Friday, August 31, 2007

A Boy Named Hsu

Famed fund raiser to Democrat stars...turns himself in to the authorities who've been looking for him for awhile:

A top Democratic fundraiser whose criminal past has roiled the campaigns of top presidential candidates turned himself in Friday in California, where he had been a fugitive for more than 15 years.

Judge H. James Ellis ordered Norman Hsu handcuffed and jailed on $2 million bail. ....

Hsu pleaded no contest in 1991 to a felony count of grand theft, admitting he'd defrauded investors of $1 million in a bogus investment scam. He was facing up to three years in prison when he skipped town before his 1992 sentencing date, Deputy Attorney General Ronald Smetana said outside court.

....Federal Election Commission records show Hsu donated $260,000 to Democratic Party groups and federal candidates since 2004. Though a top fundraiser for Clinton, he also donated to Obama's Senate campaign in 2004 and to Obama's political action committee.

After reports surfaced this week of his fugitive status, politicians at all levels scrambled to distance themselves.

Obama's campaign said Thursday it would give to charity the $2,000 Hsu contributed to his 2004 Senate campaign and the $5,000 Hsu gave to his political action committee, Hopefund.
Hsu's $43,700 in donations to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $2,500 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also will go to charity, both groups announced.

Clinton joined the other candidates, returning $23,000 in contributions that Hsu made to her presidential and senatorial campaigns and to her political action committee, HillPac. But his close association with her campaign put Clinton on the defensive just as she prepared to ramp up for an intense post-Labor Day campaign stretch.

"I was surprised like everybody else who knew him," Clinton said Friday.

Death, Taxes...

And the NCAA inevitably protecting its monopoly:

The University of Oklahoma will ask the NCAA for a waiver to allow a booster to raise money for the funeral of a football recruit who was killed last week.

Herman Mitchell, a 6-foot, 200-pound linebacker, verbally committed in June to play for the Sooners, but the 17-year-old from Westfield High School in Houston was shot to death Friday after getting into a fight at an apartment complex.

Soon after, Oklahoma booster and Houston resident Adam Fineberg began raising money for Mitchell's family to help defray the player's funeral costs. Fineberg had raised about $4,500 before university compliance officials told him his actions violated NCAA rules. He has since refunded the money.

"A lot of people were contacting me, concerned that their donations would get OU in trouble. I'm going to let OU deal with the NCAA," he said Wednesday.

Oklahoma officials said they'd been told Tuesday by the NCAA that the money raised by Fineberg would constitute illegal financial assistance under NCAA rules, because Mitchell's brother is a sophomore football player at Westfield and Fineberg is considered to be an Oklahoma booster.

Fineberg said his only intention was to help Mitchell's mother to pay for the funeral.

May Not Know Much About Art

But, you can scrum at the musée, if you like:

PARIS (AP) - There's no question that great athletes take their sports to the level of art. But as the French host the Rugby World Cup, they're pushing that concept a step further by bringing rugby into an art museum. It's a genteel Parisian touch to a sport more often associated with muscle, body-crunching tackles or even incidents of ear-biting.

To coincide with the Sept. 7-Oct. 20 tournament, the Quai Branly museum is hosting rugby-related exhibits, visits and roundtables with archaeologists, historians, sociologists and former players. The museum also covered its roof over with green turf and turned it into a mock playing field with a close-up view of the Eiffel Tower.

''Rugby is actually very close to what we're showing here,'' said Pierre Hanotaux, the general director of the museum which is normally devoted to the so-called primitive arts of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania.

If that seems like a stretch, he adds: ''We can't kid ourselves. It's also our way of bringing in people who never come to museums, because they find museums boring.''

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wine Not

Better to try building an export market when your own country is hostile to your product:

From the sun-kissed vineyards of Tekirdag, overlooking the Sea of Marmara, Turkey seems blessed with the potential to become a major wine producing nation. The hard part, says [winemaker Cem] Cetintas, is working with the limitations of the local wine industry.

Winemakers complain of a heavy tax burden and a government that they feel is unsympathetic to their industry. The governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has its roots in political Islam, which frowns on alcohol consumption, and the Turkish population is largely Muslim - though many Turks drink alcohol.

Despite the ancient history of Anatolia, where the Hittite and Greek civilizations produced wine for thousands of years, the vineyards have made only faltering progress.

....Many winemakers fear the industry is now being held back by opposition to alcohol consumption within the government and the municipalities run by the AKP.

They point to increases in wine taxes, which now amount to €1.87 per liter, or $9.69 per gallon, nearly four times the EU average of €0.48 per liter.

"The wine sector has reached a stage where it could be a key source of foreign currency," Cetintas said. "But because of the 400 percent tax hike three years ago, the sector is crumbling." His company, Melem Wines, aims to export about 60 percent of the 250,000 bottles planned for production this year.

Reagan Redite

Sarko wants it to be matin en France, so he's willing to borrow a slogan from The Great Communicator:

President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to stay the course of economic reform in a keynote speech to French business leaders Thursday, promising to free up the labour market, drive down prices for consumers and root out waste in the public sector.

The French leader also repeated his claim to have a say in European monetary policy, and took a swipe at the European single currency, accusing it of pushing up the cost of living.

...."We are lacking one (percentage) point of growth to solve our problems, for the future to become a promise rather than a threat," he told the summer congress of the MEDEF employers' federation.

"That point of growth is not going to come all by itself. I am going to go out and get it," Sarkozy said, arguing that, "If France has less growth than other countries, it is because we work less."

....Sarkozy said he was determined to press ahead with his programme of pro-business economic reforms, saying he would "let no one water down" his promise of a "clean break" with the past.

To tackle unemployment, currently at 8.0 percent, he vowed to further relax rules on the 35-hour working week -- introduced by a Socialist government in 2000 -- to "break with the false idea that to give work to everyone, you have to share the work out."

Soothes the Savage Yeast?

Maybe this explains the Pastoral Symphony:

South Korean scientists, who played classical pieces including Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata in rice fields, say they have identified plant genes that can "hear".

Plants are known to respond to light, wind, and soil nutrients. Some gardeners believe flowers can be revitalised by music.

The researchers, whose work is highlighted in this week's New Scientist, say their discovery could in future enable farmers to switch specific plant genes on and off - potentially making crops flower at certain times or grow more quickly.

....The researchers speculated that the production of chemicals that lead to the genetic changes they observed could be harnessed to activate other specific genes that could trigger the flowering of crops.

Other scientists were more sceptical. Martin Parry, of the Institute for Arable Crops Research-Rothamsted in Harpenden, said factors such as wind might drown out the effects of the sound.

Clothes Make the Woman

She feels pretty...and that's bad news for the opponents:

"You put on a nice outfit and some make-up," Maria Sharapova said of the crystal-encrusted evening dress she is wearing for the US Open, "and you're the bomb." ....

Fashion does not detract from Sharapova's tennis; indeed, it positively enhances it. She disclosed that if she is happy with how she is dressed on the court, then she is more likely to play her best tennis. Sharapova would not be the same player if she had turned up here in a shapeless, frumpy dress.

Every tennis player is looking for an edge. It is just that Sharapova's is a designer dress with 600 Swarovski crystals sewn into the neckline. ....

"I was trying to get through my pre-match warm-up as fast as I could so I could put the dress on actually. That's not a joke," Sharapova said. "I was pretty excited about putting it on. So I told my coach, 'Last return and I'm out of here. I'm going in the locker-room'. It makes a difference when you feel good about what you're wearing and you feel good about putting it on. You know what it's like. You feel like you're the bomb. I had never worn red before. And there's no better place to do it than at a night match in New York City."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Land Reform, Seattle Style

The city's mayor bids for a FLUBA Dumbassy (only awarded for remarks so dumb, so embarrassingly foolish, that a normal person--when it dawned on him what he had said--would apply for acceptance at the nearest Trappist monastery) for this attempt to confiscate private property:

Seattle can preserve manufacturing jobs by limiting how many shops and offices can be built on industrial land, Mayor Greg Nickels proposed this morning.

Nickels said at a news conference that his plan will provide job and business opportunities "by ensuring that industrial land is safeguarded for industrial and manufacturing uses by putting strict new limits on the amounts of office and retail space allowed in industrially zoned areas."

The mayor's proposal, which requires City Council approval, could potentially reduce land values across a swath of industrial land south of downtown, in Ballard and in the Interbay area.

....Nickels' recommendations include reducing the maximum amount of office space allowed on land zoned "industrial general" from 100,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet per site.

Retail space would be limited to 10,000 square feet as well, compared to the previous maximum of 75,000 square feet.

Gee, anyone think the idea may have been suggested by a labor union representing manufacturing workers?

At any rate, if you're an 800 lb gorilla, you can relax:

The mayor provided an exemption for Starbucks, whose headquarters is located in the Duwamish industrial area. The coffee company would be allowed to expand its offices, under the mayor's plan.

Trouble in Paradise

A dog's life gets better, at the expense of the Queen of Mean's grandchildren:

Leona Helmsley's dog will continue to live an opulent life, and then be buried alongside her in a mausoleum. But two of Helmsley's grandchildren got nothing from the late luxury hotelier and real estate billionaire's estate.

Helmsley left her beloved white Maltese, named Trouble, a US$12 million (€8.8 million) trust fund, according to her will, which was made public Tuesday in surrogate court.

She also left millions for her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, who was named to care for Trouble in her absence, as well as two of four grandchildren from her late son Jay Panzirer — so long as they visit their father's grave site once each calendar year.

Otherwise, she wrote, neither would get a penny of the US$5 million (€3.7 million) she left for each.

Helmsley left nothing to two of Jay Panzirer's other children — Craig and Meegan Panzirer — for "reasons that are known to them," she wrote.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Drive-by Shaking

The SUV strikes back:

BREMERTON — Police report that a 21-year-old woman was apparently hit in the head with a chocolate milkshake thrown from a passing vehicle.

The woman says she was walking with a man shortly before 1 a.m. Monday near the 3500 block of Wheaton Way in Bremerton when the assault occurred.

She told officers she was hit in the left side of the face by a milkshake that was thrown from an SUV. The woman and the man described the SUV as green with dark windows.

Put a cork in it...

...and save the forests say the greens:

Cork is a renewable material — made from the fiber stripped from cork trees that can then regrow. The largest and most profitable use of this harvested cork worldwide is for wine stoppers.

Several environmental groups say the growing popularity of alternatives like screw caps is threatening Mediterranean cork forests, where cork is mainly grown. Cork oak covers about 6.7 million acres in the region and provides income for more than 100,000 people, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Cork forests are predominantly privately owned, which puts them at greater risk for neglect or sale for development if the popularity of cork lessens.

Cork producers say they have seen the overall production of wine stoppers drop in the past decade. And last year, The World Wildlife Fund estimated that if winemakers continue their move away from cork, three-quarters of the western Mediterranean's cork oak forests could be lost within the decade, threatening jobs and ecosystems.

The Rainforest Alliance recently jumped into the fray, offering a certification system for wineries to verify that their cork comes from cork forests that meet the Forest Steward Council's social, economic and environmental standards — lending assurance to winemakers and consumers that the cork was properly handled.

The issue is complicated for winemakers, who are often swayed by issues of sustainability but have been burned by cork's quality issues in the past.

The primary problem that drove vintners away from cork was "tainting" or "corking." Cork taint is actually a chemical compound called TCA, which results from an interaction of mold, chlorine and other organic compounds that produce a moldy or musty smell and flavor that makes wine undrinkable.

Estimates vary, but some wineries say as much as 15 percent of their wine has been tainted in the past. Screw caps, by comparison, don't have issues with tainting and are a fraction of the cost. However, they are usually made from nonrenewable material — typically aluminum with a plastic insert. That also makes them difficult to recycle.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Context is Everything

Says Larry Summers, and it's no time to panic and make things worse:

Over the last two decades, major financial disruptions have taken place roughly every three years -- the 1987 stock market crash, the savings and loan collapse and credit crunch of the early 1990s, the 1994 Mexican peso devaluation, the Asian financial crises of 1997, the Russian default and Long Term Capital Management implosion of 1998, the bursting of the technology bubble in 2000, the disruptions of 9/11 and the 2002 post-Enron deflationary scare in the credit markets.

This record suggests that, by the beginning of 2007, the world was long overdue for a major financial disruption. And sure enough, the difficulties around sub-prime mortgages "went systemic" in the last month as the market seemed to doubt the creditworthiness of even the strongest institutions and rushed to buy Treasury debt.

Financial crises differ in detail. But just as there are plots common to literary tragedies, financial crises follow a common arc. First, there is overconfidence, rising asset values and leverage as investors increase their confidence in successful strategies. Second, there is a surprise event (e.g., the discovery of huge problems in the sub-prime sector and the resulting loss of confidence in credit-rating agencies) that leads investors to seek greater safety.

Third, as investors rush for the exits, the focus of risk analysis shifts from fundamentals to investor behavior. As some liquidate, prices fall, then others are forced to liquidate, driving prices down further. The anticipation of cascading liquidation leads to still more liquidation, creating price movements that seemed inconceivable only a few weeks before. Reduced credit feeds back negatively on the real economy.

Eventually -- sometimes in a few months, as in the U.S. in 1987 and 1998; sometimes in a decade, as in Japan during the 1990s -- there is enough liquidation and price adjustment to make extraordinary fear give way to ordinary greed, and the process of repair begins.

And for If that process is to succeed it is crucial that some

keep [their] head when all about [them]
Are losing theirs and blaming it on...

I am among the many with serious doubts about the wisdom of the quasi-guarantees that have supported government-supported enterprises -- such as Fannie Mae, the Federal National Mortgage Assn. -- as they operate in the mortgage market.

But if there is ever a moment when they should expand their activities, it is now, when mortgage liquidity is drying up. No doubt, credit standards in the sub-prime market were way too low for way too long. But now, as borrowers face the reset of adjustable mortgages, it is not the time for authorities to get religion and encourage the denial of credit.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Make hay...

...(or Euros) when the sun doesn't shine, in France:

It's official: France's rainy, grey and generally cold summer has been the worst for the past 30 years, the weather service said Friday.

July and August were wet across two-thirds of the country while the Mediterranean region was too dry, said Frederic Nathan, meteorologist at Meteo France.

"Yes we can say that it was a rotten summer," said Nathan. But the summers of 1954 and 1977 were worse, he added.

Rainfall in northwestern France reached record levels, with cities like Le Havre registering 21 days of rain in July, beating the previous record of 16 in 1980.

In the northern city of Caen in Normandy, the weather service registered 592 hours of sunshine from May 1st to August 21, well below the average of 809 hours.

....The gloom and drizzle have been a boon for tanning salons which are reporting brisk business.

"The bad weather has left people feeling low. They want to be beautiful and tanned and are turning to us," said Dominique Baumier, the director of the Point Soleil chain of tanning salons.

With about 100 salons across France, Point Soleil said business was up 25 percent in July and 27 percent in August, compared to last year.

The other big winners of France's worst summer in decades are ... umbrella manufacturers.

Piganiol, Europe's biggest maker of umbrellas, said business was up a whopping 66 percent over the past summer.

"The rainshowers of the past four months have been a great source of happiness for us," said chief executive Jean Piganiol.

Umbrella sales were good in May and June, and they "exploded in July and August," he said.

Predictably, the tourism sector has suffered.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Barry Bonds; The Opera

Or, the Tour d'Italia:

Rome, August 22 - Opera singers could be the next professionals to be hit by doping scandals, Italian insiders have said, confirming reports in the European media that singers are turning to drugs to deal with the demands of the job.

The highbrow world of opera is rarely grouped with the world of sports but its stars are subject to the same pressures, according to one of Italy's top managers.

Angelo Gabrielli, who has handled a string of internationally renowned stars, said revelations by German tenor Endrik Wottrich, reported in Germany and the UK, were true.

"There are many singers that resort to drugs or even operations - a kind of facelift for the vocal chords - in order to deal with the hectic pace of the job," said Gabrielli."

New generations of managers tend to squeeze everything they can get out of their singers, making them perform as much as possible and subjecting them to incredibly demanding feats.

"Artists therefore become famous, known even among people who aren't involved in the field - but in the end they pay the price artistically and with their career, which only lasts for a few years".

They Are a Funny Race

At least their President is, anyway, according to a biographer:

A much-awaited book on Nicolas Sarkozy by one of France's most famous playwrights, Yasmina Reza, goes on sale Friday, offering an up-close and personal view of the new French president.

Reza followed Sarkozy on the campaign trail for a year leading up to his election in May, notebook in hand to jot down his musings about power and politics, the men and women on his team and life in general.

....In an interview to the weekly Nouvel Observateur, Reza confided that she was impressed by Sarkozy, saying he had "superior intuition" and "real stature."

"I challenge anyone who has come up close to him not to be impressed," said Reza.

....There is little in the book on Sarkozy's mysterious wife Cecilia (Reza said she was not around during the campaign) and few words about Socialist challenger Segolene Royal.

"Is she helping me?" Sarkozy once commented about Royal's gaffes during the campaign. "I'm not sure. I'm not sure that being an idiot is necessarily a handicap in France."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Lost in Translation?

Or maybe he just wanted to get away from the Caddyshack:

Bill Murray could face a drunken driving charge after cruising through downtown Stockholm in a golf cart and refusing to take a breath test, citing U.S. law.

Police officers spotted the 56-year-old actor-comedian early Sunday in the slow-moving vehicle and noticed he smelled of alcohol when they pulled him over, said Detective-Inspector Christer Holmlund of the Stockholm police.

"He refused to blow in the (breath test) instrument, citing American legislation," Holmlund told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "So we applied the old method — a blood test. It will take 14 days before the results are in."

Murray, who had been at a golf tournament in Sweden, signed a document admitting that he was driving under the influence, and agreed to let a police officer plead guilty for him if the case goes to court, Holmlund said.

"Then he was let go. My guess is he went back to America," Holmlund said.

....It isn't illegal to drive a golf cart in city traffic in Sweden, but Holmlund said it is very unusual.

What if they gave a gridlock...

...and nobody came. Seattle's Great Traffic Jam of '07 failed to materialize ad advertized, thanks to people reacting to incentives:

It's being hailed as the surprise of the summer that the Interstate 5 gridlockapocalypse didn't happen.

I mean, who'd have guessed you could shut down a third of our most congested freeway and not paralyze the region in epic traffic jams? Oliver Downs, that's who.

The case of the vanishing cars is no mystery to him. In fact he predicted it.

Downs is an English-born math brain who likes to be called "Olly." He lives in Redmond, drawn there by Microsoft. He uses math — quantum tunneling, something called the "nonnegative Boltzmann machine" — to predict the future, be it prices of tickets, behaviors of customers or patterns of traffic.

A few days before the state began what it was calling the most disruptive road project in local history, Downs put out a contrary view.

He forecast no extreme clogs anywhere — not on I-5, nor on alternate routes such as Highway 99 or 599. So far he's been right about that.

Then he crazily suggested that one of our chronically jammed roads, the I-405 S-curves in Renton, would actually be better off than normal. Which it has been.

....A stunning 50,000 fewer cars are using northbound I-5 some days. It's slow going in the work zone. But in many places, driving has been smoother than before.

...."Drivers are not stupid," Downs says. "They change schedules. They don't take some trips, or they delay them. The net effect of all these little decisions can be dramatic."

Say Cheese

It's not all smiles in Europe as the food fight continues:

Parmesan or Parmigiano? The difference is lost on most consumers -- as long as lots of it is grated on some al dente pasta. At the European Union's highest court, however, food is politics -- and big business.

An adviser to the European Court of Justice said that Germany did not have to prosecute cheese producers who market some hard cheeses as ''Parmesan,'' even if it does not originate from Italy's fabled countryside around the city of Parma.

On the other hand, the same adviser said that Germany had failed to prove that Parmesan is a generic term different from the already-protected ''Parmigiano Reggiano'' wording.

It sets up a thrilling finale when the full Court of Justice will finally rule later this year on whether ''Parmesan'' can only be made by northern Italians or any cheesemaker in Europe.

At stake is gustatory nationalism that goes to the core of Italy's heart and stomach. On the other hand, it has an immediate effect on the pocketbooks of dairy giants in countries like Germany and Denmark.

Similar disputes are played out in national courts or even at the World Trade Organization, when it comes to cheeses such as Swiss Emmental or Greek feta.

While one side claims protection of a cultural heritage, the other calls it plain economic protectionism.

''The southern European member states want to use this regulation to turn back the time and they want to protect designations that have clearly become generic,'' said Joerg Rieke, the managing director of the German Milchindustrie dairy board. Since Germany produces some 10,000 tons of ''Parmesan'' a year, the economic factor is clear.

The Danes, one of the main parties in the fabled feta issue, support Germany in the court case and want more products that can be produced anywhere while using a name which they claim has become so common that its origins are no longer essential.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Rain in Spain...

...mainly not falling on the plain lately, has made it necessary for Spanish agriculture to enter the 21st century...from the 13th:

For decades, Alberto Martorell has been irrigating his orange and persimmon groves in this sweltering corner of eastern Spain by a method unchanged since the age of the Moorish invaders _ swamping them under a flood of water from the local canal.

But those days may be coming to an end. Martorell is one of a growing number of Spanish farmers who have signed up to go digital _ agreeing to switch to drip irrigation and connect their fields to a national grid monitored from Madrid.

The idea is to save money _ and equally important in an era of global warming _ precious water. Officials say the system could end up saving 20 percent of the water Spain uses for irrigation today _ a whopping 1.3 trillion gallons of water per year.

....''We're jumping from the 13th century to the 21st century,'' said Juan Valero, the secretary general of Spain's irrigation farmers' federation, called Fenacore.

....Martorell, a stocky, sun-beaten 50-year-old, admits that his main motivation for making the switch was money, not becoming part of any green revolution.

''The methods we have been using are obsolete,'' he said, standing amid a field of persimmon trees. ''New technology allows you to save time, improve harvests and most importantly, save water, which is the principal problem we have nowadays.''

His land's irrigation system is in the process of being modernized, and he hopes to have it completed within three years.

Under the project, Fenacore is encouraging farmers not just to move away from wasteful flood irrigation systems, but also to lay highly efficient telecommunications cables alongside main water conduits.

The telecommunications cables will be connected to computer centers regionally and nationally from where the irrigation grid can be monitored, with screens showing which land is getting water, how much, when and at what pressure.

''Instead of manually lifting sluice gates to flood fields, farmers will be able to do it from laptops or even mobile phones,'' said Valero. ''The aim is to manage water better. We have to rationalize its consumption, and to do this information is fundamental.''

Monday, August 20, 2007

Take my wife...

...and things might really warm up:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Thursday at the end of his US vacation that France is popular again in the United States and hailed the countries' "terrific" relationship.

"France is back, there are no problems between France and the United States, or between the French people and the American people," said Sarkozy on the eve of his departure from a two-week family holiday in New Hampshire.

....While on his vacation Sarkozy spoke last week with US President George W. Bush to firm up the countries' bond after several years of tense relations. The leaders met at the Bush family residence in Kennebunkport, Maine, and dined on an American picnic lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers, though Sarkozy's wife Cecilia bowed out at the last minute citing a throat ailment.

She was seen out walking the next day but the apparent snub got little play in US media.

We're #1

At taxing the poor, the huddled masses yearning to make a buck:

BRUSSELS – The Belgian tax burden on low salaries is higher than in any other industrialised country, according to a new international comparison by the European Commission.

The European Commission used a test case for each country to figure out the fiscal burden on low wages. This indicated that the wage wedge, the difference between what the employer pays out and what the worker takes home after social security contributions and tax, can be as much as 49.2 percent of labour costs. This is the highest percentage of all 24 countries that the European Commission studied.

The comparable wage wedge in the Netherlands is just 40.6 percent, and in Luxembourg only 30.6 percent. Figures for France (44.5 percent) and Germany (47.4 percent) are in the same neighbourhood as the percentage for Belgium.

The heavier the tax burden on the lowest wages, the smaller the incentive for unskilled unemployed people to seek a job. Working is only worth their time after all if the difference between net wages and benefits is large enough.

Friday, August 17, 2007

À Votre Santé

Literally, in Ukraine:

The Crimean Stars Sanatorium in Alushta has devised a treatment called "wine therapy".

It claims the treatment can help alleviate a range of medical problems like stress, impotence and heart disease.

....Dr Alexander Sheludko, who came up with the treatment, points out that medical research has shown that wine in moderation can be good for you.

...."Wine is a live product which contains vitamins. It has lots of compounds which are biologically active," he says.

There are seven different types of cocktails on offer.

The formula is simple - lots of dried herbs are mixed with lots of Crimean wine. Sometimes vodka is added for an extra kick.

Then all you have to do is sit back, relax and make sure you take your "prescription" three times a day for a week or two.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Flying under the bridge, but ahead of the curve...

since 2005.

Craig Newmark points to a City Journal article on infrastructure financing by the private sector:

I’ve got a bridge to sell you” sounds like a sleazy salesman’s pitch. But if Indiana governor Mitch Daniels offers you one, maybe you should believe him. Daniels has already auctioned the rights to operate the Indiana Toll Road—a 157-mile road linking the Chicago Skyway in the west to the Ohio Turnpike in the east—to a private group for $3.8 billion. He’s got other state assets he’d like to sell, too, if he can just get the Indiana legislature to go along.

Meantime, Chicago mayor Richard Daley has harvested $1.8 billion auctioning the Skyway itself to a private group, and another half-billion or so turning city-owned garages over to private operators. Now he’s trying to sell Midway Airport; it could fetch $3 billion.

These deals are the leading edge of what could become the biggest injection of competition and private capital into American government in generations. Across the country, cash-strapped governors and mayors are discovering that their airports, bridges, toll roads, water systems, and other revenue-generating operations are worth far more than they thought, and are eyeing auctions that might produce windfalls similar to those in Chicago and Indiana. They’re also looking to recruit private investors to build and operate new toll roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.

If the deals can overcome resistance from anti-privatization groups and from politicians who benefit from keeping a stranglehold on government assets, they could help make up for decades of underinvestment in infrastructure—and thereby renew America’s landscape. “There’s probably $100 billion in domestic capital alone that’s being raised to invest in these transactions, and when that’s leveraged with debt, you’re probably looking at up to $400 billion in money that’s ready to go to work,” says Dana Levenson, Chicago’s former chief financial officer and now an investment banker at Royal Bank of Scotland. Add foreign investment to the mix, and the sums get even more impressive.

The trend proves the axiom that what’s old can be new again. Private investment in infrastructure, especially bridges and roads, was common in early United States history. Immediately after the Revolutionary War, for instance, investors put up $465,000 to build the Philadelphia-Lancaster Turnpike, a 66-mile toll road that proved so popular that it led to further waves of private investing in highways. During the first half of the nineteenth century, private funds provided the young republic with some 600 toll roads. And as the country spread westward during the second half of the century, infrastructure investors helped ease the way, with 100 toll roads in California alone. In fact, the private sector kept building roads until the automobile’s arrival prompted more extensive—and costly—government safety regulations, which at the time made toll roads a largely unprofitable venture. Government turned to new methods—especially municipal bonds, which investors like because they aren’t taxed—to finance infrastructure.

Privately financed infrastructure has made another appearance in post–World War II Europe. Starting with 1955 legislation, France began to tap private investors to build and operate what eventually amounted to 3,400 miles of autoroutes between cities. Margaret Thatcher’s energetic privatization drive in 1980s England sold existing government assets and spawned scores of public-private construction projects. The Soviet Union’s collapse led to extensive privatization in former Eastern bloc countries during the nineties. The U.S. Department of Transportation figures that worldwide, more than 1,100 public-private deals have taken place in the transportation field alone over the last two decades. Total value: approximately $360 billion.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Keeping Up With the Jones

Last we looked they were producing undrinkable Thanksgiving soda, now they're so successful they're under SEC scrutiny:

During an 85-day period this spring, five board members at Jones Soda Co. disposed of nearly all their shares of company stock -- a highly unusual move, securities experts say -- while CEO Peter van Stolk sold a fraction of his shares worth $2.53 million.

The sales, disclosed in securities filings, came during a wave of positive publicity that kept the stock price high at a time when board members and executives sold a total of 333,000 company shares for $6.5 million.

But after lousy first- and second-quarter earnings, shareholders have seen the stock price drop 67 percent since shares reached a record high of $32.60 on April 16.

....While most investors have taken a hit, board members who sold between mid-March and early June were not affected by the stock's precipitous decline this summer. After their sales, five of the six independent board members had no direct ownership of Jones Soda other than unexercised stock options, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

....The lack of ownership put Jones Soda in a small group of similarly valued businesses whose majority of directors owned no company shares.

On the Russell 2000, an index of 2,000 small and midcap companies, just 145 companies, including Jones Soda, had at least five directors with no ownership stake in their respective firms as of the end of July, according to research compiled by the Corporate Library.

Makin' Whoopski

Russia puts government into the bedroom:

A Russian region best known as the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin has found a novel way to fight the nation's birthrate crisis: It has declared Sept. 12 the Day of Conception and for the third year running is giving couples time off from work to procreate.

The hope is for a brood of babies exactly nine months later on Russia's national day. Couples who "give birth to a patriot" during the June 12 festivities win money, cars, refrigerators and other prizes.

Ulyanovsk, a region on the Volga River about 550 miles east of Moscow, has held similar contests since 2005. Since then, the number of competitors, and the number of babies born to them, has been on the rise.

....Russia, with one-seventh of the Earth's land surface, has just 141.4 million citizens, making it one of the most sparsely settled countries in the world. With a low birthrate and high death rate, the population has been shrinking since the early 1990s.

It is now falling by almost half a percent each year. Demographic experts expect the decline to accelerate, estimating that Russia's population could fall below 100 million by 2050.


Wine by the slurp:

That good wine can taste right drunk through a straw is the belief of French wine merchant Cordier, currently selling 1,000 tetra packs a week in Belgium, with plans for a French launch early next year.

The wine, called Tandem, comes in red, white and rose and is aimed at the smaller consumables segment, which grew by 12 percent in France last year.

Cordier's marketing director Vincent Bonhur said the company decided to test the product in 500 Belgian shops first -- a market similar to France but less hidebound -- and place it in the sandwich aisles at 1.89 euros. A similar strategy will be used in France where it will cost 1.49 euros.

"It's a seasonal concept," said Bonhur, that allows people to drink the equivalent of two glasses of fresh wine on the run.

The tetra pack, says the company, has other advantages. It is recyclable, light to transport, better for storage than glass bottles and the 25 cl measure, at less than 12 degrees of alcohol, is within the drink driving limit.

....For added benefit, the straw that comes with the pack has four holes around a sealed top that send individual streams of wine onto the tongue, apparently recreating the sensation of drinking from a glass.

But, they haven't convinced everyone:

The effect, however, on a wine's taste and smell by the ways it is transported to the mouth, is the subject of detailed research by top glassware companies.

Bringing your own glass with you to a friend's house, a wine-tasting or a restaurant is the solution proposed by Sylvie Laly, who works for Riedel, an Austrian glassmaker founded in 1723 and one of the best known brands.

"I have a case for it and I bring it with me in my purse," Laly said.

The claim that a wine can be improved by drinking it from the right glass -- such as one of Riedel's 78-euro hand-blown affairs -- is an integral part of the company's sales strategy.

Wine, claims US-based Laly who recently ran a comparative tasting in Bordeaux, tastes different depending on the manner of its delivery to the tongue and the nose -- whether by straw, hand-blown glass, jam jar or polystyrene cup like Myles in the US wine film "Sideways."

Asked about a scene from the film, where Myles finally drinks his treasured 1961 Cheval Blanc, a Bordeaux blend, out of a polystyrene cup, Laly says she was not too troubled by the plastic but more by the shape. "It can't have been great for the energy of the wine," she said.

"It's the form of the glass," Laly said, "that dictates the speed and flow of the wine to different sensory zones on the tongue and in the nose," and therefore changes the taste. As well as expert glassmakers, Riedel also employs two physicists to work on glass design.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Scam the Nigerians

Norway's found a way:

The towns of Båtsfjord and Kvalsund are planning and building plants to dry fish heads and fish backbones. Newspaper Aftenposten reports that an Icelandic firm has launched a cooperation with Aker Seafood that will sell the dried fish heads to Nigerian customers.

Demand is strong, and the Norwegians are happy to help.

"It's interesting that fish heads can be exploited," said Frank Kristiansen of a fishing industry research firm in Tromsø, Fiskeriforskning. "Up to now, they've been mostly either thrown away or used for animal feed."

Reality non-TV

Find a need and fill it. And forget about the losers on the Beeb:

Less than a year ago he stood chastened as the Dragons' Den judges gave him a typically fiery dressing down.

Now inventor Rob Law is having the last laugh after a product rejected as 'worthless' on the BBC television programme for budding entrepreneurs has proved a huge commercial hit.

Mr Law, 29, from Bath, spent 11 years - and £17,000 of his own money - refining his design for a wheelie suitcase which doubles up as a child's ride-on toy.

The plastic Trunki case is designed to allow youngsters aged three to six to take their own bag on holiday - and to sit on it when they are tired.

But when Mr Law appeared on Dragons' Den last September, he was given short shrift by the famously stern panel of investors.

Businessman Theo Paphitis, chair-man of the Ryman chain of stationers, ridiculed the product after managing to pull off one of the straps. His colleague Deborah Meadon, head of a holiday firm, declared bluntly that there was no market for the case.

And the notoriously brusque tele-communications tycoon Peter Jones declared: "I meet people like you all the time - you think you have something. I tell you, you don't."

He added: "Within seven days I could do a better job than that. Your company is currently worthless."

The panel declined Mr Law's offer to give up 10 per cent of his fledgling company in return for a £100,000 investment - an offer which valued the firm at £1 million.

However, it now appears that the experts missed a valuable trick.

After a succession of positive press reviews, Mr Law has sold 85,000 of his Trunki suitcases. It is marketed in 22 countries via a network of distributors.

Retailing at £25, it is one of the top-selling luggage items at John Lewis department stores and has proved a hit at Mothercare, Fenwick and Debenhams.

Back to School

Readin', writin', and writhe-not wear for Brit kids:

Stab-proof school uniforms have gone on sale for the first time in Britain, sparking a rush of inquiries from worried parents looking to protect their youngsters from knife attacks.

According to the Sun newspaper, parents are paying up to £65 a time to get their hands on the uniforms - lined with Kelvar - the material used in armoured vests worn by British troops in Iraq.

Stab-proof uniforms are being sold by Essex-based firm BladeRunner, which has already plugged a gap in the teenage market by selling Kevlar hoodies.

....BladeRunner Bosses Adrian Davis and Barry Samms already make Kevlar-lined uniforms for police and security guards but began taking requests from parents who wanted to line their children's school uniforms with the protective material.

Mr Davis said: "We've had so many calls from parents requesting the service in time for their children to go back to school, we think we'll have to set up a whole division devoted to it.

"Parents send us in blazers and we line them with Kevlar - it's discreet and no-one would know you were wearing it."

The move follows concerns from both students and parents after a spate of knife-related attacks on teenagers across the UK.

Seven boys aged under 16 have died in such attacks within two months this year alone.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Raised to be Fleeced

Heard the one about the sheep farmer from Australia:

Des Gregor, 56, has arrived back in Adelaide after being held hostage in the African nation of Mali for 12 days.

He had gone there expecting to marry a woman he had met over the internet, and pick up a US$86,000 (£43,000) dowry.

....Mr Gregor, a sheep farmer, set off to Mali on what he hoped would be an exotic adventure, during which he would not only meet his African bride but pocket a huge dowry in gold.

The target of his affections was a woman purportedly called Natacha, a Liberian refugee in her twenties whom he had met and fallen in love with over the internet.

Mr Gregor was picked up at the airport by men claiming to be Natacha's relatives but who turned out to be gangsters.

After taking him to a flat in the capital, Bamako, they stripped him naked, held a gun to his head and threatened to chop off his limbs with machetes.

They also demanded $86,000 as a ransom, or else he would be killed.

His relatives sounded the alarm when they started receiving strange e-mails asking for money.

At that point the Australian authorities decided to lay a trap of their own.

They managed to persuade the kidnappers that Mr Gregor could pick up the ransom money at the Canadian embassy.

It was there that he was rescued by the Australian federal police after being held for 12 days.

H...H...Ha Ha...H...H...Ha Ha


Woodpeckers and rot are being blamed for the demise of a flagpole which was once the tallest in the world.

A team of steeplejacks began dismantling the Kew Flagpole in Kew Gardens, south-west London, on Monday because it is unsafe for flag-flying.

The wooden structure has already had to be shortened several times.

It entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1959, when it measured 225ft (69m). Metal flagpoles can now reach greater heights.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Resorte Destino

If you've got the bucks:

Millionaires will be able to book a three-day holiday in the first space hotel from 2012, said a Spanish company on Friday.

A ticket price of EUR 3 million includes 18 weeks of preparation for space on a tropical island, the flight to space and back and three nights in a hotel 450 kilometres from the earth in space.

The hotel will be able to accommodate 350 guests a year, said Xavier Claramunt who runs Catalan company Galactic Suite Projects.

The company has designed the space resort project with a group of aeronautical engineers in Florida and says it will be taking reservations from next year.

Claramunt estimates around 40,000 people in the world will be rich enough to buy a capsule at the hotel.

Those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer...

are a bad time to be pregnant in Norway:

Pregnant women have a hard time finding a midwife in the middle of summer. Many labour wards are closed for the summer, or, if open, find their staff dramatically reduced.

The Norwegian Association of Midwives (Jordmorforeningen) thinks the situation for pregnant women during the summer is "indefensible," and calls for the public health service to be reorganised, reports news agency NTB.

Toweling Off

In Italy, you can be fined for not attending your beach towel:

Holidaymakers in Italy are being fined up to £700 for trying to reserve a place on the beach with their towels.

Some have been arriving as early as 6am, staking a claim, then going for breakfast.

After a rush of complaints from later arrivals, officials are enforcing a law which makes it illegal to reserve a space with a towel and then leave it unattended.

Damiano Guerrini, harbourmaster at Porto Imperia on the Italian Riveria, said: "It is mostly the elderly who are responsible and it is all nations who are involved.

Incarceration Optional

Norway's honor system isn't cutting it:

20 percent of convicted criminals do not show up for their prison terms, according to the Norwegian Correctional Services. Prison authorities can do little but hope that the criminals will eventually come knocking on the prison door.

....Criminals sentenced to long prison terms are particularly prone to bunking off. Almost every fourth person sentenced to six months or more in prison failed to meet in 2006.

...."It’s difficult to make plans for the prison terms when we have no idea who will show up and who won't," said Ellinor Houm, director of the Norwegian Correctional Services, section for eastern Norway.

....The dilemma facing the prison authorities is that failure to show up at prison is not yet illegal.

Although Parliament has passed new legislation making it a criminal offence to skip prison, the law has not yet been implemented and until it is, prison authorities can do nothing but hope that the criminals will eventually show up at the prison gates.

Don't Know Much About Art...

Nor, have the sense to come in out of the rain:

Thieves who stole three Picassos worth £35 million from the artist's grand-daughter were spotted by French police this week because they resembled "anything but art students" with the priceless canvases rolled up into tubes on their backs, it emerged yesterday.

Art detectives who arrested the burglars in Paris on Tuesday, less than a mile from the flat where they stole the works five months ago, said they had never come across such clueless philistines acting with "such carelessness and negligence".

Two of the three men were well-known to police for similar offences.

...."We saw them pop up with black plastic tubes strapped to their backs. As they looked like anything but Beaux-Arts students, we nabbed them straight away," said Loïc Garnier, head of the anti-theft squad, BRB.

"The two paintings were indeed in the tubes, but the dimwits had rolled them so tightly that they had made the painted surface crack," said commander Bernard Darties of the OCBC, the police unit specialising in stolen art.

"It's proof of ignorance and stupidity to damage such artworks by traipsing them like that through the streets of Paris," he said.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Gardening grannie at work:

A pensioner has been banned from tending a village flowerbed - unless she puts up warning signs, wears fluorescent clothing and has someone standing by as a lookout.

For eight years green-fingered grandmother June Turnbull, 79, has tended the blooms at the entrance to the village and paid for it all using her pension.

And all without any accidents or mishaps.

....But June, who cycles half a mile to tend the flowers, blasted the rules.

She said: "This is health and safety gone mad.

"It is red tape bureaucracy.

"They can send me to jail if they like. I just want to be left alone to do it.

"It is a very pretty flowerbed and I have tried to make it look very natura.

"I have paid hundreds of pounds to plant the flowers myself and the compost every spring and autumn has been paid for out of my pension.

"I work there until the gardening is done. I love doing it.

"It is my bit to keep the village tidy. It is a lovely little village and I want to make it as pretty as I possibly can."

She added: "Now the county council says I have to have men at work signs - but I am just a 79-year-old pensioner.

"I will continue working on the flower bed."

Peter Newell chairman of Urchfont Parish Council accused the county council of going "a bit over the top".

...."It has been a labour of love for her. We all think it is a bit over the top."

Summers Still Right

Say British scientists:

If you've worked your way to the top in a university maths, physics or engineering department - you're very unlikely to be a woman.

But why should this be?

In 2005, Harvard University president Larry Summers provoked a storm of protest when he suggested that at least part of the reason for the dearth of women in these fields was biological - in other words, the result of innate differences in tastes and aptitudes between the sexes.

....In 2005/6, while more than half of all UK students in higher education were female, just 3% of maths and 2% of civil engineering professors were women, a recent study revealed.

Professor David Geary, of the University of Missouri in the US, suggests there are two key difference between the sexes that might account for the disparity in numbers.

The first is a difference in spatial abilities - the capacity to visualise things, particularly in three dimensions.

The second is an increased interest in objects and how things work.

According to Professor Geary: "Males are better in both of those areas, and both areas contribute to interest in maths and engineering, and performance in some areas."

....Professor Geary says: "These differences are found very early on in life.

"If you look at interest in toy cars or mechanical objects, boys like those much more from the pre-school years.

"Also, girls who have been exposed to a testosterone-like hormone in the womb show boy-like toy preferences."

....Dr Helena Cronin, who studies evolutionary theory and sex difference at the London School of Economics, argues that past statistics give no indication of what might happen in the future.

She says: "On that basis, women marathon runners, who have been catching up with men since the 1920s, were predicted to overtake men in the 1990s, and presumably would be running beyond the speed of light if it were continued for long enough."

According to Dr Cronin, it's the numbers of men at the extremes of ability that are most telling:
"For males, the difference between the worst and the best is far, far greater.

"This is a very important aspect of male-female differences.

"One way of looking at this is that among males there are more dumbbells, but there are also more Nobels."

....She describes Harvard's reaction to Larry Summers' speech as "shameful", and sees it as an example of science being hijacked by politically-correct ideology.

She says those who are striving for 50/50 sex ratios across the sciences should look at the scientific evidence first.

She says: "If you want to change the world, first you have to understand it."


The big stink is over in Spain:

GRANADA (EFE) – Residents and tourists at Almunecar near Granada will finally get to celebrate the Spanish resort's annual fiesta after bin collectors ended a five-day strike which has allowed 800 tonnes of rubbish to pile up in the streets.

On Thursday, local authorities in Almunecar said the feria would run from 11-17 August, kicking off on Saturday to give the rubbish collectors time to clear the streets.

Mayor Juan Carlos Benavides had suspended the annual fiesta which was due to start on Thursday because of the stinking state of the resort.

Local authorities rescheduled the feria for Saturday after learning rubbish collectors and management at the company El Mirlo had struck a deal after 13 hours of labour arbitration.

Believe in Reincarnation?

The Social Security Administration does:

SPOKANE — Eight years after a judge declared him dead, the Social Security Administration says Judy Sullivan's husband is alive, and it wants back more than $90,000 in widow's benefits she has received.

But Sullivan doesn't think the person who applied for a new Social Security card and driver's license in an unspecified Eastern state is Jack Sullivan, her husband of 25 years who disappeared without a trace in 1991.

Larry Weiser, director of Gonzaga University School of Law's legal assistance clinic, said Monday that Sullivan, who is disabled and lives in a rented single-wide trailer, doesn't have the resources to wait the year or more Social Security appeals can take.

Social Security officials have not responded to her requests to prove the person is not an identity thief, Weiser said.

....Judy Sullivan, 64, lives in rural Chattaroy, north of Spokane. Facing a demand that she return nearly $91,000 in "overpayments" she received the last eight years, she said Monday she doubts her husband is alive.

....Jack Charles Sullivan, a well driller who would be 65, called to ask his wife to join him for lunch in Temecula, Calif., on June 11, 1991. She was unable to meet him and never saw or heard from him again.

Nor did any of his brothers, a partner in a well-drilling company or lifelong friends, according to Social Security administrative-law records.

The Oldsmobile that Jack Sullivan was driving has never been found and apparently has not been registered again with any state licensing agency, Weiser said. Three company checks Sullivan had with him that day have never been cashed.

But now, without offering any proof of his being alive, SSA has turned Mrs. Sullivan's life upside down:

In May, the Social Security Administration stopped paying the $867 a month widow's benefit that had been Sullivan's sole source of income.

The agency sent her letters saying it expects payment of nearly $91,000 she has received since 1999 and threatening to garnish $400 of the $623 she now receives each month through her own Social Security account and Supplemental Security Income.

Citing privacy laws, Social Security refuses to say where Jack Sullivan is living or working.

....Since a Social Security investigator approached her with the news in February, Sullivan said she has suffered a stroke and cannot walk without assistance. She also suffers from Parkinson's disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

"I would like to know if he is alive, where he's been, what happened to him, or if he's not alive," Sullivan said. "I have to know something. This is just destroying me."

We're from the government, and we're here to help you.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Here's Re-looking at You, Kid

Bollywood dares to tamper with a classic:

Hollywood romance Casablanca is to be remade - in an Indian setting.

The new version, entitled Ezham Mudra, will relocate the Humphrey Bogart film to contemporary south India.

Actor Suresh Gopi will play a restaurant owner who helps his lover, a Tamil separatist rebel fighting the Sri Lankan government, escape from India.

Director Rajeev Nath told Reuters that his film would be "a tribute" to the original and that he hoped to hold the premiere in Casablanca itself.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Got Milk?

The Chinese are increasing their consumption of dairy products, with repercussions for the rest of the world:

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, China's consumption of milk has gone from 26 kilocalories per person per day in 2002 to 43 in 2005. Westerners consume many times more, but their demand is stable.

A billboard in Beijing shows a small grinning child clutching a carton of milk, with champion hurdler Liu Xiang towering above holding a similar carton. The message is simple - drink milk and grow up to be a big, strapping athlete.

It doesn't quite square with a dietary tradition that, among the vast majority of Chinese at least, has never featured significant quantities of milk.

....As well as planning for more milk consumption, the Chinese government is making every effort to increase production, recently rising to the third biggest producer in the world behind the US and India.

The businesses are doing dairy on a massive scale using imported Friesian cows.

Nuffield farm scholar Emma Hockridge visited Chinese dairy facilities on a research trip.

"There does seem to be a really strong government push to eat more cheese and dairy. There is very much an aspirational Western diet.

....And despite the efforts of the Chinese government, when production fails to meet demand the consequence is higher global prices. Germany, a big exporter of milk, has already seen prices rise. In Britain the phenomenon will be slower to take effect as farmers are locked into contracts that keep an agreed price.

....Jim Begg, head of Dairy UK, says it is clear the average UK consumer will be affected by China's newfound love of milk.

"It is true and it's real. The world's markets, commodity markets, are booming and it's being driven by the demand of China.

Situación Normal

All Fouled UP at the aeropuerto:

BARCELONA – The director of Barcelona's El Prat airport said on Tuesday that operations there were "normal" for this time of year despite two days of chaos affecting check-ins and baggage handling.

....Echegaray admitted that there were problems on Sunday and Monday when thousands of passengers had to queue for hours to check in and the luggage transport system for arriving and departing flights failed to work properly.

Baggage went missing, flights were delayed and passengers were outraged.

....Flightcare, the company blamed for many of the problems, acknowledged on Tuesday that it was responsible and in ads in local newspapers asked for the public's forgiveness.

According to the company, unforeseen absences by some staff members caused the chaos.

AENA, the Spanish Airports Authority, announced it had filed an official complaint against Flightcare "for not fulfilling the quality requirements of its duties."

Not always to the swift

But for the honor, they'd probably rather be in Poland:

Hordes of French gourmets joined forces at an annual snail festival at the weekend to munch their way through a record 100,800 gastropods, organisers said Monday.

"We've beaten all our previous records, despite the rain," said Jacky Pommier, who helped organise the festival, in Digoin east of Paris.

"We had many more people than last year, with lots of holidaymakers from all over France and abroad too. Many enthusiasts would eat five to seven dozens in a single meal," he said.

Chefs used 500 kilogrammes (1,100 pounds) of butter, 55 of parsley and 33 of garlic to rustle up the Bourgogne snails according to the traditional French recipe -- although the snails themselves came from a farm in Poland.

Look for the Union Label

Remember somewhere our union's so-and-so-ing:

...a loosely formed coalition of left-leaning bloggers are trying to band together to form a labor union they hope will help them receive health insurance, conduct collective bargaining or even set professional standards.

....Organizers hope a bloggers' labor group will not only showcase the growing professionalism of the Web-based writers, but also the importance of their roles in candidates' campaigns.

"I think people have just gotten to the point where people outside the blogosphere understand the value of what it is that we do on the progressive side," said Susie Madrak, the author of Suburban Guerilla blog, who is active in the union campaign. "And I think they feel a little more entitled to ask for something now."

Which calls to mind Hotspur's response (in Henry IV, part I) to Owen Glendower's boast that he 'can call spirits from the vasty deep': 'Do they come when you call them?'

Bridge Gap

Tom Sowell knows incentives:

Some people claim that the problem is how much money it would take to properly maintain bridges, highways, dams and other infrastructure. But money is found for other things, including things far less urgent and some things that are even counterproductive.

The real problem is that the political incentives are to spend the taxpayers' money on things that will enhance politicians' chances of getting re-elected.

There may be enough money available to maintain bridges and other infrastructure but that same money can have a bigger political pay-off if spent building something new instead of maintaining and repairing existing structures.

When money is spent building a new community center, a golf course, or anything that will be newsworthy, there will be ribbon-cutting ceremonies and the politicians who cut the ribbons can expect to see their pictures in the newspapers and on TV.

All that keeps their name before the public in a positive role and therefore enhances their prospects of being re-elected.

But there are no ribbon-cutting ceremonies when bridges are being repaired or pot-holes are being filled in. These latter activities may be more valuable than a community center or a golf course, but they are not nearly as photogenic.

The preference for showy projects that will enhance a politician's career prospects is not peculiar to current politicians. Adam Smith pointed out the same thing about politicians in 18th-century Europe.

We can vote the rascals out but the new rascals who replace them will face the same incentives and in all likelihood will respond in the same way.

But, it doesn't have to be that way.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Inventory Control

Operate a bookstore from home:

DENVER -- A library patron suspected of selling hundreds of books, tapes and DVDs he had borrowed has cost Denver-area libraries tens of thousands of dollars, officials said.

Thomas Pilaar, 33, was suspected of using different names to obtain seven library cards from the Denver Public Library, then checking out 300 items per card and selling at least some of the items, KCNC-TV in Denver reported.

"It appears his intent was to sell 2,100 (items) from the Denver Library collection," Denver Public Library spokeswoman M. Celeste Jackson told the station. She estimated the losses at about $35,000.

Arapahoe County library administrators said Pilaar obtained three library cards and checked out 250 to 300 items.

James Larue, Douglas County's head librarian, said Pilaar checked out more than 300 items from two county libraries and had $11,000 worth of overdue items.

Authorities were tipped by a woman who recently bought books through and noticed the library identification stamps.

Ninguna lluvia, aguanieve, nieve...pero...

A side trip to the ATM, is another thing:

MURCIA [Spain]– Police on Monday announced the arrest of a postman who stole credit cards and secret PIN numbers from the mail, then used the cards to extract cash before finally delivering them to the rightful addressees.

A spokesperson for the Murcia police said the 44-year-old postman would be charged with theft and interfering with the post.

According to the spokesperson, the postman would feel letters from banks and if he detected a credit or debit card, he would carefully remove it from the envelope.

The postman would then watch out for a letter to the card holder which contained the personal identification number, or PIN. He would then use the card and the PIN to extract cash.

After taking around EUR 300 from an account, he would place the card and PIN notification letters back in their original envelopes and delivery them to the bank customers.

The postman stole a total of EUR 43,700.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Picture This

Sweden experimented with video cameras for toll collection, and found it a better technology than transponders:

The tolls are levied 6:30am to 6:30pm ...weekdays with the exception of the holiday month of July, and vary between $1.50 (Crowns or SEK10) and $3.00 (SEK20) and are levied for all passes, whether entering or leaving, across 18 highway speed toll points organized into a cordon around the central area. The toll collected from any one vehicle is however capped at $9.00 (SEK60) per day to give a break to high use vehicles.

....During the trials toll transactions were split about equally between transponder tolls and video tolls.

Project manager Birger Hook of the Swedish road administration said the equipment worked "perfectly" from the start to the finish. The higher than expected rate of capturing readable license plate images led to the decision to dump the transponders - CEN standard 5.8Mhz passive transponders which cost about $30 each, have a life limited by the battery, and like every vehicle borne item have to be packaged and delivered by the toller, and fitted to the windshield by motorists.

Q-Free released the camera system used in Stockholm in 2003. Called a MD-1550 VRU (Video Read Unit) it works in conjunction with a laser scanner that detects and tracks vehicles moving on a multi-lane roadway below. The scanner also profiles vehicles for potentially pricing trucks higher.

....The toll was successful in reducing traffic in the central area by about 20%, halving waiting time and was calculated to produce benefits well ahead of costs as well as being financially profitable with a payback period of 4 years on the initial investment.

Initiated and trialed by a left socialist government the scheme was embraced for permanent implementation by a new center right government which stressed its benefits to motorists and pledged revenues to road improvements.