Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The New Mussolini-ism

In Italy it's everything for the spesometronothing outside the spesometro...
Jewellery, cars, luxury items and furniture purchases are about to come under scrutiny. Over the next few days, the tax authorities will find out whether you bought any luxury items last year. If your declared income is incompatible with the purchase, they will want to know why. Today marks the first of the deadlines for the spesometro, the mechanism used by tax offices to profile taxpayers’ actual income from purchases of €3,600 or more made during 2013.
The country that put Sophia Loren in jail is the birthplace of fascism.

C'est la saison

To celebrate May Day, France's pilots decide to take the month off;
In an attempt to gain leverage in its negotiations with the government, leading pilot union SNPL France Alpa has announced a devastating month-long strike which it says will hit every day from 5.45am to 7.45am, and from 12.45pm to 3.45pm, from 3rd to 30th May.
The first period is planned to affect the first wave of medium haul flights, while the second period could hit during the busiest time of the day. The two time slots maximise disruptions to air traffic schedules throughout the day and may prevent passengers from getting their connecting flights, according to an Air France statement on 29th April.
Considering that Air France's problem is competition from more efficient air carriers, and May is the beginning of the holiday travel season....

Now she tells us

That there's no such thing as a free lunch, even among socialist politicians;
Unfortunately running for office isn't cheap. My grassroots campaign took no corporate money and instead relied on hundreds of everyday working people to make small donations and volunteer their time. Seeing we had a historic opportunity to win, we went into debt to finance an all out final push. Unfortunately, my campaign still has more than $10,000 in debt left and the legal deadline to retire that debt is the end of April.
Kshama's bold, in the above. How expensive does she think it is to run a business when your labor costs are mandated to rise by 60%?

When life denies you limes

The Great Lime Shortage of '14 is upon us, and the Laws of Supply and Demand are alive and well;
Last winter's storms, which triggered major floods across western Mexico, also destroyed crops, and a plant disease that struck the Mexican state of Colima damaged still more.
The result, the price of limes has shot up dramatically in both Mexico and the U.S. Restaurants in Seattle and New York have reported paying as much as $130 a case for them.
Which crate used to sell for $15, pre-crisis. So, with profits squeezed (pun unavoidable);
As the industry waits for the summer crop to lower prices, some restaurants and bars nationwide are pulling lime drinks off their happy hour menus. Others are substituting ingredients like lemons or oranges, said Annika Stensson of the National Restaurant Association.
There ought to be a lesson therein for the $15 Now crowd. Or this too;
That's not an option [substitution] at El Coyote, says Wayne Christoffersen, manager of the popular Mexican eatery that's been a fixture with Hollywood's hipster and film industry crowd since opening in 1931.
"People want to see a lime in their margarita, and rightfully so," says Christoffersen, who is paying $80 a case for them. "A margarita's not a margarita without the lime."
For them the restaurateurs have another option;
"I tell the bartenders, 'Squeeze those limes extra hard. Squeeze out every drop you can.'"
Which is what will happen to low-skill workers who keep their jobs after a mandated increase in wages.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Anarchists, Unite!

The curse of the drinking class, R Us;
By marketing itself as way to get shitfaced drunk and then get home safely, Uber is hoping to clean the pockets of everyone who wants to feel free on a night like this one. Most people want to feel free, especially when they are not, and alcohol is a good way to pretend. On top of the forty dollars they might spend on booze and food, the average Saturday night drunk can now spend another thirty on an Uber cab. Uber Seattle is always offering discounts for people who go to bars, who love happy hour, who like to get wasted, who dig getting totally fucked up, and who also like to drink. Without the desire to escape produced by this sick capitalist society, Uber would be lacking in drunks to ferry home every night. But of course none of the success of Uber has anything to do with the passengers, or with their misery, or with Jen’s fierce and terrifying identification with her CEO. No, the success of Uber has only one source, and you already know who we’re talking about.
Which rant seems to be in service to kidnapping those passengers in Uber vehicles. Ironic in that this same arnarchist is outraged that a San Franciscan was killed by a car driven by a Uber driver. If that counts against Uber, shouldn't all the lives potentially saved by Uber count for it?

 Putting aside the Leninist logic that justifies violence against the 'right' people.

He who laughs last

Might well be the NBA owner Donald Sterling, according to the WSJ;
As sports-owner résumés go, Donald Sterling of the Los Angeles Clippers has possibly the worst.
For the better part of three decades, his NBA team has been a punch line, making the playoffs just seven times since 1981 and losing in the first round in four of those runs. He has one of the least enviable arena deals in major sports, his team's draft picks over the years have been roundly criticized, and even the team's recent success involved an element of luck.
But because of the unusual economics that drive big-budget North American sports leagues, Sterling, the NBA's longest-tenured owner, is sitting on an asset that, were he to sell tomorrow, would go for hundreds of millions more than the $12.5 million he bought it for in 1981.
Possibly $700 million if the sale of the Milwaukee Bucks last year is the benchmark. All because fans like to watch the games--both live and on TV--and pay for the privilege. Which is unlikely to change even if Sterling is proven to be something of a creepy old man.

For those who think Yang

Rolls Royce unveils the (anti) Mao-mobile;
To underscore the importance of the Chinese market to Rolls-Royce, the company unveiled the Pinnacle Travel Phantom from its Bespoke Collection at the China motor show in Beijing last week. Meant to showcase Rolls-Royce’s popular Bespoke program in this rapidly emerging market, the Pinnacle Travel Phantom takes its cues from the heyday of luxury travel. No, not the era of $39 flights from Vegas to Reno in a Carter-vintage 737, but the era of travel by luxurious cross-continental trains.
This special Phantom features a two-tone color scheme of Madeira red over silver sand. On the inside, Morello red and seashell-colored leather has been used for the seats, roofliner, pillars, door cards, and lambs’ wool rugs. Smoke gray stitching serves as a contrast on the seats, meant to evoke the exquisite details of luxury trains. The centerpiece of the Pinnacle Travel Phantom is arguably the marquetry created via 230 individual pieces of wood, using both traditional craftsmanship and laser woodcutting techniques.
The marquetry displays a stylized image of a cross-continental train speeding across a landscape, with plumes of steam billowing in its wake. This wood veneer motif has been applied to a number of surfaces in the cabin, from the glove box all the way to the rear picnic tables and doors.
Rolls has 15 dealerships in China with plans for eight more. A great leap forward, indeed.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Life infiltrates art

At the Metropolitan Opera, there's no sentiment in the business;
DW: The latest labor talks have gotten off to a contentious start. Unions are preparing for a possible lockout next season. Does this off-stage drama represent a crisis more serious than the Metropolitan Opera has seen before?
[The Met General Manager] Peter Gelb: Well, what I'm trying to do is avoid a crisis. The reason that we are asking our unions for the first time in decades for a concession in terms of their wages is because I'm trying to avoid the situation that has become prevalent in the non-profit performing arts world - particularly with opera companies in recent months and years -where companies are facing extinction because of an unsustainable business model.
When I first came to the Metropolitan Opera in 2006, I was aware of the problems and the financial challenges. But I hoped that it would be possible to earn our way out of these financial challenges by increasing ticket sales and by launching our very successful movie theater showings. But in the last few years, it's become obvious that in spite of our successes, the audience for opera is not increasing. Even though we have millions of people watching us in movie theaters, the audience in the opera house is not increasing, and the expenses continue to increase.
We are at a point where we have an unsustainable cost structure.
....The basic operating costs in the Metropolitan Opera are slightly over $300 million per year. This year, it's about $310 million. Two-thirds of those costs - $200 million - are being spent on union labor and visiting artists as well. So, two-thirds of our budget are going to unions through wages and social benefits.
So naturally the unions are threatening to go on strike. That'll really bring in the customers.

The room in the Elephant

Visit Weimar and sleep with the ghosts of literature past;
The Hotel Elephant in Weimar has been a second home for political and cultural VIPs since 1696. ....
.... Germany's most famous man of letters [Goethe] is omnipresent in the small eastern German city. His quotes are painted everywhere on the perfectly restored walls of historical buildings. Even the kiosk offering one-euro glasses of pilsner is located on a square named after the literary legend. 
And the other guys;
The original building in which Goethe and his intellectual posse once held their more or less enlightened conversations and drank liters of wine no longer exists. Another big fan of the Elephant was a certain Adolf Hitler, who had it torn down and rebuilt in 1938 by the star Nazi architect Hermann Giesler. After World War II, Russian occupiers took over the building, using it for a while to house teachers of the Russian language. In 1955, the Elephant opened its doors once more as a hotel, after novelist Thomas Mann requested a room there when he was in Weimar for the 150th anniversary of Friedrich Schiller's death.
....After retreating to the Elephant for an afternoon nap, I got up refreshed and ambled over to the former house of Franz Liszt.... 
....The next morning, as I enjoyed my breakfast just off the Elephant's spectacular Richard Wagner Hall, I pondered what memories I would take with me from Weimar. I couldn't truthfully say I learned much of anything. There's a big difference between reading "Faust" and gawking at the room where Goethe wrote parts of it. 
It's all into the bargain.

Spare the McCane...

The famously disciplined (or else!) Singaporeans, are ready to rumble for pussy cats;
"Brace yourself!" read a message posted by a user named Hans Chen on McDonald's local Facebook page. "The Hello Kitty are coming!"
This year, the fast-food chain is selling six new versions of the mascot cat, each designed after famous characters created by Sanrio. The toys, which McDonald's is offering under a license agreement, include one that lives in a big house "on the edge of Donut Pond."
Pledging to prevent a repeat of ugly scenes that plagued past promotions, McDonald's says it has engaged private-security firms to provide crowd control and prepared line-management plans for its staff. It is also boosting its toy supplies by roughly 50% compared with last year.
These are the adults, not the kids.
Experts struggled to explain the phenomenon. In an academic study titled "The Hello Kitty Craze in Singapore: A Cultural and Comparative Analysis," Benjamin Ng Wai-Ming, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, described the frenzy as a "fever" and noted that many Singaporeans believed the dolls had investment value.
'Past performance is no guarantee....', but;
Last year, things got heated again when McDonald's rolled out a so-called "Fairy Tales" Hello Kitty set, featuring six versions designed after popular folklore. The last one—a black kitten sporting a skeletal motif—sparked mayhem as security personnel were called in to deal with heated squabbles caused by widespread line-jumping. McDonald's wrote a letter to a local newspaper apologizing for the chaos and promised to do better next time.
Let the punishment fit the crime.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Golden Years State

Buried in this SF Gate story is this gem of understatement;
"This strikes me as extremely poor management of the workforce," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "You would never see this in the private sector."
'This' being;
California paid more than a quarter of a billion dollars last year alone to compensate departing and retiring state workers for vacation and other leave time saved during their careers, and one public employee topped the list with a $488,000 check.
Data show that 24,000 state employees are banking vacation time while exceeding a state cap on such mass accumulation of benefits, according to a 2013 report by the Legislative Analyst's Office. That's a 140 percent increase from 2005.
And the state's bill is sure to grow, too. The most recent calculation, done in 2012, showed the state owing its employees $3.9 billion in unused leave pay. There are no estimates of what that unfunded liability is today. 
We wonder how many municipal bond issues have been floated within California that didn't disclose such.

Got trouble in Birmingham city

Fortunately they (and the BBC) also have Lord Digby Jones;
Lord Jones explains how [the reality television show] The New Troubleshooter came about, and how he came to pick up the baton from his ‘hero’ Sir John Harvey-Jones, who presented the first series in 1990.
And he explains why he dislikes the way business is portrayed on television by the likes of Lord Alan Sugar on The Apprentice.
“I’ve been going on at the Beeb for a few years, telling them that business isn’t about a man getting out of Rolls-Royce and shouting ‘You’re fired!’ at people.“And it shouldn’t be about humiliating someone with a bright idea, making them feel stupid and saying you won’t invest in them, as in Dragons’ Den.
If the public just got this one idea, it would be worth the airtime;
“Only business generates the wealth which pays the taxes which funds the public sector.
Goose...golden eggs...destroyed through ignorance of the wealth producing process.

It's all Greek to EU

But now it adds up, thanks to the Greek government's retirement from data crunching;
[The European Union's] Eurostat’s confirmation of the Greek primary surplus was the result of a very important fact that has been somewhat neglected, because the European Union’s statistical service accepted all of the data submitted by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) and seconded its findings.
....It was not so long ago that Greece was the subject of international ridicule after it cooked its fiscal books in an effort to convince the eurozone and the international markets that its public finances were in a better state than they actually were.
Brussels bearing a Gift to Greece.
We should be grateful for the fact that one of the most pressing demands made on Greece by its international creditors and by European authorities such as Eurostat was that it radically reform ELSTAT.
Thanks to their pressure, the authority was taken out of the government’s control and given the kind of independence it needed to refuse any demands from incumbent powers to fiddle the figures. This change was absolutely necessary in a country that cannot even stand the truth of hard data.
Good-bye to Greek mythology.

Haute Tacosine

One way to be able to pay $15 per hour, we suppose;
Taco Bell is planning to test the waters of the fancier, fast-casual restaurant scene with a new restaurant called U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Tap Room.
In addition to fancier food, the new restaurants will also have booze.
....'A year ago, we conducted an extensive study on our consumer segmentation and identified a separate consumer group that simply was not going to visit quick service restaurants, at all,' Jeff Jenkins, Taco Bell senior brand manager, said in a statement. 'The result is U.S. Taco, a new concept sit-down restaurant that offers the best fusion of American-inspired flavors in tacos, fries and shakes for that emerging demographic of edgy foodies looking for a unique dining experience.'
....Then there's the booze - in addition to beer and wine, there's also a booze-infused milkshake called the 'Mexican Car Bomb,' which is made with vanilla ice cream, tequila caramel sauce, chocolate flakes and Guinness stout.
Me gusta.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bigger dig

The tunnel to nowhere soon gets expensiver and expensiver;
The contractor digging a highway tunnel under Seattle is asking for $190 million in extra pay. Documents obtained by The Seattle Times show Seattle Tunnel Partners has asked for $62.6 million in change orders on top of the $125 million they want for repairing the tunnel-boring machine.
....If the state has to pay the whole amount, it would add 13 percent to the project already valued at $1.44 billion.
The state's Highway 99 tunnel administrator downplayed the requests from Seattle Tunnel Partners, however, saying there was a "very slim chance" the state would have to pay for those expenses.
Its numerous critics thought there was a very slim chance that this project would be completed trouble free as advertised, by its supporters. Who turned out to be right.


What's in a name in Spain;
After four centuries seemingly commemorating the expulsion and mistreatment of Spain’s Jews, the 56 men and women on the electoral register of the village of Castrillo Matajudíos (literally Killjews), in northern Spain, are to vote on whether to change the name of their community.
Lorenzo Rodríguez Pérez, the village’s mayor, says the vote will take place on May 25, the day of the European elections. “The name has offended more than a few people over the years,” he told local newspaper El Diario de Burgos, pointing out that people from Matajudíos have encountered hostility in many parts of the world, including Israel.
Imagine that. But hey, it was just a typo;
Should a majority of voters decide on a name change, their options will include Castrillo Motajudíos and Castrillo Mota de Judíos. Mota means mound or hill in Spanish. The mayor believes that this was the original name of the community, and that a spelling mistake in an official register led to it being renamed 
Except for the precedent;
Some Muslims have suggested on the social networks that it is about time that Spaniards stopped calling Saint James Santiago Matamoros which means “Moorkiller.” 

Friday, April 25, 2014


Can't get it out of their heads;
“This album damn near wrote itself,” Mushroomhead drummer Skinny tells Blabbermouth, and we’re not quite sure if that’s a good thing or not. The veteran industrial metal band have just unveiled the lead single from their new album The Righteous & The Butterfly, unfortunately titled QWERTY.
Yes, QWERTY. You know, like the Latin script keyboard layout. While Mushroomhead bassist Dr Fhas explained (insisted?) to Loudwire that the track is “fun, creepy, unpredictable” and inspired by the Shroom’s early output, we think this one sounds like a bizarre nu-metal parody, 15 years too late.
“We wanted to fuse together the fun, dark keyboard driven sounds of the old-school with a raw, heavy modern twist. We feel as though we’ve accomplished this and couldn’t be more excited that it became the first single!” 

Cover your eyes, Oregon

Too painful to watch it get worse, so the state abandons its health insurance scheme ('We're from the government and we're here to insure you.');
Cover Oregon closed one of the sorrier chapters in the history of Oregon state government Friday when it opted to dump its troubled $248 million health insurance exchange in favor of the federal exchange.
The federal exchange doesn't feature many of the bells and whistles Oregon officials had hoped to offer in their in-house system. But the federal exchange works and offers certainty that the Oregon exchange did not.
There is some dispute on the amount Oregon has wasted up to this point, as other reports put it at over $300 million.  What isn't disputed is that no one was able to enroll online;
The decision will impact both the existing Cover Oregon customers and its insurance carrier partners. More than 200,000 Oregonians have enrolled, most of them -- about 140,000 -- are Medicaid customers. Cover Oregon enrolled those customers using an alternative manual process it cobbled together after the state exchange proved non-functional.
Cover Oregon has 15 insurance company partners. Most of them already have built their own portals to the federal exchange. But some haven't and have poured considerable resources into customizing their own portal to Oregon's exchange -- the technology that  will now be abandoned.
With the loss borne by taxpayers.

When they came for the bloggers...

It's beginning to look a lot like Stalin everywhere you go in Russia;
The Russian parliament is planning to pass a bill which effectively assimilates bloggers into the mass media. ....
If the law is passed and blogs end up having to be registered within a special state structure, it will oblige the owners of online diaries to check the accuracy of the information posted, to follow rules regarding elections and campaigns, to avoid disseminating information about the private lives of citizens, not to spread extremist material and to specify an age limit for users. Once the blog reaches 3,000 readers, the authors will be required to disclose their real names and surnames. In this respect, blogs will be no different from mainstream media outlets.

Beyond the Headlines -

You ain't just whistlin' Danish

Unless you're a Greek bearing the burden;
Denmark has the EU's happiest workforce, according to research published Thursday (25 April) by Eurobarometer.
Ninety-four percent of Danish workers are satisfied with their own conditions at work, the survey found, closely followed by Austrians and Belgians.
....At the other end of the scale, Greece is the only country among the European Union's 28 member states where fewer than half of its workers describe themselves as happy with working conditions.
After four years of stiff austerity policies that have seen unemployment rise to one in four Greeks, a mere 16 percent felt their country was a good place to work. Only 38 percent were happy with their own conditions, the survey found.

IPEG your pardon

The more socialists want things to change...
Rui Tavares sits at a small podium as he faces the audience in the crowded library in Lisbon. ....
"Ulysses" is the name the 41-year-old has given to an ambitious economic policy project with which aims to redefine the roles of southern European countries like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain in the EU.
"Above all, we want to achieve one thing. We no longer want the countries in the south of Europe to be called PIGS."
Have it your way,  Itália, Portugal, Espanha, Grécia but, the more things seem the same old sow's ear;
Tavares says solving the sovereign debt crisis must no longer be a national task. Instead, the crisis has to be solved by Europe as a whole. He wants the EU to set up its own, independent financial institution similar to the International Monetary Fund and controlled by the European Parliament. The problems in the south of Europe could be solved with an economic stimulus package, like the Marshall plan set up after World War Two, Tavares says.
Without the bombing?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Complexity corrupts

And European Union complexity absolutely corrupts;
Complacency and complex rules makes the EU's own institutions vulnerable to corruption and conflicts of interest, a report by a leading transparency NGO has found.
The 250-page 'European Union Integrity System', published by Transparency International on Thursday (24 April), is the first assessment looking at how ten EU institutions are dealing with internal corruption risks.
"The EU institutions have done a lot to put their house in order but strong foundations are being undermined by complex rules, complacency and a lack of follow up," said Carl Dolan, director of Transparency International in Brussels.
Now there's a surprise; Politicians will be politicians! Something oughta be done;
The report calls for the institutions to record a 'legislative footprint' of all input received from lobbyists/interest representatives for draft policies, laws and amendments (a ‘legislative footprint’).
It also urges them to publish all documents from each step in the process of drafting legislation, including records of the informal 'trialogue' negotiations between the institutions which take place behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, the EU's Transparency Register for lobbyists should become mandatory and be extended to application to the Council and national embassies.
Make things even more complex. Sounds a little complacent.

Back to the taxing board

All the people who count, aren't going to take this lying down;
A Seattle-based group, Friends of Transit, announced Wednesday it is filing a city initiative for the November ballot that would hike property taxes in order to preserve Metro bus service within the city of Seattle.
“Seattle will grind to a halt if we don’t save buses,” warned transit activist Ben Schiendelman, a longtime trenchant critic of downtown traffic.
Whether the people of Seattle want us to have their money or not!
The proposal comes a day after King County voters apparently defeated Proposition 1, which would have raised sales taxes and imposed a car tab fee, with 60 percent of proceeds going to stave off sharp cuts in Metro bus service.  The measure would also have made money available to cities for road improvements.
Seattle recently passed regulation that will possibly eliminate ride sharing services. 'Friends of Transit' might want to think about that before leaping to the conclusion that tax subsidies are the way to provide transportation.

Hay críticos y hay boxoffice. Tomaré boxoffice.

Hooray for Hollywood. It gives the customers what they want;
“The word on the street in Hollywood is that Latinos are the most important cinema audience in the country,” says Santiago Pozo, founder and CEO of Arenas, the first agency to start promoting the entertainment industry to the Hispanic audience 26 years ago. “Latinos make up 16 percent of the population and buy 27 percent of the movie tickets. They are cinema’s alpha consumers.”
The studios know the figures. “It is a big audience for us,” says über-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, on the promotional trail for his new horror-thriller Deliver Us From Evil, the kind of film he is convinced works very well with Spanish audiences and even more so if it has a Latino star, in this case Venezuela's Édgar Ramírez.
As the El País story notes;
“If we get to $6 million it will be a success,” Mexican actor and filmmaker Eugenio Derbez was told about his movie No se aceptan devoluciones, or Instructions not Included. .... “We reached the $6-million mark in 48 hours,” Derbez recalls. “The first weekend closed with over $10 million, we sneaked into second place in the box office with just 10 percent of screens; we had a screen average of $26,000, the same figures as Avatar or The Avengers; the total box office was over $44 million.” 
That's en-ter-tain-ment.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It's a staple

Unions hate competition, and public employees' unions really, really, really hate it;
A postal-workers union is ramping up a campaign to try to slow the U.S. Postal Service's partnership with Staples Inc....including asking unionized teachers to boycott the chain and buy school supplies elsewhere.
Last fall, Staples began providing postal services under a pilot program that now includes 82 stores in California, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Massachusetts. The sites are staffed with Staples employees.
The American Postal Workers Union, whose members have average pay of just under $25 an hour, said it fears a broader rollout would end up transferring more duties to lower-paid Staples employees, cutting the need for neighborhood post offices and leading to post-office layoffs. 
Of course the USPS has been closing neighborhood post offices for decades, but never let the facts get in the way of your selfish interest.

Ukraine count on US, Japan

Because there's a piece of paper somewhere that says so, Barack Obama reassures another country that depends on American military power;
US President Barack Obama has assured Japan that islands at the centre of its territorial dispute with China are covered by a bilateral defence treaty.
In an interview ahead of his Asian tour, Mr Obama said the US would oppose any attempt to undermine Japan's control over the islands.
Gonna draw a red line?


Alicia Silverstone gives us a piece of her mind. Careful!
In the book, the star claims she has never given her little boy a “drop of medicine” in his life, claiming he is protected by his vegan diet.
She writes, “Of course, he’s never been sick-sick – just feeling a little off from time to time, maybe with a stuffy nose – but then it passes. Because his body is a super-clean, healthy machine, it can defend itself against and flush out all the nasty stuff much more quickly than a baby whose diet isn’t as kind. … He’s never had a drop of medicine.”
Silverstone goes on to give a warning against childhood vaccinations: “While there has not been a conclusive study of the negative effects of such a rigorous one-size-fits-all, shoot-’em-up schedule, there is increasing anecdotal evidence from doctors who have gotten distressed phone calls from parents claiming their child was ‘never the same’ after receiving a vaccine. And I personally have friends whose babies were drastically affected in this way.”
The actress also suggests babies who are included in her suggested method of potty training prefer to defecate outdoors, saying, “(They are) much more content leaving their business in the grass than having to sleep and eat accompanied by their own pee and poo,” and she urges parents to share a bed with their infants.
Anything that would keep her from reproducing further may be a good idea.

Spies coming in from out of the woodwork

Deutsche Welle notices that all those Russian diplomats might be doing what Russian diplomats have always done;
What seems like a throwback to the Cold War has caused an uproar in the German media in recent days: According to Germany's domestic intelligence service, the German Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), Russian agents in Berlin have been spying on targets linked to German political, economic and scientific spheres on a massive scale.
Hans-Georg Maaßen, the president of the German Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), the domestic intelligence service, told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag: "There is no secret service that is as interested in gathering intelligence in Germany as Russia is."
The agents usually work in Berlin's Russian embassy, their diplomatic status protecting them from persecution under German law. BfV told the media that up to a third of Russian embassy employees in Berlin have a secret services background.
They might read German newspapers.

Gabo: 'Yo quiero estar solo.'

Granma continues to be starstruck by the literary star who was not struck by bullets meant for Fidel;
“What Fidel wrote left me cold, frozen. I had the impression I had just met him yesterday. I had never seen him that way, so affectionate,” Gabo commented to some of his Cuban friends…
“He was affectionate, relaxed. He spoke with us about everything, about Birán, which we had visited with him before,” Mercedes said. “Yes, about a great many issues, with depth and clarity,” her companion of more than 50 years added, concluding, “I’m not going out on the street today.”
Probably a good idea, since Fidel had a habit of using Gabriel García Márquez and his wife Mercedes Barcha as human shields;
“I called Gabo, who was close-by and said to him jokingly, ‘Ride with us tonight, so they don’t shoot us!’ And he did. I added in the same tone to Mercedes, who stayed at the point our departure, ‘You’re going to be the youngest widow.’ I’ve never forgotten it. (…) Later I learned that what happened there was the same as what had occurred in Santiago de Chile, when a television camera containing an automatic weapon was pointed at me during an interview with the press, and the mercenary operating it did not dare to fire. In Cartagena, there were telescopic rifles and automatic weapons in place to ambush us in the walled area, but once again, those who were to pull the trigger wavered. The excuse given was that Gabo’s head was in the way, obstructing their view.” Going about the world with Fidel has its risks.
The same risks going around with Stalin included; he might decide you've outgrown your usefulness.

But everyone I know voted for it!

Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly doesn't understand why the rabble don't think like him...and the missus;
The ballot proposal to rescue Metro bus service in King County was being run over by voters on Tuesday night, winning just 44.72 percent of the vote in the first “dump” of election results.
Prop. 1 called for an 0.01 percent sales tax increase, and a car tab fee, with 60 percent of revenue going to stave off cuts in bus service, and the remaining 40 percent earmarked for roads.  Metro has warned that it will have to cut bus service up to 17 percent without a new revenue source.
“I am totally stunned,” said Seattle City Councilwoman Jean Godden.  “I felt sure it would pass.  I can only hope these are early returns . . . Our buses, as is, are overcrowded.  Almost every day, my office fields complaints from people who were passed on the street by overcrowded buses.”
Jean Godden is not only herself a former PI columnist, but Mrs. Joel Connelly.
Prop. 1 was put on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the King County Council, including four Republicans who sit on the officially non-partisan panel.
Its supporters put together a coalition of 275 community organizations and endorsers, including urban Seattle politicians, suburban and exurban mayors, the Metropolitan King County Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Seattle Association, and the MLKing County Labor Council. 
Everyone who counts...for Joel.

Red Deer

Still loyal, after all these years;
Deer were also victims of the barrier. A seven-year study in the Czech Republic's Sumava National Park showed that the original Iron Curtain line still deters one species, red deer, from crossing.
....The average life expectancy for deer is 15 years and none living now would have encountered the barrier.
"But the border still plays a role for them and separates the two populations," [biologist Pavel] Sustr said. He said the research showed the animals stick to traditional life patterns, returning every year to the same places.
"Fawns follow mothers for the first year of their life and learn from them where to go," Sustr said.
...."I don't think it's a surprising result," said professor Ludek Bartos of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, who was not involved in the research. "These animals are really conservative."
Lenin and Stalin: they even persecuted Bambi.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Piketty, Piketty

Daniel Shuchman, writing in the Wall Street Journal, gives a French economist a taste of Yankee ingenuity;
A professor at the Paris School of Economics, Mr. [Thomas] Piketty believes that only the productivity of low-wage workers can be measured objectively. He posits that when a job is replicable, like an "assembly line worker or fast-food server," it is relatively easy to measure the value contributed by each worker. These workers are therefore entitled to what they earn. He finds the productivity of high-income earners harder to measure and believes their wages are in the end "largely arbitrary." They reflect an "ideological construct" more than merit.
Soaring pay for corporate "supermanagers" has been the largest source of increased inequality, according to Mr. Piketty, and these executives can only have attained their rewards through luck or flaws in corporate governance. It requires only an occasional glance at this newspaper to confirm that this can be the case. But the author believes that no CEO could ever justify his or her pay based on performance. He doesn't say whether any occupation—athletes? physicians? economics professors who sell zero-marginal-cost e-books for $21.99 a copy?—is entitled to higher earnings because he does not wish to "indulge in constructing a moral hierarchy of wealth."
Our bold in the above, of course.
The title of Shuchman's review is apt;  Thomas Piketty Revives Marx for the 21st Century. 
Which reminds us of Iain Pears' observation from his novel Stone's Fall
A few months ago I read a book by Karl Marx on capital. Elizabeth gave it to me, with a smile on her face. A strange experience, as the author's awe exceeds even my own. He is the first to understand the complexity of capital and its subtlety. His account is that of a lover describing his beloved, but after describing her beauty and the sensuality of her power, he turns away from her embrace and insists that his love should be destroyed. He could gaze clearly into the nature of capital, but not into his own character. Desire is written in every line and paragraph of his book, but he does not see it.

Big Bertha's got it bad

And that ain't good;
Bertha, the tunneling machine that's supposed to be digging its way under the Downtown Seattle waterfront, will start moving again by the end of March 2015, the state announced Monday.....
Bertha stopped moving in December, after hitting an obstruction about one-tenth of the way into the 1.7-mile dig, which is the centerpiece of the $3.1 billion project to replace the aging, earthquake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct. The machine is the world's largest tunnel borer, with a 57.5-foot diameter.
Under a schedule that contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners released Monday, the company will start building a pit late next month to access Bertha and repair damage. The company plans to remove the machine's cutter head and start repairing damage to the seal system and main bearing in October, test the machine in February and then resume digging.
Which hardly fazes the Washington State Dept of Transportation;
Todd Trepanier, Alaskan Way Viaduct program administrator for WSDOT, said: "We are disappointed by this delay, but we believe the new schedule is moving in the right direction. We'll continue to work with STP in their efforts to resume tunneling."
When time is other peoples' money.

Taking a powder

Can it be?  It's legal to carry an intoxicating powder around with you? The government says yes;
The people behind "Palcohol," a planned powdered alcohol product, got an unexpected boost to their profile and lesson in marketing in recent days.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau finished its approval of proposed "Palcohol" labels on April 8.
....Palcohol packages weigh about an ounce, making them convenient to put in your pocket or pack in luggage. When you want a drink, add five ounces of water or another mixer.
It's set to come in six versions: V (vodka), R (rum), Cosmopolitan, Mojito, Powderita ("tastes just like a margarita") and Lemon Drop. 
You could put in your Coca Cola...just like old times.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Doctor is in

NBC can't figure why people don't want to watch David Gregory's Meet the Press;
With Meet The Press tanking in the ratings, NBC reportedly hired a ‘psychological consultant’ last year to work with longstanding host David Gregory.
Once the nation’s number one Sunday politics show, MTP now regularly trails behind both CBS’ Face The Nation, hosted by Bob Schieffer, and ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos.
The ratings slump is a far cry from its heyday under Gregory’s predecessor Tim Russert.
 Maybe they should be examining the heads of those who thought Gregory would be a great replacement for Russert.

El buen artista socialista club

What would a novel written by a committee look like? Like the ones published in Cuba;
The 8th Congress of the Union of Cuban Artists and Writers (UNEAC) opened Friday, April 11, at Havana’s Convention Center, with the participation of José Ramón Machado Ventura, second secretary of the Party Central Committee and a vice president of the Councils of Ministers and State; Miguel Díaz–Canel Bermúdez, member of the Party Central Committee Political Bureau and Vice President of the Council of Ministers and State; Julián González Toledo, minister of Culture; Abel Prieto, advisor to the President of the Councils of State and Ministers; Miguel Barnet, president of the Congress organizing committee....
Surely a lineup that will enhance creativity!

[Miguel] Barnet began by saying that Cuba’s artists and writers had arrived at the 8th Congress "with confidence in our principles and the Revolution’s cultural policy."
Or they wouldn't have been let in.
Presenting the Central Report to be considered, he described UNEAC as an exceptional entity on a planet in which self-interest and wars of plunder prevail.
"It is a privilege to have an organization like this one, in a persecuted and blockaded country such as ours. UNEAC has done nothing more, since its inception, than serve the most noble ideals of the Revolution," Barnet said.
"The fate of our country’s culture, has been, is, and will always be the central concern of UNEAC, with the certainty that this is the highest expression of our policy, and, as Fernando Ortiz said, the soul of the nation."
Probably true.

Like Liquidity for Chocolate

The spoils are up for grabs, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy's political storm;
One of the city's largest employers affected by superstorm Sandy hasn't fully reopened since the disaster more than a year ago and says it may leave New York if it can't raise the money to return to full production.
Madelaine Chocolate Co. is asking for $10 million in federal Sandy recovery funds from the city, a sum it says it needs to replace and repair machinery, some so specialized it must be sent to Europe for overhaul. Madelaine officials said the company sustained about $50 million in damage, and 10 of its 15 chocolate-molding lines remained out of commission.
Which means that some other businesses would get $10 million less. So, why would a maker of luxury products be at the head of the line for taxpayer money;
Adding to the city's concern about Madelaine's is the Rockaways' sagging economy. The chocolate company is a highly-coveted source of good-paying union manufacturing jobs.  
Unions whose members are a source of campaign contributions.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Not all black and white in East Germany

Deutsche Welle has a short video on the differences between officially approved photography--in new fangled color!--and that which individuals could develop at home, away from die Zensoren, in black and white.

A tale of two socialist paradises, worth thousands of words. Titled,
The 'happy' and the gritty faces of socialism
Definitely worth the five and a half minutes it takes to view.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The price of the pudding is in the eating

The Employment Policies Insitute's Michael Saltsman has a little lesson in fundamentals for the Leader of the Free World;
...the warehouse retailer [Costco] rakes in what amounts to a more than $10,000 profit per employee [from its upfront membership fees], according to data from business research company Hoovers. A casual dining restaurant, on the other hand, earns a roughly $2,000 profit per employee, which explains why most businesses aren't following the president's "just be more like Costco" advice.
There are exceptions. In a visit this month to the University of Michigan, for instance, the president stopped at the local deli Zingerman's. He raved about its Reuben sandwich as well as the generous wages that the business offers. Like Mr. Jelinek, Zingerman's co-founder Paul Saginaw supports hiking the minimum wage. He posted a minimum-wage manifesto on a company website last September.
As Mr. Obama relished the perfect sandwich prepared by well-paid employees, he neglected to mention how much he paid for the happy experience: Zingerman's Reuben costs $14. That's about three times as much as a Subway foot-long. When I was an undergraduate student at Michigan, I rarely dined at Zingerman's because it was so expensive.
....The president seems oblivious to pricing pressures that exist outside of high-end restaurant concepts in tony metropolitan areas.
Also oblivious to the old adage that it takes all kinds to feed a world.

Coming up short

The Daily Mail breathlessly warns of a chocolate shortage, but should worry about their own shortage of reporters versed in elementary economics;
Experts are warning that a growing taste for chocolate in Asia – particularly in China – means cocoa farmers will need more help to provide a greater amount to export or manufacturers will be forced to use less cocoa in their products.
The help is already on the way. The forces of supply and demand have been providing that help for thousands of years. The author of this piece (Emma Glanfield) could read it and see for herself;
Most cocoa farms are situated along the west coast of Africa – where many farmers are said to be living off less than $2 a day. 
Better days ahead for those farmers, then. No?
 Mondelez International – a multinational confectionery, food and beverage conglomerate – said it had pledged to invest more than $400 million to help ease the crisis.
Over the next ten years, it is set to pump millions into Ghana, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, India and the Dominican Republic to help improve the productivity and life of cocoa farmers.
So, we're looking at increased supply. How about demand;
It is predicted chocolate prices will soar to keep up with the rising demand – otherwise consumers will increasingly be offered products filled with substitutes, such as nuts and fruits, to ‘pack out’ chocolate bars.