Monday, March 31, 2008

You talk too much

And you worry him to death:
Mobile phones could kill far more people than smoking or asbestos, a study by an award-winning cancer expert has concluded. He says people should avoid using them wherever possible and that governments and the mobile phone industry must take "immediate steps" to reduce exposure to their radiation.

The study, by Dr Vini Khurana, is the most devastating indictment yet published of the health risks.

It draws on growing evidence – exclusively reported in the IoS in October – that using handsets for 10 years or more can double the risk of brain cancer. Cancers take at least a decade to develop, invalidating official safety assurances based on earlier studies which included few, if any, people who had used the phones for that long.

On the bright side, this may alleviate Social Security and Medicare funding problems.

A Very Fine Bird Is the Publican

But, keep it to yourself, please:
Bar managers and store owners face large-scale compensation claims if their customers ogle their barmaids, waitresses or check-out staff.

New sex discrimination laws also mean that landlords who allow loud sexist jokes or banter among drinkers could be taken before a tribunal.

The regulations say that bosses are responsible for protecting their staff from sexual harassment by customers - and that those who fail to do so can face unlimited compensation claims.

....Restaurant managers or hoteliers risk action if staff object to backchat from diners or guests asking for a date.

....The regulations were pushed through by Women and Equalities Minister Harriet Harman, who has powers under European legislation to amend discrimination law.

....Stuart Chamberlain, an employment law specialist at Consult GEE, said: "Employers may feel uncomfortable about confronting clients but they need to be aware that failing to take action could result in a claim for compensation, including for injury to feelings.

....The burden of proof will lie with employers. There will be no need for workers to show their employer allowed harassment to happen - instead, managers must demonstrate that they were not at fault.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Happy Hour?

Waste not, want Australia:
A MAN attacked his girlfriend and then refused to go to hospital to see her before she died because he had not finished his beer, a Sydney judge has been told.

During a sentencing hearing in the New South Wales Supreme Court today, Justice Roderick Howie was told Edward David Zammit threw the woman against a fridge and a cupboard, after she told his ex-girlfriend that he sometimes hit her.

The court was told Deslie Ward had stopped breathing and had no pulse by the time an ambulance arrived, but Zammit declined to go to hospital with her, saying he was waiting on phone calls.

When she began showing signs of life and he was again urged to go to the hospital, Zammit declined, saying: "I'm waiting for phone calls and besides that they just poured me a beer".

Didn't get off the ground

In Bavaria, they're still down to earth:
The magnetic levitation (maglev) idea was patented as long ago as the 1930s. For the past four decades, Germany's best engineers have been working out the technical details.

But the Transrapid -- the monorail maglev system developed by Siemens and ThyssenKrupp that has trains speeding on a magnetic cushion at 500 kilometers an hour -- simply won't fly.

The decision announced Thursday to halt plans for a 37-kilometer link between Munich's airport and the city center may be the final nail in the coffin for the prestige project.

The federal German government and the state of Bavaria withdrew their financial backing when it became clear that costs were soaring towards 3 billion euros (4.6 billion dollars).

....The hope was that a successful Transrapid in Germany would provide the showcase necessary to market the high-speed technology to the rest of the world.

....After the Munich decision, the Transrapid appears set to follow the fate of the Zeppelin -- another German showpiece -- into the dustbin of exciting but failed high-tech.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Belt Tower

If that's a leaning tower, it must be Italy:
Work began in Venice this week to fit a titanium belt to one of the city's most famous landmarks, the bell-tower in St Mark's Square.

Experts were called in after a survey revealed the 99-metre bell-tower is sloping by seven centimetres, a sign that its foundations - thousands of wooden posts driven into unstable ground - are failing to provide adequate support.

Surveyors also reckon the foundations of the tower are cracking by a millimetre a year.

To prevent the tower from toppling over, the titanium belt will be wrapped around its foundations two metres below ground and will be invisible from the outside.

Consorzio Venezia Nuova (CVN), the conservation group in charge of the restoration, has warned that the picturesque square - a must on Italy's tourist trail - will be covered in scaffolding for the next two years while the belt is fitted.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Every Cloud Has...

...if not silver, an ivory lining to Global Warming:
NOVY URENGOI, Russia: .... The ivory in this part of the world comes from the remains of extinct woolly mammoths, as they emerge from the tundra where they have been frozen for thousands of years. It is a traditional Russian business that had all but gone extinct itself during the Soviet period but is flourishing now.

....The trade, bolstered recently by global warming, which has melted the tundra and exposed more frozen remains, is not only legal but actually endorsed by conservationists. They note somewhat grudgingly that while the survival of elephants may be in question, it is already too late for mammoths. Mammoth ivory from Siberia, they say, meets some of the Asian demand for illegal elephant ivory and its trade should be encouraged.

....Woolly mammoths are the last of three extinct elephantine species that inhabited Siberia. They appeared about 400,000 years ago and lasted at least until 3,600 years ago - the age of some mammoth remains found on an island off the northern coast of the Russian region of Chukotka in 1993.

The tusks emerge with the spring thaw or after heavy rains, or along the eroding banks of rivers. A boom in gas and oil investment has added another source, as crews dig wells and dig ditches for pipelines. Fresh from the permafrost, mammoth ivory is nearly pristine, though with a characteristic green patina. But if left outside and exposed to the elements, it will disintegrate within three years into worthless splinters.

That is another point in favor of the mammoth ivory trade, said [Aleksei Tikhonov, director of the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg], the Russian mammoth expert. It encourages the gathering of tusks that would otherwise be lost. In fact, he said, vastly more mammoth ivory is destroyed in this natural cycle in Russia than is ever found and sold, perhaps hundreds of tons a year.

But, will they come when you call them... the vasty deep:
Researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Wood's Hole, Massachusetts, are testing a plan to train fish to catch themselves by using a sound broadcast to attract them into a net.

They hope to release fish into the open ocean, where they would grow to market size, before enticing them into an underwater cage to be harvested when they hear a tone that signals feeding time.

If successful, the system could be used to bolster depleted fish stocks and reduce the costs of fish farming, scientists said.

"It sounds crazy, but it's real," said Simon Miner, a research assistant at MBL.

Mr Miner said the first step in the project was to establish whether fish could be trained.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hamburger UnHelper

In this lengthy article on the demise of the Reeperbahn,
Controlled and legal prostitution - at least the kind that made Hamburg's Reeperbahn famous and profitable for decades - is dying in what still rates as one of the world's most famous red light districts. ....

The message was driven home explicitly with the announcement that Hamburg's oldest brothel is to shut, having provided an uninterrupted service for its clients for the past 60 years.

One has to get to the third page to find out that the famous district's problem is the efficiency of modern shipping:
...probably the most significant reason for the Reeperbahn's seemingly terminal decline lies 2km away on the opposite bank of the mud-brown River Elbe. The container port has more lights than the Reeperbahn and is busy around the clock all year. There are plans to dredge the Elbe to accommodate bigger, deep-draft container ships.

...[in] the 50s and early 60s when the streets of the Reeperbahn thronged with sailors because, back in those days, cargo ships took at least four or five days to unload, which allowed their crews a run ashore every night. "These days the turnaround on the container ships is so quick that the crews often don't even get off," said [an amateur economist].

Low Expectations Down Under

And even then, the behavior is appalling:
Indigenous leader Noel Pearson says authorities should not hesitate to remove abused children from their communities amid national and international condemnation over the gang rape of 10-year-old girl in Aurukun [North Australia].

....Queensland Crown prosecutor Steve Carter has now been stood down pending an investigation into his handling of the case.

Mr Carter said the case where a 10-year-old girl was raped by nine men involved what he described as consensual sex in a non-legal manner and he called those involved "very naughty".

He did not recommend any of the perpetrators, aged from their teens to 26, to face jail.

Lest anyone think the above is an aberration:
Aboriginal leader and lawyer Mr Pearson, who comes from Cape York, has long argued passive welfare is to blame for a complete breakdown in social norms in Indigenous communities

...."This is the tip of a tragic iceberg and it's a problem that has been going on for a long time," he said.

"It's a problem that we've been trying to highlight for a long time now and it's a problem that is not disappearing.

"There's nothing that we are currently doing that is decisively avoiding this kind of tragedy."

...."We will get 80 cases reported month - 30 are substantiated and this is an average monthly reporting level for child protection."

...."It's a crisis that the State Government has attempted to respond to through its new child safety system and through alcohol limitations and so on, but it's not a crisis that we are on top of," he said.

....He says part of the answer is to remove the children at risk.

"It's the immediate answer, absolutely," he said.

....He says he has absolutely no doubt the perpetrators of the gang rape, some of them only teenagers, should have gone to jail.

"There is absolutely no justification for leniency," he said.

"In fact, part of the whole breakdown, the social and cultural breakdown that we see in our communities is the consequence of courts taking into account the historical and social background of Aboriginal offenders.

"In the past 30 years there's been a tendency for the judicial system to take into account this cultural and historical background of Aboriginal offenders and therefore resulting in leniency, when in fact the imperative has all along been to make sure that social norms are observed and maintained in communities.

"If we want to diminish in the long term the number of Aboriginal people in prison, we have got to have low tolerance of anti-social behaviour and criminal behaviour.

Big Italy

Russia just can't shake the planning thing, even if they have to outsource:
Italian architects are to build a new futuristic metropolis the size of Manhattan in the Volga region of Russia.

Milan-based firm Dante O. Benini won a tender earlier this month to build the urban complex across the river from Russia's third largest city, Nizhni Novgorod.

....Globe Town will replace the small, run-down town of Bor and will feature skyscrapers in glass, aluminium and steel arranged in ascending and descending order of height to create an undulating skyline.

....Globe Town will also have a public park four times bigger than New York's Central Park as well as stadiums, hotels, sports centres and a large river port on the banks of the Volga.

The regional government of Nizhni Novgorod hopes the new complex, which will provide housing for 500,000 people, will act as a spillover for the crowded industrial city.

Streets as wide as motorways will allow 250,000 cars to circulate in the city, which will be connected to Nizhni Novgorod by four bridges and an underground tunnel.

Snow covers the area where the city will be built for half of the year, and the site is also vulnerable to being swamped by the Volga river. ''To overcome the problem of flooding the water will be channelled into canals, while four million square metres of land where we're going to put the buildings will be raised eight metres above ground level,'' Gonzo explained.

An underground system will pump hot water to heat the houses in winter and will store cold water and ice to cool the city in summer.

To make the city eco-friendly, the architects will use 'smog eating' material - photocatalytic asphalt and cement that gobbles up pollution from the air - and will also build a gasifier to convert household rubbish into fuel.

Green spaces will cover around 15 million square metres, or around half of the city's total surface area.

Knowing the Price of Everything

And calculating the value of being re-elected in Zimbabwe:
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has threatened to force businesses to cut prices ahead of the 29 March elections.

Prices have again shot up after Mr Mugabe awarded huge pay rises to teachers and civil servants last month.

"We are going to read the riot act to them [businesses]," he told a campaign rally in Hwange.

The government last year ordered prices to be reduced, leading to widespread shortages. Zimbabwe's annual inflation rate is 100,000% - the world's highest.

....Mr Mugabe says white-owned businesses are raising prices in order to reduce his chances of being re-elected.

The businesses say the official prices are below the cost of production.

Some 12,000 people were arrested last year for selling goods at above the official prices.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Picture a Little Love Nest...

Down in the land of canings:
The Singapore government is offering students lessons in seduction in an attempt to boost the city state's flagging birth rates.

Students at two polytechnics can earn two credits towards their final degree by choosing the love elective. Activities include watching slushy films, holding hands and "love song analysis".

An 18-year-old mechanical engineering student, Isabel Seet, told the local Straits Times newspaper: "My teacher said if a guy looks into my eyes for more than five seconds, it could mean that he is attracted to me and I stand a chance.

"It's very interesting, and if I have a boyfriend in future, I'll know how to cope with any problems we may have."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Global Warming Is So 90s

NASA has a satellite that is telling meteorologists some things they didn't expect:
[Michqel] Duffy: "Can you tell us about NASA's Aqua satellite, because I understand some of the data we're now getting is quite important in our understanding of how climate works?"

[Jennifer] Marohasy: "That's right. The satellite was only launched in 2002 and it enabled the collection of data, not just on temperature but also on cloud formation and water vapour. What all the climate models suggest is that, when you've got warming from additional carbon dioxide, this will result in increased water vapour, so you're going to get a positive feedback. That's what the models have been indicating. What this great data from the NASA Aqua satellite ... (is) actually showing is just the opposite, that with a little bit of warming, weather processes are compensating, so they're actually limiting the greenhouse effect and you're getting a negative rather than a positive feedback."

Duffy: "The climate is actually, in one way anyway, more robust than was assumed in the climate models?"

Marohasy: "That's right ... These findings actually aren't being disputed by the meteorological community. They're having trouble digesting the findings, they're acknowledging the findings, they're acknowledging that the data from NASA's Aqua satellite is not how the models predict, and I think they're about to recognise that the models really do need to be overhauled and that when they are overhauled they will probably show greatly reduced future warming projected as a consequence of carbon dioxide."

Duffy: "From what you're saying, it sounds like the implications of this could beconsiderable ..."

Marohasy: "That's right, very much so. The policy implications are enormous. The meteorological community at the moment is really just coming to terms with the output from this NASA Aqua satellite and (climate scientist) Roy Spencer's interpretation of them. His work is published, his work is accepted, but I think people are still in shock at this point."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Official Tennis Family...

...of the Obama Campaign?
Tennis is a prejudice game. Well, I'm Black and I'm prejudiced, very prejudiced. I'll be always prejudiced as the White man. The White man hated me all my life and I hate him. That's no secret. I'm not even an American, it just so happens that I was born in America. People are prejudiced in tennis. I don't think Venus or Serena was ever accepted by tennis. They never will be. But if you get some little White no good trasher in America like Tracy Austin or Chris Evert who cannot hit the ball, they will claim this is great.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

M is for the many times...

We've turned you away, for lack of room at the incubators:
More than four in ten maternity units in NHS hospitals have turned away women in labour and forced them to travel miles to give birth, according to new figures.

The statistics show the true scale of the crisis facing maternity units across the country, which could be putting the lives of mothers and babies at risk.

Many mothers-to-be have been forced to travel miles away from home after the doors were closed at their local NHS hospital.

Doing it for the children

The vaunted foreign policy credentials of Hillary Clinton:
Hillary Clinton's boasts that she gained major foreign policy experience as First Lady have been undermined after 11,046 pages of her White House schedules provided scant evidence to back up her claims.

....her visits to Northern Ireland indicate that she went little beyond the traditional role of a president's wife attending social events, meeting women's groups and greeting children.

Despite Mrs Clinton's claim last week that she was "instrumental" in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, the schedules do not record her attending a single policy meeting in the province.

....In Belfast [in 1998], she gave an address to the Vital Voices women's conference, spent 30 minutes at a reception at the City Hall and visited the PlayBoard children's project.

Her schedule records that she and Cherie Blair, the then Prime Minister's wife, were to "proceed to the children's play area, where children are creating playground models". They were then to "proceed down the path where they are joined by 25 children with balloons" and go "to the top of the hill and release the balloons".

....Her second solo visit came in May 1999.

She attended the dedication of a Playspace project, designed to ensure that children should have the chance to play in a "non-hostile environment". Her schedule noted that she was to invite "12 children to join as she and the programme participants plant two trees".

Speedy Gonzalez

Is now Suing Gonzales in Spain:
A man caught driving at 260 kilometres per hour [about 160 mph] on a highway in northern Spain is suing the Spanish government for more than EUR 300,000 in compensation for confiscating his driving license.

The 42-year-old man, whom court officials identified as Constantino G. S., was clocked by police travelling at more than twice the legal speed limit last year in an Audi A8 sedan. His driving license was immediately withheld and he was charged with reckless endangerment. More than a year later, a judge acquitted him of the charges due to a legal loophole.

In response to being banned from driving for 13 months, Constantino G. S. filed a lawsuit requesting EUR 313,454 [about $ 470,000] in compensation for the added expenses and time it had cost him to travel to and from work and for the "moral damage" caused by having his photo published by the media.

Our Standards are Junk

That's how we make a living:
Chris Pearson, a state legislator in Vermont, had a sense the people were with him when he proposed a bill in November to allow residents to block junk mail.

He got media attention, interview requests and e-mails from constituents eager to stop the credit-card offers, furniture catalogs and store fliers that clog their mailboxes.

Then came the pushback from postmasters, who told Pearson and other lawmakers that "standard" mail, the post office name for junk mail, has become the lifeblood of the U.S. Postal Service and that jobs depend on it.

Pearson's bill remains in a committee and has not been scheduled for a vote.

Barred by law from lobbying, the Postal Service is trying to make its case before a growing number of state legislatures weighing bills to create Do Not Mail registries similar to the popular National Do Not Call Registry.

The agency printed 3,000 "information packets" about the economic value of standard mail and sent postmasters to testify before legislative committees around the country.

....The Postal Service is working with the Direct Marketing Association, which represents retailers and the printing industry, in its new campaign designed to quash Do Not Mail initiatives.

....Perhaps surprisingly, many environmental groups are cool to the idea of a registry that prohibits marketers from sending mail to those enrolled and that fines violators. One reason may be that most environmental groups use standard [junk] mail for their solicitation.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

World's Greatest Monopolist

Not content with exploiting teenage labor, the NCAA enters the scalping business (to protect their customers, of course):
The NCAA is ready to reap even more money from its men's basketball tournament by engaging in a practice it once frowned upon: The resale of Final Four tickets at prices well over face value.

It is having its official ticket package provider, RazorGator, move large blocks of prime tickets online at markups of hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

The association entered the ticket resale business last year. It did so to protect its financial interests and to protect fans from counterfeit tickets, says Greg Shaheen, the NCAA's senior vice president for basketball and business strategies.

Late Tuesday afternoon, RazorGator was selling hundreds of all-sessions tickets to the Final Four at San Antonio's Alamodome, which will have capacity of 44,500 for the event. The tickets cover the national semifinals doubleheader, April 5, and the final, April 7. Some were selling for nearly 15 times their face value of $140-$220, and 14 blocks of at least 10 tickets were available in either the lower level, between the baskets or just outside the baskets.

Nose up in the air?

Make sure it's in good hands:
A Lloyd's of London syndicate said Tuesday it is insuring the nose of winemaker Ilja Gort for $8 million. The 47-year-old Dutch winemaker and taster took out the policy after hearing about a man who lost his sense of smell in a car accident.

"Tasting wine is something you do with your nose, not your mouth," said Gort, who produces wines at his Chateau de la Garde vineyard in France's Bordeaux region.

The policy covers the loss of either his nose or his sense of smell. But it has some conditions for protecting his nose: He is barred from riding a motorcycle; working as a knife thrower's assistant or fire-breather; and he can't be a boxer.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mountain Coming to Mohammad?

Rome and Saudi Arabia are talking:
The Vatican is believed to be holding talks with Saudi authorities over opening the first Roman Catholic church in the Islamic kingdom, where Christian worship is banned and even to possess a Bible, rosary or crucifix is an offence.

The disclosure came the day after the first Catholic church in Qatar was inaugurated in a service attended by 15,000 people and conducted by a senior Vatican official.

The Vatican and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations. However, Archbishop Paul-Mounged El-Hachem, the Papal Nuncio to Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, Yemen and Bahrain, said moves towards diplomatic ties were under way after a visit to the Vatican last November by King Abdullah.

This would involve negotiations for the "authorisation of the building of Catholic churches" in Saudi Arabia, he said.

The move would amount to a potential revolution in Christian-Muslim relations, since Saudi Arabia adheres to a hard-line Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam and is home to Mecca and Medina, the most holy sites of the religion. No faith other than Islam may be practised.

....Saudi religious police search the homes of Christians regularly; even private prayer services are forbidden. Foreign workers have to observe Ramadan but are not allowed to celebrate Christmas or Easter.

The Chinese are Coming. The Chinese are Coming.

To open a business near you:
The Chinese corporate presence is still small overseas, but it is growing fast.

Chinese companies invested more than $30 billion in foreign companies from 1996 to 2005, nearly $10 billion in 2004 and 2005 alone, according to an analysis by Usha Haley, a professor of international business at the University of New Haven. Lenovo helped start the frenzy in December 2004 by announcing it would acquire IBM's personal computer unit for $1.75 billion.

In the United States and Canada, Chinese companies now have about 3,500 investment projects, compared to 1,500 five years ago, according to an estimate by Ping Deng, a professor at Maryville University. Large state-owned companies jumped ahead; medium and small private companies are catching up.

Total investment in the United States is $4 billion to $7 billion, Ping said. In Europe, Chinese acquisitions last year totaled $563.3 million, according to the research company Dealogic.

Last year, 29 Chinese companies made their debut on U.S. stock exchanges, compared with 27 for the previous three years combined, according to the Bank of New York Mellon.

The number of U.S. visas issued to Chinese executives and managers who transferred to U.S. jobs within their companies nearly doubled to 2,043 between the 2004 and 2007 fiscal years. The current fiscal year is on pace to top that number, according to U.S. State Department data.

....Unlike the Japanese, whose high-profile arrival in the United States in the 1980s was at first greeted as a threat, Chinese businesses are being courted by states including Michigan, California, Illinois and Georgia.

Not that all arms are open.

Congressional scrutiny has focused on several investments, including the billions of dollars that government-owned funds are investing in top Wall Street institutions. National security concerns have scuttled several deals, including the attempted 2005 purchase of the oil giant Unocal and a $2.2 billion bid to buy the tech company 3Com in February.

In the Swedish coastal city of Kalmar, labor union and media criticism has been the backdrop for delayed Chinese plans to open a hotel and wholesale warehouse for Chinese-made commodities.

"China is developing very quickly and so people work very fast and don't plan very far ahead," said Angie Qian, the project manager. "In Sweden everything takes a much longer time."

Monday, March 17, 2008

He'd Walk a Mile...

For the swimsuit competition:
This time of year, when the weather is still cool and comfortable and the desert is strewn with flowering plants and shrubs, a man's thoughts often turn to his camels.

Indeed, says Fowzan al-Madr, a camel breeder from the Kharj region southeast of Riyadh, there are few pleasures in life greater than a long, late-winter afternoon in the desert in the company of beautiful camels.

To the uninitiated, it might seem that the beauty of a camel is definitely in the eye of the beholder. Actually, camel aesthetics are evaluated here according to a series of precise and exacting standards.

"It's just like judging a beautiful girl," said Madr. "You look for big eyes, long lashes and a long neck." Maybe, he added, 99 or 102 centimeters, or 39 or 40 inches.

As he spoke, Madr was surveying the offerings at Saudi Arabia's largest camel market, on the outskirts of Riyadh. He comes here each week, he said, just to look. The souq al jamel, as the market is called in Arabic, sprawls over the open desert for so many acres that it's handy to have a car to drive from pen to pen.

The days are long past when camels were used for transportation. Today, they are raised more for their milk and meat, for racing and, yes, for their beauty. Camel beauty pageants, in which camels are judged on their looks and dressage, are held all over Saudi Arabia. They have become so popular in recent years that a respected Saudi cleric recently issued a fatwa against them, saying that they encouraged pride.

Wearin' of the Green

Other people's money for the Saint Patrick's Day Massacre:
Hoping to avoid a systemic meltdown in financial markets, the U.S. Federal Reserve has approved a $30 billion credit line to engineer the takeover of Bear Stearns and announced an open-ended lending program for the biggest investment firms on Wall Street.

In a third move aimed at helping banks and thrifts, the Fed on Sunday also lowered the rate for borrowing from its so-called discount window by a quarter of a percentage point, to 3.25 percent.

On Tuesday, the Fed meets to discuss the level of its main interest rate. Investors expect the Fed to cut the target for the federal funds rate by a full percentage point to 2 percent.

Even before any action Tuesday, moves over the past week amounted to a sweeping and apparently unprecedented attempt by the Federal Reserve to rescue the U.S. financial markets from what officials feared could be a chain reaction of defaults.

....The Fed, working closely with bank regulators and the U.S. Treasury Department, raced to complete the deal Sunday night to prevent investors from panicking Monday about the ability of Bear Stearns to make good on billions of dollars in trading commitments.

In a potentially even bigger move, the Federal Reserve also announced its biggest commitment yet to lend money to struggling investment banks. The central bank said its new lending program would make money available to the 20 large investment banks that serve as "primary dealers" and trade Treasury securities directly with the Fed.

Much like a $200 billion loan program the Fed announced last week, this program will essentially allow the government to hold as collateral a wide variety of investments that include hard-to-sell securities backed by mortgages. But Fed officials told reporters Sunday night that the new program would have no limit on the amount of money that could be borrowed.

Outta This World!

For a few minutes. All you need is money to burn:
Aerospace giant EADS says it will need a production line of rocket planes to satisfy the space tourism market.

The European company's Astrium division, makers of the Ariane rocket, has plans for a commercial vehicle to take ticketed passengers above 100km.

Its market assessment suggests there would be 15,000 people a year prepared to part with some 200,000 euros (£160,000) for the ride of a lifetime.

Astrium anticipates it be will be producing about 10 planes a year.

....Wind tunnel testing has proven the aerodynamic shape; and the vehicle's Romeo rocket engine which will take the plane above 100km has been ignited for burns that have run up to 31 seconds.

The engine will be using the combustion of a liquid oxygen-methane propellant to provide the more than 1km/s punch needed to break through the top of the Earth's atmosphere.

About 50% of the mass of the plane at take-off would be fuel.

The intention is to produce a vehicle that seats five individuals - one pilot and four passengers.

The production model will use normal jet engines to take off and climb to 12km.

From there, the rocket engine will kick the vehicle straight up, taking it beyond 60km in just 80 seconds. By the time the rocket shuts down, the craft should have sufficient velocity to carry it above 100km - into space.

Friday, March 14, 2008

No man is an island...

but can be part of a couple hitting one, in Canada:
A former couple steering a ferry were apparently distracted by conversation as their ship was about to run aground, Canada's Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday in its final report on a crash that killed two passengers.

Fishing boats from an Indian village rescued 99 passengers and crew members after the Queen of the North hit Gil Island off Canada's Pacific Coast and drifted for 77 minutes before sinking March 22, 2006.

The ship was moving nearly 20 mph in reduced visibility when a course alteration should have been made, the report said. Fifteen minutes later, it struck Gil Island.

"While we do not know exactly what the crew was doing on the bridge minute by minute ... I can tell you they were not following sound watch-keeping practices," said Capt. Pierre Murray, a senior safety-board marine investigator.

Fourth Officer Karl Lilgert and Quartermaster Karen Bricker had ended a relationship two weeks before the accident and were working their first shift alone together since the breakup, the report said.

The two were fired after an investigation by B.C. Ferries.

Licenced to Steal

This time it's the French driving instructors:
Thousands of driver-training workers blocked traffic across main French cities Thursday in a national day of action against driving-licence reforms.

Instructors are protesting against possible changes to the system under an ongoing government review which they say will restrict their earnings.

.... "Our profession is in danger. The government wants to teach the highway code in schools and wants to cut the minimum number of (driving-instructor) hours required before sitting the test," said Georges Tassara, an instructors union representative.

"The cost of obtaining a driving licence, around 1,200 euros (1,875dollars) is not excessively high compared to northern European countries," said Jean-Louis Bouscaren, head of an instructors union.

.... Last month, thousands of taxis had staged a similar protest against deregulation of their profession.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Study Economics in Italy

And conquer your shyness:
Canada's longest-running Web show Naked News arrived in Italy on Thursday as one of the programme's four young Italian women read out a news item before removing an item of clothing.

The self-styled Show That Has Nothing To Hide, invented in 2000 in Toronto and popular in dozens of countries, offers female 'newsreaders' who disrobe after every report until they're in the buff.

The Italian version hit the Web at 17:00 local time as 25-year-old Michela Fiore began her stint of reading and stripping. Interviewed before the show, she told reporters: ''I find it a very interesting job which will undoubtedly contribute to my professional development''.

''I also hope it will bring in other offers as a presenter,'' said Fiore, who is three exams away from an economics degree.

Fiore will rotate with three other Italian anchors between the ages of 22 and 27, picked from 100 applicants.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Scrapping by...

In the Czech Republic the unemployed supplement their welfare checks with whatever they dig up:
Notable thefts

...Feb. 2008 Litvínov, north Bohemia: A 33-year-old man was caught pilfering more than 300 kilograms of metal worth 20,000 Kč [about $1,200 USD]. Police arrested the man as he was loading the loot into his vehicle

Feb. 2008 Karviná, north Moravia: Police arrested a 21-year-old man for stealing four sewer lids, two motors, a gear box and 20 tractor weights and selling them to a scrap yard, causing total damages of 15,200 Kč [about $900 USD]

Dec. 2007/Jan. 2008 Cheb, west Bohemia: Unidentified thieves dismantled and removed a disused 4-ton, 4-meter-long railroad bridge, causing 20,000 Kč in damages

July 2007 Kladno, central Bohemia: Thieves attempted to steal scrap from an abandoned factory. Unfortunately, they chose the steel girders supporting the roof, which subsequently fell, fatally crushing two thieves and injuring three others. They earned the Darwin Award, an international anti-prize for deaths resulting from acts of stupidity

Thank you, sir...

May we have another:
Washington [state] lawmakers have approved a pilot program that will allow beer and wine tasting in 30 grocery stores statewide in an effort to market local products.

....The one-year program, strongly supported by the state's microbrewery and wine industries, allows shoppers to sample as much as 4 ounces of beer or wine. Supporters say it allows small wineries or breweries with no marketing budget to get their products out to the public.

But opponents contend the program sets a bad example by exposing children to alcohol consumption.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How Green Was My Vatican?

We wonder what the Pieta is worth. Or the Sistine Chapel:
Failing to recycle plastic bags could find you spending eternity in Hell, the Vatican said after drawing up a list of seven deadly sins for our times.

The seven, which include polluting the environment, were announced by Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, a close ally of the Pope and the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, one of the Roman Curia's main court.

...."The sins of today have a social resonance as well as an individual one," said Mgr Girotti. "In effect, it is more important than ever to pay attention to your sins."

....Mgr Girotti said genetic modification, carrying out experiments on humans, polluting the environment, causing social injustice, causing poverty, becoming obscenely wealthy and taking drugs were all mortal sins.

Life Sentence?

Taxes, sure. Death? Hold on:
The mayor of a French village has issued a decree banning residents from dying in his territory unless they own a spot in the overcrowded cemetery.

"It is forbidden for any person not having a plot in the cemetery ... to die on the territory of the village," the mayor of the southwestern village of Sarpourenx wrote in a decree that warned of "severe punishment" for offenders.

Mayor Gerard Lalanne told AFP he had taken the radical measure to protest against a legal ruling preventing him from enlarging the burial ground in thevillage of 260 people.

"The first dead person to come along, I'll send him to the state's representative," he said.

Lalane said he had been inspired by the mayor of another French village,Cugnaux, who had also outlawed death as a protest last year and who thus won the right to enlarge the village's cemetery.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Outsourcing Jobs Overseas

Danke schoen, BMW:
BMW will spend $750 million to expand its South Carolina production facility and create 500 new jobs, doubling the size of its U.S. manufacturing operations, the company said Monday.

The German automaker will add 1.2 million square feet of production space, and construction of new paint shop facilities already has begun, said Frank-Peter Arndt, a BMW board member in charge of global production.

....The announcement comes about two weeks after BMW said it plans to cut 5,000 jobs in Germany and 600 elsewhere, or 7.5 percent of its work force over two years.

....By building the cars in the U.S., BMW can save money on the lower dollar and on wages since its South Carolina workers make less than German workers....

....The expansion more than triples what BMW initially said it would invest in 1992, Gov. Mark Sanford said. Years of expansions have increased that investment to $4.1 billion and a payroll of 5,400 people.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Army of Schultz...

...travels on its stomach:
A [German] parliamentary report sent to the Defense Ministry says the nation's soldiers are more overweight than average civilians, a spokesman said.

"Soldiers are too fat, don't do enough sports, and don't pay attention to what they eat," wrote Reinhold Robbe, the parliamentary commissioner for the military.

His report, issued Tuesday, drew on a study conducted by sports physicians at the University of Cologne showing that 40 percent of all soldiers between the ages of 18 and 29 are overweight, compared with 35 percent of German civilians the same age.

Robbe said that did not mean that the country's soldiers are too unfit to be deployed effectively. But he argued it would be an "enormous advantage" on the battlefield if they were in better shape.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Malaria Fever...Catch It

And be richer for the experience, in Seattle:
Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI) is announcing plans today for a facility where volunteers will be exposed to the deadliest form of the [malaria], which kills at least a million people a year. Most victims are African children.

But scientists are quick to point out that participating in the clinical trials won't be a life-threatening experience.

While many volunteers will actually contract malaria, the cloned strain used in the experiments can be quickly cured, and does not cause a recurring form of the disease.

More than 900 people have participated in malaria trials at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland, which pioneered the use of human tests more than 30 years ago. The only other two labs that conduct similar experiments are in England and the Netherlands.

There have been no deaths or hospitalizations in the trials, said Lt. Col. James F. Cummings, M.D., chief of Walter Reed's clinical trials center.

...."It's really important for people to understand how well-controlled this process is," said Dr. Patrick Duffy, head of SBRI's malaria research programs. "The disease follows a predictable course, and it's treated very early — as soon as parasites show up in the blood."

It's highly unusual for medical researchers to intentionally expose people to a disease — particularly one as serious as malaria. ....

But there's a long history of infecting people with malaria, first to induce fever and cure syphilis, and later for the studies that yielded many modern malaria drugs. The Army refined and standardized the process, developing a strain of parasite with no drug resistance.

The trials are time-consuming and will require several nights under medical supervision in a hotel. Volunteers will be compensated, probably in line with the $2,000 to $4,000 paid at Walter Reed. The initial trials will begin within 18 months, Duffy said.

A private lab in Seattle's South Lake Union district, SBRI has become a top malaria research center, largely because of funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The world's richest philanthropy has devoted more than $1 billion to a multipronged attack on malaria, including $350 million for one of its top priorities: development of a vaccine.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Thatcher Pornographer Passes

England loses another of its idiosyncratic entrepreneurs:
Paul Raymond, the entrepreneur who has died aged 82, amassed fortunes from nudity and property.

"The King of Porn", as Raymond was dubbed, was an avuncular figure who claimed that he was an honest entertainer.

But some argued that his prurient productions and publications whetted the public's appetite for darker material, and that Britain's moral decline began in 1958, when Raymond circumvented the laws prohibiting striptease by opening a private club, the Revuebar, his flagship and life-long base.

The club could be joined on the door, and within two years it had more than 45,000 members. Its neon sign — the first in Britain to offer STRIPTEASE — became a Soho landmark.

Businessmen and tourists mingled with politicians, shop stewards and nobility, to gawp at Bonnie Bell the Ding Dong Girl and Julia Mendez the Snake Girl.

Such immodesty attracted the attention of the police, who were obliged to spend much time on the premises; in its early years the Revuebar was raided several times, and in 1961 Raymond was fined £5,000 after a magistrate decided that allowing members of the audience to ring the Ding Dong Girl's bells constituted an unruly house — and that, furthermore, Julia Mendez should not have swallowed the snake in public.

....Many — particularly male journalists — found Raymond's candour charming, and he could be generous to employees. Nor did his lifestyle follow the American fashion of vain exclusivity and pretence; he remained a louche and unhealthy man of vulgar tastes, though he wore good suits.

Tall, with an artificial tan that mummified his skin like cracked toffee, a mane of hair like brittle silver lamé and a smear of moustache, he latterly evoked Dracula lurking in the guise of an Oxford Street spiv.

He sported heavy gold jewellery, a gold Rolls-Royce and had a penthouse next to the Ritz. He did not affect intellect; fearful that reading could destroy his instinct for the popular, he claimed he had not touched a book since infancy.

....As one of Mrs Thatcher's most enthusiastic supporters, Raymond was for some time touted as a sponsor for Mark Thatcher's racing career.

He did secure an invitation to No 10, but the only titles he acquired were courtesy of the press.

Water, Diamonds, Highway Lanes

Adam Smith must be smiling:
Motorists could be given the option of paying more to use less congested motorway lanes under new [British] Government proposals.

Plans to explore the feasibility of pay-as-you-drive motorway lanes - dubbed "Lexus lanes" - have been announced by Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary.

....Work will now begin to identify proposals for specific stretches of the motorway network.

The initiative, designed to ease congestion, will see nearly 500 miles of motorway lanes created for either toll or car-share use.

The toll lanes could be in place by 2010, and would be reserved for motorists willing to pay a premium to use them.

Monday, March 03, 2008


They may sleep with the fishes, but they're the toast of Sicily:
Wine produced in hills once tainted by Mafia ownership will hold a place of honour at Italy's most prestigious wine festival this month. Vinitaly will showcase Centopassi, the first-ever series of wines made entirely from grapes grown on lands seized from Mafia bosses.

....Vinitaly, which opens in Verona at the end of March, is a key date in the global wine calendar and an ideal opportunity to attract foreign interest.

A limited-edition white vintage, Cataratto in Purezza, occupies pride of place in this year's Centopassi collection. Just 15,000 bottles have been produced, which organizers hope will be snapped up at Vinitaly.

Cataratto in Purezza is the third wine in the Centopassi series, which is named after a famous Italian film devoted to the life of anti-mafia crusader Peppino Impastato.

The name of another campaigner killed by the Mafia, Placido Rizzotto, was given to the collection's two other wines: a white made from Chardonnay and Cataratto grapes and a red from Nero d'Avola and Syrah.

The vines are located on estates on the slopes of Monreale, not far from the Sicilian capital Palermo.

Although the soil is ideal for growing grapes and Monreale has long produced quality wine, those involved in the project say it has been hard work.

''It is relatively easy to return a land to agricultural use but restoring a destroyed vineyard is an arduous task, both technically and economically,'' said agronomist Federico Curtaz.

The wine is the result of work by two different cooperatives, Placido Rizzotto and Libera Terra, which were allocated the estates by a public consortium called Development and Legality.

Development and Legality was set up seven years ago, after a law was passed allowing local authorities to turn seized Mafia property over to cooperatives for socially beneficial projects. In addition to wine, youth cooperatives have started making pasta, olive oil and honey on the lands, and thanks to an agreement with the Coop supermarket chain, the products are now being sold all over Italy.