as he could.

Ilegales no son criminales

Down Mexico way:

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico — On a Thanksgiving visit in 1997, Deb Turpin fell in love with San Miguel de Allende, with its cobblestone streets and colonial architecture, and invested in two vacation rentals, Casa del Sol and Casa Vista. She rents out the houses — with cook and maid — on the Internet.

Turpin, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., is one of thousands of North Americans doing business or living in Mexico without the proper documentation. The number of foreigners running underground businesses in tourist areas is a growing concern for local officials because they often skirt paying fees and taxes.

....Foreign architects, musicians, engineers, accountants and others work in the town without permits, [ Christopher Finkelstein Franyuti, San Miguel de Allende's coordinator of international relations. ] said. "They know that they are not paying taxes, and that is why they don't advertise exactly."

He's estimated that unlicensed business in the city costs the local government 4 million pesos — more than $360,000 — a year in lost taxes and fees.

....Undocumented Americans occasionally are caught working in restaurants, bars and clothing shops in San Miguel and can be kicked out of the country, but the numbers are low. Mexico deported nearly 1,000 Americans last year....

Mexican immigration agents aren't interested in going after tourists who overstay their visa or retirees who forgot to fill out the proper forms, said Hipolito Trevino Lecea, commissioner of the National Migration Institute.

Trevino said undocumented residents on both sides of the border were basically an administrative problem, not a criminal problem. Americans who are targeted for deportation probably were involved in some criminal activity, he said.

"The fundamental difference in economic terms is, in general, when a North American comes to Mexico to live he is making an investment," the Harvard-educated economist said.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Color us non-surprised

The EU hasn't got a clue about economics and business:

LUXEMBOURG – The European Commission forced the world's largest software maker to offer a product no one wanted and no one bought, Microsoft Corp. told a European Union court today as it began trying to overturn a landmark antitrust ruling.

Microsoft lawyer Jean-Francois Bellis said in his opening statement that the Commission made
"fundamental errors of fact and reasoning" in its decision two years ago that the company abused its dominant market position to muscle into media software.

The Commission's order that Microsoft offer customers a version of its Windows desktop operating system without Media Player — intended to give people a free choice of media software — has been a spectacular failure, he said.

In its core market, no computer maker had shipped a PC or laptop with the media-free Windows XP N version. "Not a single one," Bellis told the 13 judges. Some 90 percent of Windows sales come from being pre-installed on computers when they are sold.

XP N sales represent 0.005 percent of overall XP sales in Europe, Microsoft told the court, and many of the ones produced may remain unsold, it said.

French retailer FNAC, the single largest retailer to order XP N accounting for 46 percent of the orders, has said that it sees no consumer demand for the product, Microsoft said.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Now We Get Brad DeLong

Thanks to Tyler Cowan for the link to this about the self-awareness on-off switch:

Self-awareness, regarded as a key element of being human, is switched off when the brain needs to concentrate hard on a tricky task, found the neurobiologists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

The team conducted a series of experiments to pinpoint the brain activity associated with introspection and that linked to sensory function. They found that the brain assumes a robotic functionality when it has to concentrate all its efforts on a difficult, timed task – only becoming "human" again when it has the luxury of time.

....“The regions of the brain involved in introspection and sensory perception are completely segregated, although well connected,” says [Ilan] Goldberg, “and when the brain needs to divert all its resources to carry out a difficult task, the self-related cortex is inhibited.”

The brain’s ability to “switch off” the self may have evolved as a protective mechanism, he suggests. “If there is a sudden danger, such as the appearance of a snake, it is not helpful to stand around wondering how one feels about the situation,” Goldberg points out.

But, but...maybe we can get someone for obstructing the investigation

File under 'nevermind':

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Investigations into reports that U.S. agents shipped prisoners through European airports to secret detention centers have produced no evidence of illegal CIA activities, the European Union's anti-terror coordinator said Thursday.

The investigations also have not turned up any proof of secret renditions of terror suspects on EU territory, Gijs de Vries told a European Parliament committee investigating the allegations.

The European Parliament's inquiry and a similar one by the continent's leading human-rights watchdog are looking into whether U.S. intelligence agents interrogated al-Qaida suspects at secret prisons in Eastern Europe and transported some on secret flights through Europe.

But investigators have not identified any human-rights violations, despite more than 50 hours of testimony by human-rights activists and individuals who claimed to have been abducted by U.S. intelligence agents, de Vries said.

Too Rich Too?

For Australia, a gal needs some meat on her bones:

A British woman who was told she was too thin to become an Australian citizen has won a partial victory in her fight to remain in the country.

Helen Evans, who weighs 6st 11lb [95 lbs for us Yanks] and is 5ft 3ins tall, faced deportation after she failed a health check because of her low weight.

But a tribunal has now overturned the ruling, and Mrs Evans has been told she can stay in Australia pending a decision on her application for permanent residence.

Mrs Evans, 23, has spent three-and-a-half years fighting for the right to remain in Springfield, Brisbane, with her Australian husband Steve and their young son.

She ran into problems after a routine health test for visa applicants because her body mass index - calculated by comparing her weight with her height - was considered "extreme".

....Mrs Evans, who is originally from Cannock, Staffs, said she was now hopeful she will be granted permanent residency within a few months. She will then wait two years before applying for full Australian citizenship.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

MP bites dog

The most amazing thing about this Telegraph piece isn't that the economic analysis is so trenchant, but that its author is a successful politician:

I do not wish to diminish the gravity of events at the Peugeot plant when I say that there will also come a time when the forces of international capital will decree that there is no longer any economic justification for this space to be filled by the manual labour of this particular semi-skilled artisan.

The ancient word-plant will be shut. The gerundive turning-sheds will fall silent. The lathes will cease to hone the metaphors, and no sound will be heard in the vast grammatical assembly lines save the drip-drip-drip from the cracked skylight and the scuttling of rats in the stock of unused similes.

It will be a sad day, my friends, but no matter how tragic the prospect may now appear, it would be very odd to expect any kind of solidarity from my journalistic brethren. Will they down tools at the News of the World? Will the Sun come out in sympathy? Could I even expect any kind of secondary picketing from the lads and the lasses in The Daily Telegraph sports and arts departments? I rather fancy not.

....That is why I very much fear that Tony Woodley of the T&G and Derek Simpson of Amicus are laughably mistaken if they believe that the workers of Peugeot in France will strike in protest at the loss of 2,300 jobs in the UK.

....The workers of France and Spain will not go on strike for the workers of Ryton, for the simple prudential reason that they know that international capital will always be able to relocate, just as Peugeot itself is building a new factory in Slovakia and global manufacturing is moving to China, and whatever their sympathies for families in Coventry, the workers of France will feel that their first duty is to themselves and their families.

Now put like that it sounds cruel and ruthless; and yet what Marx also failed to understand was that this capitalist system was, in fact, the best available protection for the interests of the working man, since it is this very flexibility of labour, and mobility of capital, that allows new jobs to be created and all the joy and excitement of industrial innovation.

....The key point, the point the unions wilfully ignore, is that it is precisely these labour-market conditions that make the future job prospects of these car workers so much better than on the Continent, and (as I think I said two weeks ago) it is those 1980s reforms that mean we in Britain have unemployment running at about four per cent, as against 10.2 per cent in France.

One day, perhaps one day soon, shiny new products will emerge from gorgeous refurbished factories on the Ryton site; just as one day this columnar factory will gracefully yield to some gorgeous pouting new agony aunt or sudoku variant, and thanks to the vibrancy of the industry, and the flexibility of the labour market, your columnist will happily find employment writing headlines for Poultry Breeders Weekly.

It's the market and it's the only way.

Boris Johnson is MP for Henley

If he's re-elected, James Buchanan's Nobel may have to be rescinded.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Predator Honoree in Berkeley

The City Council has some weighty issues to decide this week:

Cultural uses at the Gaia Building, sewer fees, and adopting the barn owl as the city’s official bird are just a few of the issues the City Council will address tonight (Tuesday) after its month-long spring break.

In other words they don't exactly break a sweat in Berkeley political circles?

Councilmembers Olds and Dona Spring are asking the council to look at adopting the barn owl as the official city bird, which they call: “a graceful glostly bird that nests in palm trees and can locate rodents by sound and catch them in the dark of night.”

The city may be purchasing a variety of goods made by child labor or people earning less than acceptable wages or working in unacceptable conditions. And so the Peace and Justice Commission and the Labor Commission are asking the City Council to develop a “Sweatfree Berkeley Ordinance.

Other jurisdictions have adopted them including San Francisco.

Computers donated by Homeland Security are not spying on people in Berkeley, an informational staff report says. They are intended to share geographical data with those responding to earthquakes or other regional emergencies.

Leave the surveillance to the owls.

Don't Call Us...

We'll call you if we ever need any advice on how to withdraw an army while leaving all its equipment behind:

A senior British officer has criticised "shoulder-holster" American generals for trying to emulate film stars.

Brig Alan Sharpe, who worked alongside Americans in Baghdad, said there was a "strong streak of Hollywood" with officers trying to portray themselves as Sylvester Stallone or John Wayne.

.... Brig Sharpe, 46, who was awarded the OBE and the American Bronze Star for writing the "coalition campaign plan" for Iraq during a tour in Baghdad in 2004....

Good show old chap.

.... Arguing that the Army's 500 years of experience gave it a marked edge over the Americans in insurgency operations....

Such as the victories at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts? Or, over Ghandi in India? Or, Menachim Begin in Palestine?

....Brig Sharpe gave the "last word" to an anecdote about a "subjugated Iraqi" just before his release from detention.

The Ba'athist was loudly lectured by an American officer, who was accompanied by a quiet British brigadier, on the dangers of returning to his "previously nefarious ways".

As the Iraqi left he said: "Hey, Mr American, next time before you shout so much you should speak to him. He is British - they know how to invade a country."

Alongside guys like Omar Bradley and George Patton?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Send Out the Clown

To convince the Japanese not to invest in France:

TOKYO, April 17, 2006 (AFP) - A Japanese firm that dropped plans to build another factory in France after a lawmaker's hunger strike Monday assailed his protest as an "absurdity" that went against economic freedom.

Jean Lassalle took nothing but water, salt and vitamins for five weeks until Friday when the French government reached an accord with Osaka-based Toyo Aluminium K.K. to maintain a plant in his constituency.

"We believe that MP Jean Lassalle's hunger strike, which rested on his own assumptions based on a misunderstanding, was an absurdity that greatly harmed freedom of enterprise," Toyo said in a statement to AFP.

Lassalle, a former shepherd from the Pyrenées mountains, feared Toyo planned to close its car paint plant that employs 150 people in his town of Accous due to its plans to build a factory 65 kilometers away in Lacq.

The company, which denied it was pulling out of Accous, abandoned plans for the new factory....

Congratulations, guy:

Since March 7, when Lassalle started his hunger strike on a bench in the National Assembly building, he had taken only water, salt and vitamins and had lost 21 kilos.

"I have no desire to die, but I cannot, after almost 40 days of fast, stop like a sad clown," Lassalle had told France Info shortly before his hospitalisation.

Monday, April 17, 2006

We're from the government, and it'll be good for you

Say the politicians in Holland about public broadcasting:

AMSTERDAM — Dutch people don't want to pay the bill for advert-free public broadcast services, a new opinion poll suggests.

A survey carried out by TNS NIPO on behalf of television advertisement body 'Ster' found that 61 percent of the public feels it is acceptable to have product commercials on the three public channels (NED 1, NED 2 and NED 3).

If accurate, this is totally contrary to the views in parliament where a majority of MPs wants a gradual halt to adverts on public stations because they also receive State funding. MPs of the Liberal Party (VVD) are particularly keen to restrict adverts to commercial television channels. But according to the opinion poll, a majority of VVD voters don't share this convicion.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Where Do We Get Such Men

Another day at the office for a Marine:

RAMADI, Iraq — The young Marine had just shot a suspected insurgent and was walking back across the villa's rooftop when he keeled over from a terrific thud to the back of his head.

A sniper had fired a single, well-aimed bullet that tore through the top of Lance Cpl. Richard Caseltine's helmet, traced a path along the edge of his skull and buried burning bullet fragments in the back of his neck.

Less than a minute later, Caseltine, 20, from Aurora, Ind., was up on his feet — crouching, shaking and surprisingly, still alive.

"You expect when somebody gets shot in the head, they're dead," the soft-spoken Caseltine said, cradling the battered camouflage helmet that saved his life a week ago. "I consider myself very lucky."

...."It felt like somebody came from behind and punched me in the back of the head as hard as they could," Caseltine said. "It just rocked me. I went forward and my ears started ringing really bad. I couldn't hear anything."

....Three days later, Caseltine was back on base, hours away from rejoining his squad at an outpost elsewhere in Ramadi. Sitting outside his sandbagged tent, he pulled out a photo that showed him cradling his wife. It had been ripped in two by the bullet — right down the middle.
Caseltine had stuffed it into the netting inside the top of his helmet, known as a Kevlar for the protective material, "so my wife would be with me."

"They always tell us not to throw our Kevlars around or bang them on the ground. I usually do, but I ain't gonna be throwing my new one down," Caseltine said. "I ain't gonna take it for granted anymore because I know they work."

Markets in Meteorites

The Seattle Times has the latest prices:

McMINNVILLE, Ore. — The Grand Ronde tribes tried to get it back. The American Museum of Natural History still has it.

But bit by bit, tiny pieces of the 15-ton Willamette Meteorite, discovered by a Welsh miner in 1902 on a West Linn hillside, are finding their way back to Oregon.

Last week Delford Smith, owner of Evergreen Aviation, bought a 4.5-ounce piece at auction for $12,000, more than four times the price of gold, and will put it in his company's museum.

Willamette University donated a piece from its collection to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde a few years back. The Clackamas Indians, who are a part of the confederation, had long considered it sacred.

Oregon chiropractor David Wheeler paid $3,375 for a thumbnail-size piece in Arizona and gave it to the tribe in 2002.

"I have a lot of respect for the native cultures," he said.

While the pieces are coming back to Oregon, they aren't really coming home.

The meteorite, the largest found in the United States and the sixth-largest in the world, probably landed in Montana and came here on the crest of the Missoula Floods of 12,000-15,000 years ago.

The miner, Ellis Hughes, found it near where he lived and padded his income for a time by charging 25 cents a look until the landowners, Oregon Iron and Steel, claimed the object belonged to them, denounced him as a thief and went to the Oregon Supreme Court to get it back.

Hughes died broke.

The company displayed it at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1905, where it was bought for $26,000 by New York socialite Sarah Dodge. She donated it to the American Museum of Natural History, where it has been on display since 1935.

Friday, April 14, 2006


Not that there's anything wrong with that:

Children should expect some of their lessons to be boring because life is not a "Disney ride", teachers said yesterday.

....Zoe Fail, a mathematics teacher. thinks that children are not bored enough because their lives are over-stimulated.

"Being bored encourages thinking skills and imaginative play," she said. "I remember being bored but I am not bored now because I know how to deal with it."

....Barry Williams, a lecturer at Hertford Regional College, said: "I do not believe I teach boring lessons. Ofsted just don't understand the nuances and subtleties of my lessons.

"When they say to me: 'Mr Williams, that girl is looking out of the window staring at a tree,' I say: 'Do they not recognise the advanced stages of Zen Buddhism which I have brought into my lessons?'

"I am, in fact, producing adults who will be able to watch party political broadcasts.

"I am producing future teachers who can go through a day of Inset training."

4 Weeks Left Before Mother's Day

So, it's none too soon to shop for a Mom who might not last that long:

A worm-like amphibian has been found in Kenya that loves her offspring so much that she turns her skin into a nourishing feast to give them the best possible start in life.

Brooding mothers of Boulengerula taitanus transform their outer layer of skin into a fat-rich offering, not dissimilar in its nutrient content to milk, according to a team from the Natural History Museum, London, led by Dr Mark Wilkinson.

His colleague, Dr Alexander Kupfer, filmed the young of this species grazing on their mother's hide with specialised teeth.

A mother allowing babies to peel and eat her own skin is a strategy for feeding her young that has never been witnessed before, the team concludes today in the journal Nature.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Mind a Terrorist Thing to Waste

In a Los Angeles Times piece on the role higher education is playing in Islamist terror we have a clue to what the NSA ultra secret surveillance program is; battlefield intelligence:

MONTPELLIER, France — The cellphone's trail led from bloodstained Fallouja to the engineering school here, a modern campus where researchers in white coats stroll past labs and the breeze rustles through trees in courtyards dotted with pine cones.

Two years ago French investigators, aided by U.S. intelligence, detected calls from Iraq to a central figure in a suspected extremist cell in Montpellier. French intelligence officials say the calls came from a militant leader in Fallouja involved in the grisly killing of four American military contractors by a mob on March 31, 2004 ....

The reporter, Sebastian Rotell, appears oblivious to that though, as he mostly concentrates on personalities at the French university.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Surrender Monkeys Again

Chirac wilts:

PARIS, April 10, 2006 (AFP) — French President Jacques Chirac scrapped his government's hotly contested youth jobs scheme Monday, handing a major victory to unions and students after one of the country's biggest political crises in decades.

Chirac announced after a high-level meeting that the youth contract, which would have made it easier to fire young workers, would be "replaced" with new measures to help disadvantaged young people into work.

It was hailed as a major victory by French union leaders, who had mobilised millions of people in a sometimes violent two-month street campaign against a measure they said only increased job insecurity.

The decision is a serious blow to Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin who had championed the scheme as a cornerstone of efforts to fight unemployment.

Villepin — whose approval ratings are at an all-time low, his chances for next year's presidential election all but destroyed — confirmed the decision in a brief televised address.

And surrender has consequences:

PARIS, April 10, 2006 (AFP) - French industrial production data showed a slump on Monday leading economists to wonder if France is being left behind by global recovery because of problems over reform, the labour market and competitiveness.

The data, published shortly before the centre-right government dropped controversial reform of the labour market, showed tha

....Some analysts commented that the overall picture gave cause for concern about foreign investment in France and the competitiveness of French industrial goods.

....economist Marc Touati at Natexis Banques Populaires referred to the crisis over a plan to relax job protection for young people, called the CPE. He commented:

"Even before the negative effects of the CPE crisis on activity, the trend of industrial production in February presented already the picture of the current state of the French economy.

..."In addition, with the refusal of the CPE and the confirmation that France is incapable of reforming itself, more and more companies are going to continue or begin investing and employing people massively, abroad.

...."It has to be said that, given recent events in France, foreign companies would really have to have turned altruistic to invest heavily in France."

Incredible Shrinking Monks

Moving on to real estate careers?

Monks and their monasteries go into retreat as recruits dwindle
By Jonathan Petre

Monks first arrived in Britain almost 2,000 years ago but they are now in danger of all but disappearing within a generation, figures suggest.

A growing number of Roman Catholic monasteries are being sold as their ageing communities are hit by death and plunging vocations.

.... The official figures show that the flow of new recruits reached a trickle in 2004, when just 12 men joined monasteries, and the trend has been downwards for decades.

.... Vocations to monastic orders fell from 107 in 1982 to 52 in 1990 and to 20 in 2000. The total number of monks in England and Wales stands at 1,345, many of whom are in their sixties and seventies.

The news is no better for nuns, who have experienced a parallel decline and now total 1,150.

....Moreover, the average age of people entering both monasteries and convents is climbing.
An analysis of the 12 women who joined enclosed orders in 2003 found that three were aged between 31 and 35, five between 41 and 50 and four were over 50.

At Prinknash Abbey near Stroud in Gloucestershire, a Benedictine monastery set in the heart of the Cotswolds, the reality of the situation has hit home particularly hard.

The monks, who are famed for their manufacture of incense, are having to abandon their imposing, four-storey modern abbey because their numbers have dwindled to 14 while the building was designed to accommodate 60.

The community is to swap the abbey, with its own chapel and substantial library, for the 16th-century manor house on the 300-acre estate that it occupied before the modern building was completed 33 years ago.

....Prinknash's situation is far from unusual.

A group of Capuchin Franciscan friars in Solihull, West Midlands, have put Olton Friary on the market, and the 30-bedroom property is expected to fetch £4 million.

The Benedictine nuns of Stanbrook Abbey in the Malvern Hills have put their neo-Gothic building, which includes a vaulted church built in 1871 by E W Pugin, up for sale at £6 million.

With an average age of 65, the community's remaining 24 nuns, several of whom are in wheelchairs, are downsizing to a smaller house in Yorkshire.

A life of contemplation and prayer still appeals to some, however.

At the Carmelite convent in Darlington, the nuns are celebrating the arrival of new postulant, or trainee, Sister Maureen.

The 47-year-old former health service manager said that she had given up cigarettes and gin, and can only venture outside the convent walls a few times a year.

But, she added, she had not regretted her move out of the rat race.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Banks Where the Money Isn't

Willie Sutton's maxim is turned on its head in Belgium:

BRUSSELS — To combat the growing problem of 'tiger kidnappings', ING banks in the area around Liège will not hold any cash starting from Monday morning.

....It means there will be no cash held on the premises of Liège banks on Monday mornings. However, cash will reappear in the hours after opening.

....A tiger kidnapping involves robbers forcing entry to an employee's house, kidnapping them and forcing them to drive to their workplace to open a safe.

Nice little reputation you've a shame...

To have our newspaper continue harming it:

A New York Post Page Six staffer solicited $220,000 from a high-profile billionaire in return for a year's "protection" against inaccurate and unflattering items about him in the gossip page, the Daily News has learned.

In two 90-minute meetings, characterized by a shocking breach of ethics, Jared Paul Stern, a fixture on the city's gossip scene who also edited Page Six The Magazine, asked for a series of payments from Ron Burkle, the managing partner of Yucaipa Cos., a conglomerate with interests in supermarkets, celebrity clothing lines, and media.

It was all a setup, a sting monitored by law enforcement, including the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI, who are now investigating the extortion attempt. The meetings, on March 22 and March 31, were videotaped.

The shakedown began with a series of e-mails sent last month by Stern to Burkle.

It reached a boiling point more than an hour into the first meeting after Stern outlined various ways Burkle could buy protection on the gossip page.

An exasperated Burkle finally said, "How much do you want?" after Stern said he could control coverage by Richard Johnson, the column's chief writer, and his staff.

"Um, $100,000 to get going and then you could get it to me on a month-to-month, maybe like $10,000," replied Stern.

"Okay, that's a great deal," said Burkle, the subject of numerous Page Six items including a "date" with supermodel Gisele Bundchen, meetings with other women and a nasty breakup with a longtime lover.

Burkle had insisted to Page Six staffers and editors that the items were not true. Among the other false items is a Jan. 1 report that Burkle flew Tobey Maguire, girlfriend Jen Meyer and blonde actress Sarah Foster in his private jet to Aspen, Colo., where they "vacationed at Burkle's mansion."

Burkle does not own a mansion in Aspen, did not fly his private jet to Aspen, and didn't vacation with Foster, Maguire or Meyer.

Last month, the column referred to Burkle, 53, as a "party-boy billionaire."

On Monday, Stern, 36, e-mailed instructions to a designated Burkle employee for a $100,000 down payment to be wired to his New York City bank account, and during the week sent more e-mails wondering where his money was.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Self-Esteem Check

The Fly Under the Bridge Academy still thinks it's really, really cool to know a former adviser to the POTUS reads this blog.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Incentivize the Emigration

Use game theory, says Smith College economist James D. Miller:

....Mexico receives huge remittances from its citizens unlawfully working in the U.S., so it's currently in Mexico's interest to promote illegal immigration. A well-designed guest worker program, however, could change this and turn Mexico into a U.S. immigration ally.

.... we should create a guest worker program under which the number of legal Mexican guest workers is based on the number of illegal Mexican immigrants in the U.S. For example, for every additional illegal Mexican immigrant who enters the U.S., the number of Mexican guest worker slots could be reduced by two. Under this plan, Mexico has an incentive to reduce illegal immigration into our country.

....the size of the guest worker program could be determined by hard data. Perhaps for every person the U.S. border agents catch illegally crossing the border, the number of Mexican guest workers could be reduced by three. Or maybe for every kilogram of cocaine police confiscate from smugglers crossing the U.S./Mexican border the number of guest workers could be reduced by ten. Under either approach, the Mexican government would have a strong incentive to reduce illegal border crossings.

We could sell the plan to Mexico by making it seem as if we are rewarding good behavior, not punishing bad conduct. We would offer them a small number of guest worker positions and agree to increase the number if certain objective criteria were met. We could claim that only if these criteria are satisfied could we afford to allow in additional guest workers.

A Firing Offense in France

If they mess with the wine they can be dumped:

Georges Duboeuf, the man who launched the phenomenal success of Beaujolais Nouveau wines, appeared in court Tuesday to answer charges that his company adulterated the equivalent of some 300,000 bottles.

The 72-year-old entrepreneur denies that after the 2004 harvest his staff deliberately mixed up grapes from different vineyards in order to disguise the poor quality of certain prized vintages.

His company Georges Duboeuf Wines — a major exporter to Asia — is charged with "fraud and attempted fraud concerning the origin and quality of wines" along with the former manager of one of its production sites.

The manager, who has since left the firm, faces a maximum of two years in jail and a fine of EUR 37,500 if convicted, while Georges Duboeuf Wines could be fined EUR 187,500.

Widely known as the 'King of the Beaujolais' after his marketing genius in the 1960s turned Beaujolais Nouveau into a worldwide hit, Duboeuf admits there was human error during grape-sorting at his Lancie site in autumn 2004, but says none of the affected wine ever went on sale.

"The mistake was made; it was admitted to by the person responsible who has since resigned; and so it has no consequence for production or the consumer," Duboeuf told AFP after the allegations appeared last August.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Thanks Hugo...Hoser

Canada benefits from Venezuela's export of petroleum engineers:

CALGARY - Five years ago, Pedro Pereira Almao was developing a long-term technology strategy for Venezuela's national oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA.

The France-educated PhD was so well respected in Venezuela's oilpatch he had also been appointed director of the key heavy-oil section for his country's massive oilsands research facility in steamy Caracas.

But a campaign by Venezuela's leftist leader, Hugo Chavez, to tighten his grip on the country's oil industry led to mass firings.

Mr. Pereira Almao was among those who were forced out, and now Mr. Chavez's loss is Canada's huge gain.

....The world-renowned expert in an area of chemistry known as heterogeneous catalysis is 16 months into the development of an oilsands research facility at the University of Calgary -- the only one of its kind in North America -- part of a push to turn the oilsands green by transferring a lot of the refining work to beneath the surface. Their efforts might also make the industry more sustainable by reducing the reliance on natural gas and making the overall process more efficient.

He hopes that some day the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for In Situ Energy at the University of Calgary will rival the large and elaborate institution he was fired from in 2002.

.... "For the moment, Canada is in a very privileged position because of [Hugo Chavez]," Mr. Pereira Almao said in a recent interview.

"Canada will expand its marketing of heavy oils and I don't think Venezuela is going to grow.

"Every new investment there takes about that amount of time to really get into the market. It could be 50 years before you see real activity and real growth in the Venezuelan oil industry again."

Mr. Pereira Almao and his former colleagues at Petroleos de Venezuela SA, known as PDVSA, were on the cusp of commercializing a technology, in partnership with U.S.-based Foster Wheeler, to move tonnes of gooey Venezuelan bitumen by pipeline without the use of an expensive diluent, a thinner.

....Using a "steam cracking technology" that uses water instead of hydrogen, the PDVSA researchers were able to produce heavy oil with enough viscosity that it didn't need diluent to be shipped.

But the rug was pulled out from under the project in 2002, following the two-month strike opposing the government that shut down a large part of Venezuela's oil industry.

In its wake, 22,000 employees of PDVSA, about 70% of the company's workforce, were fired.
At the country's research centre, which at a high point was home to 1,600 employees, all of its PhDs were let go. In total, roughly 80% of the staff left, and were replaced by less experienced people loyal to the Chavez regime.

....The government's paranoia sparked an exodus of talent.

"Everyone has left, gone to Mexico, the U.S., Europe and to Canada -- many of my colleagues are in Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray," Mr. Pereira Almao said. He does not intend to return while Chavez has control.

Fear Factor

The Stanford business school says, 'no more Mr. Nice Guy':

...Roderick Kramer, professor of organizational behavior, has lobbed a rhetorical grenade into the ranks of academic theorists who lionize emotionally intelligent managers. Kramer's recent article in Harvard Business Review, titled "The Great Intimidators," advances the heretical notion that fear and coercion, when applied strategically, can be better motivators than positive reinforcement.

"In all our recent enchantment with social intelligence and soft power, we've overlooked the kinds of skills leaders need to bring about transformation in cases of tremendous resistance or inertia," Kramer writes. "It's precisely in such situations, I'd like to propose, that the political intelligence of the intimidating leader is called for."

Kramer offers several examples of effective intimidators: Motorola Inc. Chief Executive Ed Zander, a Data General alumnus, pulled his company out of a steep decline by firing dozens of vice presidents and espousing the philosophy "whack yourself before somebody whacks you." Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein used high-pressure tactics -- jabbing a finger in the face of associates -- en route to establishing Miramax as a recognized brand name. Martha Stewart, demanding, impatient, and brusque with subordinates, prodded them to keep up with her and build a homemaking empire.

Intimidators can be found in any field but gravitate to government, technology, and entertainment, Kramer suggested in an interview, citing such leaders as Lyndon Johnson, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Carly Fiorina and Rupert Murdoch. "Those worlds have a winner-take-all structure, and the jockeying for spots at the top is intense," he said. "Leaders willing to engage in intimidating behavior often have advantages over those that don't."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Amigos de Arbusto

The Los Angeles Times has a story detailing George W. Bush's history with Mexicans in Texas:

A three-hour drive from Mexico, Midland did not have the feel of such border cities as El Paso, but it saw a wave of Mexican immigration long before many other communities across the South and the West. It is where Bush spent many of his childhood years and where he later returned to start an oil exploration business.

What Bush learned in Midland shaped his ability to appeal to Latino voters and foreshadowed what could be one of his most important legacies: helping the Republican Party compete for the nation's fast-growing political constituency.

.... Longtime residents of Midland say that Bush returned to the city of his childhood as the oil boom of the 1970s had begun to ebb, salaries were dropping and the workforce in the oil fields was shifting from white to Latino. Mexican immigrants were increasingly filling hard-labor jobs as drill operators and roughnecks.

Today, the city is more than 40% Latino.

"I don't think a lot of people understand what Midland was going through back then," said Jose Cuevas, who as a Midland newcomer in 1979 opened JumBurrito, a now-thriving chain of Mexican fast-food restaurants.

"In that kind of environment, everyone's young, everyone's excited. And if you've got your own oil company, when you go out where they're drilling, the population was beginning to be Hispanic. You'd see they were hard-working, they'd be out there with their Mexican lunches made at home, and you'd be shoulder to shoulder with them learning how family oriented they are.

"There is no indication that Bush knowingly employed illegal immigrants at his oil company. Several people who worked directly with him said that he was consumed with hiring geologists and geophysicists to help find oil, and that rig workers were generally hired by subcontractors.

But friends and associates took early note of what they said was Bush's unusual comfort level with Mexican culture. He and Laura, hankering for good Mexican food, stopped by regularly at Cecilia Ochoa Levine's house for homemade flour tortillas, steak fajitas and other specialties. Levine's husband at the time was a business partner of Bush's.

"I made my own tortillas. I made him ceviche," said Levine, who had come to the U.S. as a student in the 1960s and eventually married an American. "He would ride his bike over. He felt very comfortable in my home.