Sunday, February 26, 2006

works and days

Last October, Andrew and Carolyne Abbott spent their vacation in the Rhone Valley, where instead of tooling around the French countryside or sipping wine and admiring the view, they donned kitchen whites at Maison Troisgros and worked as the only two nonprofessionals in a three-Michelin-star kitchen. While on holiday at the small four-star hotel and restaurant, they learned how to "plate" dishes, prepare the chef's specialties, and generally make themselves useful rather than just in the way.

The few days were exhausting, admits Mr. Abbott, a managing director at an investment firm in Calgary, but worth it. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he says.

Unique experiences are what a lot of travelers are after nowadays and hotels are trying to supply them. There's even a fancy buzzword to describe the hotels that are part of the trend. They're called lifestyle hotels. $.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Name [your] poison

when the constitution of the French Second Republic was finally promulgated and direct elections for the presidency were held on December 10, 1848, Louis-Napoléon won in a landslide.

His overwhelming victory was above all due to the support of the non-politicized rural masses, to whom the name of Bonaparte meant something, contrary to the names of the other contenders for the presidency which were unknown to the masses.

Exactly one year later, on December 2, 1852, after approval by another referendum, the Second Republic was officially ended and the Empire restored, ushering in the Second French Empire. President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte became Emperor Napoléon III.

That same year, he began shipping political prisoners and criminals to penal colonies such as Devil's Island (in French Guyana) or (in milder cases) New Caledonia.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

25 million points of blight

WASHINGTON -- When Lisa Koch asked several people eating at a Chicago soup kitchen to complete a survey of their situations, she got a surprising response: "They asked how long it would take because they had to get back to work after lunch."

A national survey of people getting food at soup kitchens, food banks and shelters found that 36 percent came from households in which at least one person had a job. In the Chicago area, it was 39 percent.

"Even though the economy might be changing, it isn't creating the kinds of jobs that allow people to make ends meet," said Koch, of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

More than 25 million Americans turned to the nation's largest network of food banks, soup kitchens and shelters for meals last year, up 9 percent from 2001, says the report by America's Second Harvest....

The surveys were done before hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. After the hurricanes, demand for emergency food assistance tripled...
AP See also.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

on the edge

"The summer of 2005 broke all records for melting in Greenland. So we may be on the edge." Chief NASA climate modeller Jim Hansen. via informant388.
Apparently a genuine global concern. But there are those presidential popularity polls, which matter more to some:
A satellite study of the Greenland ice cap shows that it is melting far faster than scientists had feared - twice as much ice is going into the sea as it was five years ago. The implications for rising sea levels - and climate change - could be dramatic.

Yet, a few weeks ago, when I - a NASA climate scientist - tried to talk to the media about these issues following a lecture I had given calling for prompt reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases, the NASA public affairs team - staffed by political appointees from the Bush administration - tried to stop me doing so. I was not happy with that, and I ignored the restrictions.
The first step is for the concatenated world to know that its leaders don't see it, hear it, care about it. They have more important matters to reckon.

The next step? Perhaps to not be blinded by what our leaders see.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

face saved

At Cafepress, via the services of the good people at Those Bastards.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

species extinction checklist

Monday, February 13, 2006

Working around the Great Firewall

Freegate is
"a tiny software program that connects computers inside China to servers in the U.S. It's run by Chinese hacker Bill Xia in North Carolina, who says 100,000 users a day use Freegate or the two other programs he has created to gain access to such blocked sites as Wikipedia.

He calls his tools "red pills" -- a reference to the drug in the "Matrix" moves that vaulted captives of totalitarianism into the real world.
" Wall St. Journal


Friday, February 10, 2006

Family health: $21,000 a year

Economist bashes Bush HSA proposal

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- President Bush's health savings account (HSA)plan will mean income-based healthcare rationing, an economist said Tuesday.

"Should healthcare be cheaper for high-income people?" asked Princeton economics professor Uwe Reinhart at the National Health Policy Conference in Washington. "Is this a faithful reflection of America's social ethic?"

Assuming a premium rise of 8 to 10 percent over the next 10 years, the cost of keeping an average family healthy--including insurance premiums, deductibles and co-payments--will be $21,000 per year, far more than low-income families can afford, he said.

And giving a tax break for HSAs will help the wealthy, who pay a relatively high tax rate, but do little to alleviate the problem of soaring healthcare costs for the poor, who will likely be forced to forego medical treatment.

Saving the maximum allowed by HSAs, which could be increased to as much as $10,000 per year, is "easy when you make $200,000, harder if you make $30,000," he said.

It is also not clear if patients will be willing and able to gather information and make informed decisions about treatments, as they would be called on to do in a transition to a system of individually-based health savings accounts and high-deductible insurance, Reinhart added.

Finally, if paying for medical expenses out of pocket is really about consumers taking charge, he asked, why do corporate executives always negotiate for excellent insurance as part of their compensation packages?

"I propose that coronary bypasses for corporate executives cost $1 million," he said, "so they can have skin in the game and be empowered." source: UPI

Monday, February 06, 2006

What Mr. Cox said

"Something wrong has happened here," Mr. Cox said.

"On a physical and on a sociological level the culture is becoming fear-based," Mr. Cox said.
"That includes fashion."*

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Fo fo' mayor

To have seen Dario Fo perform is to have glimpsed the pantomime of controlled anarchy which is true Commèdia. source.
Fo and the politics of Berlusconi's Italy recently intersected in Milan. Fo ran in the mayoral primary. (Maybe as if Pryor had run for congress under Nixon. Kombinat! are you amused?)

Fo's broadside, Io non sono un moderato, demonstrates that the urge to shred the pinstripe of liberal milquetoast is not peculiar to costume designers toiling in the US political wardrobe.

Massimo Moruzzi in Milan recently saw Fo and wife Franca Rame in performance, and in an email offers this about the electoral outcome:
Mistero Buffo last Saturday was great as usual, and Dario Fo (and Franca) in great shape. It was not enough, however, to help him win the "primary elections" set up by the center-left coalition (aka the only "votable" one, the other "coalition" being Berlusconi's servants*...) here in Milan to decide upon a candidate for the elections for a new Mayor later this year.

Everything had already been "decided", to be sure. All the parties of the coalition except the hard-line commies and part of the environmentalists had decided to back Ferrante, a man who was the "prefetto" - the envoy of the central government in Milano, that is - until only a few months ago (yes, the prefetto is a figure created by Mussolini and never abandoned...)
Massimo has posted some photos here.

(*changed at author's request)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Nyet neutrality

The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online. Jeff Chester, The End of the Internet?

White Papers. More here and here and here.

<-- This is truly a hideous image.

Think I'll contemplate Pirillo's butt some more:

Madison Avenue bites

An ad that Jeneane can explain.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Of all the tedious media coverage of reaction to the SOTU I saw, I most respected Renee Montagne's visit to three New Orleansians in a FEMA trailer in the darkened eastern sector of the city. These people watching the Bone tossed from the House, sailing through the deluxe mediascape, landing with an thud in that dark abandoned wreck of the town. Hearing the President ignore not just the city, but his federal administration's obscene failure to address the city, and now the failure to address that obscene failure, which is apparently the only way Mr. Bush knows how to implement anything at all in a realm in which accountability is not fudgeable by bogus fear and strategically invoked terror.

I have not heard anyone point out something that I'd have to see the tape in order to verify. (For most of the speech, Bush's mask was tight. Something shaped Bush's mouth to emit platitude after platiude: We won't surrender to Evil, no no no. B-b-b-. Some intricate lizardskin carapace kept sliding forward from Bush's ears to keep the structure above the neck from exploding. But that's not it.)

What it was -- if I didn't imagine it -- was, right after Bush emitted the last bit of texted vocable, the most lunatical laugh seemed to rip wide open the carapace. It was the one untexted, unmanipulated moment, as a fit of surprised relief overwhelmed him: the profound ecstasy of the child forced to say a whole bunch of things it has no idea of, but though rote doggedness and the right incentives and drugs, makes it through ok. ("'Nukulars' don't count, right mommy right?")

Only then did Mr. Bush "authentically" swim into view. In that sharklaugh he flitted off into whatever pretzel-strewn cubbyhole he inhabits. Safe and far from the madness only his sockpuppet larynx could visit upon all god's children.