Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The trip is over

For the discoverer of LSD:
Albert Hofmann, who died on Tuesday aged 102, synthesised lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in 1938 and became the first person in the world to experience a full-blown acid trip.

.... Hofmann was working as a research chemist in the laboratory of the Sandoz Company (now Novartis) in Basel, Switzerland, where he was involved in studying the medicinal properties of plants.

....In his autobiography, LSD, My Problem Child (1979), he recalled that in the final stage of the synthesis, he was interrupted by some unusual sensations.

In a note to the laboratory’s director, he reported “a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination.

"In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed, I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colours. After some two hours this condition faded away.”

Hofmann concluded that he must have accidentally breathed in or ingested some laboratory material and assumed LSD was the cause.

....Sandoz, keen to make a profit from Hofman’s discovery, gave the new substance the trade name Delysid and began sending samples out to psychiatric researchers.

By 1965 more than 2,000 papers had been published offering hope for a range of conditions from drug and alcohol addiction to mental illnesses of various sorts.

But the fact that it was cheap and easy to make left it open to abuse and from the late 1950s onwards, promoted by Dr Timothy Leary and others, LSD became the recreational drug of choice for alienated western youth.

An outbreak of moral panic, combined with a number of accidents involving people jumping to their deaths off high buildings thinking they could fly, led governments around the world to ban LSD.

.... In addition to his discovery of LSD, he was also the first to synthesize psilocybin (the active constituent of “magic mushrooms”) in 1958.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Does anybody really care

The song has been around for awhile, now someone has matched it with a $300,000 watch (for people without enough sense to come in out of the rain):
A £150,000 designer watch that doesn't even tell the time has sold out within hours of going on sale.

The timepiece - called "Day and Night" - is encrusted with sapphires, has a crocodile skin strap and is made from steel salvaged from the wreck of the Titanic.

It looks like any normal watch but instead of numbers the face is divided into two sections - a dark half to signify night and a lighter half to signify the day.

A limited number were made by Swiss manufacturers Romain Jerome and they sold out within 48 hours after Brazilian footballer Ronaldo was given the first one.

Romain Jerome, who are based in Geneva, would not reveal who the other customers were other than to say they were "very rich clients, who have taste for the luxurious."

They describe the timepiece as a "world unique - a watch that does not tell the time."

IOW, a non-stopped watch that isn't right even twice a day.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A fool and his money

Parting with almost $2 million is such sweet sorrow, but another day is tomorrow, when the incentives suggest it will happen again:
MADRID - A day after the crew of the Playa de Bakio were released unharmed, reportedly following a ransom payment to the pirates, the government's response to the seizure of a Spanish fishing boat off the coast of lawless Somalia was "cautious, sensible and responsible," José Antonio Alonso, the governing Socialist Party's spokesman in Congress, said Sunday.

....The fishing boat's crew of 13 Spaniards and 13 Africans were freed shortly after 5pm on Saturday when the pirates abandoned the vessel for the Somali shore under the cover of darkness.

A local Somali official told Reuters that a ransom of EUR 1.2 million had been paid to the pirates by the ship's owner, although Spanish officials refused to confirm the report. The negotiations between the owner and the leader of the pirates had apparently been handled by a law firm in London.

Rent a Car Lane

Coming soon to the Puget Sound area, an acknowledgment of the laws of supply and demand:
Washington state's latest highway experiment can't begin soon enough for John Mastandrea, a real-estate developer who takes Highway 167 on his commute to Seattle.

....Mastandrea is one of about 9,000 people who have signed up to use the new high-occupancy or toll "HOT lanes" on Highway 167, starting Saturday.

For a price, Mastandrea and other solo drivers can jump out of the clogged general lanes from Auburn to Renton and cruise in the faster car-pool lane along the nine-mile corridor. One-way tolls will range from 50 cents to $9, depending on traffic. A typical rush-hour toll will be $4 to $5.

Buses and car pools of two or more occupants will continue to use the HOT lanes for free.

If the concept proves popular in a four-year, $18 million test, more miles of these HOT lanes might be added to Interstate 405, I-5 express lanes, the I-90 floating bridge and other roadways, state transportation officials say.

When the interstate-highway network was launched in the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower wanted to fund it through tolls. But users were unwilling to stop every few miles and pay cash at a toll booth, so they became "freeways."

Technology has solved that problem, says Mary Peters, the federal transportation secretary.
Drivers can pay on the fly using computer chips, fastened to their cars with windshield stickers. First, they pay money into a state-run toll account. Electronic readers, mounted on poles above the highway, display the current toll, read the chip and deduct money from the account — like a debit card.

Magnetic loops in the pavement measure the speed and number of cars. Whenever bad traffic creates a speed advantage in the HOT lane, the toll rises, to whatever price will keep cars moving in that lane at 45 mph.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sarkozy to France; Drop Dead

The French President boards the straight talk exprès:
"France has been asleep for the past 25 years... We have a difficult international context, all the more reason to accelerate reforms," Sarkozy said during the one-hour and 40 minute interview marking his first year in office.

"Of course, I have made mistakes," he said, adding that he and his government had not sufficiently explained reforms.

....Sarkozy lamented that previous governments had lacked the courage to go far enough and had brought reforms to a grinding halt at the first sign of resistance.

"In France, there is always a good reason to do nothing, always someone who is unhappy," the 53-year-old president said.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Now you see it...

Daniel Henninger says Sam Nunn and David Boren are following the new money:
The blowback at ABC's [Pennsylvania] debate makes clear that Obama is the left's man. So what did Messrs. Nunn and Boren see?

The biggest event was the Clinton Abandonment. In a campaign of surprises, none has been more breathtaking than the falling away of Clinton supporters, loyalists . . . and friends. Why?

Money. Barack Obama's mystical pull on people is nice, but nice in modern politics comes after money. Once Barack proved conclusively that he could raise big-time cash, the Clintons' strongest tie to their machine began to unravel. Today he's got $42 million banked. She's got a few million north of nothing.

But it's more than that. Barack Obama's Web-based fund-raising apparatus is, if one may say so, respectable. The Clintons' "donor base" has been something else.

It is hard to overstate how fatigued Democratic donors in Manhattan and L.A. got during the Clinton presidency to have Bill and Hillary fly in, repeatedly, to sweep checking accounts. The Lincoln Bedroom rental was cheesy. Bill's 60th birthday gala (tickets $60,000 to 500K) was a Clinton fund-raiser.

The 1996 John Huang-Lippo-China fund-raising scandal pushed Clinton contributors toward a milieu most didn't need in their lives. Hillary's 2007 Norman Hsu fund-raising scandal was an unsettling rerun of what the donor base could expect from another Clinton presidency.

It was all kind of gross, but the Clintons never seemed to see that. When Obama proved he could perform this most basic function in politics, it was a get-out-of-jail-free card for many Democrats.

For some, this may be personal. For others, it is likely a belief that the party's interests lie with finding an alternative to the Clinton saga. One guesses this is what Sam Nunn and David Boren concluded.

Breaking in isn't hard to do

And that's where the cheap drugs are, in Britain:
Prisoners are ignoring chances to escape because they would rather stay in their cushy jails where drugs are cheaper than on the outside, a prison chief officers has said.

Lags at Britain's 'toughest' prisons are treated to breakfast in bed, have Sky TV in every cell and are given cash bonuses for good behaviour.

At one prison in Yorkshire, drug dealers and hookers regularly break IN to ply their trade by leaning ladders up against prison walls.

But none of the criminals take the opportunity to leave because they have got it so easy, according to assistant general secretary of the Prison Officers Association Glyn Travis.

...."Drugs are coming into prisons at a rate that's so dramatic that drugs in prisons are actually cheaper than on the outside. ..."

He added: "There's a classic case in Yorkshire where members of the public were climbing over the prison walls to take drugs into the prison. They put up ladders to climb over the walls, but prisoners were so comfortable in the environment they were living in that none of them tried to climb up the ladders and escape.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Worse than a crime...

To the French; improving the product for the customer:
Sixty French winegrowers, traders and supermarket executives are to go on trial accused of adding hundreds of tonnes of sugar to Beaujolais wines from 2004 to 2006, officials said Tuesday.

....Adding sugar to wine at the start of the fermentation process is legal under France's strict winemaking regulations but only up to a certain limit, and must be clearly recorded.

Investigators claim the scale of the sugar sales in the area prove local winegrowers were using the technique to artificially improve the flavour of their wines.

"The investigation is over. It is established that a traffic took place and many of the accused have admitted the facts," said the prosecutor of Villefranche-sur-Saone, Francis Battut.

....Accused of making irregular purchases and forgery, the defendants face fines and possible prison sentences.

The 2004 Beaujolais harvest in particular was of variable quality - with some vineyards producing musty-flavoured grapes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Big Chill

Down Under, things are looking up on Global Warming:
Geophysicist Phil Chapman, the first Australian to become an astronaut with NASA, said pictures from the US Solar and Heliospheric Observatory showed there were currently no spots on the sun.

He said the world cooled quickly between January last year and January this year, by about 0.7C.

"This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record, and it puts us back to where we were in 1930," Dr Chapman writes in The Australian today.

"If the temperature does not soon recover, we will have to conclude that global warming isover."

Monday, April 21, 2008


The unfortunately acronymonious National Union of Teachers is about to shut down Britain's schools:
Members of the UK's biggest teaching union, the National Union of Teachers, will carry out a one-day walkout on Thursday in a dispute over pay.

Up to 200,000 teachers will go out on strike forcing the closure of many primary and secondary schools across England and Wales and putting others on a reduced timetable.

....Teachers were offered a 2.45 per cent pay rise this year and 2.3 per cent in 2009 and 2010 - above the 2 per cent limit on public sector pay set by the Prime Minister to control inflation.

But the offer is well below the NUT's original demands of a 10 per cent increase.

The majority of schools return from their Easter holiday today, leaving headteachers with precious little time to prepare for the strike action.

....The last national walkout came during Margaret Thatcher's premiership in 1987. At its conference last month, the NUT threatened to turn the day-long strike planned for April into a rolling campaign of industrial action over pay and large class sizes.

Schools minister Jim Knight said: "I am disappointed by the decision to strike, as I think parents will be. We believe that all teachers should be teaching and talking, and not walking out."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Nice Work...

If you can get it. And, economists have been getting it for decades since politicians don't:
A major investigation into the price of gasoline in Washington state uncovered no illegal activity, and discrepancies were explained by differences in wholesale gas prices, according to a report released Thursday by the state Attorney General's Office.

The $161,000 study, by University of Washington economist Keith Leffler, found the range between the highest and lowest wholesale gas price in the state was 3.4 cents per gallon.

"Competition can be particularly influenced by the number of hypermarketers, which are large retailers such as Costco, Wal-Mart and Safeway, that sell gas in the market area," the study found. "Other contributing factors include wages paid to station attendants, property values and the number of vehicles per station."

...."We're importing higher-priced refined gasoline to meet consumer demand, which raises average prices at the pump," Attorney General Rob McKenna said in a prepared statement Thursday. "Any glitches in the supply system can cause significant price spikes. Meanwhile, crude oil costs nearly four times as much as it did five years ago."

The last comprehensive study on Washington gas prices was published in July 1991.

Ho hum: Price is a function of supply and demand.

Feel the Electricity

Because you can't drive it:
Tesla and more than two dozen other start-up companies — most based in California and backed by piles of venture capital — are in a feverish race to develop a viable, electricity-powered alternative to the internal combustion engine. Electric cars, they argue, offer less pollution and noiseless operation for a fraction of the per-mile cost of traditional cars, while weaning drivers off oil.

Yet even environmentalists and investors who want to see these companies succeed question whether they have the know-how or leadership to replace the nation's gasoline fleet. Many of these companies seem bogged down fighting lawsuits, issuing breathless press releases, pummeling their rivals on blogs and bickering internally.

...."It's very cute for people out of Silicon Valley to want to bolt an electric motor to a chassis," said Ray Lane, managing partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which has invested in two start-ups: Irvine's Fisker Automotive and Think! of Norway. "But that's a long way from actually making a real car."

....Ontario, Calif.-based Phoenix plans to mate a Korean SsangYong pickup with a battery that can be charged in as little as 10 minutes.

Faced with production costs that suppliers say are more than double the truck's $47,000 retail price, the company cut ties with its motor supplier and engineering firm last year, leading both to sue.

....Santa Rosa-based Zap has repeatedly made promises it hasn't fulfilled. The publicly held company sells electric scooters and low-speed, three-wheel cars, and CEO Steven Schneider says Zap plans to sell a highway-legal three-wheeler starting next year.

Online stock-trading message boards accuse Zap of operating as a "pump-and-dump" shop that attempts to raise its stock temporarily by aligning itself with hot transportation trends. Schneider denied that, saying "moving the stock around doesn't help us."

The company has put out 26 news releases this year, and last year issued one headlined, "Zap not acquired or bombed by warplanes according to news reports." In the past several years, it has announced plans to sell a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, an ethanol vehicle and a 644-horsepower electric sports sedan. None has materialized.

Zap is in litigation over its 2005 attempt to sell Daimler's Smart Car in the U.S. without a license from the automaker. It also faces nearly a dozen unrelated lawsuits, including fraud and breach of contract.

In the past four years, Zap's stock price has gyrated between 26 cents and almost $5. It hit its 2008 high of 89 cents in January, shortly after announcing it had created an "electric car made for iPod" — one of its low-speed models with an MP3 input jack. The shares are now around 50 cents.

"We put out a lot of news because it's a vicious market and we need to remain in the news," Schneider said. "Shareholders call screaming, 'We want news, we want news,' and so we give it to them."

....The start-ups "mistakenly believe that they have the problems all worked out," said David Patterson of Mitsubishi, which is developing its own electric car for sale in Japan next year. "They're butting up against some of the biggest challenges of the auto industry itself."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Su casa es mi casa

Well, they call themselves socialists, what do you expect them to do:
It's been the dream of millions - a home by the sea in sunny Spain. People from all over Europe have invested hard-earned savings in coastal villas and apartments.

Now a government drive to clean up Spain's concrete-filled coastline after decades of abuse may wash away many of those dreams like castles of sand.

Enforcing a much-neglected 1988 law, the Socialist government is getting tough about what constitutes coastal public domain - the strip of land stretching back from the water's edge - and telling thousands of house and apartment owners their properties do not really belong to them.

"Out of the blue we've been told the house we have owned for more than 30 years is no longer ours," said a retired British electronics engineer, Clifford Carter, 59, who lives with his Spanish wife in La Casbah, a beach-side complex in eastern Spain. "The house was built legally, but now they say we can only live here until we die but can't sell the house or leave it to our children."

...."We're taking the law seriously," said the Environment Ministry's coastal department director, José Fernández. "Previous governments didn't think it was important, while we have made it a priority."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Franglish Sex Appeal

They don't have a word for it:
A French MP has said he is outraged that the song chosen to represent the nation in the Eurovision song contest has English lyrics.

Jacques Myard, of the UMP party, has urged the company that runs most of France's TV networks to reconsider.

Sebastien Tellier's entry, entitled Divine, combines both English and French lyrics with electro music.

....Mr Myard told the BBC that allowing an English song to represent France was a fiasco: "The French language is the tool of a huge industry in terms of cultural influence and if we French give up our language, what do you think the others will say?"

....Mr Tellier, whose album is called Sexuality, defended his choice, saying he needed to use the English language to achieve his artistic goals.

"To explain the vision of French people of sexuality and of life and so, to be understood, I need to sing in English," he said.

Keep it under your hat

That there are limits, even in Scotland, to wacky disability claims:
A retired schoolteacher who claimed he was a victim of disability discrimination because he is bald has lost his claim.

James Campbell, 61, formerly an art teacher at Denny High School in Stirlingshire, took Falkirk Council to an employment tribunal over the issue.

He told the Glasgow tribunal he had suffered from harassment at the hands of pupils because of his baldness.

In his ruling, the tribunal judge said baldness was "not an impairment".

Mr Campbell, from Stirlingshire, who is also claiming constructive and unfair dismissal against the council, said pupils at the school perceived his baldness as a weakness.

He claimed his baldness had a "substantial and long term adverse effect" on his ability to do his job.

Speaking during the hearing, Mr Campbell said: "How can I stand in front of a class with confidence to get on with my job when I am getting teased and bullied about baldness, when I think they are laughing at me all the time.''

The former teacher, who retired in 2007, said he avoided corridors in the school where he would meet pupils to avoid them shouting ''baldy''.

He added: ''I left school later at night after the bell went to avoid the kids."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

He doesn't sell take-out

It's my coffee, and you'll drink it where I say:
Howard Schultz says he wants the Sonics back.

Nearly two years after selling Seattle's NBA franchise to Oklahoma City investors, the Starbucks mogul has hired a lawyer and is preparing to file a lawsuit against Sonics chairman Clay Bennett to rescind the July 2006 sale.

Attorney Richard Yarmuth confirmed Monday that his Seattle-based law firm, Yarmuth Wilsdon Calfo, is representing Schultz and plans to sue Bennett's Professional Basketball Club in the next two weeks.

"The damages that are being sought is to rescind, unwind the transaction," Yarmuth said a day after the team played what could have been its final home game in Seattle.

"It's not money damage. It's to have the team returned. The theory of the suit is that when the team was sold, the Basketball Club of Seattle, our team here, relied on promises made by Clay Bennett and his ownership that they desired to keep the team in Seattle and intended to make a good-faith effort to accomplish that."

....On Aug. 2, 2006, two weeks after the sale, team co-owners Tom Ward and Aubrey McClendon e-mailed about moving the Sonics to Oklahoma City as soon as possible. The communication was after one of the original Oklahoma partners had dropped out of the ownership group.

"I don't think that you and I really want to own a team there [Seattle] either but we are better partners," Ward wrote.

On April 17 last year, Ward wrote McClendon and Bennett: "Is there any way to move here [Oklahoma City] for next season or are we doomed to have another lame duck season in Seattle?"

The exchanges detail a breach of contract, Yarmuth said. He also cites McClendon's comments last August to the (Oklahoma) Business Journal in which the billionaire founder and chief executive of Chesapeake Energy said: "We didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we hoped to come here [Oklahoma City]."

"The issue is did the Oklahoma group fraudulently induce the Seattle owners, Howard Schultz and the other owners, to sell the team on a misrepresentation of their intentions at the time," Yarmuth said.


For want of a...a ship was lost, they claim:
Scientists have discovered that the builder of the Titanic struggled for years to obtain enough rivets and riveters and ultimately settled on faulty materials that doomed the ship, which sank 96 years ago today.

The builder's own archive, the two scientists say, harbors evidence of a deadly mix of low-quality rivets and lofty ambition as the builder labored to construct the world's three biggest ships at once — the Titanic and two sisters, Olympic and Britannic.

For a decade, scientists have argued that the storied liner went down fast after hitting the iceberg late on the night of April 14, 1912, during her inaugural voyage, because the ship's builder used substandard rivets that popped their heads and let tons of icy seawater rush in. More than 1,500 people died.

The builder, faced with questions of responsibility, ignored the rivet charge and denied having an archivist to address the issue.

Historians say that the new evidence uncovered in the archive of Harland & Wolff, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, settles the argument and finally solves the riddle of one of the most famous sinkings of all time. The company insists that findings are deeply flawed.

....The scientists say the troubles all began when the colossal plans forced Harland & Wolff to reach beyond its usual suppliers of rivet iron and include smaller forges, as disclosed in company and British government papers. Small forges tended to have less skill and experience.

Adding to the threat, the company, in buying iron for Titanic's rivets, ordered No. 3 bar, known as "best" — not No. 4, known as "best-best," the scientists found. They also discovered that shipbuilders of the day typically used No. 4 iron for anchors, chains and rivets.

So the liner, whose name was meant to be synonymous with opulence, in at least one instance relied on cheap materials.

Can you still be too rich?

They are a funny race:
The French parliament's lower house adopted a groundbreaking bill Tuesday that would make it illegal for anyone - including fashion magazines, advertisers and Web sites - to publicly incite extreme thinness.

....Conservative lawmaker Valery Boyer, author of the law, argued that encouraging anorexia or severe weight loss should be punishable in court.

....Her bill has mainly brought focus to pro-anorexic Web sites that give advice on how to eat an apple a day - and nothing else.

But Boyer insisted in her speech to lawmakers Tuesday that the legislation was much broader and could, in theory, be used against many facets of the fashion industry.

It would give judges the power to imprison and fine offenders up to $47,000 if found guilty of "inciting others to deprive themselves of food" to an "excessive" degree, Boyer said in a telephone interview before the parliamentary session.

Judges could also sanction those responsible for a magazine photo of a model whose "excessive thinness ... altered her health," she said.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Happy Booker

He may not be able to turn a phrase, but he can turn a profit:
Philip Parker... has generated more than 200,000 books, as an advanced search on under his publishing company shows, making him, in his own words, "the most published author in the history of the planet." And he makes money doing it.

Among the books published under his name are "The Official Patient's Sourcebook on Acne Rosacea" ($24.95 and 168 pages long); "Stickler Syndrome: A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients and Genome Researchers" ($28.95 for 126 pages); and "The 2007-2012 Outlook for Tufted Washable Scatter Rugs, Bathmats and Sets That Measure 6-Feet by 9-Feet or Smaller in India" ($495 for 144 pages).

But these are not conventional books, and it is perhaps more accurate to call Parker a compiler than an author. Parker, who is also the chaired professor of management science at Insead (a business school with campuses in Fontainebleau, France, and Singapore), has developed computer algorithms that collect publicly available information on a subject — broad or obscure — and, aided by his 60 to 70 computers and six or seven programmers, he turns the results into books in a range of genres, many of them in the range of 150 pages and printed only when a customer buys one.

If this sounds like cheating to the layman's ear, it does not to Parker, who holds some provocative — and apparently profitable — ideas on what constitutes a book. While the most popular of his books may sell hundreds of copies, he said, many have sales in the dozens, often to medical libraries collecting nearly everything he produces. He has extended his technique to crossword puzzles, rudimentary poetry and even to scripts for animated game shows.

And he is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. "I've already set it up," he said. "There are only so many body parts."

Friday, April 11, 2008

There's a lesson here...and there

Supply and demand determine price of photos of naked first ladies:
A nude photograph of France's first lady, Carla Bruni, has been auctioned for $91,000 (£46,098) - more than 20 times the expected price.

The image was taken by photographer Michel Comte in 1993, when Ms Bruni was a highly sought-after model.

The picture was bought by an anonymous bidder on behalf of a collector, said Christie's auction house in New York, which sold the image.

The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy has declined to comment.

And, halfway around the world, a government tries to ignore that economic principle, with predictable results:
As global prices for rice surge to ever higher levels, the world's biggest importer, the Philippines, shows all the signs of being gripped by a rice crisis.

Huge queues form wherever government stocks are being sold at subsidised prices.

The government has been scouring the international markets for new supplies to replenish its stocks, paying record prices.

Rice dominates the newspaper headlines every day, and seems to be consuming the government's energy.

But this crisis is not all it seems. "There's no shortage," Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap told me. "The problem is not with supplies, but with price."

Which are inextricably linked.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Let's Get Naked

They'll get paid only if they deliver:
It takes a bit of courage, and perhaps a lot of ego, to tell large companies that their ad campaigns have been failing miserably.

But that's exactly what the advertising firm Naked claims to do regularly.

"We get up in front of a group of agencies and tell them, very nicely, that they have wasted tens of millions of dollars," said Ben Richards, senior strategist at Naked New York.

For that advice, of course, Naked hopes to earn a chunk of the supposedly wasted money. ....

Unlike many ad agencies, Naked does not create ads or purchase the space for them from media companies. ....

Naked's success will, in part, be driven by the success of its clients. The firm often accepts part of its compensation based on whether its strategies translate into higher sales. That marks a dramatic departure from the typical pay model in advertising, which is based on producing ads or placing them in particular media.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ridin' the Rails

The French taxpayer gets the bill:
The French government is to pay Eurotunnel 24 million euros (38 million dollars) in compensation for break-ins by illegal immigrants who used its rail link to cross from France and Britain, the company said Tuesday.

The Channel tunnel operator had claimed damages of 53 million euros from France for delays caused by migrants based at a Red Cross centre in Sangattein northern France between 2000 to 2002.

It also challenged bills from the British authorities for the cost of detaining and returning illegal immigrants who arrived via the tunnel.

A special arbitration court in The Hague ruled in favour of the companylast year.

Eurotunnel chairman Jacques Gounon told a press conference the group had reached a settlement with the French government for compensation of 24 million euros, with an accord to be signed shortly.

It also said Britain had agreed to the principle of a settlement, with negotiations to begin soon.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

An offer he can't refuse, Mate

The latest in the collapse of Aussie stockbrokerage Opes Prime:
AS former underworld boss Mick Gatto landed in Singapore last night on a mission to uncover $1billion in assets believed to have been funnelled out of Opes Prime accounts, one burnt investor - gun Sydney lawyer Chris Murphy - revealed he received a $250,000 Maserati as a gift from the now failed stockbroker.

Mr Murphy, who lost more than $100 million when Opes Prime collapsed, admitted he still owned the Maserati - albeit garaged, uninsured and unregistered - after angry creditors were told in Melbourne yesterday they might get as little as 30c in the dollar in the wash-up from the disaster.

"When I was a successful trader I picked the shares and Opes financed them. I was given the Maserati," Mr Murphy told The Australian. "The first time I drove it I hit the gutter. I went to Bob Jane T-Mart to get the wheel replaced and they said $6000. So I still drive my Corolla."

The revelation was the latest twist in the Opes scandal, which took a bizarre turn yesterday, with Mr Gatto, a one-time prominent member of Melbourne's criminal underworld who now runs a mediation and arbitration business, promising unnamed investors he would return from his overseas trip with their money.

....It is believed Mr Gatto will meet businessmen related to Opes's operations in Singapore, including two associated companies: an Islamic finance fund called Five Pillars and a Singapore-based hedge fund.

Mr Gatto, who escaped a murder charge at the height of Melbourne's gangland war after claiming self-defence in shooting dead a hitman in an Italian restaurant, is expected to meet Raj Maiden, the chief executive of Five Pillars, along with director Australian-born Gordon Browne, who started his career with stockbroker Potter Warburg (now UBS) in Sydney. Before leaving Australia, Mr Gatto said he would be more successful in retrieving assets than a class action being spearheaded by law firm Slater and Gordon.

"History shows that if you leave it to the lawyers and the receivers, they stretch it out foryears and the investors get nothing," he said.

....It is not known who Mr Gatto is representing, but speculation suggests that it includes Mr Murphy....

"We've got leads that we're following at the moment, but it's all confidential and I can't really say because everyone else will jump on board, but we're one step ahead of the posse," he said.

"We can't divulge our methods, otherwise everyone else will be doing it, but we get the result -- put it that way.

"We never use violence. It's always done amicably. There's no evidence that I've ever used violence ... We fix sticky problems and people come to me with all sorts of problems - they have for many years.

"We've got results for lots of people and people keep coming to me ... I'm quite happy with that."

They sleep with the fishes

New York's subway cars continue to be active in packing in the sardines?
Sixteen nautical miles from the Indian River Inlet and about 80 feet underwater, a building boom is under way at the Red Bird Reef.

One by one, a backhoe operator has been shoving hundreds of retired New York subway cars off a barge, continuing the transformation of a barren stretch of ocean floor into a bountiful oasis, carpeted in sea grasses, walled thick with blue mussels and sponges, and teeming with black sea bass and tautog.

"They're basically luxury condominiums for fish," Jeff Tinsman, the artificial reef program manager for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said as one of 48 of the 19-ton retirees from New York sank toward the 666 already on the ocean floor.
But now, Delaware is struggling with the misfortune of its own success.

....The summer flounder and bass have snuggled so tightly on top and in the nooks of the subway cars that Tinsman is trying to expand the housing capacity. He is having trouble, however, because other states, seeing Delaware's successes, have started competing for the subway cars, which New York provides free.

...."The secret is out, I guess," said Michael Zacchea, the Metropolitan Transit Authority official in charge of getting rid of old New York subway cars.

Delaware's prospects for expanding the reef look grim, Zacchea added, because the state of New York has said it wants all of the city's retired subway cars once the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers updates the state's reef permit this summer. Zacchea said he would soon stop shipments out of state, saving perhaps $2 million in transport costs.

Save the Rainforest

And enjoy the experience:
The Brazilian government has begun producing condoms using rubber from trees in the Amazon.

The health ministry says the move will help preserve the largest rainforest in the world.

It will also cut dependence on imported contraceptives, which are given away to fight Aids.

The Brazilian government has one of the biggest programmes in the world to distribute free condoms in the fight against the disease.

The new state-run factory is in the north-western state of Acre, and will initially produce 100 million condoms a year, which will be known by the name Natex.

....The latex will come from the Chico Mendes reserve, an area named after the famous conservationist and rubber tapper who was shot dead in 1988 by local ranchers.

My Name is HAL...

And, I'll be your waiter:
The tracks run all the way from the kitchen, high up in the roof, down to the tables, twisting and turning as they go. And down the tracks - in little pots with wheels fixed to the bottom - speeds food.

Supersonic sausages, high-pace pancakes and wine bottles whizzing down to the customers' tables with the help of good old gravity. One pot is spiralling down so fast, it looks like an Olympic bobsleigh (but it's only Bratwurst). the 's Baggers restaurant in Nuremberg, you don't need waiters to order food. Customers use touch-screen TVs to browse the menu and choose their meal.

....Up in the kitchen, it is man, not machine, that makes the food. They haven't found a way of automating the chef, just yet.

Everything is prepared from fresh. When it is ready, the meal is put in a pot and given a sticker and a colour to match the customer's seat.

Then it is put on the rails and despatched downhill to the correct table.

...."You can save labour costs," explains restaurant spokesperson Kyra Mueller-Siecheneder.

"You don't need the waiters to run to the customers, take the orders, run to the kitchen and back to the guests."

Not to mention that without waiters, there's no need for tipping.

Monday, April 07, 2008

We thought we would never see

Trees hauled into court for violating anti-shade law:
Trees - redwoods, live oaks or blossoming fruit trees - are usually considered sturdy citizens of the sun-swept peninsula south of San Francisco, not criminal elements. But under a 1978 state law protecting homeowners' investment in rooftop solar panels, trees that impede solar panels' access to the sun can be deemed a nuisance and their owners fined up to $1,000 a day. The Solar Shade Act was an obscure curiosity until late last year, when a dispute over the eight redwoods (a k a Tree No. 1, Tree No. 2, Tree No. 3, etc.) ended up in Santa Clara County criminal court.

The couple who planted the trees, Carolynn Bissett and Richard Treanor, were convicted of violating the law, based on the complaint of their neighbor, Mark Vargas, and were ordered to make sure that no more than 10 percent of the solar panels are shaded.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

No Honey, No Money?

Northwestern University continues research on the cutting edge:
When young men were shown erotic pictures, they were more likely to make a larger financial gamble than if they were shown a picture of something scary, such as a snake, or something neutral, such as a stapler, university researchers reported.

The arousing pictures lit up the same part of the brain that lights up when financial risks are taken.

"You have a need in an evolutionary sense for both money and women. They trigger the same brain area," said Camelia Kuhnen, a Northwestern University finance professor who conducted the study with a Stanford University psychologist.

Their research appears in the current edition of the peer-reviewed journal NeuroReport.

The study involved 15 heterosexual men in the 18-26 age range at Stanford University. It focused on the sex and money hub, the V-shape nucleus accumbens, which sits near the base of the brain and plays a central role in what you experience as pleasure.

When that hub was activated by the erotic images, the men were far more likely to bet high on a random chance game that would earn them either a dollar or a dime. Each man made more than 50 gambles under brain scans.

Friday, April 04, 2008

That You Do So Well

He has the perfect first name for it:
Popular in Haiti even among many of those who attend Christian churches, voodoo lacks the formal hierarchy of other religions. Most voodoo priests, known as houngans, operate semi-independently, catering to their followers without a whole lot of structure.

But many of Haiti's houngans recently came together into a national federation and named [Max] Beauvoir, 72, as their public face. He is now the spokesman for a religion that followers believe too often gets a bad rap and is in dire need of an image overhaul. ....

"My position as supreme chief in voodoo was born out of a controversy," Beauvoir said, explaining how Haiti's elite have marginalized the houngans that generations ago wielded significant influence in society.

"Today, voodooists are at the bottom of society. They are virtually all illiterate. They are poor. They are hungry. You have people who are eating mud, and I don't mean that as a figure of speech."

Beauvoir, a doctor's son who was not particularly interested in spiritual matters in his youth, left Haiti in the mid-1950s for the City College of New York, where he studied chemistry. Then he went off to the Sorbonne for graduate study in biochemistry. After various jobs in the New York area, he returned to Haiti in the early 1970s to conduct experiments on traditional herbal remedies.

It was then that voodoo called.

.... Beauvoir has devoted the rest of his life to studying the religion....The more he learns about voodoo, Beauvoir said, the more convinced he is that it can, and should, play a role in resolving Haiti's problems, especially given the religion's reach among the most disenfranchised people.

As it is now, he said, the government seeks the input of Catholic and Protestant leaders when grappling with societal issues. "But do they call for the input of the voodooists?" he asked, shaking his head.

....To turn things around, Haiti's voodooists decided they needed to organize themselves and confront voodoo-bashing head on.

"We decided to come together and form a new voodoo structure," Beauvoir said. "We Haitians want to move forward in life. We need to find our identity again, and voodoo is our identity. It's part of our collective personality.

Save That Tiger

The economics of dropping out of college:
In the fall of 1995, one of the students who took [John] Taylor’s introductory economics course was golfer Tiger Woods, who left Stanford soon thereafter. “Perhaps I explained the concept of opportunity costs a bit too clearly,” Taylor jokes. He adds that he now uses the example of Woods—and the estimate of the $40 million in earnings the golfer would have forgone had he stayed at Stanford—to explain the concept of opportunity costs to incoming students. “They get the idea right away.”

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Dust Up

Because lumber is down:
From Maine to Oregon, the price of sawdust, along with other wood byproducts, has soared.

When they can find it, sawdust buyers — dairy farmers, particleboard makers, wood-pellet manufacturers among them — are paying up to $50 a ton or more. That's double what they paid a year ago, some say.

There was once a time when sawmill operators could barely give away their sawdust. They dumped it in the woods or incinerated it just to get rid of the stuff. These days, they have ready markets for sawdust, as well as bark, wood chips and board trimmings that can't be sold as lumber.

....The numbers tell the story of what's going on.

In the first three months of the year, U.S. sawmills have been shipping about 114 million board feet of lumber per day, said Henry Spelter, an economist with the U.S. Forest Service forest-products laboratory in Madison, Wis. That's down from 135 million board feet per day the first three months of last year, and 160 million board feet in 2006.

....Less lumber means less sawdust.

At the same time, wood-pellet plants are popping up in need of raw supply, thereby increasing the demand, he said.

"The result, not surprisingly, is higher prices," Spelter said.

Get the Lead Out...

Before someone steals it:
For centuries, people have stolen religious artifacts in Europe, including chunks of religious buildings, but Britain is in the midst of an accelerating crime wave that some experts call the most concerted assault on churches since the religious conflicts of the Reformation. Only instead of doctrinal differences, the motivation is the near-record price that lead - the stuff many old church roofs are made of - is fetching on commodity markets.

"The local parish church has become a victim of international demand for metals," said Chris Pitt, a spokesman for Ecclesiastical, a company that specializes in insuring religious buildings and other heritage sites in Britain.

The price of lead on global markets has rocketed sevenfold in the past six years, largely because of rising demand from industrializing countries like China and India. Centuries ago, its malleability made it a popular building material; now it is sought after mainly as a source for batteries for vehicles and backup power systems for computer and mobile phone networks. It is also used to make bullets and shot, cables and paints.

....A critical problem for Britain's churches is that many go unused for long periods of time, largely because of a decline in church-going. Edmondthorpe, for example, are sometimes held just six times a year.

In some cases, clergy and parishioners only discover roof thefts once rain pours into the building, damaging cherished items like carved wooden screens and ancient organs. Such thefts can mean thousands of pounds of structural damage, too.

....Historical preservation rules require many churches to replace roofs with original building materials, including lead, despite its attractiveness to thieves and its cost. So parishioners fear thieves might return after repairs have been made.

Ferry Interesting

The retired head man of the Washington State Ferries wouldn't ride them if they were free:
Is Mike Anderson, who retired as director of Washington State Ferries in December, eligible for a lifetime ferry pass?

Union retirees and their spouses can ride the ferries for free for life. Since 2004, 219 passes have been issued to retirees and 142 to spouses, according to the state.

During much of his 34-year tenure with the ferry service, Anderson belonged to The Inlandboatmen's Union (IBU) but lost union status when he left his job as a terminal supervisor to become a manager.

Union officials with the Ferry Agents, Supervisors and Special Project Administrators Association (FASPAA), which represents terminal supervisors, say Anderson is entitled to the ferry pass.

But Anderson, who now works for an engineering firm, says he doesn't want one, didn't ask for one, didn't authorize the union to fight for one for him and probably wouldn't use one if he got it.

....Anderson, who says he doesn't want to be in the middle of warring unions, said the whole issue is irrelevant because he never rides the ferries.

In Clover

Brew a better cup of coffee, and Starbucks will beat a path to your shed's door:
Starbucks last month announced plans to buy Coffee Equipment Co., the 11-employee company that makes Clover...[coffee makers] in an old trolley shed in Ballard [Washington]. [Inventor Zander] Nosler is thrilled.

"It's always nice to get asked to go steady, and I love not having to go ask for more investor money," he said of the deal, whose price and other terms, including a possible closing date, have been kept secret.

The machine that struck Starbucks' fancy is a single-cup brewer that costs coffee shops $11,000, about the same price as many commercial espresso machines and at least $9,000 above most high-end commercial drip-coffee machines.

In two years, Coffee Equipment has delivered fewer than 250 Clover machines to coffee shops around the world.

....Some coffee shops charge more for their Clover brew. In Manhattan, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz paid $7 for his first cup of coffee from a Clover.

"How do you do that?" Schultz jokingly asked Nosler in front of shareholders at Starbucks' annual meeting last month.

Nosler designed the Clover with two fellow engineering alumni from Stanford University, Randy Hulett and Jorah Wyer.

First, Do No Health Care

In Spain, the medical reign falls mainly on the pained patients:
MADRID - On Tuesday, for the second consecutive day, police were called to intervene at Henares Hospital's Emergency Centre as angry patients fed up with waiting for hours in overcrowded halls without seeing doctors started to revolt.

The first uprising was on Monday when the daughter of a 79-year-old patient called the police after her mother suffered two heart-attacks during her five-hour wait for someone to see her. Many other patients had similar complaints for the police.

Before the hospital reopened in February, local health unions had protested that it suffered from serious infrastructure and personnel deficiencies.

On Monday, however, the Health Ministry attributed the chaos to rising patient numbers due to a strike by primary care physicians.

Waiting for Go To

Want to be semi-retired?
Many of France's top-notch diplomats are under-employed, waiting for months on end for an assignment or foreign posting, according to a government monitoring body quoted in a newspaper Wednesday.

The Cour des Comptes office, which monitors public spending, wrote a letter to Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in late 2007 raising concern that "senior civil servants are being left without any definite assignment for more than a few months."

....Asked about the report, foreign ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani said France was struggling with an ageing diplomatic corps and that there were limited opportunities for them.

....The foreign ministry in December offered an early retirement package to diplomats over 58, and Le Figaro said there would soon be offers of compensation for employees who agreed to give up their jobs.

France has the second biggest diplomatic corps in the world after the United States, with 158 embassies, 98 consulates and 16,000 employees.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

See You in Court

Unless we're right:
A giant particle accelerator that mimicks the effects of the "Big Bang" could destroy all life on Earth by sucking it into a black hole, a lawsuit claims.

Walter Wagner, who runs a botanical garden on Hawaii's Big Island, and Luis Sancho, a Spaniard, have asked for an injunction to prevent the European Centre for Nuclear Research, or Cern, starting up the Large Hadron Collider.

The accelerator, which will be the world's most powerful particle smasher, is due to begin hurling protons at each other at its base outside Geneva this summer.

Physicists hope that the device, which has taken 14 years and £4 billion to build, will provide clues to the universe's origins by mimicking its condition a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

....The... lawsuit, filed in the Federal District Court in Honolulu, seeks a temporary restraining order banning Cern from finishing the accelerator until it has produced a safety report and an environmental assessment.

Defendants named in the suit are Cern, the US Department of Energy, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the National Science Foundation. The US Justice Department said it would represent the Energy Department at a meeting over the lawsuit in Hawaii in June.

Undead as a Dodo

Next for French scientists; Jerry Lewis's career?
Eurosceptic MP David Heathcoat-Amory reacted angrily after the EU officially sanctioned a proposed project to recreate the egg of the Dodo, extinct 300 years before the union was formed.

Brussels, Monday 31 March - The EU sanctioned research and development by a team of French scientists who aim to reconstruct the egg of a Dodo in special incubators in the hope that they might bring the creature back to life.

Eurosceptic MP David Heathcoat-Amory described the plans as “preposterous” and branded the project “Jurassic lark”. Dr Patrick Refrain, one of the founders of l’Institut de Beauville-sur-Lys, close to Paris, responded by saying that laymen should refrain from commenting on matters “outwith their sphere of knowledge”. [Such as English?]

....The EU department for zoology and anthropology has initially earmarked 3 million euros (4, 7 dollars) for initial tests and promised further funding “should progress be deemed significant”.

Heathcoat-Amory told reporters from his Cheshire home that the researchers were "living with Alice in Wonderland" and that it was the EU “who would be extinct shortly and no one will bring it back”.