Thursday, October 30, 2008

They'd rather be in Philadelphia

Other than dying, they had a great year:
While things might be topsy-turvy in the financial markets above ground, it's still a bull market in the boneyard. The 13 famous names that make up our Top-Earning Dead Celebrities earned a combined $194 million over the last 12 months.

....Debuting on the list in third place is Australian actor Heath Ledger, most famous for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight, the latest installment of the Batman movie franchise. At the time of his tragic overdose in January, the 28-year star seemed poised on the cusp of a lucrative film career.

Ledger had reportedly secured a deal for his role in The Dark Knight that included merchandising (think Joker action figures) and a percentage of film revenues. With The Dark Knight grossing $991 million in box office revenue worldwide, we estimate his earnings at $20 million.

Also debuting on our list is Paul Newman, who died in September at age 83. His "Newman's Own" line of salad dressings, organic popcorn and spaghetti sauces had sales of more $120 million last year. When he was alive, Newman donated all of his profits from the venture to charity, and his estate plans to continue doing so. Add in the residuals from a lifetime of high-profile movie roles, and we calculate Newman earned $5 million last year.


Jack Cashill reports that four independent sources agree with his hypothesis that Bill Ayers had a hand in writing Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father:
"Using the chi-square statistic," observes one professor, "Obama's and Ayers's books were indistinguishable, while Obama's book was easily distinguishable from books by other authors."

Writes another analyst, using his own proprietary software, "There is a strong likelihood that the author of "Fugitive Days" ghost-wrote "Dreams From My Father" using recordings of dialog (either tape recorded or notes). Alternatively, another scenario could be possible: Ayers might have served as a 'book doctor.'"

One systems engineer writes, "The statistical style analysis performed by our research team suggests that the writing style of 'Dreams From My Father' is significantly more similar to the style observed in 'Fugitive Days' than to the style found in other works by Barack Obama such as 'Audacity of Hope.'"

He continues, "Even more interesting, when we extract those sections of 'Dreams From My Father' that Dr. Cashill believes to be Ayers' writing and treat this as a unique document, the style analysis software identifies a stronger correlation between this sample and Ayers' 'Fugitive Days' than we see between this same sample and the remainder of 'Dreams From My Father'!
Thus we have reason to believe that 'Dreams From My Father' had at least two authors, and one author's measured style features more closely match those of Ayers than they match those of the other author(s)."

"Under the Q-value statistic," argues one university-based analyst who tested "Dreams" against Ayers' 2001 memoir, "Fugitive Days," "segments of 'Dreams' consistently compared as well with 'Fugitive' segments as it did with other segments of 'Dreams' itself. In contrast, 'Dreams' compared poorly with other documents."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Trailer Treasure

Upwardly mobile at the mobile home:
Missy Quinn's father Simon, 35, paid £16,000 for her wedding dress, which was studded with Swarovski crystals and came with a 10ft train so heavy it took ten guests to help her out of the Rolls-Royce Phantom that brought her to church.

There were 150 guests at the reception and Mr Quinn also paid for cars, accommodation, the tiara and a £500 bouquet.

In total, it cost five times as much as the average UK wedding. Mr Quinn, who works surfacing driveways, insisted that the expense was worth it and added: "I'm very proud of her today."

....She met her husband Thomas at Alton Towers theme park aged 13 and stayed in touch despite her traveller family leaving their Stoke-on-Trent caravan park every summer while he stayed with his parents in Wolverhampton.

Missy and Thomas celebrated their honeymoon in Turkey before moving into their own £18,000 caravan, which was a wedding gift from her parents.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Man's Home... his sand castle:
Caribbean round grains, favored in creating smooth surfaces for plastering and finishing, are being hauled away by the truckload late at night. On some islands not much bigger than Manhattan, towns and ecologically sensitive areas are now exposed to tidal surges and rough seas.

In Puerto Rico, thieves once mined the dunes in the northern coastal town of Isabela, said Ernesto Diaz of the Department of Natural Resources. But now they are stealing the beaches of the tiny island of Vieques — 52 square miles where the U.S. military only recently halted its controversial bombing practice.

Among the hardest hit islands is Grenada, where officials are building a $1.2 million sea wall to protect the 131-square-mile island. Large-scale sand thefts have exposed north-coast towns to rough seas, said Joseph Gilbert, the minister of works and environment.

One of the region's largest sand thefts targeted Jamaica, where nearly 100 truckloads were swiped from private property in the northwest, exposing protected mangroves and a limestone forest to wind and waves.

Roughly 706,000 cubic feet of sand were taken in late July, enough to fill roughly 10 Olympic-sized pools, said Jamaica Mines Commissioner Clinton Thompson, who suspects government officials were involved.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Man Who Always Returned

To tell the same story about the streets of Oslo:
Trond Bjørgan, chief executive of the newly renamed transit system KTP (formerly Oslo Sporveier), is currently involved in public hearings at City Hall that are probing the ticketing system scandal. It has cost the taxpayers an estimated NOK 620 million over 24 years, and still isn't ready for widespread public operation.

....There have been some signs that the ticketing gates and equipment installed several years ago around Oslo's T-bane system on board trams and buses might start working soon. A partial introduction was made Monday, but officials aren't promising full operation before "sometime" in 2009. The gates and equipment have caused confusion for travelers, not least for tourists trying to figure out how the ticketing works.

The new system is supposed to allow passengers to use the same electronic tickets for the tram, T-bane, train and bus systems that serve Oslo and the surrounding metropolitan area in Akershus County. Millions have been spent on research and development since 1984.

Bjørgan has been chief of the Oslo portion, formerly Sporveier, for the past 12 years and inherited the project that hadn't succeeded for a dozen years before that. He blamed complicated fare zones as one of the reasons that a common ticketing system has been so delayed. Technical problems with the equipment purchased from Thales of France have also caused innumerable headaches.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Not getting your goat

It looks like a blue Christmas without one in Kenya:
No Kenyan Christmas would be complete without a roasted goat to feed the family, but the global credit crunch means some look set to miss out this festive season.

Orders for "Mbuzi ya Jamii" (goat for the family) are down sharply at Mama Mikes, an online store that allows Kenyans living abroad to pay for a range of products and services which are then delivered to their families back home.

These include goats, medical check-ups, supermarket shopping vouchers, school fees and others gifts.

"We have customers who are cancelling [orders] and most of them are saying that times are hard so they can't do it anymore," says Muthoni Machanga, the firm's finance and accounting manager.

The firm's customers typically spent between $60 and $100 per order three months ago, but this has now dropped to $45-60. Revenue has dropped by 30%.

Even the firm's loyal customers, who maintain monthly accounts for shopping vouchers and school fees payments have started cancelling or reducing their orders.

Ms Machanga says they are getting at least two cancellations a month and this is worrying for them, and also for the families in Kenya who rely on the remittances.

"It's putting families back home in Kenya under pressure at a time when they're already under pressure from very, very high inflation. One can sense these pressures occurring in the economy," says financial analyst Aly Khan Satchu.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Obama, Barack Obama?




Daniel Craig seems to have missed a few things:
The British action man ... likes both candidates. But, if he had to choose, he's adamant Obama would be a better Bond than ageing prisoner of war McCain.
He tells U.S. magazine Parade, "Obama would be the better Bond, because, if he's true to his word, he'd be willing to quite literally look the enemy in the eye and go toe-to-toe with them.
"But McCain wouldn't be left out of Craig's political Bond film - the actor insists the Republican would make a good M.
He explains, "McCain, because of his long service and experience, would probably be a better M. There is, come to think of it, a kind of Judi Dench quality to McCain."
Putting aside that it's Commander James Bond of the Royal Navy, and that Captain John McCain USN, actually did 'quite literally look the enemy in the eye and go toe-to-toe with them'.
That Ian Fleming deliberately chose a simple, dull name for his hero for the contrast it made with the exotic places and things Bond found himself among in the books.
And, that a constant of the Bond books was that he attracted beautiful women.

Europe on 5 Prayers a Day

Get thee to a nunnery! Now that we have the internet to facilitate it:
For centuries Europe's convents and monasteries have quietly provided inexpensive lodging to itinerants and in-the-know travelers, but now they're increasingly throwing open their iron-bound doors to overnight visitors. They've begun Web sites many with English translations and detailed information about sampling monastic life for a night and signed on with Internet booking services. Some have even added spa offerings. Occupancy has shot up at many places, and some of the more centrally located are often fully booked.

And while some of the people staying at such holy spots are among the 300,000 religious travelers fueling the booming $18 billion faith-tourism industry, others are simply ordinary vacationers seeking a more authentic alternative to an anonymous hotel.

....The tradition of religious houses offering lodging dates back to the sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict, the document laying out the ways of monastic life, which includes a chapter on extending hospitality. Over the ages monasteries have sheltered individual travelers and those seeking solace, as well as church groups on organized retreats.

But in recent decades, as farming and other sources of income have fallen off, religious orders have embraced the role of innkeeper.

The Bridgettine Sisters named for the 14th-century St. Bridget of Sweden operate guesthouses in 11 European countries (Italy, Britain, Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Estonia, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Norway), not to mention Mexico and India and in Darien, Connecticut (A full list can be found at At Casa di Santa Brigida, in Rome, on lovely Piazza Farnese, prettily decorated rooms off marble halls have private baths, plus needle-pointed Madonnas over the single beds, and there's a common room with a flat-screen TV and a roof terrace. In between prayers, the nuns, whose black habits are topped by little crowns of crossed white bands, cheerfully issue room keys at the front desk and wait on tables at breakfast.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

For a more dangerous world...

Vote Democrat, says the Gaffemaster:
"Mark my words," Biden told donors at a Seattle fund-raiser Sunday night.

"It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America.

"Watch. We're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.

And, Madeleine Albright seconds the idea on CNN.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Isn't It Ironic

Jack Cashill--in his quest to determine just who did write Dreams From My Father--points to an unusual maritime metaphor:
If there is any one paragraph in Dreams that has convinced me of Ayers' involvement it is this one, in which Obama describes the black nationalist message:

"A steady attack on the white race . . . served as the ballast that could prevent the ideas of personal and communal responsibility from tipping into an ocean of despair."

As a writer, especially in the pre-Google era of Dreams, I would never have used a metaphor as specific as "ballast" unless I knew exactly what I was talking about. Seaman Ayers most surely did.

And a famous writer seems to agree:
That's what makes me so mad! I could just spit! I could I It's like being in a lunatic asylum and having another patient all dressed up as a doctor come over to you and start taking your pulse or something.... It's just awful. He talks and talks and talks. And if he isn't talking, he's smoking his smelly cigars all over the house. I'm so sick of the smell of cigar smoke I could just roll over and die."

"The cigars are ballast, sweetheart. Sheer ballast. If he didn't have a cigar to hold on to, his feet would leave the ground. We'd never see our Zooey again."

There were several experienced verbal stunt pilots in the Glass family, but this last little remark perhaps Zooey alone was coordinated well enough to bring in safely over a telephone. Or so this narrator suggests. And Franny may have felt so, too. In any case, she suddenly knew that it was Zooey at the other end of the phone. She got up, slowly, from the edge of the bed. "All right, Zooey," she said, "All right."

In the above from the Franny and Zooey stories, Zooey has called his little sister Franny, pretending to be their older brother, Buddy. When Zooey uses 'ballast' metaphorically Franny immediately realizes she's being victimized by an imposter.

Which is an interesting plot twist coming from the WWII G.I., J. D. Salinger who had participated in the Normandy landings, and would have been familiar with ballast from the troop ships he'd travelled on.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tides him over

Jack Cashill asks, what are the odds that two men who lived within blocks of each other in Chicago in the early to mid 1990s, both though to include passages in their books about the phenomenon of tidal rivers along Manhattan (where the same two men had attended Columbia in the early 1980s):
A newly discovered anecdote from Bill Ayers' 1993 book, To Teach, solidifies the case that he is indeed the muse behind Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father.

In the book, Ayers tells the story of an adventurous teacher who would take her students out to the streets of New York to learn interesting life lessons about the culture and history of the city.

As Ayers tells it, the students were fascinated by the Hudson River nearby and asked to see it. When they got to the river's edge, one student said, " Look, the river is flowing up." A second student said, "No, it has to flow south-down."

Not knowing which was right, the teacher and the students did their research. What they discovered, writes Ayers, was "that the Hudson River is a tidal river, that it flows both north and south, and they had visited the exact spot where the tide stops its northward push."

In his 1995 book, Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama shares a stunningly comparable anecdote about tidal rivers from his own brief New York sojourn. He tells of meeting with "Marty Kauffman" at a Lexington Avenue diner, the man from Chicago who was trying to recruit him as a community organizer.

After the meeting, Obama "took the long way home, along the East River promenade." As "a long brown barge rolled through the gray waters toward the sea," Obama sat down on a bench to consider his options.

While sitting, he noticed a black woman and her young son against the railing. Overly fond of the too well remembered detail, Obama observes that "they stood side by side, his arm wrapped around her leg, a single silhouette against the twilight."

The boy appeared to ask his mother a question that she could not answer and then approached Obama: "Excuse me, mister," he shouted. "You know why sometimes the river runs that way and then sometimes it goes this way?"

"The woman smiled and shook her head, and I said it probably had to do with the tides." Obama uses the seeming indecisiveness of this tidal river as a metaphor for his own. Immediately afterwards, he shakes the indecision and heads for Chicago.


For the sweet, in Italy:
The hugely popular Eurochocolate festival kicks off in Perugia on Saturday with a bulging programme for sweet-toothed visitors.

Around 150 Italian and international chocolate companies will set up stands in the city's historic centre, offering the public a chance to sample well-known brands as well as hand-crafted pralines and cups of hot chocolate.

Play Chocolate is the theme of the 2008 edition of the eight-day festival, which attracts over a million visitors to the Umbrian town each year.

Festival head Eugenio Guarducci said he hoped the event would provide relief to Italians stressed by the current economic situation and help restore food's role of giving people pleasure.

''At a difficult time for everybody, we're waiting for all chocolate lovers to come and play with us and the chocolate,'' he said.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Can't we all just get along to the polls?

VWF--voting while felonious--in the state of Washington (where the 2004 Governor's race was decided by 129 votes):
An exclusive KIRO Team 7 Investigation discovers the state will send ballots to thousands of convicted felons in the next week, even though many can't legally vote.

The Secretary of State’s Office fired up a new multimillion-dollar computer in 2006. Its job was to catch, and then cancel, illegal voters.

Well, not all illegal voters.

KIRO-TV recently ran its own data to double check the state's work. Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne found out the system was set up to ignore the existence of approximately 24,000 convicted felons.

....6,812 of them are considered "very likely voters" because they already cast a ballot in other elections this year.

Unless something changes soon, every one of the felons will get a ballot for the November election, even though the state admits it has no idea if they are eligible.

Sources familiar with the election program, who asked we not identify them, tell us the new computer system was intentionally programmed to ignore a certain subset of felony data. The reasoning behind it was this: Because most of the felons on our list committed their crimes prior to the computer going online in 2006, it was going to be too difficult to research which ones can legally vote.

Jonathan Bechtle is an attorney at a conservative think tank, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. He thinks we have found a significant flaw and one that could affect a close election.

“So we're not going to follow the law because it seems too hard to do? Sorry. That just doesn't cut it. The law says 'felons, you can't vote.' The Secretary has been given the authority, given the funds to put this database together. They should be able to do this," said Bechtle.

Drill, Baby, Drill

Long before Sarah Palin, there was Communist Czechoslovakia:
After the communist coup, Czechoslovak Radio was at the political vanguard and transformed into a tool of propaganda. One of the first big changes at Radio Prague was that our familiar call signal from Dvořák’s New World Symphony was replaced by a stirring socialist anthem – “Ku předu levá”. The words are simple: “Left foot forwards, left foot forwards, and never a backwards step.” All broadcasts acquired a political hue. Here, for example, is a factory worker, talking about his first love:

“I wasn’t yet fifteen when she was brought to the factory and I first caught sight of her. It was love at first sight. I know that many of the others were envious, because we became inseparable friends. For that whole year we remained faithful; we had some wonderful times together. She was always the same, because no-one else knew how to talk to her as I did.

“I knew that one day we would have to part, but I stayed faithful to the end. I was just thinking about this when the foreman came round and shook me out of my daydream with the words, ‘So, we’re taking you away from that drill.’ Yes, my first and greatest love was a drill.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sharp Elbow Grease

Or, perhaps balm, to the tune of $30 million:
When businessman Steve Wynn put his elbow through the canvas of a £70 million Picasso, he could hardly have imagined the mishap would reap him millions of pounds.

The blunder caused the cancellation of the painting's imminent sale and the downgrading of its value to £42.5million by insurers.

But Mr Wynn took an enormous gamble - he is the owner of two Las Vegas hotels - and sued Lloyd's of London for £26million, the amount the insurer had wiped off it value.

Now, not only is the restored Picasso back to its original value, but Mr Wynn received an estimated £15million from Lloyd's, according to sources.

Lloyd's had said Picasso's The Dream, or Le Reve, was only worth £42.5m after the accident in September 2006.

Mr Wynn, who suffers from an eye condition that affects his peripheral vision, accidentally poked his elbow into the canvas. According to reports there was a two inch gash in the painting.

The case was heard before the US District Court in Manhattan and the two parties reached a settlement with sources saying Mr Wynn was paid £15million.

"It was a good thing for Steve... put your elbow in a painting and make millions", a source close to the American tycoon said.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cash Flow On, Amazon...

The FLUBA doubts Woody Guthrie had anything like this in mind, but its 'power is turning...darkness to dawn' (unless you're a former bond analyst on Wall Street):
The last time the U.S. economy was headed for a recession, was so deep in debt that some feared the Internet retailer would go under.

Among them was Ravi Suria, then a bond analyst at Lehman Brothers who achieved Wall Street fame with a scathing report on Amazon in mid-2000.

A year earlier, Amazon had tapped the debt markets to raise $1.25 billion in a historic convertible-bond offer, and Suria questioned whether the Seattle company would ever become profitable. Amazon's stock plunged from the $40s to below $10 over the next 18 months.

Today, another recession looms, but Amazon is profitable, and the $1.25 billion convertible-bond issue is no longer: Amazon paid it off in September, nearly five months before a February 2009 deadline.

The company is estimated to report about $475 million in long-term debt when its third-quarter financial results are released later this month. That would be down from $874 million three months ago and translate to 21 cents for every dollar of shareholder equity as of June 30.

"Their financial position is definitely better than it was years ago. No question," said Dan Geiman, an analyst with McAdams Wright Ragen in Seattle. "It's a healthy balance sheet."

....As for Suria, the vocal critic from 2000, he left Lehman in 2001 to work for a hedge fund and now is a private money manager. Reached recently by phone in New York, he said he hasn't "looked at" Amazon for years.

"That was several lifetimes ago," he said.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Put On a Happy Face

That gloomy mask of tragedy isn't the Kotlikoff/Mehrling style:
As Americans have freaked out, Uncle Sam has stepped up. He'll continue doing so until we realize the sky is not falling. The $700 billion rescue authorizes the federal government to keep doing what it has been doing for the past year to the tune of $400 billion -- buying distressed assets at bargain-basement prices and selling insurance at high premiums. If all works out, Uncle Sam will make a killing. ....This financial chaos has ruined our sleep but left our physical and human capital unscathed. We have the same productive capacity today we had a year ago. And if our capital hasn't changed, we've suffered no overall capital loss.

This means that our accounting, which has focused on financial losses, is missing lots of offsetting financial gains. The offsetting gains are accruing to current or prospective purchasers of the assets whose market values have dropped. Asset buyers, whether they are young people buying their first homes, middle-aged workers contributing to their 401(k)s or billionaires such as Warren Buffett buying financial firms, can now acquire homes and stocks (claims to the same capital inside the companies) at a roughly one-third discount from a year ago. That's great for them, and lousy for the rest of us, but not a net economic tragedy.

The economic tragedy comes if we get hypnotized by the bad news, ignore the good news, fight about things we're already doing (e.g., having Uncle Sam buy and insure troubled assets) and pull our economic heads inside our shells. We Americans have lots of moxie. What we need is a strong pep talk and absolute assurance that credit will continue to flow, that insurance policies will continue to be honored, and that Uncle Sam is willing and able to invest directly in the private economy on our behalf.

So after scaring us half to death, this would be a good time for our other uncles -- Hank and Ben -- to make clear that we're heading for a safe landing and that there is no way in hell they will let this economy go down the tubes.

Friday, October 03, 2008


Joey is a Senator unbright but bold
Katy WAS a restaurateur of old

Where the gang used to sit around the TV watching the FDR Show kinescopes:
During the debate, Joe Biden gave several Delaware shout-outs, including Wilmington's Union Street...

Maybe, I heard this wrong, or misunderstood, but I think he mentioned Katie's restaurant......

....Katie's was at the corner of Sixth and Scott streets in Wilmington's Little Italy neighborhood. (Not Union Street.) It had been a local and much-loved institution, well known for its rich, thick Italian gravy (tomato sauce) and spaghetti. It was opened in 1936 by Silvio Spiezio, who later sold it in 1945. The Fugilino family owned and ran the restaurant for years until it was sold in the 1981 after Frances Mae Fugilino's death.

Katie's then changed hands again in 1985, but new owners kept the venerable name.

But it eventually changed hands again - at least 10 years ago, maybe even more like 15 years ago (SEE UPDATE BELOW) - and was renamed C.J. Bart's, which according to features reporter Ryan Cormier in a May 2008 News Journal story became " a spot with an unsavory reputation as a magnet for panhandlers and worse."

Cormier reported that Nate Johnson, owner of the Wilmington and Dewey Beach Wings to Go restaurants, recently took over CJ Bart's and renamed it Wings to Go at Katies "as an homage to its former residents.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Enough Already!

In the brave new world of Euro finance, you don't get uppity and offer too much of a good thing:
Northern Rock, the nationalised bank, has been forced to pull six of its most popular savings products, because they are proving too popular.

....It has been forced to withdraw them after it was deluged with customers trying to open the accounts because all money deposited within them are guaranteed by the Government.

In recent weeks it has attracted lots of interest as nervous savers have pulled money out of institutions they think are failing, and put them somewhere safer.

Northern Rock is one of only three UK high street institutions that can guarantee 100 per cent of their customers' deposits, along with the Government-owned National Savings & Investments and the Post Office.

....In order to stop Northern Rock breaching European competition rules the bank has promised to take no more than 1.5 per cent of the UK retail deposits.

The bank says it is now close to breaching this limit and as a result it has pulled Silver Savings, Silver Savings 30 – accounts aimed at older customers – Business Reserve and a range of Fixed Rate Bonds.

Its move comes after the Post Office and NS&I said they had witnessed a strong increase it the number of customers opening accounts.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

La fable des abeilles

Who says they don't have a word for 'entrepreneur':
Corinne Moncelli offers guests at her Eiffel Park Hotel more than a view of the Paris landmark. She serves them honey from bees she keeps on the rooftop.

There are more than 300 known colonies in the French capital, up from about 250 five years ago, according to the National Beekeepers' Association. Hives have appeared on the roof of the Opéra Garnier, on balconies and in parks.

Bees are thriving in cities because "flowers and plants are changed constantly and there aren't pesticides," said Moncelli, who co-owns the hotel with her husband, Pascal.

....Jean Paucton, who has kept bees on the roof of Paris's opera house for about 25 years, has seen that rural decline first hand. The retired opera house accessory artist said that the hives, which overlook the Galeries Lafayette department store in central Paris, are healthier than the ones he keeps in the country.

Paucton's city hives produce 450 kilograms of honey a year. He sells little jars of it to the opera house gift shop for about €4, which are resold for €14.50. Paucton, 75, said losses in the countryside can be as much as 50 percent, while the number in the city doesn't even approach 5 percent. Some years, he doesn't lose any in the city, he said.

"The harvest is worse and worse in the countryside," he said. "There aren't farmers anymore. There are only agricultural companies and they use pesticides."

Why We Fight

The Fly Under the Bridge Academy is domiciled in southeastern King County (state of Washington). Why are we not surprised:
King County Executive Ron Sims' plan to replace the county's aged accounting and payroll computer systems will, if successful, take more than a decade longer than originally planned and cost three times as much.

The total cost is now estimated at $137 million, Metropolitan King County Council staffers told the council's budget committees. ....

Now slated for completion in 2012, the project is intended to replace systems that were installed in the 1970s and that use the old COBOL programming language.

....It's Sims' second attempt to replace the old computer systems. The first try, known as the Financial Systems Replacement Program, was begun in 1997 and was shut down in 2000 after burning through $42 million without getting the job done. A new payroll system covering about one-third of county employees was installed, and the accounting system wasn't put into service at all.

....Determined not to repeat past errors, the county has set up a dizzying array of groups: a project leadership committee, an external advisory committee, a project review board, a capital-project oversight office, a management team, a committee to advise the team, and an operations and change-management committee.

With that level of review, Sims said last week, he's "absolutely" confident the renewed project will succeed. "We have to do it," he said.

Oh, we're confident too, Ron.