Friday, May 30, 2008


Fresh from his turn as Nostradamus, Adam Smith must be enjoying this Diamonds-Water-Paradox:
Outside Seattle, cooking oil rustling has become such a problem that the owners of the Olympia Pizza and Pasta Restaurant in Arlington, Washington, are considering using a surveillance camera to keep watch on its 50-gallon grease barrel. Nick Damianidis, an owner, said the barrel had been hit seven or eight times since last summer by siphoners who strike in the night.

"Fryer grease has become gold," Damianidis said. "And just over a year ago, I had to pay someone to take it away."

Much to the surprise of Damianidis and many other people, processed fryer oil, which is called yellow grease, is actually not trash. The grease is traded on the booming commodities market. Its value has increased in recent months to historic highs, driven by the even higher prices of gas and ethanol, making it an ever more popular form of biodiesel to fuel cars and trucks.

In 2000, yellow grease was trading for 7.6 cents per pound. On Thursday, its price was about 33 cents a pound, or almost $2.50 a gallon.

And, the fishin' ain't easy

The fishermen are jumpin'
mad throughout Europe:
Commercial fishermen throughout Europe launched new protests Friday against soaring fuel bills, blockading ports and refineries in France and handing out fresh fish for free in Madrid.

The protests against diesel fuel costs have been simmering all week, with truckers in Britain blocking highways and fishing vessels halting port traffic on the English Channel in France.

....In Portugal, fishing fleets also stayed in port and in one harbor at Peniche, in central Portugal, skippers strung their boats together with mooring lines to prevent other vessels from unloading. Portuguese fishing boat owners, who employ some 21,000 people aboard almost 5,000 boats, were pressing demands for government help by choking off the supply of fresh fish to markets.

....In Italy, fishing unions claimed widespread support for a strike Friday....

Speaking of Italy, the pigs are threatening the bacon being brought home:
The Italian Farmers Association (CIA) on Thursday warned that Italy may soon be in the grip of a national prosciutto shortage after Italian pig farmers confirmed they will be going on strike this weekend.

''Parma ham, San Daniele and Tuscan prosciutto, Piacenza pork neck salami, Brianza, Varzi and Vicenza salami and Italian game salami could shortly disappear from supermarkets and specialist shops and vanish from Italian tables,'' CIA said.

Italian pig farmers faced with spiralling production costs and falling pork prices have been lobbying the government for financial assistance since the beginning of the month.

They announced a national strike beginning on June 1 after talks with the agriculture ministry on Wednesday proved unsuccessful.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Experts...who needs them?

William Easterly says Hayek got it right:
Where are the experts who guessed in advance that an obscure Indian company making edible oils would become a $10bn-plus company (Wipro) providing information technology services and call centres? Or that a lossmaking Brazilian state enterprise (Embraer) would go on to capture a lot of the world market for regional jets after being privatised? Or that South Korean entrepreneurs would create a carmaker (Hyundai) with greater market value than General Motors or Ford? Or that a schoolteacher named Dong Ying Hong, formerly earning $9 a month in Datang, China, would become a millionaire making socks?

What to do in a world of such unpredictability? There are some general principles and they do not require experts. Another Nobel laureate gave the crucial insight a long time ago – the answer is freedom for multitudinous individuals to figure out their own answers. Friedrich Hayek said: “Liberty is essential to leave room for the unforeseeable and unpredictable; we want it because we have learned to expect from it the opportunity of realising many of our aims. It is because every individual knows so little and ... because we rarely know which of us knows best that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it.”

The evidence for this vision is not found in those baffling fluctuations of growth rates, it is in the levels of development attained in the long run. Confirming Hayek, systems that give more liberty to individuals – featuring both more economic and political freedoms – are associated with much less poverty. The evidence for this comes from both history (for example old, despotic, poor Europe compared with modern, free, rich Europe) and cross-country comparisons (for example South Korea compared with North Korea, former West Germany compared with East, New Zealand compared with Zimbabwe). This alternative paradigm has a much smaller role for experts, because experts cannot direct or impose freedom from the top down (or else it would not be freedom).

Salt of the Earth

Is getting to be big business in Djibouti:
For centuries, nomads have dropped down from the rocky hills around here to carve bricks of salt from an ancient lake and haul them away on the backs of camels.

But a new salt miner is trying his hand, and he may be a harbinger of what is to come.

"As a salt person, my first impression was why was all this salt just sitting here," said Daniel Sutton, an American salt miner who is overseeing a new $70 million operation to industrialize the collection of Djibouti's plentiful salt. "There's 50 square miles of salt. It runs 20 to 30 feet deep. This could be huge."

Djibouti is becoming the little country of big dreams. Hundreds of millions of dollars of overseas investment are pouring in, promising to turn this sleepy, sweltering ministate, which right now does not even have a stoplight, into something of an African trade center.

There are gold miners from India, geothermal experts from Iceland, Turkish hotel managers, Saudi oil engineers, French bankers and American military contractors. Tycoons from Dubai are pumping in a billion dollars just on their own, largely for the country's all-important port, a gateway to the region. There is even a project on paper to build a multibillion-dollar, 28-kilometer, or 18-mile, bridge across the Red Sea, captained by Tarek bin Laden, the half-brother Osama bin Laden.

Djibouti does not have many people - around 700,000 - and few outsiders have heard of it. Its soil is mostly sand; it is unearthly hot, often more than 35 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit); and just about everything, from bottled water to rice to gasoline, is imported.

But the country's draw is it location. Djibouti sits at the mouth of the Red Sea, where Africa and Asia nearly touch. It overlooks some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, especially for oil heading from the Gulf to Europe and the United States. And because of its strategic position, both France and the United States have military bases here.

Shipping is already big business in this country - and it is getting even bigger, with investors from Dubai hoping to expand the Port of Djibouti from a current capacity of 300,000 containers a year to three million. Dubai World, a large holding company, has also bought a controlling share in a local airline and built an industrial park, new roads and a $200 million, five-star hotel, with gurgling fountains and possibly the greenest lawn in the Horn of Africa.

The Scrivener can sleep peacefully at night

Because polite young men stand ready to help his kids learn how they can do violence to bad guys who threaten us:
During this past week America sent a naval expedition to New York City via Fleet Week. ....

The big ship in town hosting the public has been the USS Kearsage, a big aircraft carrying, hovercraft carrying assault ship, loaded up with all the guns, light tanks, artillery and such that you'd ever want to pour onto an enemy beach. You walk on board, are greeted by marines and sailors who are kids, 18 or 20 years old ... and you see how they love their guns.

A parent bringing children on board...has a friendly, smiling marine greet them right away with "Hi, junior, what's your name? ...Well, Johnny, have you ever held an assault rifle before? Here, see how light it is? Your Super Soaker weighs more when it's loaded with water. Now try the trigger...." ...Ten-year, eight-year, six-year olds being introduced to the joy of assault rifles.

....Next display, the machine guns. The marines have a landing craft rigged up with all kinds pointing out in all directions. The little kids get lifted up there and rush right to them. ....Have you ever seen a 7-year-old pointing a .50-calibre machine gun and getting instructions on how to shoot it? "You pull this bolt back and the action works like this. Yeah!"

....On the way out we passed a lonely, classic M2 .50 caliber "Ma Duce" machine gun. The little kids being elsewhere, this one Junior had a chance to try out. He's become a fan of engineering from watching some of the better cable TV channels, so I started to tell him about how the M2 is one of the great design and engineering achievements of last 100 years. It's original design and construction was so perfect that it is still being used virtually unchanged since the days shortly after World War I, and the military is still using stocks of it manufactured decades ago.

A passing marine, maybe 18 or 19 years old, overheard me and changed course to jump into the conversation. "You know your weapons, sir! This particular version of the M2 has been in use unchanged since 1954".

All the romance has gone out

In New Zealand it's just another industry to regulate now:
The number of sex workers in New Zealand does not appear to have increased since legislation decriminalising prostitution became law, according to a new report.

The Prostitution Law Review Committee was set up to report on the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 three to five years after the act came into force.

Its report, just published, was based on work carried out by the Christchurch School of Medicine and Victoria University's Crime and Justice Research Centre.

...."The committee recommends that the sex industry, with the help of the Department of Labour and others, moves towards written, best-practice employment contracts ... becoming standard for sex workers working in brothels."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Krugman a Football Fan?

Steve Malanga points out that the socialistic, unionized NFL (and most professional sports) has greater income inequality than the economy at large (and for entirely predictable reasons): there really...income inequality in the NFL? And if there is, does it say anything about the gap between the rich and the rest of us in society in general? ...what I found was that the top quintile, or 20 percent, of the roster [of the Washington Redskins] took home 63 percent of the money, and the top two quintiles earned 85 percent. The Skins’ aren’t an anomaly, even though they are one of the richest teams. The other teams at the top of the salary scale—the Pats and the Saints—devoted 62 percent and 60 percent of salaries, respectively, to a fifth of their players.

It was only slightly different at the bottom. The team with the lowest payroll in 2007, the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants (talk about value for your dollar), paid 59 percent of wages to the top 20 percent, and 78 percent to the richest 40 percent of players.

... by way of comparison, I took a look at how this income structure compares with household incomes in the United States. According to U.S. Census data, the top quintile, or 20 percent of households, captured about 51 percent of total family income, while the second quintile earned about 23 percent off all family income. Together, that amounts to about 74 percent of all household income. In other words, income is actually slightly more concentrated in the NFL than it is within our larger society, and there is a bigger gap between the richest and everyone else in football.

What makes this so astonishing is that the NFL has all sorts of mechanisms in place that we lack in our general labor market which are supposed to smooth out income inequality. For one thing, the NFL is entirely unionized, and we keep hearing (most recently from Barack Obama) that income inequality in America is in part a function of the decline in unions. The NFL also distributes talent to teams through a draft, which minimizes competition among employers for entry-level workers. No such check on bidding wars for the most talented exists within our general economy. The NFL has a cap on the amount of salaries it allows teams to pay, which presumably acts as a curb on salaries at the top of the wage scale. And players cannot jump to other teams until they have been in the league for four years, meaning that their employment mobility is far more limited than within our labor markets in general.

And Malanga finds roughly the same phenomenon in Major League Baseball and the NBA, noting that University of Michigan economist Mark Perry's work shows:
“above-average competence commands higher monetary rewards in an increasingly competitive” environment. Why? Because professional sports are quintessential human-capital industries, valuing the talents of individuals far more than anything else. The old saw about the new economy, that your assets walk out the door every night, is especially true in sports.

Still, it’s not as if the top players are capturing all of the rewards of the growth in professional sports, to the exclusion of everyone else. As MLB and especially the NFL have cashed in over the years, everyone’s share has grown. The total payroll of the Washington Redskins has doubled in the past five years. While the top players (who’ve changed over time) got a chunk of that gain, the median salary on the team also increased 85 percent to $855,000.

Something similar is going on in the rest of society, where the premium paid for talent has been rising, pushing up salaries fastest among those at the top even as everyone gains. In a highly influential paper published last year, Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz attributed rising income inequality not to the standard culprits we hear about in presidential campaigns—like globalization or the decline of unions—but rather to the growing premium that a knowledge-based economy places on education, especially on a college degree. The authors estimate that the returns on a college education actually fell from 1915 to 1950 as our universities supplied more grads than the economy could absorb, narrowing the income gap in the process between college grads and everyone else. That began to change, however, when rapid technological innovation created a demand, which has outstripped supply, for highly educated workers, something that began in earnest in the 1980s and has continued since then.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Anyone Miss Imperialism?

When the sun never set on the British Empire, piracy was controlled:
The International Maritime Bureau’s latest report reveals the first rise in pirate attacks since their previous peak in the mid 1990s. In one particularly savage incident in the Philippines in March, pirates shot dead the captain of a passenger boat and two of his crew before tying them to their anchor and tossing it overboard. They then shot the two remaining crew members and escaped in a motor boat.

The sharp rise in pirate attacks is blamed in large part on the collapse of law and order in Somalia and political unrest in Nigeria. The seas around the two African countries are now regarded as some of the most dangerous in the world.

....The IMB’s records are a litany of brutality. Last year pirates who attacked a Danish tanker off the coast of Nigeria tied up the bosun and threatened to cut off his ears unless he told them the code for the locks on the cargo control room.

In another attack off the Nigerian coast, a Panamanian tug boat was boarded by five men who approached in a small fast boat. The pirates rounded up the crew on the bridge, smashed a bottle over the master’s head and forced each crew member to hand over their belongings.

A cargo ship attacked off the coast of Somalia launched parachute flares at the pirates when the captain realised they were about to open fire with a rocket propelled grenade. And a gang of pirates who boarded a Canadian yacht at anchor off Madagascar slashed the skipper’s hand and legs, tried to strangle his wife and made off with everything the couple had.

Not that the pirates always have it their own way. The IMB’s report reveals that in February this year a Maltese tanker successfully fought off a pirate attack off the coast of Somalia by adopting a zig-zag course and turning its fire hoses on the pirate boat until the would be attackers, who were firing at the tanker, eventually gave up and sailed away.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Accidental Reservist

About the rice shortage...nevermind:
On May 19, Japan's Deputy Agriculture Minister, Toshiro Shirasu, said that Tokyo would release some of its massive stockpile of rice to the Philippines, selling 50,000 tons "as soon as possible" and releasing another 200,000 tons as food aid. ....

To understand Japan's role in deflating the rice market, it helps to visit the warehouses rimming Tokyo Bay. It's here in temperature-controlled buildings that Japan keeps millions of 30-kilogram vinyl bags of rice that it imports every year. Tokyo doesn't need rice from the outside world: The country's heavily subsidized farmers produce more than enough to feed the country's 127 million people. Yet every year since 1995, Tokyo has bought hundreds of thousands of metric tons of rice from the U.S., Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Australia.

....Why does Japan buy rice it doesn't need or want? In order to follow World Trade Organization rules, which date to 1995 and are aimed at opening the country's rice market. The U.S. fought for years to end Japanese rice protectionism, and getting Tokyo to agree to import rice from the U.S. and elsewhere was long a goal of American trade policy.

But while the Japanese have been buying rice from farms in China and California for more than a decade, almost no imports ever end up on dinner plates in Japan. Instead the imported rice is sent as food aid to North Korea, added to beer and rice cakes, or mixed with other grains to feed pigs and chickens. Or it just sits in storage for years. As of last October, Japan's warehouses were bulging with 2.6 million tons of surplus rice, including 1.5 million tons of imported rice, 900,000 tons of it American medium-grain rice.

It's one of the cruel ironies of global trade that poor countries have been paying through the nose for rice while Japan has been sitting on reserves ....

This time, the WTO rules—formally known as Minimum Market Access—acted as a safety valve for the market. Japan's 1.5 million tons of imported rice reserves amount to roughly 5% of the 28 million tons that are traded globally ever year, which explains why Tokyo's announcement had a sizable and immediate impact.

MacDon't Tread on Me

Typically American; don't like the deal? Sue:
McDonald's, a symbol for the spread of U.S. culture around the world, has found common cause with French cinemas and brasseries.

The fast-food chain is suing its landlord to avoid being priced off the Champs-Élysées after the rent for its outlet on "the world's most beautiful avenue" doubled in five years.

...."We don't want to leave the Champs-Élysées," said Sébastien Perochain, spokesman for the French unit of the company based in Oak Brook, Illinois. "It's a very prestigious location. But the rise in rent has been spectacular."

....The Champs-Élysées is the world's third-most expensive commercial property location, after Fifth Avenue in New York and Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, according to the real estate brokerage agent, Cushman & Wakefield.

Average annual rent on the Champs-Élysées is €7,364 per square meter, or $1,075 per square foot, compared with €11,983 on Fifth Avenue and €9,688 on Causeway Bay, Cushman & Wakefield said in a report in November.

....Now even some global brands are deciding that the address is not worth the cost. Planet Hollywood, the restaurant chain backed by the actors Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone, closed its doors a block from McDonald's at the end of February.

"Demand is still on the rise, so the surge in rents is far from over," said Thierry Bonniol, who oversees commercial property at the Paris real estate broker Atisreal. "The Champs-Élysées is very coveted given the sheer number of tourists that visit it."

Perochain declined to disclose what McDonald's pays for rent, the name of its landlord or any details on the lawsuit. The restaurant sits on the former site of the 1872 Rothschild mansion. It became home to what the French call "MacDo" in 1988.

Shy Away, Shy Away All

Allergic to other people?
Also nicknamed the "cuddle chemical", or the "love hormone", oxytocin has been shown by a wide range of work to play a role in social relations and maternal bonding, and is also released in sex.

Now it has been shown to turn people into trusting pushovers and brain scans reveal the reason why: inhaling the hormone lowers activity in the amygdala - a region linked with fear and danger - according to a study in the journal Neuron by Dr Thomas Baumgartner, Prof Markus Heinrichs and Prof Ernst Fehr at the University of Zurich.

The same brain circuits identified in the study could play a role in social disorders.

Tests are now under way to follow up the findings to see if the hormone, introduced as a nasal spray, could overcome feelings of awkwardness, warniness and anxiety felt by many in social situations, from parties to meetings.

So called social phobia is the third most common psychiatric disorder after depression and alcoholism, affecting around one in 10 adults.

Trials of the nasal spray are under way on 120 patients to help treat the pathological shyness by one of the team, Prof Heinrichs.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On the Other Hand

The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board can be embarrassed after all:
Three months after declaring the defunct Ballard Denny's building a landmark -- which, for some, put into question the very meaning of the word -- Seattle's Landmarks Preservation Board unanimously said the owner may tear it down.

....The landmark designation for the Denny's, which Benaroya shut down last year, sparked passions because it touched on property rights, historic preservation, growth and the continued evolution of once-quaint Seattle neighborhoods. Hundreds of Ballard residents banded together to try to save it.

Their efforts worked at first, but Wednesday the board was required to consider its decision's economic impact on Benaroya -- a factor that by law it could not take into account three months ago.

....John McCullough, Benaroya's attorney, said the company looked at a dozen redevelopment alternatives that would have preserved the building, but no plan was feasible.

Even the rosiest option -- turning the Denny's into a high-end restaurant and building condos on the rest of the site -- posted a near 25 percent loss for Benaroya, he said. That's because the number of units built would have to have been reduced from the original redevelopment plan.

Board member Alyce Conti, a real-estate finance expert, agreed with McCullough's assessment.

"No lender is going to lend on this project, especially in today's environment," she said. "It's impossible."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Stir Fry

Ala Prigionese:
At the candlelit tables inside a deconsecrated chapel of what was originally a 14th-15th century castle, the meal itself is eaten with plastic cutlery.

But even though this is the Fortezza Medicea top-security prison, the white wine - Fattoria Sorbaiano - keeps flowing.

"The standard of the food is fantastic - the atmosphere, the people, and the place is incredible," said diner Sharon Kennedy, a resident of Volterra but originally from Scotland, who came to sample a special dinner at the prison.

The inmates at the jail in the picturesque Tuscan town - surrounded by rolling green hills and brown-tiled villas - have swapped their slacks for shirts and bow ties for a night. They are cooking up a sumptuous meal for curious diners who want to sample a taste of prison life.

Part of a project raising money for charity, the aim is also to teach cooking and waiting skills that could help the prisoners find work when they are released.

The scheme, for several nights a year turning the prison into a restaurant, began in 2006.

...."It is not just a distraction, it is more than that," said 39-year old inmate Arena Aniello. Originally from Naples, he has been in jail since 1993 for homicide: tonight, he is a waiter.

"(Prison life) is like a photocopy machine - you leave your cell, you go to work, you work out - the day is always the same, it becomes a habit. So this is a great thing."

Billions and Billions

In Zimbabwe everyone's a millionaire:
...inflation has burst through the 1 million per cent barrier. ....

As stores opened for business Wednesday, a small pack of regular locally produced coffee beans cost just short of 1 billion Zimbabwe dollars. A decade ago a billion local dollars would have bought 60 new cars.

A loaf of bread cost 200 million Zimbabwe dollars - enough for 12 new cars a decade ago. Fresh price rises were expected after the state Grain Marketing Board announced up to 25 fold increases in its prices to commercial millers for wheat and the corn meal staple.


The man who disposed of one of America's greatest fortunes is dead:
Huntington Hartford, who died on May 19 aged 97, was born into one of the wealthiest families in America and inherited a $90 million fortune at the age of 12, but blew it on a series of quixotic artistic and commercial ventures and expensive wives.

Born in New York on April 18 1911, he was named George Huntington Hartford after his grandfather, a Maine tea merchant who had founded the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) in 1859. ....

...Hartford entered the family business, but found it difficult to concentrate on stock lists of pound cake and was fired six months later after playing truant to watch the Harvard-Yale football match.

In 1940 he put up $100,000 towards the founding of a new New York newspaper, PM, for which, fancying himself a writer, he became a reporter. But he soon gained a reputation for missing deadlines....

After the war Hartford moved to Los Angeles....

Encouraged by his new wife to make a name as a patron of the arts, Hartford set up an artists' foundation and, in 1954, converted an old cinema into a theatre where he staged his own adaptation of Jane Eyre with Jan Brooks as Jane and a hopelessly drunk Errol Flynn as Mr Rochester.

The script was panned by critics and Flynn dropped out but, undaunted, Hartford took the show to New York, where it played to empty houses for six weeks. Other ventures at this time included a "handwriting institute" (he even wrote a book on graphology) and an automated parking business in Manhattan which lost $1.8 million.

In 1959 Hartford sold $40 million of his shares in A&P to buy Hog Island, a two-mile strip of farmland 600 yards off Nassau, hoping to develop it into the St Tropez of the Bahamas. He renamed it Paradise Island and built the Ocean Club, a luxury resort with 35 acres of gardens modelled on those at Versailles and featuring a 12th-century French Augustinian monastery originally purchased and dismantled by William Randolph Hearst. ....

...the Ocean Club suffered because of Hartford's failure to obtain a gambling licence. Resorts International eventually bought him out for $1 million, leaving him with losses of around $30 million. In the early 1960s he built the Huntington Hartford Museum in Manhattan as a showcase for modern art, but he had decidedly unfashionable tastes, preferring "realistic" works (mainly, oddly enough, by Salvador Dalí) to "vulgar" cubism and abstract expressionism.

The gallery opened in 1964 to withering reviews both for its design ("a die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops") and contents. The whole venture cost Hartford $7.4 million before he abandoned it.

.... "At least I tried to do something artistic with my money," Hartford would say. "What did Paul Getty ever do but make more?"

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dutch Treat

A baseball game, since at least WWII:
A former infielder with the New York Yankees, [Robert] Eenhoorn coaches the Dutch team that was the only one in Europe chosen to compete in the Beijing Olympics. He got his start playing ball at Neptunus, the club outside this port city [Rotterdam], before playing 37 games in the major leagues in the United States.

His father before him played ball, he said over coffee, recalling the years under German occupation during World War II, when Dutch kids turned to American baseball to stick it to the German occupiers. ....

As attested by the trickle of young Dutch ballplayers now entering the minor and even the major leagues in the United States, that wartime popularity never faded.

Asked what Dutch youngsters like about baseball, Eenhoorn said: "It's American; it's a summer sport, filling the gap left by soccer in spring and early summer. You know, we did research and found that kids like baseball, they like hitting the ball with the bat, they like the clothing. I don't think it's peaked."

Most Dutch baseball teams were in fact started by soccer clubs in search of a sport for the months when soccer is still. Johan Cruyff, the king of Dutch soccer, began his career as a catcher for Amsterdam Ajax's baseball team, before he ever kicked a soccer ball.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Where you find it

Gold is sometimes where it was found before:
Soaring gold prices, a recession and ingrained American optimism have combined to prompt thousands to head into the hills.

With the discovery of gold there in 1848, the California Gold Rush brought 300,000 people into the state, transforming what was then a backwater into the embodiment of the American Dream.

Fewer in number, "new 49ers" may have swapped picks and covered wagons for suction dredges and mobile homes but many are just as confident they will strike it rich.

....Land claims in the western states have soared and the Gold Prospectors Association of America says its membership has grown by nearly 40 per cent in a few years to 45,000.

.... Improved equipment has enabled prospectors to find gold – currently trading at $900 (£450) an ounce, that was missed before. Sometimes it is as simple as running over the debris left by earlier miners with a metal detector. Two years ago, one of the Scott River prospectors found a crack in the river bedrock which yielded , more than 23 ounces, worth as much as $40,000 at today's prices.

....The pan and sluice brigade are not the only ones eyeing up the old gold claims. Commercial mining companies are starting up in Nevada. In Idaho and Colorado. Another, more professional, gold rush is heading towards Mexico as mainly American and Canadian geologists and engineers are leaving their jobs in the big mining companies to get venture capital backing for gold mining in the Sierra Madre mountains.

As for the '49ers' notoriously rowdy off-duty behaviour, tradition is not completely dead, said Mr LaBox. "The drunken fights in the local saloon – that still happens. But there's less gunplay."

Friday, May 16, 2008

We Blame Busch?

Takin' back the High Life may prove costly:
Cash-strapped drinkers are starting to trade down to economy beers, the chief executive of Miller Brewing Co. said Thursday.

The Milwaukee-based brewer saw some shift between higher-priced, premium beers and economy beers such as Miller High Life and Milwaukee's Best starting in January, Tom Long told reporters on a conference call.

"We think it's primarily driven by decline of disposable income and pocket money that American consumers are feeling right now," he said.

....Americans also are spending less in bars and restaurants, and Long said Miller is seeing declines in sales to those businesses.

....Sales of flagship brand Miller Lite was up 1.1 percent, as were sales of Miller High Life. That brand's performance, on the strength of its humorous ad campaign urging people to "Take Back The High Life" reversed a three-year decline.

Essentially in the Puget Sound Family

In New York City, the Seattle area bands play might pretty:
Just one year apart — Paul is 47; Chris, 46 — they had some sibling rivalry, but were careful not to get in each other's way, playing different instruments (Paul, trumpet; Chris, reeds) and rarely competing in the same sporting events.

"It has never been me versus him," insists Paul Harshman.

Not until this week, that is.

Today in New York, the Harshman brothers go head-to-head at the Essentially Ellington competition. Paul Harshman will be directing the Shorewood High School jazz band, from Shoreline; Chris will lead the South Whidbey High School unit, out of Langley, on Whidbey Island.

Along with three others from the Puget Sound area, their bands are among 15 in the U.S. and Canada to make the Essentially Ellington finals. No region has ever sent five bands to Ellington before.

The Seattle area's success in the Cadillac of jazz competitions is legendary. Since Ellington was opened to schools in the West in 1999, Northwest bands have accounted for nearly a quarter of the finalist slots, and won the competition four times in the last nine years.

...."I hate to sound conceited," says Paul Harshman, "but we've got some really good jazz teachers here who have pushed each other to greater heights. The bar is higher."

Our jazz-education history goes back more than 40 years, in a dizzying genealogy of crisscrossing relationships and influences. Though Seattle's Garfield and Roosevelt High schools usually get the attention, quality jazz education has spread like a brushfire to the suburbs. The Harshman brothers are a prime example — they are the heirs of a jazz-education legacy handed down by four great teachers: Waldo King, Hal Sherman, John Moawad and Dave Barduhn.

Waldo King grew up playing music in Centralia with ex-Count Basie saxophonist Bill Ramsay. In 1960, King started the Garfield jazz program — the first in Seattle schools — and later those at Franklin and Roosevelt, where he taught from 1969 until his retirement in 1983.

....Around the same time, Dave Barduhn, a former student of King's, exerted a huge influence on the Harshman brothers as well. One of the most respected high-school and college jazz-band arrangers in the country, Barduhn encountered the brothers as the director of the Cascades Drum and Bugle Corps, a tradition related to competitive marching bands with drummers and brass instruments exclusively.

....That flame was also passed along by another founding father of area jazz — Hal Sherman. His Kent-Meridian High School jazz band swept regional competitions for years, and he also started the Kent-Meridian Jazz Festival at the old Opera House. The popular fest brought international stars to Seattle Center, and Chris Harshman remembers being attending as a child.

Scott Brown, the band director at Roosevelt, says that festival had a profound impact.

"Hal really showed the possibilities for what could be done, putting [bands] in a professional venue, not just your typical school concert in the gym," says Brown, whose Roosevelt band is another of the five competing at Ellington.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Beer is his life:
A car driver in Australia has been fined for strapping down his beer rather than his young child.

Police said they were "shocked and appalled" when they pulled over the car south of Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory.

They said the 30-can pack of beer was strapped down between two adults in the back, with the five-year-old child unrestrained on the floor.

....Constable Wayne Burnett said: "I haven't ever seen something like this before.

"This is the first time that the beer has taken priority over a child... The child was sitting in the lump in the centre, unrestrained."

When Constable Burnett handed over the fine he said the driver "just looked at me blankly".

"He didn't get it," Constable Burnett said.

"I asked him about the fact the child was unrestrained and the beer was, and he said he didn't know anything about it."

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Doctor Is In...

...the money, in the Netherlands:
De Telegraaf reports that Amsterdam police officers psychologically traumatised by violence will in future be able to recover from the perpetrators the money they spend on psychotherapy.

So far, only physical injuries were sufficient ground to claim damages from criminals and hooligans.

The measure was prompted by a 2007 incident in which a crowd of hooligans vented its anger on a police van, forcing the officers to flee into a restaurant.

In addition to suffering physical injuries, they also developed psychological complaints.The hooligans were eventually prosecuted for inflicting psychological as well as physical damage.

They Came From Outer Space

Finally, The Great Pumpkin arrives:

Swollen to ten times their normal size and weighing more than an average man, these giant pumpkins would not look out of place in a science fiction film.

And it’s no wonder that they look out of this world, because the seeds from which these monster vegetables were grown spent two weeks orbiting the earth.

On their return they were cultivated in giant Chinese hothouses producing the oversized specimens pictured here, along with a host of other fruit and vegetables.

Scientist hope the pumpkins, as well as two-foot long (06.m) cucumbers, 14lb (6.3kg) aubergines, and chilli plants which resemble small trees, could provide an answer to the world’s food crisis.

....How sending seeds into space produces such enormous fruit is yet not fully understood, but it is thought cosmic radiation, micro-gravity and magnetic fields may play a part.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Nabobs Nattering de Négativisme

Sarko the American emulates the Agnew:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has attacked French media, accusing several publications of assuming the role of political opposition, the news website Mediapart reported on Thursday.

.... The attack took place on Wednesday during a lunch meeting with lawmakers from Sarkozy's UMP party. According to one UMP participant at the luncheon, which celebrated the first anniversary of Sarkozy's election victory, the French president "made a very serious charge against the press in saying that in a country where there is no opposition, the press has taken it upon itself to function as an opposition".

"In general, his message was: 'The press is not helping me'," another UMP lawmaker said.

Sarkozy reportedly criticised AFP and other media for their alleged refusal to publish UMP attacks on his Socialist opponent in the 2006 presidential election, Segolene Royal.

In addition, he slammed the weekly Marianne for a recent issue brandishing the front page headline: "Damn, Four More Years," a reference to the remainder of his term.

....Sarkozy reportedly noted that despite the attacks on him, he "still sells".

"When I'm on the front page, it sells copies," he was quoted as saying, adding, "They have written 76 books about me."

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


His fault for not locking the garage:
It's never fun calling dad after crashing his car - but when you've just wrecked his prized Ferrari you can bet you're in for an earful.

A Melbourne man had to make that call on Saturday night after destroying the front end of his father's Italian Stallion in a smash near Rod Laver Arena.

The front of the red sports car, which police said had been speeding, finished wrapped around a pole in the spectacular accident, which took place on Batman Avenue.

The car is an F360 Challenge Stradale, one of just 16 imported into Australia and New Zealand in 2004, with a price tag speeding past the $400,000 mark.

It was a very limited production version of the Ferrari F360 that was designed as a track car but could also be used on the road. The standard F360 F1 at the time was $396,000, and the Stradale was more than that and built to order.

Don't Get No Respect

I'm not such a bad guy when you get to know me:
Josef Fritzl made an astonishing plea for understanding from his cell today saying: "I am not a monster."

The Austrian, who locked up his own daughter in a dungeon for 24 years and subjected her to repeated rapes, claimed he has been unfairly represented by the police and the media.

And in a twisted bid for sympathy he argued that he should be held in high regard for not killing Elisabeth, 42, and the children he incestuously fathered on her - Kerstin, 19, Stefan 18 and five-year-old Felix., through his lawyer Rudolph Mayer, Fritzl made his first statement since being arrested last month after police discovered his double life.

He said: "Kerstin would not be alive today if it wasn't for me. I have made sure that she gets to a hospital.

"I could have killed all of them, and nothing would have come out of that. No-one would have ever known about it.

"I could have killed them and then sealed the place with concrete; it would have been very easy.

"I have not been treated fairly, it has all been one-sided."

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Good Question

From former Harlem resident Tom Sowell:
When young people go out into the world, what will they have to offer that can gain them the rewards they seek from others and the achievements they need for themselves?

Will they have the skills of science, technology or medicine?

Or will they have only the resentments that have been whipped up by the likes of Jeremiah Wright or the sense of entitlement from the government that has been Barack Obama's stock in trade?

In the real world, a sense of grievance or entitlement, as a result of the mistreatment of your ancestors, is not likely to get you very far with people who are too busy dealing with current economic realities to spend much time thinking about their own ancestors, much less other people's ancestors.

....We don't need people like either Jeremiah Wright or Barack Obama to take us backward.
The time is long overdue to stop gullibly accepting the left's vision of itself as idealistic, rather than self-aggrandizing.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Obama Nation

Does it for the kids...because they've got the bucks:
...the Obama campaign has chosen to forge its own path, rather than rely on a database developed by [Harold] Ickes. The campaign has just the right man to do so: Chris Hughes, a 24-year old co-founder of the phenomenally successful Facebook website, who should rightly join David Plouffe and David Axelrod in a triumvirate that has been key to the Obama campaign.

His battle-tested campaign managers have performed a near miracle: taking a candidate with a minimal experience base, a voting record that shows him to be far to the left of most Americans (including many Democrats), carrying on his back a problematic group of friends and associates, and made him into an American Idol.

The Obama campaign has risen on a wave of support from young people. A substantial share of his base is composed of those under the age of twenty-five. ....

The campaign has responded in exemplary fashion: tapping emerging technologies and internet sites such as the aforementioned Facebook, MySpace, and most significantly, the campaign's own website: -- an interactive website formed under the guidance of Hughes. ....

The Mybarackobama site is the first social network site devoted to a political campaign. capitalizes on "viral growth": by inviting friends to join you in supporting Barack Obama. Powered by this simple but effective mechanism, the Obama campaign's list of contacts, supporters and donors has grown at an exponential rate with zero incremental costs of "acquiring" them. Why buy mailing lists?

This is a powerful competitive advantage. ....the campaign has also risen on the vast amount of money collected from a fundraising effort that has eclipsed that of all previous campaigns.

....His website has played a key role in this fundraising effort. The campaign is being fueled by a large number of small donations, often sent through; these small donors are a source of funds that are very cost-effective to collect. These donors can be tapped repeatedly for further contributions before they reach federal campaign caps (Clinton's campaign relies on a smaller number of larger donations, and has suffered for this reliance on such big givers when they reach their caps).

There are crucial competitive advantages to Obama's fundraising apparatus that make it a more effective tool than [Harold Ickes'] Catalist. Supporter-entered data can be used to microtarget them in the future with messages tailored to motivate them to support Obama (and other candidates -- see below).

The vast numbers of small donations that have come through the internet and through other fundraising means are often in amounts smaller than $200. This has allowed the campaign to exploit a loophole in campaign finance laws. Contributions smaller than $200 do not have to be itemized or disclosed to Federal campaign authorities. Transparency suffers. The names of these donors never become part of the public domain and thus cannot be accessed by other politicians in the future when they seek financial support for their own campaigns ....


Though, wouldn't this keep the opportunites that now exist for entrepreneurs to meet the demand:
CANNABIS would be sold legally in post offices in packets that warn against its effects under a proposal outlined by the head of a Sydney drug and alcohol clinic.

The director of the alcohol and drug service at St Vincent's Hospital, Alex Wodak, said Australia needed to learn from the tobacco industry and the US Prohibition era in coming to terms with his belief that cannabis use would replace cigarette consumption over the next decade.

"The general principal is that it's not sustainable that we continue to give criminals and corrupt police a monopoly to sell a drug that is soon going to be consumed by more people than tobacco," he said.

"I don't want to see that [industry] fall into the hands of tobacco companies or rapacious businessmen.

"I'd like to see it fall into the hands of the failed business people Australia seems so good at producing or the Australia Post that seems so successful in driving away customers."

Go Fish

And, he's not one out of water, but in the goal:
Comet the goldfish may be the world's most intelligent fish after its owner, Dean Pomerleau, trained it to perform a range of aquatic activities.

Comet can play football, basketball and even limbo dance under a bar.

The genius of the water world can also play fetch with a hoop, slalom around a series of poles and push a rugby ball over a set of posts.

....Dr Pomerleau insisted there was nothing fishy about his claim, saying anyone can teach their pet to perform similar tricks.

"There is mounting evidence that fish are more intelligent than people give them credit for," the fish training expert said.

"With the correct tools and the basic promise of a food reward, fish can very quickly learn complex tricks - like the limbo, slalom or playing fetch.

"Now people in the market for a dog might want to consider a fish instead."

Pack It In

Even the Dutch socialists are tax revolting:
Algemeen Dagblad reports that the recently introduced packaging tax has been greeted with anger and distrust.

Most supermarkets will pass on the tax to their customers, and have announced a 1 percent price increase on all their products.

The new tax was introduced by the government to reduce the amount of packaging used by manufacturers.

However, conservative VVD leader Mark Rutte says the new tax is just another way of filling treasury coffers.

He called the argument that the tax was introduced to improve the environment "a lie".

The Socialist Party, which voted in favour of the packaging tax, is having second thoughts and said it would be better if the government came up with a different way of limiting the amount of packaging.

The main trade union federation FNV says the new tax is yet another increase in the tax burden.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Spare the rod licence

Don't spoil the children:

A headmaster who was caught fishing with an out-of-date rod licence could lose his job for having a criminal record, it emerged yesterday.

Bob Yeomans condemned "child protection gone mad" after his conviction for forgetting to renew the permit was referred to a council employment panel.

His school is still waiting for clearance to keep him in his post due to bureaucracy described by his union as "petty and trivial".

Mr Yeomans, head of St John's Church of England Primary in Walsall, was caught by a water bailiff last summer while on a weekend fishing trip to the River Dove in Derbyshire and, horrified at the oversight, immediately pleaded guilty.

He later paid a £50 fine and £70 costs and considered it the end of the matter.

But almost a year later, the offence was flagged up by the Criminal Records Bureau following a routine background check.

"The chair of governors was notified that there could be an issue with a CRB check in the school and rang to tell me," Mr Yeomans said.

"I said 'is it a member of staff?' and he said, 'no, it's you'.

"I was shocked. He was being asked if I was fit to work with children for forgetting to renew my rod licence."

The chair of governors, following procedure, referred the matter to a local authority panel that decides whether staff can continue teaching.

Designer Denaro

All the financial news is fit to print in Italy:
The incomes and tax details of every Italian citizen have been published online in a move that has outraged the country's rich and famous.

A full list of names, birthdates, addresses, declared earnings and taxes paid in 2005 appeared on the website of the Italian National Tax Office on Wednesday morning.

The list was freely accessible and arranged alphabetically and according to region.

....Fashion designers led the way in earnings potential, with Giorgio Armani earning £35.1 million.

The duo behind Dolce & Gabbana, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, picked up almost £23.5 million each, while Miuccia Prada and Donatella Versace earned a more modest £4 million euros and £1.7 million respectively.

....Beppe Grillo, a Left-wing comic who is Italy’s answer to Michael Moore, was left red-faced after his fans discovered he made more than £3.1 million a year.

"This is madness. People will be kidnapped, and ransoms can be calculated in proportion to incomes. The Mafia will no longer have to investigate, they can go to the tax site instead," he said.

The new government accused Mr Visco of taking revenge on Italy just as he leaves his office.

"This is a vendetta because he has been voted out of power. Not even George Orwell could have imagined this," said Mario Ferrara, a right-wing senator.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

We'll always have lawsuits

If this one flies:
British soldier Kerry Hylton is suing the army because of the embarrassing nickname given to him by fellow troops.

Hylton claims he has been "demeaned" by the nickname "Paris", after the notorious blonde American socialite and Hilton hotel empire heiress.

He is suing for race discrimination, alleging that his fellow soldiers ignored orders to stop calling him Paris.

The Daily Express newspaper reported that Hylton, a chef with the Welsh Guards, finds the nickname offensive because he considers Paris Hilton "a white woman with a low reputation".

The Jamaica-born 33-year-old also alleged he was called several racist names at his barracks in London.

For Forty May Days

Andrew Blakemore had it:
So plain the barren silence rings
A toll of death to all.

Now Geoffrie Wheatcroft looks back:
Since 1968, the west has grown not only more prosperous but more sybaritic and self-absorbed, and even that cultural victory of the left hasn't turned out as intended, especially in terms of the sexual revolution that was arguably the true legacy of the age.

....Civil partnerships could be one inheritance of the 60s, and another might be the way that, as a parliamentary committee learned on Tuesday, jobcentres have been offering 17-year-old girls work as strippers and lap-dancers. The latest issue of Prospect magazine has a symposium on 1968 in which Josef Joffe says the real revolution was the pill, which has "changed the world more profoundly" than any invention since the steam engine. But the other side of that coin is what Jean Seaton, in the same colloquy, calls the damaging consequences of 1960s individualism today when "everything is sexualised".

At the time, 1968 seemed like fun. But maybe Orwell got it right again when he said gloomily:

"Plans for human betterment do normally come unstuck, and the pessimist has many more opportunities of saying 'I told you so' than the optimist."