Thursday, May 31, 2007

Free the Market 12 Million

There was a textbook example of cognitive dissonance:

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term which describes the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging in behavior that conflicts with one's beliefs. ....The theory of cognitive dissonance states that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.

on the Rush Limbaugh Show as that host attempted to reconcile this argument from his friend Thomas Sowell :

...there are undoubtedly thousands, perhaps millions, of unsolved crimes and uncaught criminals in this country and we cannot realistically expect to find and prosecute all these fugitives from justice.

But does anyone suggest that our focus should be on trying to normalize the lives of domestic fugitives from justice — "bring them out of the shadows" in Ted Kennedy's phrase — and develop some path by which they can be given an acceptable legal status?

Does anyone suggest that, if domestic criminals come forward, pay some fine, and apply to have their crimes overlooked, they can be put on a path to be restored to good standing in our society?

Just as we don't need to solve every crime and catch every criminal, in order to have deterrents to crime, neither do we have to ferret out and deport every one of the 12 million illegal aliens in this country in order to deter a flood of new illegal aliens.

with this Reaganesque article from Daniel Henninger:

Notwithstanding all the calls for enforcing the borders and obeying our laws--unassailable as ideas--one is still left with the legislative challenge of transforming several million people who are going to work every day into a national "problem." Not for nothing has this congressional effort turned into the most amazing Rube Goldberg contraption--a point system to measure a worker's worth, a $5,000 fine for working here, a go-home requirement and a system whereby the boss has to conclusively prove that José and Maria are kosher.

No wonder it's hard to pass a bill. It's hard because Congress is trying to elevate one American value, respect for the law, by demoting an American value that up to now has been an unambiguous, uncontested ideal--respect for work, for labor. The tension here is especially difficult for conservatives.

Conservatives and liberals will fight unto eternity over whose notions of the law, society and justice are right. But the one idea owned by conservatives is the market.

For many Democrats in politics, the market--the daily machinery of the private economy--is a semi-abstraction. It's a barely understood thing that mainly sends revenue to the government, without which the nation is incapable of achieving social good. Liberals happily concede the idea of salutary "market forces" to their opposition. For them, markets are for taming.

Why, then, would Republican politicians and conservative writers want to run the risk of undermining, perhaps for a long time, their core belief in the broad benefits of free-market economic forces in return for a law that hammers these illegal Mexicans?

Whatever Happened to What's-Her-Name

She's rested, and ready to take on Sarko:

"Mr Sarkozy, like Jacques Chirac, will not enact deep reforms," predicted the 25-year old Sabine Herold who shot to fame four years ago when she addressed crowds of up to 80,000 people angry at public sector strikes. De Gaulle, he will remain true to the Bonapartist tradition of state control, warned Miss Herold, and will use public money to bail out flagging French companies.

She is hoping to become the youngest parliamentarian in the Fifth Republic when she runs in parliamentary elections next month for the new Liberal Alternative Party.

....With its motto "For an open society, less state, more freedom," her one-year old party is fielding 50 candidates with an average age of 31 across France.

...."Margaret Thatcher managed to bang her fist on the table and go the distance with her reforms, but that wouldn't work in France," she said.

Instead, her party has a bold and controversial plan to shake up the public sector: to buy off state worker's privileges.

"At present public sector workers have a job for life - it's a contract between the state and 'fonctionnaires.' You cannot just change that from one day to the next, as not only would they go on strike but it would be a genuine breach of contract," she argued.

"So they should be given a choice: either carry on with relatively low wages but full security, or accept a bonus and then have more flexibility, with the prospect of faster promotion on individual merit," said Miss Herold, who is a venture capital consultant.

One of her party's first measures would be to break the stranglehold of France's five unions that represent just 8 per cent of the workforce.

Dali Dally

60 years late, but Disney has made a film from artwork by Salvador Dali:

Dali, a cinema fan, was enticed to work at Disney's Burbank studios in 1945 after meeting Disney at a party. For several months he was on the payroll as he churned out more than 250 sketches, 13 full-scale paintings and several story board manuscripts for an animated love story.

But the film was never made. Some say it was too sexy for the Disney brand, others believe that Disney had been chastened by the hostile reaction to Fantasia, released in 1940, and could not face risking another commercial flop.

But, the time (and the money) is right:

Dali's art works remained in the studio archives and it was only in 2000, Roy Disney revealed at Tate Modern yesterday, that he decided to make the film that his uncle had abandoned.

The reason, he confessed, was money. Mr Disney, a vice-chairman of the Walt Disney Company, told The Daily Telegraph: "One of our attorneys rang me one day and said, 'You know, we don't actually own the art work'. He explained that in the original contract the art work would only become Disney's after the film was made.

"We reckoned Dali's work was worth $8 million to $10 million so I rang him back and asked would we own it if I made the film - which I thought I could certainly do for less than $10 million. He said yes."

The resulting animated film, just seven minutes long, has only been shown at a handful of festivals before now. With numerous Dali trademarks - melting telephones, watches, eyeballs and statues - it is a gem of surrealism.

....It tells the story of a beautiful dancer tempted by false idols before being rescued by a hunky baseball player with whom she falls in love.

Roy Disney said: "I think it's fairly close to what Dali intended though it wasn't always easy to follow his manuscripts because he kept changing them."

He insisted that the collaboration between his uncle and Dali was not as improbable as it sounded: Disney films featuring a talking mouse and a pink elephant could barely be more surrealist.

...or give us death

Italian lifers say it's not all it's cracked up to be:

Hundreds of prisoners serving life sentences in Italy have called on President Giorgio Napolitano to bring back the death penalty.

Their request was published as a letter in the daily newspaper La Repubblica.

....The letter they sent to President Napolitano came from a convicted mobster, Carmelo Musumeci, a 52-year-old who has been in prison for 17 years.

It was co-signed by 310 of his fellow lifers.

Musumeci said he was tired of dying a little bit every day.

We want to die just once, he said, and "we are asking for our life sentence to be changed to a death sentence".

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hermano Grande

He can dish it out, but he won't take it anymore:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has denounced what he called fresh plots to destabilise his government, after he closed an opposition TV channel.

He urged supporters to be on alert for a coup attempt and threatened a second TV network, Globovision.

Thousands of people across the country protested for a second day after Mr Chavez's decision not to renew Radio Caracas TV's (RCTV's) licence.

....In a national address shown by all TV stations, Mr Chavez defended his decision to close RCTV as a public service, denouncing the 53-year-old station - Venezuela's most popular - as a "permanent attack on public morals".

He also called news network Globovision an enemy of the state, attacking its coverage of the protests against RCTV's closure.

Never Saw a Purple Cow

But, an octopus library is a horse of a different color:

A controversy has erupted in the Czech Republic over the design of a new national library building in Prague.

The design, by the Czech-born architect Jan Kaplicky, seems to be loved and loathed in equal measure. Czechs have nicknamed it "the Octopus".

Mr Kaplicky has come up with what can best be described as a nine-storey green and purple blob.

Now even President Vaclav Klaus has joined the increasingly bitter debate. He is among the opponents.

Letna Plain, a dusty and windswept strip of land just a stone's throw away from Prague Castle, is to be the home of the new Czech national library in a few years' time.

The library will be purpose-built to house the country's priceless collection of 10 million books and manuscripts.

Free the St Hippolyte Four

Thinking out of the shoe box, in France:

SAINT HIPPOLYTE DU FORT, France, May 30, 2007 (AFP) - Shoe factory workers in southern France took four senior managers captive on Wednesday after the firm announced plans to relocate its production to Tunisia.

Managers of Jallatte, Europe's leading manufacturer of safety shoes, told workers early Wednesday they intended to cut 285 out of 336 jobs across its four French production sites.

Furious at the news, union leaders and workers burst into a meeting in the southern town of Saint Hippolyte du Fort, attended by four top executives, including Giovanni Falco, managing director of the company's Italian owner JAL.

The managers were held captive for several hours, until Falco agreed to push back by three weeks a June 6 meeting intended to kickstart the restructuring plan.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Beer Goggles' Prices to Rise?

Let's not push things too far, now:

AYING, GERMANY: Like most Germans, brewer Helmut Erdmann is all for the fight against global warming. Unless, that is, it drives up the price of his beer. And that is exactly what is happening to Erdmann and other German brewers as farmers abandon barley — the raw material for the national beverage—to plant other, subsidised crops for sale as environmentally-friendly biofuels.

“Beer prices are a very emotional issue in Germany. People expect it to be as inexpensive as other basic staples like eggs, bread and milk,” said Erdmann, director of the family-owned Ayinger brewery in Aying, an idyllic village nestled between Bavaria’s rolling hills and dark forests with the towering Alps on the far horizon. “With the current spike in barley prices, we won’t be able to avoid a price increase of our beer any longer,” Erdmann said, stopping to sample his freshly brewed, golden product right from the steel fermentation kettle.

In the last two years, the price of barley has doubled to e200 ($271) from e102 per tonne as farmers plant more crops such as rapeseed and corn that can be turned into ethanol or bio-diesel, a fuel made from vegetable oil. As a result, the price for the key ingredient in beer —barley malt, or barley has been allowed to germinate—has soared by more than 40% ....

My Bad

I'm not scary enough, says the Czech Prime Minister:

Prague- Czech PM Mirek Topolanek today said he views it as its biggest mistake that he has not "scared" people enough over what the country would face without implementing the government's planned tax, social and health systems reform.

If the growing public finance deficit were not halted in time, the budget's mandatory expenditures would exceed the overall revenues, Topolanek (Civic Democrats, ODS) said at a seminar in the Senate.

"The biggest mistake I've personally made is...that I did not adequately scare the public when the draft reform legislation package was presented [by the centre-right ruling coalition]," Topolanek said.

He excused this by not being accustomed to scaremongering.

Excuses, Ecxuses

It's because they're stupid, says Brit educator:

Dyslexia is a social fig leaf used by middle-class parents who fear their children will be labelled as low achievers, a professor has claimed.

Julian Elliott, a leading educational psychologist at Durham University, says he has found no evidence to identify dyslexia as a medical condition after more than 30 years of research.
"There is a huge stigma attached to low intelligence," he said.

"After years of working with parents, I have seen how they don't want their child to be considered lazy, thick or stupid.

If they get called this medically diagnosed term, dyslexic, then it is a signal to all that it's not to do with intelligence."

Monday, May 28, 2007

Paved With Good Intentions

In Washington state they have more money than sense (and not for the first time):

OLYMPIA -- Washington's largest job-development program, touted by state lawmakers as a way to create "family-wage" jobs, is spending millions of dollars to attract employers that hire low-wage workers.

In many cases, grants were given to projects that provided no information about job creation. In other instances, local communities seeking aid listed the number of jobs expected, but state officials did not vet the information.

...."This isn't a worthwhile expenditure of money," said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "The attempt was to get at lifetime employment, real jobs that you can have a family on. Obviously, I don't think it succeeded."

But the cities getting the money argue that retail development will boost their economies, attract new industry and lead to better-paying jobs in the future.

The Legislature has pumped about $100 million in tax dollars into the Job Development Fund since 2005, including almost $50 million in the state construction budget signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire this month.

Projects benefiting from public funding include a Cabela's sporting-goods store in Lacey, a Costco store in Covington and a waterfront commercial development in Wenatchee. Those three projects alone account for more than $21 million in expected state spending.

....The Legislature set up a statewide competition to vet projects and required the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) to oversee the process.

But, there were more important things than creating jobs:

The board winnowed the proposals using a formula that scored projects on such criteria as how much tax revenue they'd generate for the state and local governments, and how many jobs they'd create. A dozen finalists were identified in 2006. The Legislature reviewed the list and approved the spending last month.

The formula, created by CERB and its staff, put more emphasis on "return on the state's investment" than on creating family-wage jobs.

It weighted family-wage jobs at 7 percent. Tax revenues, including sales and property taxes, were weighted at 12 percent. The overall "return on the state's investment" -- which included private investment and expected tax revenue -- was weighted at 30 percent.

"I came to find out that, despite its title, which is job-development fund, they weight tax more heavily than jobs," Gregoire said. "I think that's reverse in terms of priority."

In addition, CERB Chairman Tom Trulove, an economics professor at Eastern Washington University, said his board didn't have the staff to adequately scrutinize the projects. "You just had to accept that the project proponents were telling the truth, and accept their numbers, and go with the basis of what you saw," he said.

Trulove said he believes the projects are worthwhile, but "if we were to do this again, we certainly would give a lot more weighting to jobs."

Get Out of Jail Fee

There's no such thing as a free lunch in British prisons...unless you're guilty:

Wrongly jailed after a woman cried rape, Warren Blackwell applied for compensation for his three wasted years in prison.

Torn from his family and sent to languish in jail as a convicted sex attacker, the innocent father-of-two imagined he was due a hefty sum for the miscarriage of justice.

Instead, he was flabbergasted to learn the Home Office now intends to charge him nearly £7,000 for "board and lodging".

The money is for the cost of food and accommodation while he was behind bars, and will be deducted from whatever compensation he receives for wrongly imprisonment.

....A spokesman said: "It has been standard practice to do this in miscarriage of justice cases since the Criminal Appeals Act 1995 came into force.

"The assessor usually deducts a small amount of rent and living expenses of being in prison from the much, much higher figure of the actual compensation."

The practice of charging "bed and breakfast" was challenged this year by the Bridgewater Three, the men wrongly convicted of murdering newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater in 1978.

But the [House of] Lords upheld the principle, meaning Mr Blackwell would have to go the European Court of Human Rights for any hope of overturning it.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

No taxation without your representation...

in government schools, say the Brits:

Private schools will soon be lending their teachers to local comprehensives for part of the week under radical plans to boost state education being developed separately by both Labour and the Tories.

....In an interview with tomorrow’s The Daily Telegraph, Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, says private schools must share their teaching “expertise” with the state sector - or risk losing their charitable status, worth a total of £100 million a year.

Designing Women and Deregulatory Takings

The Institute for Justice finds itself stepping up to the plate to whack some batting practice fastballs:

Vickee Byrum is an interior designer, but, remarkably, the State of Texas insists that she keep that fact a secret.

While anyone in Texas may legally provide interior design services, state law dictates that only those with government-issued licenses may call themselves “interior designers” or use the words “interior design” to describe what they do.

On May 9, 2007, the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm that defends free speech and the rights of entrepreneurs, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin on behalf of Vickee and three other entrepreneurs challenging Texas’ “titling” law as a violation of free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.

And in Minneapolis the legacy of Hubert Humphrey is dying hard:

...the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter (IJ-MN), ... filed documents today in U.S. Federal Court to join with the city of Minneapolis to defend the city’s free-market reforms that removed a cap on the number of taxis allowed to operate within city limits. The reforms, finalized on March 30, will open the market to entrepreneurs who are fit, willing and able to serve the public, increase the number of cabs by 180 in the coming years, and eliminate completely the cap on the number of cabs in Minneapolis by 2010.

In response to these free-market and consumer-friendly reforms, the established taxicab cartel sued the city on March 13, demanding the reversal of reforms and proclaiming its owners should be able to keep the spoils of the old law that excluded new competitors from the taxi market in Minneapolis for more than 10 years.

“Private companies cannot be allowed to force the government to outlaw competition,” said Nick Dranias, staff attorney with IJ-MN. “The city did the right thing when it opened the taxi market, but now the cartel is suing to maintain its stranglehold on the industry and keep out newcomers. The cartel’s action is the last gasp of a dinosaur that free market reforms have made extinct.”

The cartel's position seems to be that their private property rights include a right to exclude new competitors. They claim a 5th Amendment protection to that right.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Wine on Terror

As if Sarko didn't have enough nutcases to deal with:

A shadowy group of wine activists has issued a one-month ultimatum to Nicolas Sarkozy threatening "action" if the new president fails to help the industry.

....Looking more like Corsican nationalists or masked Islamic fundamentalists than winemakers, the "wine terrorists" vowed that if nothing changed and the price they received for their wine had not gone up, they would go "into action".

In a reference to the French resistance in the Second World War, the CRAV said it would "come out of the maquis [scrub] and go into action".

....While nobody will own up to being a member, it is an open secret that the CRAV is the armed wing of winemakers' unions of the Languedoc and Roussillon, the highest producing wine region in the world. In France, and the Languedoc-Roussillon in particular, production far outweighs demand.

They ought to spend their time lobbying to have French regulations that result in winemakers who improve their wines being labeled criminals, repealed.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

As One Big Brother to Another

With apparently unintended irony Britain controls the speech of Big Brother:

Channel 4 has escaped a fine after its Celebrity Big Brother show was embroiled in a racism row earlier this year.

Ofcom, the television regulator, has ruled that Channel 4 will instead have to air an apology at the start of the new Big Brother series, which starts next week.

....Ofcom today concluded that Channel 4 breached the broadcasting code after making "serious editorial misjudgements" that were "compounded by a serious failure of its compliance process".
The apology will have to be broadcast on three separate occasions during the start of this year's 13-week run of Big Brother.

But what have you done for us lately?

Britain denies a World War II hero admission:

His courage in the face of almost certain death made him a war hero and deservedly earned him the Victoria Cross.

Tul Bahadur Pun's extraordinary act of valour while fighting the Japanese during World War Two even won him royal admirers. He was invited to the Queen's Coronation and had tea with the Queen Mother.

Yet despite his illustrious service record, when the ailing 84-year-old former Gurkha soldier applied for permission to live in Britain he was refused by government officials.

Amazingly, British officials in Nepal told the wizened old warrior who put his life on the line for King and country: "You have failed to demonstrate that you have strong ties with the UK."

Lawyers acting for Mr Pun, along with 2,000 former Gurkhas, will appeal his case before the immigration courts in London in August.

Anti-Groom Discrimination...

In Barcelona, they need not apply, apparently:

MADRID - A wedding shop that bills itself as Europe's first for gays is to open in Barcelona next week.

The shop called By, in Barcelona's commercial district, is aimed at giving gay couples a specialized place to purchase outfits and accessories for their big day.

''It's a unique concept in Europe,'' owner Santiago Porrero said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. ''Each bridegroom is different, so the most important aspect is different for everyone,'' said Porrero. The shop is to open on May 30, coinciding with a fashion show called Barcelona Bride Week.

Porrero said gay couples in his shop will be able to buy from a set collection or have a tailor-made suit, all envisioned for their wedding, from daylight to night ceremonies, in the city or at the countryside or even on the beach.

''It can be as varied and original as a bride's dress,'' he said. ''What happens is that bride businesses are much more developed, but we are also making progress,'' he said.

Stupid Leading the Stupider

Don't just stand there watching the laws of supply and demand at work, do something!

WASHINGTON -- With gasoline prices at record highs, the U.S. House passed a bill Wednesday that would make gas-price gouging a federal crime.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell has pushed such legislation for two years in the Senate, and the Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would bring up her bill in June.

...."We have four refineries in Washington state, so why are our prices so high?" asked Cantwell, a Democrat.

The House vote provoked an immediate veto threat from the White House, which called the bill a form of price controls that could lead to fuel shortages and "bring back long gas lines reminiscent of the 1970s."
Cantwell said the vote -- and her companion bill -- sets up a political battle pitting the American people against the oil industry's "lobbyists and friends in the White House."

Even if approved, the impact of the legislation is uncertain. The biggest question is how price gouging would be defined. Cantwell acknowledged that problem but said the first step was to get criminal penalties on the books.

Ah yes, punishment first, crime later.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


It's been downhill ever since Sophia Loren left town, and it's downright stinky now:

Residents of the Italian city of Naples have been torching piles of rotting rubbish in the steets amid a worsening refuse crisis.

Most of the area's landfill sites are full, meaning that rubbish collectors have not been doing their rounds.

The streets are stinking, piled with thousands of tonnes of rotting rubbish in sweltering temperatures.

....Frustrated residents have taken to torching heaps of rubbish - by one count, there were 130 such fires on Tuesday night alone, reports the BBC's Mark Duff in Milan.

But the lighting of fires has led to concerns that dangerous toxins released into the air could enter the human food chain and cause an environmental catastrophe.

There are also fears that the tourist trade could be hit by the mountains of rubbish piling up in front of hotels and restaurants.

Ghost of Arthur Burns...

...says: 'Inflation? Don't look at me, I'm just head of the central bank.':

MADRID - European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet said unions must act with ''responsibility'' in negotiating wages in order to keep inflation under control in the euro zone.

''Wage agreements should avoid wage developments that would eventually lead to inflationary pressures and harm the purchasing power of all euro citizens,'' Trichet said at the 2007 congress of the European Trade Union Confederation.

Trichet later clarified that he did not mean to suggest unions had not been responsible in the past, just that ''they should continue to be responsible.''

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Yo, ho, ho...

And a battle for the riches:

Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration created an international sensation Friday by announcing the recovery of more than 500,000 colonial-era silver and gold coins from an unspecified Atlantic Ocean shipwreck possibly worth $500 million (EUR 371.9 million).

....In England, it generated press reports that Odyssey had salvaged the wreck of the long-sought British vessel Merchant Royal, which sank in bad weather off England in 1641.

In Spain, the government said it was ''suspicious'' of Odyssey's find, given that it recently granted permission to the company to hunt for the wreck of the HMS Sussex in the Mediterranean Sea. Culture Minister Carmen Calvo said his nation will claim the loot if it turns out to be Spanish or was removed from Spanish waters

Odyssey stated definitively Monday that its so-called Black Swan project that yielded the riches was not the Sussex, which historians believed was laden with gold coins when it sank off Gibraltar in 1694.

Regarding the Merchant Royal, Odyssey was not confirming or denying anything.

....The Daily Mail in London asserted that the Merchant Royal treasure was ''stolen by Americans,'' who secretly spirited it back to the United States to keep Britain from making a claim.

Odyssey said again Monday that their recovery conformed with salvage laws, the site was beyond the territorial waters or legal jurisdiction of any country, and the coins were legally exported to the United States.

''We do believe that most shipwrecks that we recover, including the 'Black Swan,' will likely result in claims by other parties,'' the company said. ''Many will be spurious claims, but we anticipate that there might be some legitimate ones as well. ... It is the opinion of our legal counsel that even if a claim is deemed to be legitimate by the courts, Odyssey should still receive title to a significant majority of the recovered goods.''

How do you say it in English...

...if you can't get licensed in Paris:

English-language radio stations complained Tuesday they had been refused an FM licence in Paris, a city which currently has Armenian, Portuguese and Arabic broadcasters but not a single English language station.

The BBC World Service, Paris Live Radio and World Radio Paris were all excluded from a shortlist of contenders for licences drawn up by the CSA, the French broadcasting authority.

"It is unknown in the developed world for a major city to not have at least some local radio in English," said Ian de Renzie Duncan, the director of Paris Live Radio, which has broadcast on satellite and cable in France.

"The CSA have just said 'no English radio' on our turf," he said in a statement.

a votre sante

The world's number one health care system needs fixin', says the new President of France:

President Nicolas Sarkozy, on his first official trip to the French regions since taking power last week, called Tuesday for a reform of the country's hospitals.

Speaking during a visit to a hospital in the coastal city of Dunkirk, he said he wanted to "reform hospitals" in order to respond to the "malaise" in the health sector.

"I want the health minister to carry out a major dialogue on the mission of hospitals," he said during a meeting with doctors and nurses.

One of the priorities, he said, was to free up hospital beds and to cut waiting times in emergency departments by excluding patients with minor problems.

Monday, May 21, 2007

No child left behind...

...the taxman's scrutiny in China:

Thousands of villagers have rioted in south-western China over the country's controversial family planning restrictions, reports say.

The villagers, in Guangxi province, reportedly attacked government offices after officials imposed heavy fines on families who had too many children.

...."The farmers were really angry because the family planning team was going around to homes and making farmers pay fines if they had too many kids," one local resident told AFP.

"If the farmers had no money they took things from them," the resident said.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Few Bad Men

Needed in Ireland:

THE UK Cadogram Agency . . . providing genuine English cads for hire . . . is calling on all Irish cads who believe they can break hearts in the most dashing of ways to apply to establish a sister agency in Ireland.

"Irish men in general make very good cads. But the quality we need is very rare, very special. If there are Irish men out there who believe women would pay money to date them, get in touch with us and we'll consider you based on your merits, " according to David Piper, founder of the agency and original cad.

"Cads must be very charming and elegant and obviously very handsome and stylish.
He will kiss your hand and hold out your chair . . . all the while checking out a more beautiful woman who has just entered the room. He might turn up an hour late and drunk but will charm any woman's anger away."

There are eight cads currently working for the UK agency, based in London. A date with one of their debonair gentleman costs £500 and business is booming, according to Piper. "Men nowadays are sloppy and pathetic. We are the antidote to the wimpish nature of the modern male. What would you rather . . . another dreary date with an inelegant, selfish, boring and boorish dullard, complaining of his sensitivities and problems at work, telling the same old stories whilst checking his Blackberry? Or a zest-filled lightning encounter with a masterly raconteur, a rakish man of the world?"

...Dinner for two is the most popular date. "Of course, the women pick up the tab, and you should keep an eye out that your cad hasn't ordered a round of cocktails for the table of pretty women across the room, " warns Piper.

Sex is not strictly off the menu but is not offered as part of the service. "That's entirely up to the cad. They are not getting paid to do it but they may wish to sleep with some of the women. We just encourage them not to call her the next day, in true cad style."

Friday, May 18, 2007

It may take a while

This trial:

A judge in an "internet terrorism" trial admitted yesterday that he had no idea what a website was.

Mr Justice Openshaw told stunned prosecutors at Woolwich Crown Court in south London: "The trouble is I don't understand the language. I don't really understand what a website is."

He paid close attention as Prof Tony Sams, a computer expert, explained in detail how the internet works.

The defendants, Younis Tsouli, 23, Waseem Mughal, 24, and Tariq al-Daour, 21, allegedly helped distribute Islamic propaganda over the internet in support of al-Qa'eda.

How Many Poles Does It Take...

To get the attention of the market for beer? Enough already:

Tyskie, Lech and Zywiec could soon become as well known in British pubs as Guinness, Thwaites and Carling if trends persist, according to the latest sales figures released by one of the world's biggest brewers.

SAB Miller, the brewing giant behind Miller Lite, said yesterday that sales of its two Polish brands in the UK in Ireland had soared by an astonishing 333 per cent over the last year.

....All the major supermarkets have started stocking Polish beer as have many of the biggest pub chains including JD Wetherspoon and Greene King.

Eddie Gershon, a spokesman for JD Wetherspoon, said: "We started stocking it a couple of years ago in Wakefield, Yorkshire. And it started flying and we thought 'we're on to something here'. We now sell it all over the place."

....It is estimated that the Poles in the UK have £4billion to spend each year, with official statistics suggesting that eight out of 10 Polish immigrants are aged between 18 and 34. The influx of this young workforce has persuaded a growing number of businesses to chase the Polish pound, with Tesco declaring Polish food as its fastest growing ethnic category.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Yo, Australia

Rocky apologizes for bringing testosterone to your continent:

Hollywood star Sylvester Stallone has pleaded guilty to importing and possessing prohibited imports in Australia, Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio reported Tuesday.

The actor, famous for his starring role in the "Rocky" and " Rambo" films, apologized for having the banned imports, Human Growth Hormone and testosterone, when he visited Sydney to promote a film earlier this year.

A Sydney court heard Stallone did not know he was breaking the law in Australia.

....His lawyer, Philip Boulten, told the court Stallone needed the substances to treat a medical condition.

Boulten said the actor was mortified by the charges, and his apology to the court was heartfelt.

Socialize; Medicine

Even in the land of Mao, medical care isn't free:

A woman in China has offered to marry off her cancer-stricken mother to anyone who can pay her medical bills.

Du Chunmei says she cannot afford the $6,000 of treatment and believes it is the only way to save her mother's life.

She has put an advert online saying: "I post this message in desperation. If anyone could pay for my mother's treatment, I'll marry her to you."

....Mrs Du, 31, told the BBC how she and her brothers had spent their savings when their father fell ill two years ago.

....In the past 20 years the cost of medical treatment has risen sharply, but the social security system has fallen behind.

As a result, poorer people in China have found it hard to get proper hospital treatment.

Tis the Season

To migrate to Europe, if you're a poor African:

Neither the risks of the long ocean voyages, which often end in death at sea for the migrants, nor the increased patrolling seem to deter young Africans and their families who dream of a job in Europe as the key to a better life.

"Most believe that Europe is still the place to be, that you earn more in a month there than in a year here, that there are jobs everywhere, that people are welcoming," de Boeck said.

In Senegal, migration to Europe by any means is viewed as a coveted mark of social prestige and fishermen were abandoning their nets to recruit and carry a much more lucrative human cargo paying up to 700,000 CFA francs ($1,443) each for a place.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Commedia del Italia

Still #1, after all these years:

Italy's underground economy has now reached "embarrassing proportions", Deputy Economy Minister Vincenzo Visco admitted on Tuesday, as the government battled to fulfil an election vow to defeat tax evasion.

The underground economy - or business activity which is hidden from the state in order to avoid taxation - now churns out goods and services worth 27% of the official economy, Visco said in a report to parliament.

The 'official' estimates of the value of undeclared business put it at 16-17% of GDP.

Fact Czecher

Not so fast, he said:

Czech President Vaclav Klaus on Wednesday called for a rational debate on global warming, rejecting what he called "hysteria" driven by enviromentalists.

"Let's bring the debate to whether the 0.6 (degree Celsius warming over the last century) is much or little, how much Man has contributed to the warming and ... if there is anything at all Man can do about it," Klaus said when presenting his book "Blue, Not a Green Planet."

...."The approach of environmentalists toward nature is similar to the Marxist approach to economic rules, because they also try to replace free spontaneity of the evolution of the world (and of mankind) with ... global planning of the world's development," Klaus writes in his book.

"That approach ... is a utopia leading to completely other than wanted results," he says.
Klaus, an economist by profession, has repeatedly warned that policy makers are pushed by the widespread fear of global warming to adopt enormously costly programs that eventually may have no positive effect.

Menage a Trois

A priest, the Church...and his girlfriend, imitate the Bob Newhart Show:

Roman Catholics in a village in the depths of rural France are refusing to go to Mass after their priest was forced to leave because he had a girlfriend.

....Shocked by his dismissal, hundreds of parishioners in the village - a few miles east of the pilgrimage site of Lourdes - have refused to attend mass led by his replacement.

Last month they staged a protest, hanging giant banners with the words "give us back our priest" from the belfry and nailed them to the church roof.

"Marga has made me a good priest," said Father Léon. "I know I haven't remained strictly faithful to the vows I made when I was ordained 30 years ago, but I also know that my love for Marga has in no way been a handicap to my mission as a parish priest. In fact, it's been a great support. A lot of my parishioners look at me and say, well here's a priest who loves the Church but who listens to us, who understands us, and who lives like us," he said.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Chicago Boys Legacy

Chile shows the benefits of three decades of free trade, limited government:

Chile is trying to inoculate itself. In essence, the government is saving what it calculates as windfall profits from its state-owned copper company and windfall taxes from privately owned mines. It is investing the money abroad in bonds and is also considering buying foreign stock funds. The idea is that when Chile's economy inevitably falters, the government can tap this "economic and social stabilization fund" for revenue.

"The question that plagues Latin America and other emerging markets is: How do you avoid the booms and busts from commodity cycles?" says Chile's finance minister, Andrés Velasco. "In Chile we have a simple answer: spend that which is permanent and save that which is transitory."

So far, Chile has set aside about $6 billion for the stabilization fund and expects to add another $6 billion or so by the end of the year. The sum would be equivalent to about 10% of the country's gross domestic product, the total value of goods and services it produces in a year.

....The government aims for a budget surplus of about 1% annually, and calculates its projected revenue using an estimate of the average price of copper over the coming decade. When copper's price exceeds the long-term estimate, as it has in the past few years, the government runs up much more than a 1% surplus and routes the excess into the stabilization fund, where it is invested overseas.

....The government also is starting a second fund tied to the copper boom. This "innovation fund" comes from a tax on mining that's expected to raise more than $200 million annually. The fund's details are still being worked out in the Chilean Congress, but the goal is to finance ventures that would diversify the Chilean economy away from commodities into technology and services. Harvard University economist Ricardo Hausmann, who consults with the Chilean government, says that Chile resembles California in terms of wine and agriculture, "but it's a California without Hollywood and without Silicon Valley."

In the cautious Chilean fashion, the innovation fund is meant to bolster Chile's long-term prospects, not produce quick gains. "We want a higher trend rate of growth," says Mr. Velasco, the finance minister. "But we don't want [the economy] to oscillate with the price of copper."


Al Qaeda comments on the French election:

An Al-Qaeda front group in Europe threatened on Tuesday to launch bloody attacks in France in response to the election of "crusader and Zionist" Nicolas Sarkozy as president.

"As you have chosen the crusader and Zionist Sarkozy as a leader ... we in the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades warn you that the coming days will see a bloody jihadist campaign ... in the capital of Sarkozy," the group's "Europe division" said in an Internet statement addressed to the French people.

The campaign will be "against all those who allow themselves to follow the policy" of the US administration, said the statement whose authenticity could not verified.

And Christopher Hitchens finds you can't go home again, unless you want to be depressed at what you'll find in the old neighborhood:

For the British mainstream, multiculturalism has been the official civic religion for so long that any criticism of any minority group has become the equivalent of profanity. And Islamic extremists have long understood that they need only suggest a racial bias—or a hint of the newly invented and meaningless term "Islamophobia"—in order to make the British cough and shuffle with embarrassment. Prince Charles himself, the heir to the throne and thus the heir to the headship of the Church of England, has announced his sympathy for Islam and his wish to be the head of all faiths and not just one. This may sound good, if absurd (a chinless prince who becomes head of a church because his mother dies?), but only if you forget that it was Prince Charles who encouraged the late King Fahd, of Saudi Arabia, to contribute more than a million pounds to build … the Finsbury Park Mosque! If you want my opinion, our old district was a lot better off when the crowned heads of the world were busy neglecting it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

You can take the country away from the Communists...

But, the Communists will be up to their old tricks in the Czech Republic:

A federal subsidy that was supposed to help independent farmers compete with hypermarket chains has instead been exploited by the well-connected bosses of big farms.

Last year, about half of the 330 farmers applying for a special subsidy encouraging collectivization were scamming the government, the Association of Private Farmers (ASZ) says. The false claims are inflating the Agriculture Ministry’s budget and denying funds to the private farmers the subsidy was supposed to benefit.

....The president of the ASZ, Stanislav Němec, exposed the issue late last month. He named top members of the Czech Agrarian Chamber and Agricultural Union — which mainly represent large cooperatives formed during the post-communist transformation process of the 1990s — as the prime offenders.

“This case is the result of big contracts between Social Democratic politicians and former communists in the Agricultural Union, because they are all people who have very, very similar personal histories,” said Němec, an independent farmer operating 450 hectares (1,112 acres) in Radonice, north Bohemia.

“A lot of them are former members of the Communist Party,” he added.

....“The loudest promoters of this idea probably think in a way firmly rooted in the former regime. … [They abuse] trust, circumvent the law and ‘milk’ the state,” Němec wrote in a letter published by the ASZ April 23 that listed the 184 owners wrongly taking advantage of the subsidy.

The accused owners operate several farms and collectivized their distribution process on paper for the grant, he said. In reality, though, the farms were already joined because they are all owned by the same company. They do not represent a new partnership.

Crybabies in Chief

No surprise here:

French workers are the world's biggest whingers, according to a study published Monday which said the Irish complain least about their lot.

Britons come second to their Gallic cousins in in the moaning stakes, followed by Sweden, the United States and Australia. Japanese workers have the lowest morale, but don't complain so much.

The lowest levels of whingeing were found in the Netherlands, Thailand and Ireland, according to the study by the FDS research group.

....The study, entitled "What Workers Want, A Worldwide Study of Attitudes to Work and Work-Life Balance", draws on data from 14,000 employees in 23 countries.

Call Her Undecideable

At least she didn't go for Sego:

The wife of Nicolas Sarkozy did not vote in the election that saw him win the French presidency, a website said Sunday, claiming that a newspaper which had the information first gave in to pressure not to reveal it.

....Contacted by AFP, the newspaper's managing editor Jacques Esperandieu said that he had personally taken the decision not to publish the article, judging after lengthy deliberation that it concerned "the private sphere."

He also received "a certain number of phone calls from people stressing the very private and very personal nature of the information," Esperandieu said.

....Cecilia Sarkozy, 49, is a fiercely independent former model and PR executive seen as unlikely to fit easily into the discreet role of first lady.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

You teach economics, you say?

The University of Oregon's Mark Thoma recently argued:
Ignorance is market failure.
E.g., not knowing about (being ignorant of) the location of service stations off the freeway in LA gives the service stations right next to the freeway market power.

Friday, May 11, 2007

It's the Business Cycle, Stupid

It's the seventh year of economic expansion (the last recession ended late in 2001) and as could have been expected tax, revenues to the federal government reflect it:

Federal revenue collections hit an all-time high in April, contributing to a further improvement in the budget deficit for the year.

Releasing its monthly budget report, the Treasury Department said Thursday that through the first seven months of this budget year, the deficit totals $80.8 billion, significantly below the $184.1 billion imbalance run up during the first seven months of the 2006 budget year.

So far this year, tax revenues total $1.505 trillion, an increase of 11.2 percent over the same period last year. ....

The Congressional Budget Office said that it now expects the deficit for all of 2007 to total between $150 billion and $200 billion. That would be a significant improvement from last year's deficit of $248.2 billion, which had been the lowest imbalance in four years.

The federal budget was in surplus for four years from 1998 through 2001 as the long economic expansion helped push revenues higher.

And 1998 was the eighth year of economic expansion, as the incompetents at Angry Bear would know if they would stop putting the hands over their ears, and saying "I can't hear you!".

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sam Who?

The Democrat controlled Washington state legislature, oblivious to the real world effects of the auto safety regulations, reinforces H.L. Mencken's insight that, 'Democracy is the theory that the people know what they want, and deserve to get it...good and hard.':

Thousands of Washington children will be forced back into car and booster seats next month when a change to state law takes effect.

On June 1, children will have to stay in the safety seats until they are at least 8 years old or 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

Violators face a $112 ticket.

....Currently, children are required to ride in booster seats until they're 6 years old or weigh 60 pounds.

The changes also require children to use booster seats until they are 16 years old if a vehicle's seat belt does not properly fit the child.

Another change requires children younger than 13 to ride in the back seat whenever possible. They're allowed to ride in the front only if the vehicle has no lap-and-shoulder belts in the back seat.

No doubt the legislature forgot to inform themselves of the Peltzman Effect:

When the offsetting risky behavior encouraged by the safety regulation has negative externalities, the Peltzman effect can result in redistributing risk to innocent bystanders who would behave in a risk-averse manner even without the regulation. For example, if some drivers with a high tolerance for risk who would not otherwise wear a seatbelt respond to a seatbelt law by driving less safely, there will be more total accidents. Overall injuries and fatalities may still decrease due to a higher percentage of drivers involved in accidents wearing seatbelts, but drivers who would wear seatbelts regardless will see their overall risk increase. Similarly, safety regulations for automobiles may put pedestrians or bicyclists in more danger by encouraging risky behavior in drivers without offering additional protection for pedestrians and cyclists.

Lost in Space

And time too, in, where else but the EU:

BRUSSELS, May 10, 2007 (AFP) - The European Union sought Thursday to save its troubled Galileo satellite navigation system project from crashing, with new plans to use public money for its construction.

A consortium of eight companies was originally to pay for two-thirds of the construction and launch of most of the 30 satellites required, while covering the cost of the investment by operating the network afterwards.

However, the European Commission and EU member states are being forced to reconsider the original financing plans as the companies demand more public support in bearing the risks and costs.

With China making strides with its rival "Compass" satellite positioning system, pressure is growing on the EU to avoid further delays to the programme, which was intended to rival the United States free global positioning system (GPS).

....Although the project is becoming more of an embarrassment than a showcase for European technological prowess, European Commission spokesman Michele Cercone insisted that full public funding did not amount to a costly bailout.

"This scenario will not require taxpayers to put (in) more money, but is the scenario that would protect best taxpayers," he said.

The European Commission had given the consortium -- comprising AENA, Alcatel, EADS, Finmeccanica, Hispasat, Inmarsat, TeleOp and Thales -- until Thursday to come up with plans for sorting out the mess.

However, Cercone said that since their proposals were "far from being sufficient," the next best option seemed to be simply using public money to build the satellite network.

....The construction was originally expected to cost 1.5 billion euros (2.0 billion dollars), but the EU's executive arm and member states will likely have to cough up an extra 2.4-2.6 billion euros if public money is to pay for it, according to the Commission.

So, Payback Really is a ...

You've come a long way, baby:

As well as claiming a share of their ex-husbands' riches, divorced wives could in future be landed with their debts.

A landmark High Court ruling yesterday slammed shut a loophole that helped thousands avoid the claims of their ex-spouse's creditors.

It means that the former wife - or husband - of someone who has gone bankrupt can be chased by creditors for the property and cash they took from the marriage for up to five years after their divorce.

....The ruling will put a question mark over the property of wives or husbands of the 120,000 who go bankrupt each year.

One in five of these couples - or 25,000 - is likely to have contested divorces.

Finger Lickin' Good

With a stiff upper lip. The Colonel displays some Southern style hospitality:

The Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in England, had been told by Kentucky Fried Chicken to remove the words "family feast" from its menu.

KFC's lawyers said the company had registered the wording as a trademark.

But hours later the American firm's lawyers decided not to pursue the issue of the pub's meal description.

KFC's lawyers were first alerted to the use of the phrase by the pub, which stands 1,700 feet (520m) above sea level, after finding a reference to it on the inn's website.

....Owner Tracy Daly said she thought the original letter was a late April Fool's joke.

But on Thursday Ms Daly was contacted by the fast food firm's representatives and told of the change of heart.
"They have very kindly said we can continue using the name.

"Common sense has prevailed. I'm very relieved and ecstatic.

"I'm not going to need my boxing gloves anymore. I've invited KFC to come here and have a meal and shake hands."

Going Dutch II

Extra space = extra cost on KLM:

AMSTERDAM – KLM is going to charge passengers an additional fee for seats with extra legroom near the emergency exits from now on.

A passenger requesting this seat will be charged EUR 50 extra, a spokesperson for the airline said on Thursday.

....Other seats in economy class that have more legroom will also cost more.

...."If you want a little bit extra comfort, you have to pay more," KLM says. KLM sees these "preferential seats" as an extra source for revenue.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Cutting Edge Tourism in Spain

And over here you can see the grass grow:

MARBELLA - A new guided tour around Marbella's murkier side takes in all the sites involved in a multi-billion euro civic corruption scandal

Tourists are shown the town hall, where the now-dissolved city council sat and allegedly took backhanders from property developers in return for lucrative bulding permissions.

They are also taken to the homes of some of the leading suspects in the scandal which blew up last year in the Costa del Sol city.

These include Marisol Yague, the former mayor, and Juan Antonio Roca, the one-time head of urban planning who is said to be the brains behind the scam.

Breaking News!

Men like to look at women:

Men find photos of the opposite sex much more "rewarding" than women, new research claims today.

According to the study men take the same pleasure out of looking at an attractive female form as they do from having a curry or making money whereas women do not take any significant reward from looking at pictures of men.

....The findings shed light on why men are much greater consumers of pornography than women and why sales of Playboy have always exceeded those of Playgirl, according to Dr Benjamin Hayden at the Centre for Neuroeconomic Studies, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina.

"One natural inference is that men are more willing to pay to see these images," he told The Daily Telegraph.

Previous research has identified several core characteristics of rewards. Economists have shown that people tend to be impulsive, meaning they prefer rewards sooner than later, and that they are less impulsive when rewards are bigger.

This study shows that photos follow the same principles, and that more attractive photos act like larger rewards, said Dr Hayden. Rewards also offer incentives to work harder and they can be traded for other kinds of rewards, which is why men exchange money for pictures of naked women.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Take my wife...

Cheap at the price:

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- The government has ordered an Internet auction site to remove an advertisement in which a Brazilian man offered to sell his wife for about $50.

The Secretariat of Public Policies for Women announced late Friday it had ordered Mercado Livre, partially owned by eBay Inc., to remove the ad and warned it was violating a law banning the offer or sale of "human organs, people, blood, bones or skin."

The advertisement was no longer visible on the site Saturday.

It was posted by a man who gave his name as Breno and said: "I sell my wife for reasons I prefer to keep short ... I really need the money."

The man described his wife physically and listed her qualities as a homemaker and companion. He reportedly said she was 35 and "worth her weight in gold."

Can He Cover, 'Welcome Back'

Nicolas Sarkozy has his first immigrant success story:

Veteran rocker Johnny Hallyday, France's answer to Elvis, will return from tax exile in Switzerland now that his tax-cutting friend Nicolas Sarkozy has been elected president, his wife said Tuesday.

"Nicolas Sarkozy's policies will certainly lead us to come back to France," Laetitia Hallyday told RTL radio.

....Johnny Hallyday is one of a string of famous French nationals who have upped sticks in order to avoid the country's high taxes.

....The number of French people who move abroad, often quietly, to escape burdensome income and wealth taxes was estimated at "one per day" by a member of Sarkozy's UMP party who oversees budget questions in parliament.

Other French personalities who live abroad include actor Alain Delon, actor/singer Charles Aznavour, former formula one champion Alain Prost and tennis champion Amelie Mauresmo.

Keep it down

Or, you'll be emulating Paris, in Barcelona:

MADRID – The supreme court condemned a bar owner in Barcelona to four years in jail for noise pollution.

The court also said the man should have also been condemned for the offence of injuring his neighbours.

....He was convicted for an offence against ‘natural resources and the environment’. He must all pay four neighbours compensation of between EUR 10,000 -6,000 for damaging their mental health and personal intimacy.

The court said the restaurant owner was aware of the damage the noise was doing to the lives of the neighbours and their health.

Free Paris!

In the latest twist on the old joke: First prize is a one week, all-expenses paid trip to Philadelphia. Second prize is two weeks. Paris Hilton has rehired her publicist:

Elliot Mintz confirmed to The Associated Press on Tuesday that he is again representing the 26-year-old socialite, who was ordered to report to county jail by June 5 for violating the terms of her probation in an alcohol-related reckless driving case.

Mintz, 62, wouldn't elaborate on why he reunited with Hilton. The publicist, whose clients have included John Lennon and Bob Dylan, issued a statement Sunday night that he and Hilton had parted ways over an apparent "misunderstanding she received from me regarding the terms of her probation."

In a court appearance Friday, Hilton told the judge Mintz informed her it was all right to drive on a suspended license for work obligations. Mintz also testified Hilton believed she was allowed to drive. The judge called Mintz's testimony worthless.

And her fans won't take it lying down:

She has called the sentence unfair, and her fans have posted a petition on the Internet urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to pardon her.

....The petition, which had more than 900 signatures by Tuesday morning, urges the California actor-turned-governor to pardon Hilton because she provides "beauty and excitement to (most of) our otherwise mundane lives."

"If the late former President Gerald Ford could find it in his heart to pardon the late former President Richard Nixon after his mistake(s), we undeniably support Paris Hilton being pardoned for her honest mistake as well, and we hope and expect the governor will understand and grant this unusual but important request in good faith to Ms. Paris Whitney Hilton," the petition says.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Beery Beery Odd

In Brazil, employers should be careful:

A court has ordered a brewery to pay almost £30,000 in compensation to an alcoholic beer taster.

Brewery Ambev was sued by the man who claimed the company did not provide health measures that would have stopped him developing a drink problem.

The unidentified employee downed an average of 3.2 pints a day while at work.

....He also received a bottle of beer to take home after each shift, the court in the Rio Grande do Sul state of Brazil said in a statement.

....The company alleged the employee already was an alcoholic before becoming a beer taster.

...Judge Jose Felipe Ledur said the company still was negligent because an alcoholic should never have been made a beer taster.

Nick of Time

Mark Steyn says, M. Sarkozy probably doesn't have much, if any:

In my recent book, whose title escapes me, I cite one of those small anecdotes that seems almost too perfect a distillation of Continental politics. It was a news item from 2005: A fellow in Marseilles was charged with fraud because he lived with the dead body of his mother for five years in order to continue receiving her pension of 700 euros a month.

She was 94 when she croaked, so she'd presumably been enjoying the old government check for a good three decades or so, but her son figured he might as well keep the money rolling in until her second century and, with her corpse tucked away under a pile of rubbish in the living room, the female telephone voice he put on for the benefit of the social services office was apparently convincing enough. As the Reuters headline put it: "Frenchman Lived With Dead Mother To Keep Pension."

Think of France as that flat in Marseilles, and its economy as the dead mother, and the country's many state benefits as monsieur's deceased mom's benefits. To the outside observer, the French give the impression they can live with the stench of death as long as the government benefits keep coming. If that's the case, the new president will have the shortest of honeymoons.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Those riotous French can't wait to start:

RIOT police fanned out across Paris overnight amid fears of violent demonstrations against the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as French president.

....Police were anticipating that youth gangs from the suburbs and extreme-left agitators would attempt to disrupt the victory parties for a head of state who wants to establish a French department of "Immigration and National Identity".

"Anti-Sarko" forces and unions were gearing up for a summer of strikes and protests against his planned modifications to the 35-hour week, reform of unemployment benefits and tougher laws against delinquents, recidivist criminals, and undocumented migrants.

Friday, May 04, 2007

el otro zapato

And, now that he has the oil, it didn't take long:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Thursday threatened to nationalize the country's banks and its largest steel producer, accusing them of unscrupulous practices. "Private banks have to give priority to financing the industrial sectors of Venezuela at low cost," he said. "If banks don't agree with this, it's better that they go, that they turn over the banks to me, that we nationalize them and get all the banks to work for the development of the country and not to speculate and produce huge profits."

....Chavez's government has already begun nationalizing the country's largest telecommunications company and the electricity sector.

It also took control of Venezuela's most promising oil fields and refineries from foreign oil companies processing crude in the Orinoco River basin Tuesday.

Party Off

Cancelled due to lack of interest, yawn:

Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize winner and micro credit expert Muhammad Yunus has announced that he has abandoned plans to form his own political party.

In an open letter to his supporters, Mr Yunus said that he did not believe he had enough support for his movement, Nagarik Shakti (Citizen's Power).

His party was formally launched in February pledging to clean up politics.

....Mr Yunus and his Grameen Bank, which specialises in lifting people out of extreme poverty by giving small loans to the very poor, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last October.

...."People gave me inspiration to enter politics (but) when I contacted them I did not get much response and they were not interested in joining the party. Others would not leave their existing political party," he said in the statement.

Mr Yunus said in February that his new party would offer an alternative to the two main political parties - the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Awami League - which have dominated Bangladesh's notoriously corrupt political system for more than 30 years.

But correspondents say that many people questioned whether he had over-estimated his popularity in rural areas, where his bank's high interest rates are disliked.

Remember the China Syndrome?

It was the An Inconvenient Truth of its day:

While doing a series of reports on alternative energy sources, an opportunistic reporter Kimberly Wells witnesses an accident at a nuclear power plant. Wells is determined to publicise the incident but soon finds herself entangled in a sinister conspiracy to keep the full impact of the incident a secret.

But, actual nuclear power plant accidents turn out to be somewhat less dramatic:

The risk of survivors of the Chernobyl accident dying early is far less than supposed, ranking about the same as exposure to air pollution or passive smoking, according to new research published on Tuesday.

The human toll from the world’s worst civil nuclear accident has been hotly debated ever since the Ukrainian power station’s No. 4 reactor blew up on April 26, 1986, spewing radioactive dust across Europe.

Now a top British scientist has evaluated the comparative risks and concluded that for those most affected by the disaster —- emergency workers and people living nearby —- the increased risk of premature death due to radiation is around 1 percent.

That is roughly the same as the risk of dying from diseases triggered by air pollution in a major city or the effects of inhaling other people’s tobacco smoke, said Jim Smith of Britain’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

I'm An Old Farmhand

Babysittin' kids from the Rio Grande:

In her speech, Clinton talked about her childhood in Park Ridge, using it to focus on issues such as immigration reform -- a concern paramount to the huge Hispanic community in California.

She recalled Park Ridge was surrounded by farms that relied on migrant labor and that she used to baby-sit the workers' children, an experience that awakened her to the complexities of the immigrant experience.

Ah yes, the nation's breadbasket, Park Ridge, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago. For those for whom it was hometown includes: Harrison Ford, Karen Black, Carrie Snodgrass, Gary Cole, and James Pankow (of the band Chicago).

The racial makeup of the city was 95.38% White, 0.24% African American, 0.06% Native American, 2.66% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 0.87% from other races, and 0.74% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.95% of the population.