Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Couch Potatos Unite

Who says civilization can't be imposed by the point of a bayonet:

...television is off to a phenomenal start, with Afghans now engrossed - for better or worse - in much of the same escapist fare that seduces the rest of the world: soap operas that pit the unbearably conniving against the implausibly virtuous; chefs preparing meals that most people would never eat in kitchens they could never afford; talk show hosts wheedling secrets from those too shameless to keep their troubles to themselves.

The latest national survey, which dates to 2005, shows that 19 percent of Afghan households own a television, a remarkable total when considering that not only was owning a TV a crime under the Taliban but that a mere 14 percent of the population has access to public electricity.
In a more recent study of Afghanistan's five most urban provinces, two-thirds of all people said they watched television every day or almost every day.

"Maybe Afghanistan is not so different than other places; people watch television because there is nothing else to do," said Muhammed Qaseem Akhgar, a social analyst and newspaper editor. Reading is certainly less an option; Only 28 percent of the population is literate. "Where else can one find amusement?" Akhgar asked.

Each night at 7:30, people in Kabul obey the beckoning of prime time much as they might answer the call to prayer. "As you can see, there is truth on the television, because all over the world the mother-in-law is always provoking a fight," said Muhammad Farid, a man sitting in a run-down restaurant beside the Pul-e-Kheshti Mosque, his attention fixed on an Indian soap opera that had been dubbed into Dari.

....Kabul has eight local television stations, including one feebly operated by the government. "The key time slots are from 6 to 9 p.m. because that's when people switch on their generators for electrical power," said Saad Mohseni, who runs Tolo, the channel that dominates the market in most of the country. "People love the soap operas."

"We've just bought the rights to '24,' the American show," he added. "We had some concerns. Most of the bad guys are Muslims, but we did focus groups and it turns out most people didn't care about that so long as the villains weren't Afghans."

Fjord in your future?

Not unless you get in line early, in Norway:

Overbooked boats leave disappointed tourists behind at the pier instead of enjoying one of Norway's main tourist attractions; a fjord cruise.

....The boat's crew, who wish to remain anonymous in fear of reprimands from their employer, are alarmed by the alleged overbooking by the travel agency Reiseservice.

"The problem is that Reiseservice overbooks our tours, so we often have to leave behind between 70 and 100 tourists at the pier at Flåm," the men claim, adding that the tourists often miss the train back to either Oslo or Bergen if they do not get on board the fjord cruise. This leads to much frustration amongst the disappointed tourists.

"It leads to much irritation and ruined holidays for many of our customers," the men claim.

The boat's crew claim they have alerted the travel agency about the problem.

"When we told them about the problem, they said that it was better to leave some tourists behind at the pier than to arrange the cruise with half-empty boats," they claim.

Know what I mean...?

Sweets for the not having any of it guy:

England may be heading for an ignominious defeat in the second Test against India today, but there is only one issue on the minds of cricketing fans across the country - the great jelly bean mystery.

....Was the sugar-laden confectionery a pointed reference to his weight, a much-commented-upon subject among observers of the game?

Was it meant as a distraction? Or was it simply being used to mark a field position?

Either way, no sooner had Zaheer swished the humble sweet away he started shouting and waving his bat at England's Kevin Pietersen, who he clearly blamed for placing the offending item on the pitch.

....Last night Zaheer claimed close fielders had deliberately strewn jelly beans around the crease. Even after he had started batting, he explained, they had continued to harass him by throwing more sweets towards the stumps.

"When I got out to the crease there were some jelly beans there," Zaheer said. "I just swept one off the wicket, and when I played the next ball there were some more, so obviously someone was chucking them from behind. I was upset about it. I went to speak to them and asked what was going on.

"I didn't know exactly where they were coming from, and maybe I picked the wrong one, but they definitely came from a fielder and I just felt it was insulting. When I go out on to the cricket field I am serious. This is a Test match we are playing. It definitely inspired me to do well."

Barry Bonds should have it so tough.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Maybe when you bring the stones in out of the rain

It's only a paper bridge...

PONT DU GARD, France, July 29, 2007 (AFP) - Japanese architect Shigeru Ban -- iconic for his use of eco-friendly, lightweight materials -- on Friday lifted the veil on a paper bridge over the Gardon River in southern France.

Built half a mile from the Pont du Gard -- a section of ancient Roman bridge classed as a UN World Heritage site -- Shigeru's cardboard-tube structure is strong enough to carry 20 people at a time.

Reaching over the water to a sandy islet mid-river, it opens to the public for six weeks starting on Monday, before it is dismantled for the rainy season.

"It is a very interesting contrast, the Roman stone bridge and the paper bridge. Paper too can be permanent, can be strong and lasting. We need to get rid of these prejudices," Ban said.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

No One Makes You Shop at...

Timely Medical Alternatives, it's just a good thing if you're in Canada and sick and tired of waiting for health care:

...the founders of Timely Medical Alternatives Inc... recognize that there are some 875,000 Canadians currently on the waiting list for referrals to specialists or for medical procedures. Our organization was formed in 2003 to help Canadians from coast to coast, to "Leave the queue" and take personal responsibility for their own private medical services.

Since then we have helped hundreds of Canadians obtain second medical opinions, MRI's / CT scans / PET scans (within days) and surgery (within weeks). We have helped our clients to regain their mobility, to get relief from chronic pain, to get diagnoses of illnesses and we have, in some cases, helped to save the lives of a number of our fellow Canadians.

Depending on the procedure needed, these accelerated surgical referral options can include access to professional treatment in one of the private clinics in Canada or receiving it in an accredited hospital in a close-to-the-border U.S. Hospital.

It does not cost our clients any more to use our company than it would cost to go directly to the source of fee-for-service care - in many cases it's even less expensive to use our service and it's almost always faster.

....Our mission is to provide Canadians from every province with information about the medical waiting lists in Canada, options for Canadians unable or unwilling to wait for care and finally, referrals to hospitals, clinics and diagnostic imaging facilities.

These are the times that try boys' schools

Which is very troubling for Mark Steyn's soul:

Messrs [Cory] Mashburn and [Ryan] Cornelison are pupils at Patton Middle School. They were arrested in February after being observed in the vestibule, swatting girls on the butt. Butt-swatting had apparently become a form of greeting at the school – like "a handshake we do," as one female student put it. On "Slap Butt Fridays," boys and girls would hail each other with a cheery application of manual friction to the posterior, akin to a Masonic greeting.

So, upon being caught butt-swatting, Mashburn and Cornelison were called to the principal's office, where they were questioned for several hours by vice principal Steve Tillery and McMinnville Police officer Marshall Roache. At the end of the afternoon, two boys who'd never been in any kind of trouble before were read their Miranda rights and led off in handcuffs to spend five days in juvenile jail.

Tough, but I guess they learned their lesson, right?

Ha! The state of Oregon was only warming up. After a court appearance in shackles and prison garb, the defendants were charged with multiple counts of felony sexual abuse, banned from school and forbidden any contact with their friends.

I spent the entire spring at the "white collar fraud" trial of Conrad Black....

Having had no previous prolonged exposure to the American justice system, I was interested to see whether the techniques used by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald were particular to that case or more widely applied. The Oregon butt psychos make an instructive study. As in the Black trial, once the authorities had decided on their view of the case, other parties were leaned on to fall into line and play the role of "victims." Of 14 other students interviewed by officer Roache, seven (boys and girls) told him they had engaged in bottom-swatting themselves. Two of the "victims" said they had done it to others. At the initial hearing, a couple of female students spontaneously testified that they'd felt very much pressured to conform during their interviews with the vice principal and the police officer. "Well, when the principal asked me stuff, I kind of felt pressured to answer stuff that I was uncomfortable, and that it hurt, but it really didn't," said one girl.

What does hurt? Attracting the attention of the district attorney. The prosecutor's office reduced the counts from felony sexual assault (with which he'd successfully charged a couple of other middle-school students a year ago) to five misdemeanor counts of sexual abuse and five counts of sexual harassment.

With the boys' respective parents already in the hole for $10,000 apiece in legal fees, the D.A. used the most powerful weapon in the prosecutor's armory: Cop a plea, and we'll make all the pain go away. In this instance, that would mean pleading guilty in return for probation. The terms of probation would prevent Mashburn and Cornelison from contact with younger children, which would mean they couldn't be left with their younger siblings.

Mashburn and Cornelison do not believe they've committed a crime, so they would like to exercise their right to the presumption of innocence – a bedrock principle of the English legal tradition now in great peril from American prosecutorial excess. Instead of letting the state bully them into a grubby, shaming deal, the boys would like it to do what justice systems in civilized societies are required to do: prove the crime. It's a gamble: Those 10 charges each command a one-year sentence, plus lifelong sex-offender registration.

District Attorney Berry told reporter Susan Goldsmith of the Oregonian that his department "aggressively" pursues sex crimes. "These cases are devastating to children," he said. "They are life-altering cases."

No, sir. The only one devastating children's lives is you. If you "win," and these "criminals" are convicted, 20, 30 years from now – applying for a job, volunteering for a community program, heading north for a weekend in Vancouver and watching the Customs guard swipe the driver's license through the computer – there'll be a blip, something will come up on the screen, and for the umpteenth time two middle-age men will realize they bear a mark that can never be expunged. Because decades ago they patted their pals on the rear in a middle-school corridor.

A world that requires handcuffs and judges and district attorneys for what took place that Friday in February is not just a failed education system but an entire society that's losing any sense of proportion. Without which, civilized life becomes impossible. So we legalize more and more aspects of life and demand that district attorneys prosecute ever more aggressively what were once routine areas of social interaction.

A society that looses the state to criminalize schoolroom horseplay is guilty not only of punishing children as grown-ups but of the infantilization of the entire citizenry.

Heard the one about...

Not if you're in Britain and need a hearing aid:

A 108-year-old woman has been told by the NHS she must wait until she is 110 to get a new hearing aid.

Olive Beal, one of the oldest women in Britain, is wheelchair bound and is losing her eyesight but has still been placed on an 18-month waiting list for a digital hearing aid.

....The Royal National Institute for the Deaf says unfortunately Olive case is not unique.

Spokeswoman Donna Tipping said: "I am afraid this is a common problem. In some parts of the country there are over two year waiting lists, which is shocking.

"It is particularly bad with a 108-year-old that she should have to wait so long when we have new digital hearing aids available on the NHS which can really transform people's lives.

"There are more than half a million people waiting for hearing aids in this country and we think the government needs to bring in 18-week target guidelines.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Two Zimbabwes

Unlike a John Edwards fantasy, there really is a place where the haves oppress the have nots. The socialist paradise of Robert Mugabe:

The shelves in Zimbabwe's stores are bare, but in a leafy suburb of Harare it's a different story, Sebastien Berger reports

Robert Mugabe's local supermarket is unlike any other shop in Zimbabwe. Elsewhere there are gaping empty shelves where bread, butter, sugar, meat and the staple maize meal should be.

But at the Spar in the Borrowdale Brooke suburb of the capital Harare, close to the president's palatial hillside residence, almost anything is available, including focaccia bread, sun-dried tomatoes and cigars.

The difference typifies a nation where a small ruling elite enjoy lives of wealth and privilege, while the vast majority exist in grinding poverty and struggle simply to survive.

The president's local Spar is one of the few shops in the country with an undiminished supply of bread amid an economic and agricultural crisis that has seen inflation spiral to more than 4,500 per cent.

....Asked how the shop was able to stock bread when so few other merchants can obtain supplies - which they would have to sell at a crippling loss - an assistant laughed and said: "I don't know."

The supermarket's ownership may have something to do with it. The proprietor is Ray Kaukonde, the governor of Mashonaland East province. He is also a close lieutenant of Solomon Mujuru, a former army commander whose wife, Joyce, is one of Mr Mugabe's two vice-presidents. The clientele are similarly well-connected. Borrowdale Brooke is Harare's plushest suburb, full of mansions that are home to the highest-ranking comrades of Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, as well as to the country's richest businessmen.

Mmm good. Mmm good.

The soup du jour is:

A bowl of tomato soup every day can help boost fertility among men, scientists claimed yesterday.

They have discovered that lycopene, which gives tomatoes their bright red colouring, can turn sperm into super-sperm.

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth studied the effect of lycopene in the diet on a random group of six healthy men, with an average age of 42. The men were asked to consume a 400g tin of Heinz cream of tomato soup every day for two weeks.

The researchers, from the university's biomedical science department, said that during the two weeks, levels of lycopene in the men's semen rose between seven and 12 per cent, which was "significant".

....Tomato products have been thought for some time to have beneficial health properties because of their high concentration of lycopene, but this is the first time they have been shown to boost fertility.

Friday, July 27, 2007

If You Go Down to the Woods Today

You're in for a big surprise...they aren't there:

The new GDP numbers also allow us to update our recession probability index. This is a simple pattern-recognition algorithm that looks at whether the recent behavior of GDP looks more like what typically happens in an expansion or a recession. ....With the just-released 2007:Q2 data, we are in a position to make the call for 2007:Q1. The growth rate for that quarter is now reported to have been 0.6%, and it followed a string of weak growth rates in 2006. As a result, the value of the recession probability index for 2006:Q1 turns out to be 26.2%, its highest value since 2001:Q4.

Note that this inference does make use of the strong 2007:Q2 advance estimates-- had 2007:Q2 growth been weaker, the inference for 2007:Q1 would have been even more pessimistic. All of which is a reminder that the latest GDP numbers do not prove that we're out of the woods yet.

Or, the data is about three times higher that we aren't even in the woods at all.

Say it ain't so, Joe

Things appear to be a little more complicated with Niger and uranium than we've been led to believe:

The head of French nuclear group Areva in Niger has been ordered to leave the uranium-rich west African state, the company said Thursday, denying media reports that he backed Tuareg rebels.

Dominique Pin was expelled after a decision Wednesday by Interior Minister Albade Abouba, according to the daily Republicain, which reported government concerns over Areva's alleged links to the rebels. There was no confirmation from the government.

....Areva, which has been operating mines in Niger for 40 years and is the country's biggest private employer, stressed that despite the expulsion it intends to "remain an important player in the social and economic development of Niger", the world's third-largest uranium producer.

Seen as a key partner for Niger previously, Areva has become the target of heavy criticism despite investing one billion euros (1.4 billion dollars) in its Imouraren exploration site, its biggest uranium project in the country.

Some national media have accused Areva of supporting a Tuareg rebellion since February in the uranium-producing north of the country.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Iraq the Novel

The New Republic missed Stephen Glass, we guess:

About six months into our deployment, we were assigned a new area to patrol, southwest of Baghdad. We spent a few weeks constructing a combat outpost, and, in the process, we did a lot of digging. At first, we found only household objects like silverware and cups. Then we dug deeper and found children's clothes: sandals, sweatpants, sweaters. Like a strange archeological dig of the recent past, the deeper we went, the more personal the objects we discovered. And, eventually, we reached the bones. All children's bones: tiny cracked tibias and shoulder blades. We found pieces of hands and fingers. We found skull fragments. No one cared to speculate what, exactly, had happened here, but it was clearly a Saddam-era dumping ground of some sort.

One private, infamous as a joker and troublemaker, found the top part of a human skull, which was almost perfectly preserved. It even had chunks of hair, which were stiff and matted down with dirt. He squealed as he placed it on his head like a crown. It was a perfect fit. As he marched around with the skull on his head, people dropped shovels and sandbags, folding in half with laughter. No one thought to tell him to stop. No one was disgusted. Me included.

The private wore the skull for the rest of the day and night. Even on a mission, he put his helmet over the skull.

That would be quite a trick. One that would only be believed by an editor at TNR.

...I can tell you that no Soldier put a human skull under his helmet and wore it around. The Army Combat Helmet (ACH) is form fitted to the head. Unlike the old Kevlar helmets, the ACH does not have a gap between the helmet and the liner, only pads. It would have been impossible for him to have placed and human skull, of any size, between his helmet and his head.

A Tattletale of Two Civvies

In Europe, thanks to a change in intellectual property law, a simple black (or, in this case, yellow) dress gets complicated:

Topshop has destroyed hundreds of dresses after an exclusive French fashion house claimed they were near-identical copies of one of its far more expensive items.

The high street chain has pulled all of its stocks - almost 2,000 dresses - of the £35 yellow mini dungaree dress from the rails after Chloé alleged it was unfairly similar to the £185 number in its See collection.

....Chloé, a label worn by Hollywood stars such as Natalie Portman and Kirsten Dunst, has now adopted a “zero-tolerance” attitude to what it regards as cheap copies being made of its sought-after and expensive clothes, and is currently making claims against a series of other well-known shops.

Its lawyers are known to scour fashion magazines - which often advise readers on how to get exclusive designs on the cheap - for evidence of copycat clothes as well as snooping around high-street stores.

They believe the cheap copies risk losing Chloé money but also offend its wealthy customers, who do not want to see hundreds of women wearing the same styles for which they have paid huge amounts.

....A recent widening of intellectual property rights law has helped fashion houses take on rivals over claims of copycat clothes.

Labels once had to prove an entire item was novel or distinctive for them to prove a rival had infringed their design rights.

But after a change in European regulation five years ago, designers only now need show that one feature - such as a buckle or a neckline - is novel or distinctive, or that the combination of unremarkable parts makes the whole item novel.

Democracy in Action

The people spoke, and may have gotten more than they bargained for:

Three Liberal Democrat councillors have quit the party in protest over a colleague - who also works as stripper, a kissogram and runs a sex phone line from home.

Councillor Tony Inch, his brother Simon Inch and deputy mayor Caroline Church have stood down from the party over the antics of Myrna Bushell, 34.

She was elected onto Bideford Town Council in Devon as a Lib Dem candidate in the local elections on May 3rd.

....Councillor Bushell stood for election along with her husband Mel in May - and both won a set with 468 votes and 518 votes respectively.

But at the same time she was appearing on a website as 'Jessica, 35 - a very sexy auburn professional Devon lady Kissogram, Stripogram & Stripper Entertainer'.

She currently appears on two websites runs by the Xanadu Entertainment Agency, which says it has represented her for over three years.

Beneath several saucy photographs a price list says a kissogram is £85, stripogram (lingerie and strip) £95, topless strip stripogram £110, stripogram (full or g-string strip £125 or Strip Show (2x strips with a change of costume) £160.

....Despite the resignations, local Liberal Democrat chiefs claim the Bushells may not actually be fully paid-up members of the party.

Noel Thompson, chairman of Torridge and West Devon Liberal Democrats, said: "This is something we are looking into.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Am I Blue

About the move to be green:

Tequila is key to a great margarita, but many farmers in Mexico are now ditching the blue agave plant used to make the liquor to cash in on corn and the demand for alternative fuel — and some say that could lead to the great tequila shortage.

.... "I think this shift to corn is just a sign of desperation," said David Suro, who created his own premium tequila two years ago to appeal to increasing U.S. demand.

Suro timed the launch to ensure there was enough agave available.

"It's a casino business. It really is like, you walk into a casino, and you don't know if you're going to win or lose. Here, we're seeing the consequences," Suro said.

Now desperate farmers bet by turning their backs on blue agave and hope they'll hit the jackpot with corn.

Some farmers are even burning their agave fields to make way for corn.

Experts predict the shift will cause an agave shortage in a few years that will drive up the price of tequila.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Holy Irwin Corey! If you've got the bucks, you can be certifiable (as an expert on everything):

Trying to decide between Harvard or Yale? For about the same tuition, physicist John Hagelin hopes to attract you to his new university in Kansas, the Maharishi Central University, where you can obtain "total knowledge" through transcendental meditation, study his unified superstring theory, and learn how to levitate.

The university is slated to open in August, although it's unclear whether there are any buildings or faculty yet. Press conferences have been held. But the official Web site, still with a ".org" domain, is a little hazy on the details and offers only cartoon drawings of the facilities with rainbows and doves.

Nevertheless, you can be in the first graduating class of '11—where eleven refers to both the year and, if Hagelin is lucky, the number of students willing to sign up. Hagelin's challenge is attracting students smart enough to understand unified field theory yet foolish enough to think that this will enable them to fly.

....Maharishi Central University promises much of the same as the other Maharishi U, but the focus is on Hagelin's unified field theory, his solution to the long-sought goal in modern physics of a "theory of everything" to unify the principles of general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Not only as Hagelin figured it out, he can teach you how to use this theory to attain total knowledge of just about everything, including how to fly without a machine, a trick called yogic flying.

None of this would be so bad if Hagelin and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi didn't have lots of followers willing to surrender their money. Maharishi turned TM into a multi-billion-dollar empire. One needs to learn TM from a certified instructor, and the price is $2,500. The name TM, in fact, is trademarked. TM is no poor-man's yoga.

All in the Family Way

Would a President Hillary appoint Bill ambassador to this country:

Prague- Czech lower house deputy chairwoman Lucie Talmanova was today delivered of a son, an out-of-wedlock offspring of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, the news server iDnes has reported.

The name of the boy, born in a Prague hospital earlier this afternoon, is Nicolas Topolanek.
PM Topolanek, 51, head of the senior ruling Civic Democratic Party (ODS), is still married but lives separately from his wife by whom he has two adult daughters and a teenager son.

The media started to speculate about a crisis in the Topolanek family last summer, still before Topolanek became prime minister.

After the New Year Topolanek publicly admitted that he no longer lives with his wife Pavla but with Talmanova (ODS), who will turn 40 in August.

In early April Topolanek told the media he was expecting a child with his party colleague.

Princess and the Pea Brain

Norway's Princess Märtha Louise, daughter of King Harald and Queen Sonja, has emerged as a clairvoyant, and is launching an alternative school aimed at training students to contact angels. Officials at the Royal Palace won’t comment on the princess' latest business venture.

The princess' business partner has publicly confirmed the training program, which is billed as a means of "getting in touch with your own truths" through "readings, healing, crystals and hands-on treatment."

The princess, who still officially represents the Royal Family at various events, has named her new venture after "one of the oldest goddesses in the Middle East," Astarte, and its website is registered at her home address in Lommedalen, just west of Oslo. The telephone number listed is that for the Royal Palace in Oslo.

Dad saw this coming, maybe he should open his own school:

When Princess Märtha Louise married author Ari Behn in 2002, her father, King Harald, warned Behn that his daughter was known for being unpredictable. "Things will happen," the monarch said in his wedding speech. He was right.

Her decision this summer to teach classes in alternative treatment, and help people contact angels, is just the latest unconventional pursuit for a member of Norway's royal family who's been both admired and ridiculed.

....There was no official reaction from either King Harald or her mother, Queen Sonja, both of whom are on summer holiday. They have always defended their daughter in the past though, and are expected to either do so or keep quiet.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Opportunity Cost

We'd be remiss to not use this story to our advantage:

For 70 years bra designers have stuck to a formula which decides sizes through measuring under and across the bust.

But now researchers in Hong Kong have come up with a different mathematical equation which they say will produce shapelier outlines and greater comfort for Chinese women. If successful, their bra-sizing system could be adopted across the globe.

....Writing in the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University team says that a "woman's breast is a very complex 3D geometry" and the existing sizing system may be "inappropriate in the categorisation of breast sizes for bras".

....The researchers' 100 measurements have been honed down to just eight factors to describe the breast shape - overall build, breast volume, inner, outer and lower breast shape, height, and gradient and orientation.

Currently, they say, the size and volume of a B cup on a small ribcage, for example, is different from that on a large chest. It could correspond not only to a 34B, but sometimes to a 32C or a 36A.

By using the DWR method, they aim to increase the number of existing bra sizes by between eight and 16 size combinations - offering more choice to women.

"This is the first time that a bra-sizing system protocol has been proposed based on 3D nude breast characteristics," they say. "Besides the intimate apparel industry, the new breast sizing system may be applied in the medical field to identify the breast size for plastic surgery or other apparel product development."

...therefore we slack

Emulate the yankee, she said:

...in the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, thinking has lost its cachet.

In proposing a tax-cut law last week, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde bluntly advised the French people to abandon their "old national habit."

"France is a country that thinks," she told the National Assembly. "There is hardly an ideology that we haven't turned into a theory. We have in our libraries enough to talk about for centuries to come. This is why I would like to tell you: Enough thinking, already. Roll up your sleeves."

Citing Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," she said the French should work harder, earn more and be rewarded with lower taxes if they get rich.

....The government's call to work is key to its ambitious campaign to revitalize the French economy by increasing both employment and consumer buying power.

Somehow it hopes to persuade the French that it is in their interest to abandon what some commentators call a nationwide "laziness" and to work longer and harder, and maybe even get rich.

France's legally mandated 35-hour workweek gives workers a lot of leisure time but not necessarily the means to enjoy it. Taxes on high-wage earners are so burdensome that hordes have fled abroad.

(Sarkozy cites the case of one of his stepdaughters, who works in an investment banking firm in London.)

In her National Assembly speech, Lagarde said that there should be no shame in personal wealth and that the country needed tax breaks to lure back the rich.

"All these French bankers" working in London and "all these fiscal exiles" taking refuge from French taxes in Belgium "want one thing: to come back to France," she said. "To them, as well as to all our compatriots who are looking for the keys to fiscal paradise, we open our doors."

But Room Service Was a Nightmare

British television does it again:

Channel 4 is to investigate a claim that it misled viewers in a survival series, in the latest allegation of reality being manipulated on a TV show.

Born Survivor featured British adventurer Bear Grylls dealing with "perilous situations" in the wild.

But a crew member told the Sunday Times some nights were spent in hotels.

Channel 4 insisted Grylls was never billed as working entirely unaided, but promised to raise the matter with the production company that made the show.

American survival consultant Mark Weinert, who was recruited by Diverse Productions, told the paper Grylls claimed to be stranded on a desert island on one occasion.

However, he was actually in Hawaii and spent some of his time there in a motel, Mr Weinert alleged.

Another time, he added, Grylls was filmed building a raft by himself, whereas the crew had actually put it together and dismantled it beforehand, to ensure that it worked.

And in a further episode, supposedly "wild" horses rounded up by Grylls had come from a local trekking facility, he claimed.

Channel 4 said in a statement that Born Survivor was "not an observational documentary series, but a 'how-to' guide to basic survival techniques in extreme environments".

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Earth Moved Just in Time

For want of a piston ring...

TOKYO -- For want of a piston ring costing $1.50, nearly 70% of Japan's auto production has been temporarily paralyzed this week.

Blame it on kanban, the just-in-time philosophy of keeping as little inventory on hand as possible. The strategy keeps inventory costs down and ensures quality. It generally works because Japan's auto makers have long prided themselves on the almost familial relationships they have with a handful of suppliers of custom parts that deliver several times a week or even daily.

The strategy also has a downside, as became evident after the 6.8-magnitude earthquake that hit central Japan on Monday damaged Riken Corp. Riken, which supplies all major Japanese car makers, makes the sought-after $1.50 piston ring but has been unable to make deliveries. And because piston rings and other key parts are made specifically for each car maker and little inventory is kept in hand, it is nearly impossible for auto makers to simply switch to another supplier at the last minute.

....The Riken closure has forced Toyota Motor Corp., the nation's No. 1 car maker by sales, to cease production for at least a day and a half at all 12 of its domestic plants, causing a loss of output of at least 25,000 vehicles, about 60% of which are made for export. Honda Motor Co. said it would close a plant that produces the popular Civic and Fit models today, resulting in the loss of 2,000 vehicles. Nissan Motor Co. also will halt operations on several production lines at three of its plants today and will shut down all four of its plants tomorrow and Monday.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Mazda Motor Corp., Suzuki Motors Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., which makes the Subaru brand of vehicles, also have stopped or slowed down production.

Fat Farm

Where they help you pack on the pounds:

In some African societies being fat remains a symbol of status and power - despite the well-known problems connected to obesity. In Nigeria, the rich can pay for special "fattening rooms" to put on extra weight.

...."In the morning you eat fine," says Happiness Edem, recalling her time in the fattening room in the Nigerian city of Calabar.

"After eating you can take a bath. From there you can sleep, you sleep fine, you wake up, you eat, you sleep."

Happiness attended the fattening centre for a total of six months, at the request of her husband, Morris Eyo Edem, leading up to their wedding.

By the time she had come out, her body shape had changed completely - to the delight of her husband.

....As a prince, Mr Edem requires a particularly large wife, and adds that a slim wife would have no appeal for him.

...."When you are fat, it makes you look healthy," says Happiness.

"People respect you. People honour you. Wherever you go, they say, 'your husband feed you fine.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

World Class Weasel Alert

Chris Matthews and Judy Miller on Hardball yesterday:

MATTHEWS: Judy, I believe in you. You‘re great. And by the way, Ididn‘t ask you about Scooter Libby because—because the president didn‘tlet‘s make it clear what happened here. If he had pardoned the guy, we could talk because there‘d be no further legal action against him. But because he‘s now floating around there in limbo, as the guy with clemency commutation but still appealing his case, you can‘t talk about the case.

MILLER: That‘s right.

MATTHEWS: I completely understand that. I sympathize with you.

MILLER: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And I sometimes even sympathize with Scooter Libby.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Judy Miller.


MILLER: Thank you, Chris Matthews.

That's big of you Chris, seeing as how it was your false (and insistent, in the teeth of David Gergen's correct statements to the contrary) claims that Joseph Wilson had been sent on his Mission to Niger by the Vice-President on Hardball's July 9, 2003 program, that triggered Scooter Libby's fateful telephone call to Tim Russert later that week.

Without Chris Matthews ignorant ravings, Scooter Libby would probably never have been in any legal jeopardy in the Valerie Plame affair, at all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Vote for Me...and Sleep with the Fishes

He's Back! The irrepressible Boris Johnson wants to be Mayor of London:

Boris Johnson has revealed the inspiration behind his ambition to run London - Larry Vaughn, the mayor in the film Jaws who demanded the beaches stay open despite the ominous presence of a great white shark.

Just 24 hours after entering the race to become the Tory candidate in the mayoral elections next year, it emerged that Mr Johnson had praised Mayor Vaughn's "laissez faire" approach to public safety on several occasions.

...."The real hero of Jaws is the mayor," Mr Johnson said last year in a speech at Lloyd's of London.

"A gigantic fish is eating all your constituents and he decides to keep the beaches open. OK, in that instance he was actually wrong. But in principle, we need more politicians like the mayor - we are often the only obstacle against all the nonsense which is really a massive conspiracy against the taxpayer."

Quiz Show

Maybe call it The BBC Follies:

The BBC is to suspend all its phone-in competitions after the Corporation's Trust expressed concerns about "significant failures of control and compliance".

An editorial review revealed viewers had been misled in shows including Comic Relief and Children In Need, some of which featured fictitious winners of phone-in competitions.

Mark Thompson, the BBC director-general, said the failures within the corporation and by its suppliers, have "compromised the BBC's values of accuracy and honesty".

He's talking about charging the callers even though there was no chance for them to win:

The scale of the Richard & Judy phone-in scandal was disclosed yesterday after it emerged that millions of viewers as far back as January 2004 were ringing the show on premium rate numbers with no chance of receiving a prize.

Almost half the callers were contacting the programme after the shortlist of winners had been chosen, Icstis, the premium rate telephone regulator, claimed yesterday.

....Richard & Judy was one of a number of programmes that were unmasked this year for misleading viewers who phoned in on premium rate numbers.

....Icstis calculates that £3.8 million in revenue was made from the 5.2 million callers, half of whom called after the shortlist had been chosen. As a result Eckoh will be forced to repay about £1.5 million.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Paella Patrimony

Too late for the Seven Wonders of the World contest? Go for UNESCO:

BRUSSELS - Spain launched a drive to win European support for a bid to include the traditional Mediterranean diet on a U.N list of protected world cultural treasures.

Spanish officials say its cuisine based on olive oil, fish and vegetables should be the first diet on the UNESCO list of traditions, festivals, rituals and crafts from around the world which the UN body certifies as part of a unique cultural heritage.

....''We have high hopes for this endeavor and believe that the characteristics of this exemplary diet will make it clearly deserving of the distinction, which is why we will spare no effort in championing it,'' said a document presented by Spain to a meeting of EU agriculture ministers.

It said that medical studies found the Mediterranean diet's blend of olive oil, fresh fruit, vegetables and fish, combined with a ''moderate'' intake of wine provides ''a quality nutritional model: rich, varied, balanced, healthy and appetizing.''

It leads to fewer heart problems and a longer life, the Spanish claimed.

The paper said the diet was ''a very important component of the cultural, social, territorial, environmental and gastronomic heritage'' of the countries and peoples in the region, ''historically forming part of a way of life.''

It did not mention a Spanish government study released in May that found that half of Spain's adults were overweight or obese.

Nino de Madre

Or, Toro, Toro, Toro and you're out, in Spain:

MADRID - A man who took his 10-year-old son running with the bulls in Pamplona has been denied visitation rights, a Spanish judge said Tuesday.

Spanish television last week captured images of the boy smiling as he ran ahead of a pack of charging bulls with his father, Luis Miguel Gomez.

The images angered Pamplona city officials _ and the man's ex-wife.

According to city regulations, runners in the San Fermin festival must be 18 years old.

The national television channel interviewed the child, and photographs of him and his father were published in several newspapers. When Gomez's ex-wife saw them, she took her case to the police.

Monday, July 16, 2007

What a Difference a Month Makes

For Brad DeLong, who not so long ago was telling everyone to beware free marketeers bearing analysis:

My view is that the neoclassical economics toolkit can be very, very useful--no, stronger than that, is very useful and necessary--for everybody from the center on left. The methodological individualism of the toolkit forces you to look at real people and how situations help or hurt them. The competitive market benchmark assumed by the toolkit requires you to think carefully and specifically about just where the externalities are that keep you from relying on markets alone to solve whatever problem you are looking at. The equilibrium conditions established by the toolkit force you to check for unanticipated consequences, for blowback due to changes in incentives and so forth.

The result is that the neoclassical economics toolkit makes you a smarter, stronger, more powerful, more effective, more reality-based leftie.

By contrast, the neoclassical toolkit can be absolute poison for people right on center. It functions like a kind of crack, reducing their arguments to empty slogans: "the market takes care of that"; "acts of capitalism between consenting adults"; "they hired the money, didn't they?"; "it's not the government's, it's theirs." People right-of-center should be exposed to the neoclassical economics toolkit only after posting a $1M bond to cover collateral damage, and only under the supervision of trained professionals.

But, that was June. In July an actual bout of econosparring caught DeLong's attention, and it was the 'reality-based leftie' being drubbed:

In the ring, Dani Rodrik stumbles into a knockout punch from Don Boudreaux:

Apparently by a right hook:

The knockout punch, of course, is that Dani Rodrik's country whose "labor force that is producing at low levels of productivity" is doing so because it has lousy political institutions: it lacks the "constitution... judiciary, nation-wide financial regulation, and free flow of labor" that have underpinned economic growth in the rich post-industrial core. The poor country is poor because its government is incompetent, and corrupt.

And yet Dani wants--in this situation--to enhance and extend the role and powers of the poor-country government by asking it to implement an active protectionist industrial policy because "there exists a bunch of arguments having to do with learning and (domestic) market failures under which subsidization of tradable activities could speed up your economic growth."

As Lant Pritchett put it once: "there is nothing as catastrophic as state-led development led by an anti-developmental state." Any argument to commit a government to an active protectionist industrial policy must be accompanied by arguments about why the government will be capable and effective in this role when it has not been capable and effective in its primary roles of establishing property rights, providing tolerable administration of justice, building infrastructure, and providing education.

So I score this for Don: a knockout.

Or, Turkeyness

The FLUBA Committee on Annoying Music sympathizes, but as a practical matter, would there be enough cell space to incarcerate all the deserving groups:

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- All the song does is lash out against Turkey's equivalent of the SAT, the exam that all Turkish high-schoolers must pass to have a shot at getting into college. High-schoolers the world over may sympathize, but to Turkish prosecutors it's an insult to the state and its employees.

....Gathered in a cramped Istanbul recording studio, the Deli musicians don't look like stereotypical punks -- no spiked hair, lip studs or drugs. They're in their early 20s, polite, mild-mannered and irreverent. And all passed the university exam. Vocalist Cengiz Sari is studying to become an art teacher. Bass guitarist Enis Coban studied textile manufacturing.

If convicted, they face up to 18 months in jail, although they could get off with a fine or a warning.

Turkey, which seeks European Union membership, retains strict limits on expression. Several intellectuals, notably Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk and Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, were prosecuted on charges of "insulting Turkishness" for comments on mass killings of Armenians a century ago. Dink was subsequently assassinated, and 14 suspects are on trial.

....The punk song is called "OSYM," the Turkish acronym for The Student Selection and Placement Center. That's the state institution that decides which students go to college, based on a three-hour multiple-choice exam held every June.

...."Life should not be a prison because of an exam," go the lyrics of "OSYM." "I have gotten lost/ You have ruined my future/ I am going to tell you one thing:/ Shove that exam ... "

Mild stuff by the standards of Western popular culture, but according to Turkish media it prompted Unal Yarimagan, the professor who chairs the university placement system, to seek legal advice, and the matter was referred to state prosecutors.

"We opened the case and now it is in the hands of justice," state prosecutor Kursat Kayral said.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Profits Not Honored in Home Country

And, since we're not socialists anymore, we want our royalties for the Kalashnikovs everyone and his dog are making, say the Russians:

"The famous Kalashnikov assault rifle has become not only an example of daring innovative thought but also a symbol of the talent and creative genius of our people," President Vladimir Putin said in a decree.

At the same events, Russian officials and arms manufacturers are clamoring over who should be allowed to put Kalashnikov rifles on the market.

Some arguments are based on quality, and Russia claims, without offering evidence, that the copies and clones are not as well made as the genuine article. There is some support for this on black markets in Iraq, where the Russian Kalashnikovs often fetch higher prices than their clones, although whether the rifles are better or simply more coveted is not clear.

Other arguments are rooted in what the Russians claim is law, as the arms industry insists that the factories that the Kremlin once sponsored, and now are in sovereign, post-Soviet countries, have no right to manufacture or sell items of Soviet design.

"More than 30 foreign companies, private and state based, continue the illegal manufacturing and copying of small arms," said Sergey Chemezov, the former KGB officer and confidant of Putin's who directs Rosoboronexport, the state arms-marketing agency. "They undermine the reputation of the Kalashnikov."

So far, few customers have paid notice. The largest customer in the market, the United States, has purchased whatever weapons it sees fit, coloring the AK-47's 60th birthday, like much of Kalashnikov history, with another angry struggle.

"We cannot tolerate the situation when only 10 percent of the Kalashnikovs are manufactured legally," said Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister. "We cannot stand for this. We must fight."

Friday, July 13, 2007

No Mao

The suit, that is. That's so plebian, China's stylin':

China's clothing industry makes a debut appearance in Paris next September, with around 150 companies teaming up for a special trade fair in the world's fashion capital.

The Chinese apparel-makers are to show their cashmeres, silks and wool suits in a special China pavilion at the Texworld fabrics trade fair September 17-20, held on the heels of the city's twice-a-year ready-to-wear shows, which attracts tens of thousands of fashion types from across the globe.

....The Chinese, huge players on the world textile market, now hope to show they can manufacture clothing in line with Western market demands.

Life is Good

Rarely better, in fact:

"This is far and away the strongest global economy I've seen in my business lifetime," U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson declared on a recent visit to Fortune's offices.

....John Chambers, who last fall opened Cisco's new Globalization Center in Bangalore, seconds the notion that "this is the strongest global trend" of his career. "There is a unique balance today," he says. "More than half of GDP growth is coming from emerging countries. And yet the developed countries are also doing pretty well. It is something we have never seen before."

....While the current pace isn't quite a record - according to the IMF the world grew at a 5.4% average annual rate from 1970 to 1973, vs. a projected 4.9% from 2003 through 2007- there's really no contest. When our ties were fatter and we were thinner, total world GDP was $13 trillion in constant dollars. Today it's more than $36 trillion. Not to mention, as investor Jim Rogers notes, "there are three billion people in places like Eastern Europe, Russia, India, China, and all of Asia who weren't participating last time around but who now are." Back then, Germany and Japan led the charge. Now the emerging markets are running fastest, along with Europe, which has - for the first time in years - pulled ahead of the U.S. in GDP growth.

....So where does the world stand today? A little less complacent, at least measured by column inches and airtime. Not a day passes that someone doesn't fret about any number of potential buzz killers: protectionist sentiment in Congress; the humongous U.S. current-account deficit; unprecedented levels of debt buoyed up by know-nothing-and-don't-want-to lenders; the housing slump; and more. On the other hand, measured by what really matters - the money - Mr. Market so far doesn't seem too rattled. Risk spreads, or the gap between historically sketchy paper, such as emerging-market debt or junk bonds, and risk-free Treasuries remain near all-time lows.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ashes to Bashes to Ashes?

The Louisville Slugger may fall to an Asian bug:

Careers at stake with each swing, baseball players leave little to sport when it comes to their bats. They weigh them. They count their grains. They talk to them.

But in towns like this one, in the heart of the mountain forests that supply the finest baseball bats, the future of the ash tree is in doubt because of a killer beetle and a warming climate, and with it, the complicated relationship of the baseball player to his bat.

"No more ash?" said Juan Uribe, a Chicago White Sox shortstop, whose batting coach says he speaks to his bats every day. Uribe is so finicky, teammates say, that he stores his bats separately in the team's dugout and complains bitterly if anyone else touches them.

At a baseball bat factory tucked into the lush tree country here in northwestern Pennsylvania, the operators have drawn up a three-to-five-year emergency plan if the white ash tree, which has been used for decades to make the bat of choice, is compromised.

In Michigan, the authorities have begun collecting the seeds of ash trees for storage in case the species is wiped out, a possibility some experts consider inevitable.

....the emerald ash borer, or Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire, is the most immediate threat. Discovered in the United States near Detroit in 2002, the beetles, which are shiny green, will destroy a tree in two to three years. The larvae tunnel inside the trees, cutting off their water and food.

The ash borer is native to Asia, where the trees are naturally resistant to it.

"It just doesn't look good," Dan Herms, an associate professor of entomology at Ohio State University, said. "The current technology won't be able to stop it."

Herms strongly disputes any link between the ash borer and climate change, saying that the beetle has survived in a wide range of temperatures in Asia.

The bat makers are bracing for the worst. At the mill in Russell, even as machines cranked and hummed with ash billets last month, state investigators were barring the movement of wood from four Western Pennsylvania counties after adult beetles were discovered.

Some suppliers say they are harvesting trees years earlier than planned because of the ash borer's arrival.

In the end, baseball players may be faced with switching to, and holding conversations with, bats made of maple or some wood yet untested by the hardball.

Stick to your knitting, Professor

Economists are not constitutional law experts, as J Bradford DeLong demonstrates with:

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Him Now

Unfortunately, the law referenced has nothing to do with Executive Branch duties, but to anti-trust investigations, which this dispute is clearly not.

The Running of the Bikes

Paris pedals a new transportation gimmick:

As the Tour de France annual bike race wends its arduous way across the country, in Paris amateur cyclists will from Sunday be able to use swipe- or credit-cards 24 hours a day to rent cycles for short trips, dropping them off at any of 750 bike points to be picked up by a new user.

....Costs for the user have been kept right down. Rental is free for the first half hour, rising to one euro for the second, two for the next and so on -- a progressive charging system designed to encourage short rents and quick turn-over.

There is also a small subscription fee. Registered bikers pay 29 euros (38 dollars) a year while occasional cyclists can use a credit card to pay a one-off daily fee of one euro or weekly charge of five euros.

....The scheme will not cost French taxpayers a penny thanks to a deal between city hall and urban advertising giant JC Decaux, which is picking up the bill in exchange for exclusive rights to 1,600 hoardings across the city.

It will even generate funds for the city, with a slice of ad revenue paid back into its coffers.

Paris' strategy is to allay concerns -- such as bike theft and repairs -- that have kept people from taking up cycling and that have caused similar schemes to founder in cities such as Amsterdam.

Despite a growing 400-kilometre (250-mile) network of cycle paths, the city of two million, which has one of the best public transport systems in the world, has only 150,000 bike owners.

It is also rolling out a major campaign on road safety for novice cyclists, while reassuring users that bikes are less accident-prone than cars or motorcycles.

It is counting on the sheer number of bikes on the street to win over doubters, and force the notoriously aggressive Parisian drivers to be more considerate.

Down and Out With the Old...

...on the streets of Seattle:

Seattle is getting all new street signs and the old signs are going on sale.

"The average street sign is now 15 years old," Mayor Greg Nickels said at a Wednesday news conference at Pike Place Market, where he showed off new signs for Pike Place and Pike Street.

....Most of the old signs will be sold to the public for $5 to $10 at the city's surplus warehouse, and the more iconic signs, such as Pike and Pine streets, will be auctioned on eBay. The city has not set a date for when the online auctions will begin. All proceeds will go to the transportation department.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Keeping Down With the Joneses

And the Allens and others never to be named later:

Luxury-sub makers and salesmen from the Pacific Ocean to the Persian Gulf say fantasy and secrecy are the foundations of this nautical niche industry built on madcap multibillionaires.

"Everyone down there is a wealthy eccentric," says Jean-Claude Carme, vice president of marketing for U.S. Submarines, a Portland company that custom builds submarines. "They're all intensely secretive."

Who owns the estimated 100 luxury subs carousing the Seven Seas mostly remains a mystery.
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen warned his boat builder that loose lips sink ships.

"Not really supposed to talk about the sub, but it's a fancy one, a mighty nice piece of work," says Fred Rodie, one of the engineers who designed Allen's undersea yacht at Olympic Tool & Engineering in Shelton, Mason County.

"If I told you, I'd have to shoot you," says Bruce Jones, president and founder of U.S. Submarines, about the names in his client book.

Jones, the 50-year-old son of a marine-construction engineer, built his first diesel- and battery-powered sub in 1993. Every sales contract since then has included a confidentiality clause to protect the buyer's identity.

"This is a nasty cutthroat business," Jones says.

Silly Proofs

Talking the Walk in academe:

Almost four decades after John Cleese performed his "silly walks" sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus, mathematicians have concluded that they are, indeed, silly.

The sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, where Cleese plays the Minister of Silly Walks, first aired in 1970 and became a comedy classic for its daft satire of the civil service.

Now , in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical and Engineering Sciences, a detailed mathematical analysis of walking and running is given by Dr Manoj Srinivasan of Princeton University and Professor Andy Ruina of Cornell University, New York that sheds new light on the silly walk.

The team explores two legged movement to see why humans like to simply walk and run, rather than adopt stranger ways of moving around. After 19 pages of detailed workings, the team concludes that walking and running are the most efficient forms of two legged locomotion, which will be of interest to engineers studying how to make robots move efficiently.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Move It On Over...

'Cause the Big Dog of Texas says, you're in our way Congressmen, and we need to move ahead:

Dear Chairmen [James L.] Oberstar and [Peter A.] DeFazio:

....as your committee studies the role of public-private partnerships (PPPs) in supporting our national transportation system, I encourage you to examine the fundamental question of why the states are looking to engage the private sector in the first place. I will tell you that the answer in Texas is that we could no longer wait for anyone else to solve our problems.

....I would hope that the federal government would encourage innovation and not stifle it.

....In the next 25 years, road usage in Texas is expected to increase by more than 200 percent, but road capacity would grow only 6 percent if we simply rely on state and federal gas taxes.

If we do not find new ways to pay for our highways, by 2014, Texas will have no money to increase road capacity, and the remaining funds used to maintain our infrastructure will quickly disappear thanks to increased wear-and-tear and growing materials costs. The result would be crumbling, congested roads.

....As governor, I will not sit by and allow gridlock to consume our state's roads. ....we are engaging the private sector to help us meet these transportation challenges.

Using innovative financing methods created by state and federal laws...we are already seeing the impact of market forces that are driving down the cost of transportation projects and expediting their completion for the driving public. We cannot turn back now; congestion doesn't wait for Congress to make up its mind.

Call it The Straight Talk Expressways.

Goreic or Edwardian Architecture?

A venue for a future Live Earth concert:

The 1920s-era Beverly Hills mansion of William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies was put on the market Monday for $165 million, making it the nation's most expensive residential listing.

The pink stucco, H-shaped estate, dubbed "Beverly House" by the late newspaper magnate, spreads across 6.5 acres north of Sunset Boulevard. It has just about everything a billionaire could want, including three pools, 29 bedrooms, a state-of-the-art movie theater and even a disco.

The compound boasts six residences: four houses, an apartment and a cottage for the security staff.

....The estate was used in the film "The Godfather," including the scene in which a horse's head is found in a movie producer's bed.

The seller, attorney-investor Leonard M. Ross, bought the property in 1976 and is seeking "a lifestyle change," said his real-estate broker, Stephen Shapiro.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Wine Hooligan Magazine?

There's an opportunity for a New York state entrepreneur, it would seem:

Winery owners tell shocking tales of drunken tourists urinating in public and running naked through the vineyards, of stolen wine and loud profanity.

The problem is worsening, and winery owners are fermenting a plan.

Stealing a page from the sport of soccer, more than half of the 95 wineries in New York state's Finger Lakes region are participating in a program to issue yellow-card warnings to tour groups whose behavior is out of bounds. Those who continue their offensive ways will receive red cards and get booted off the region's three wine tour "trails." The Safe Group Wine Tours program is being uncorked this summer.

....In June, a woman in her 40s stripped off her halter top, slid her panties to her ankles and then yanked up her skirt in front of a crowd of wine-tasters on a nearby observation deck at
Red Newt Cellars in Hector, N.Y., near Watkins Glen.

Some people cheered, others were horrified, and Red Newt co-owner Debra Whiting saw red.
"I was so enraged," Whiting says. "Having someone basically strip at your winery is not a good thing."

"We don't want one or two people, who should be in a bar or home with their keg, ruining the good time of other customers," says Paul Thomas, executive director of the Seneca Lake Winery Association Inc. "Nobody wants tourists driving back to Philadelphia and having someone going topless in the vineyards as being their lasting memory of the wine trails."

The wineries are asking the region's 180 bus and limousine tour operators to take a more active role in policing their customers because it's predominantly their riders who become inebriated and wreak havoc, Thomas says.

Tour groups often bring along wine and coolers of beer because they can legally drink on their chauffeured rides to the wineries. They also can stop at bars for more drinking along the wine trails.

How Green Was My Silicon Valley

After subsidy fertilization, it's growing:

The most striking thing about the Miasole solar cell production plant in San Jose is how much of it is empty.

....But if Miasole's plan comes together, within a couple of years it will house a production line turning out vast rolls of photovoltaic cells, that some believe could help put solar power on a par with coal, gas or oil.

"It's an enormous growth opportunity," says chief executive officer David Pearce, matter-of-factly.

His company is just one of dozens in California at the cutting edge of innovation in renewable fuels.

.... The boom is funding various clean energy projects, from developing hydrogen fuel cells to turning algae into fuel and creating synthetic fuels through biological engineering.

And the search for solutions to the climate crisis does not just involve energy.

California firm Planktos is investigating a controversial technique to absorb carbon dioxide by stimulating plankton growth in the oceans.

If the idea has as much potential as Planktos boss Russ George believes, it could go a significant way towards reversing global warming all on its own.

In doing so, it could earn the firm millions through the carbon market, by selling credits to firms emitting greenhouse gases.

....it is the clean tech sector's soaring share prices, and the possibility of big returns, that is fuelling the investment boom.

The clean tech sector is "exploding, especially in the US", says Torsten Merkel, European director of Cleantech Group, which advises investors.

....Many credit California's politicians for providing the stimulus.

"I think it's fair to say the [solar] industry would not exist in a meaningful way, were it not for subsidies," says Miasole CEO David Pearce.

California is putting $3bn into a 10-year programme to put solar panels on a million roofs, while the federal government chips in 30% of the installation costs.

The state has mandated that 20% of its electricity must come from renewable sources by 2010.
It has also written big cuts in greenhouse gases into law, and is laying the foundations for a carbon market that would reward firms for cutting emissions.

It means companies that find new ways to beat global warming are going to be very popular.

Who Wants to be a Commillionaire?

The beleaguered Vietnamese, that's who:

Vietnam's stodgy, Communist-run state TV broadcaster has learned some new tricks -- including the appeal of the game show -- to grab some of the millions of advertising dollars flowing into the country.

One of Vietnam Television's top-rated programs is a local version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Contestants compete in a general knowledge quiz show for the big prize -- 100 million dong, or about $6,200 -- while advertisers pay up to $3,400 for a 30-second slot during prime-time commercial breaks.

"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" is shown on VTV3, a free-to-air channel started by Vietnam Television in 1996, in a bid to shake off the broadcaster's somber image and attract the advertising money coming into Vietnam, a country of 84 million that is transforming itself from a Marxist backwater to one of Asia's fastest-growing economies. The government projects that gross domestic product will increase 8.5% this year, after expanding 8.4% in 2006.

VTV3's ad revenue grew 29% last year to $91 million from $70.7 million the year before, according to the Vietnam office of London-based media-monitoring agency Taylor Nelson Sofres.


Nicolas Sarkozy appears to be losing his battle to bring a dose of Jimmy Carternomics to France:

A top European Central Bank official rejected on Monday proposals by French President Nicolas Sarkozy for eurozone governments to have more say over the euro's exchange rate.

Increased political influence on the ECB, which has a strict mandate to keep a lid on inflation but not to directly influence exchange rates, could endanger price stability, ECB executive board member Juergen Stark warned.

The creation of a "European economic government ... would only lead to a confusion of responsibilities and duties," said Stark, who is also head of the German central bank the Bundesbank.

"Above all, the independence of the ECB would be damaged, and the ability to preserve eurozone price stability in a credible manner would be threatened as a result," Stark said in a speech given in Tuttlingen, Germany.

....But Sarkozy's call illustrated "ignorance about what monetary policy can in fact achieve," Stark said.

Sustainable growth can only be achieved by structural reforms in individual member states, particularly in the area of employment, and by the ECB ensuring price stability in the long term, he added.

Get the Lead Out!

And reduce crime says an economist:

The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical explanation for fluctuations in the crime rate and is based on studies linking exposure to lead in children with violent behavior later in their lives.

What makes Nevin's work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.

"It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said. "Sixty-five to 90 percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."

Through much of the 20th century, lead in U.S. paint and gasoline fumes poisoned toddlers as they put contaminated hands in their mouths. The consequences on crime, Nevin found, occurred when poisoning victims became adolescents. Nevin does not say lead is the only factor behind crime, but he says it is the biggest factor.

....The centerpiece of Nevin's research is a century-long analysis of crime rates and lead-poisoning levels: The United States has had two spikes of lead poisoning, one at the turn of the 20th century, linked to lead in household paint, and after World War II, when the use of leaded gasoline increased sharply. Both times, the violent-crime rate went up and down in concert — with the violent crime peaks coming two decades after the lead-poisoning peaks.

Other evidence has accumulated in recent years that lead is a neurotoxin that causes impulsivity and aggression, but these studies have also drawn little attention. In 2001, sociologist Paul Stretesky and criminologist Michael Lynch showed that U.S. counties with high lead levels had four times the murder rate of counties with low lead levels, after controlling for multiple environmental and socioeconomic factors.

In 2002, Herbert Needleman, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh, compared lead levels of 194 adolescents arrested in Pittsburgh with lead levels of 146 high-school adolescents: The arrested youths had lead levels that were four times higher.

"Impulsivity means you ignore the consequences of what you do," said Needleman, one of the country's foremost experts on lead poisoning, explaining why Nevin's theory is plausible. Lead decreases the ability to tell yourself, "If I do this, I will go to jail."

Friday, July 06, 2007

Catch 22 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Colombia wants to be the Show Me State when it comes to sunken treasure:

A Spanish galleon that sank 300 years ago laden with treasure must be recovered before a dispute between the Colombian government and a company directed by a Bellevue man can be settled, Colombia's highest court ruled Thursday.

....The Supreme Court ruled that once the San Jose is lifted from the sea, experts can classify its artifacts following Colombian law.

Pieces declared "treasure" will be split evenly between the Colombian government and Sea Search Armada, a Cayman Islands-registered commercial-salvage company that claims to have discovered the shipwreck. Items classified as part of Colombia's cultural patrimony will be awarded solely to the government.

....Sea Search, which claims to have invested $12 million since beginning its search nearly three decades ago, took the government to court.

....There remains some doubt as to whether the ship has been found.

A treasure hunter hired by the government to verify the coordinates turned up nothing. An underwater video taken of the supposed wreck in 1982 shows what looks like a coral-reef-covered woodpile.