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Of Monsters and Men

by Frank Schnittger
Mon Dec 17th, 2012 at 09:04:35 AM EST

It is a sure sign of having too much time on your hands when you start writings Letters to the Editor on the subject of sport. Perhaps it is that the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown or the continuing Eurozone dance of death are simply too depressing, and we need some light relief. Certainly sport has been one of the few highlights in Irish life in recent times, and rugby has been a large part of that success. However the prosaic truth is that I am sad enough to write Letters to the Editor on all manner of topics, and only the most trivial tend to get published (in an edited form).

Monsters needed - Letters, Opinion -

On a weekend of Heineken hell, all four Irish provinces were defeated in the Heineken European Rugby Cup. All were reasonably good performances against formidable opposition, but there is no hiding the structural flaws in Irish rugby: we were bullied up front in each match. We simply don't breed forwards big and powerful enough.

Who knows whether this is a steroidal deficiency or a genetic inheritance, but it is clear that small is no longer beautiful in top-class rugby. Short of a eugenics programme, it is not clear what the solution is.

Matches are decided by referees giving penalties to teams whose scrum is deemed to be trundling forward and by high kicks followed up by marauding beasts. Not the most exciting fare if you are looking for intricate running and handling skills, but the rules and their interpretation will hardly be changed to suit "smaller" nations unless TV earnings are effected.

Anyone got any 6ft 10in, 20 stone, muscle-bound monsters in their extended global family?

Read more... (22 comments, 857 words in story)

'Reform' in the UK

by ThatBritGuy
Mon Dec 17th, 2012 at 04:19:15 AM EST

From BBC Wales
Ms Adams, who lives in Milton Keynes, said a website for first-time escorts run by one of her close friends had seen interest soar, especially from students.

"There are so many young women entering the business (sex industry) now that supply is outstripping demand," said Ms Adams, who set up an escort agency with two friends.

"With the financial pressures of student loans it's becoming far more acceptable for young people to turn to sex work to see them through their education."

Well done, Margaret, Tony, Nick and David.

front-paged by afew

Comments >> (18 comments)

Bars, flamenco and independence: Barcelona Nov 2012

by Ted Welch
Fri Dec 14th, 2012 at 06:30:28 PM EST


I went to Barcelona for the first time about twenty years ago, with a group of students and lecturers. I'd done some research and the first night did a tour on my own: Champagneria, Four Cats, etc. The next night I took my colleagues on my guided tour of Barcelona night-life - a barman letting us out of the last bar at about 3 am. I enjoyed the trip so much I went back on my own soon after. That time I saw one of the best flamenco shows I'd ever seen, up on Montjunc, stayed on for another show and came back down the hill as the sun came up. I got drunk enough (I'm British) to accept a dancer's invitation to join her on stage and tried to dance sevillanos (and didn't do too bad according to a female friend).

It had been a long gap since then, and Barcelona had developed, particularly around the port, where there was a huge new development, but there was still the traditional charm:

Read more... (13 comments, 1173 words in story)

Are you ready for a 2nd Wall Street crash and taxpayer bailout?

by Democrats Ramshield
Thu Dec 13th, 2012 at 05:29:23 PM EST

Updated and republished Written by an American Expat living in the E.U. The mainstream publication Der Spiegel truthfully reported that the Wall Street banksters committed "a monumental insider bank robbery" for which no one went to jail. Since the date of publication, 2 years ago the US for-profit plutocrat owned media has ignored this story but more to the point perhaps is the fact that not only did they ignore the story, they failed to report it in the first place. Why is that? Here's why, because it's going to happen again. The needed regulation to prevent it from happening again has never been put in place. There's too much money to be made by too many people for it not to happen again. Therefore as it is incentivized, it will happen again. In fact the only question the smart money is asking is when will the next crash occur?

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Litvinenko's final frame-up?

by de Gondi
Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 04:40:04 AM EST

By David Habakkuk in London and David Loepp in Rome.

In London on 13-14 December preparations for the inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko reach a crucial stage, when the key question of which of the claims about how he came to ingest the rare radiological isotope polonium-210 should be deemed worthy of investigation will be confronted at the fourth pre-inquest review.  Among the candidates for consideration is the 'possible involvement' of Litvinenko's Italian associate Mario Scaramella, whose conviction in Rimini on charges of 'aggravated calumny' last month we discussed in our previous diary.

In an interview on the BBC Russian Service on 11 November 2006 Litvinenko endorsed suggestions made on obscure websites linked to the Chechen insurgents when they broke the story of his poisoning earlier the same day, that the likely culprit was Scaramella1.  A diary in December 2008 exposed as disinformation an attempt by an associate of Litvinenko to explain away the incrimination of Scaramella, and to claim that he actually pointed the finger of suspicion at Andrei Lugovoi, the figure whom the British police have accused of committing the supposed murder.  This is only one of a whole series of attempts by the dead man's associates to claim that he incriminated Lugovoi, none of which has been supported by anything more than uncorroborated hearsay2.

This makes it of particular interest that the various 'interested persons' at the inquest - among them Lugovoi - will by now be in possession of a transcript of what, supposedly, Litvinenko told the police.  Without wanting to give hostages to fortune, it seems to us highly unlikely that it will show him incriminating Scaramella.  However, that does not make what Litvinenko claimed when the story of his poisoning was broken irrelevant.  The evidence from the recently concluded aggravated calumny case against Scaramella, together with other evidence discussed in our previous diary, establishes that he and Litvinenko had a record of framing people with bogus accusations of involvement in nefarious plots orchestrated by the Russian security services.

In the initial reports incriminating Scaramella, it was suggested that he had been the instrument of just such a plot.  Particularly given the peculiar implausibility of the notion of his Italian associate as a Russian hit man, it seems overwhelmingly probable that this was the last, and most bizarre of Litvinenko's frame-ups.  If however one asks why one partner in crime might have chosen to frame another, a natural possible interpretation is that he did not want to be candid about what he thought had have happened to him.  And this, of course, would fit in quite well with the claim made by Lugovoi's lawyers that Litvinenko might not have been murdered at all - that his death might have been either an accident or suicide.

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Nobel Peace Prize for the EU

by Frank Schnittger
Mon Dec 10th, 2012 at 10:48:28 AM EST

The Nobel Peace Prize committee has a curious sense of timing: awarding President Obama the Peace Prize before he had accomplished anything much in office, and now awarding the EU the Peace Prize at a time when it seems intent on unraveling much of what has been achieved in European Solidarity in the past 60 years. Perhaps both awards can be described as a form of preemptive peace making: Instead of the more usual approach of rewarding a peacemaker for a life-times achievement of making peace long after it can do any good to help their efforts, it chose instead to reward Obama early in order to make it more possible for him to unwind the warmongering of President Bush. And now it is rewarding current EU leaders for NOT YET having unraveled most of what has been achieved in terms of EU solidarity in order to remind them of the rich peace making heritage bequeathed to them by the EU's founders, and thus make it more possible for them to reverse current negative trends.

In any case, that is the most charitable spin I can put on today's Nobel Peace Prize presentation ceremony in Oslo. Many readers here may view it as a study in the increasing irrelevance of both the Nobel Peace Prize committee and the EU: The establishment congratulating itself on how relevant, innovative and peace loving they are - whilst all the while destroying the efforts of their predecessors and taking and giving credit where none is due. However it seemed odd to me that a forum dedicated to European Affairs would let the day pass unremarked, so this is my attempt to get a conversation going. What relevance has the EU and the Nobel Peace prize got to peacemaking today? Are both still making a valuable positive contribution, or are both living off (and diminishing) past achievements?

Can we seriously look to the EU to make a further positive contribution to European and world Peace today, or must we look elsewhere, and if so, where?

Comments >> (34 comments)

Rail News Blogging #19

by DoDo
Sun Dec 9th, 2012 at 11:09:26 AM EST

Today, on 9 December, European railways switched to the 2013 timetable. The changes include the start of regular service on new lines, including:
  • The 50 km Hanzelijn (Hanze Line) across Eastern Flevoland polder in The Netherlands was inaugurated on 6 December. The on-time, within-budget €1.128 billion project finished a new link that cuts 13 minutes from travel times to the north-east of the country, and is expected to be travelled by 32,000 passengers/day.
  • The Katzenbergtunnel, a 9,385 m bi-tube tunnel on a 250 km/h bypass of a curved section along the Rhine in Germany was inaugurated on 4 December. This €610 million project is part of the quadruple-tracking of the Karlsruhe–Basel line, an extremely busy transit corridor.

  • The new Vienna–St. Pölten line was inaugurated on 23 November, and went into service today along with the first two platforms of the new Vienna Main Station. Switching to the new line and with top speed raised to 230 km/h, the locomotive-pulled railjet trains cut 15 minutes from Vienna–St. Pölten travel times and shorten the entire Vienna–Salzburg trip by 23 minutes to 2h 22m. The total number of daily trains on the old and new lines rose from 325 to 450. Most of the new trains are regional passenger trains, including new limited-stop services with a top speed of 200 km/h (I described two similar services in RNB #17). Vienna's new main station now opened only for regional and commuter services (which were newly connected across the city), long-distance trains will follow only in 2015, so the second half of the tunnel at the Vienna end of the new line is now being used by freight trains only.

Below the fold, I bring further stories on delays caused by rolling stock certification difficulties, ERTMS in Norway, and a new high-speed line in Manchuria.

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LEP is risen from the near dead at 76.

by LEP
Sun Dec 9th, 2012 at 03:45:26 AM EST

Well, I exagerate a bit; but I have been dragging my ass for the last couple of years due to my kidney disease so you haven't seen me commenting here.

However, a near miracle has happened! One month ago my kidney doctor put me on a new synthetic hormone (which hormone my kidney is no longer producing thus causing anemia) and rapidly I'm feeling like kicking ass again.
I've even made plans to go the US in March, something I haven't done for two years.

So tonight, I'm celerbrating my birthday with estHer who's returned home from Montaigu for the occasion-also to wash her clothes. (Believe it or not she's almost 19 and studying to be a sound technician.)

So I hope I'll be saying hello here more often and even walking aroud Paris and shooting some photos.

Cheers, Len

Hallelujah! - afew

Comments >> (41 comments)

A Scottish Green Deal

by ChrisCook
Fri Dec 7th, 2012 at 07:03:32 AM EST

I still check in here occasionally, but as Migeru recently reminded me, I haven't posted here for a while.

Not that I've been idle. I've been spending quite a bit of time as a Senior Research Fellow at UCL working on reality-based and pragmatic policies aimed at facilitating resilient markets and a resilient society.

Also internationally, where I am advising a group of ten nations in respect of strategic energy policy generally, and a Transition through Gas specifically.

The following post was written - at the invitation of the Yes Campaign - as a consequence of a recent 'Radical Independence' event in Glasgow which brought together Scottish Nationalists and the Left. As the Green MSP, Patrick Harvie, put it re Radical Independence,there is no other kind of Independence, since if you want the status quo, why vote for Independence?

Anyway, the following policy proposal aimed at achieving energy independence suggests a simple but radical way - implementable with no change in any law - of funding energy efficiency generally, and Danish-style community heat initiatives in particular.

The model will work in any jurisdiction: all that changes is the legal vehicles necessary.

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Awesome climbers and absurd deaths

by Ted Welch
Wed Dec 5th, 2012 at 05:34:56 PM EST


This has little to do with economics and energy, nor is it a personal diary; it's more about what we do with life beyond bare survival and how some people only really come alive a fingertip from death - and create a frightening beauty in doing so.  One of them summed up his philosophy of climbing like this (rough translation from French - and only a French climber would put it like this):

"I climb to feel in harmony with myself, because I live in the moment, because it's a form of ethical and aesthetic expression through which I can realise myself, because I seek total liberty of body and mind. And because I like it."  Patrick Berhault

Read more... (37 comments, 1156 words in story)

Scaramella Condemned for Aggravated Calumny in Rimini

by de Gondi
Wed Dec 5th, 2012 at 03:24:15 AM EST

By David Loepp in Rome and Rimini, and David Habakkuk in London

Last Friday Mario Scaramella was found guilty of the criminal offence of aggravated calumny in a Rimini court. He was the Italian associate of the late Alexander Litvinenko, who died in a London hospital on 23 November 2006, apparently as a result of ingesting the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210.

Mr. Scaramella has been sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment, and his victim, Alvaro Selva, a prominent public figure in the Republic of San Marino, awarded damages of €40,000. In 2005 Scaramella denounced Selva to judicial authorities in Rimini, claiming that he was a key player in an international nuclear smuggling operation, allegations he repeated in January 2006 to authorities in Bologna.

The verdict in Rimini follows a similar verdict in an earlier aggravated calumny case, in relation to the supposed involvement of a former FSB-operative called Oleksandr Talik in what proved to be a fabricated assassination plot, in relation to which Scaramella was sentenced to four years in 2008, after making a plea bargain.  

It comes as preparations for the resumption of the inquest into the death of Litvinenko move towards a critical stage in London.  At the fourth pre-inquest review, to be held on 13-14 December, the question of which of the many claims and counter-claims about how he died are to be considered worthy of investigation is to be confronted.  

Both in making the accusations against Selva, and those against Talik, Scaramella drew heavily on material supplied by his Russian associate - who was also actively involved in disseminating the claims against Talik. Given the nature of the accusations involved, the evidence from the two cases would appear extremely relevant to the inquest into Litvinenko's death.

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News From Our Favourite Lobbies

by afew
Mon Dec 3rd, 2012 at 10:23:07 AM EST

Two items stand out in today's Salon. The first concerns the UN Climate Change negotiations in Doha, that are now halfway through.

IPS - Fossil Fuel Lobby in the Driver's Seat at Doha | Inter Press Service

Countries have come to Doha unprepared to make the necessary commitments to actually stay below two degrees.

"There have been a number of voices suggesting (that) keeping temperatures below two degrees C is not possible. That simply isn't true. It is perfectly feasible," said Schaeffer.

Yes, but:

countries are going in the wrong direction, spending 523 billion dollars in 2011 in public tax money to subsidise the burning of fossil fuels, said Michiel Schaeffer, a scientist with Climate Analytics that produces the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) with Dutch energy consulting organisation Ecofys and Germany's Pik Potsdam Institute.

"The 2011 subsidies for fossil fuels were a 30-percent increase over 2010, according to the IEA (International Energy Agency)," Schaeffer told IPS.

By contrast, the IEA said that solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy received only 88 billion dollars in subsidies, one-sixth of the amount given to the highly profitable fossil fuels sector.

Even though 194 states and the European Union are here at COP18 to ensure the heating of the planet stays below two degrees, they are not discussing how to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels.

So subsidies to fossil fuels rose by a freaking 30% between 2010 and 2011. And renewables, that we incessantly hear are hopelessly expensive and subsidised, get one-sixth of the amount fossil fuels get. Are we getting round to understanding that the propaganda effort by incumbent energy industries is not only real but it is working?

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The MUSIC project

by Luis de Sousa
Mon Dec 3rd, 2012 at 03:30:42 AM EST

This is what I do and these are the folk whom I work with. When I moved to Luxembourg I had no clue I'd be involved in something like this; all I can say is that I feel very fortunate.

front-paged with minor edit by afew

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EU courts: The right to ECB opacity

by talos
Sat Dec 1st, 2012 at 05:33:27 AM EST

Reuters: ECB right not to disclose Greece-related documents: court

Bloomberg News asked the ECB in August 2010 to disclose two documents entitled "The impact on government deficit and debt from off-market swaps. The Greek case" and "The Titlos transaction and possible existence of similar transactions impacting on the euro area government debt or deficit levels".

The ECB refused access to the documents. Bloomberg News challenged that decision in the General Court.

"In today's judgment, the General Court dismisses that action," the court said in a statement.

The judges agreed with the ECB that it could not disclose the first document because the information it contained was outdated, posing a substantial risk of severely misleading the public in general and financial markets in particular.

"In a very vulnerable market environment, that disclosure would affect the proper functioning of the financial markets. Thus, disclosure of the information contained in that document would undermine public confidence as regards the effective conduct of economic policy in the EU and Greece," the statement said.

The court also found that the content of the second document was closely connected with the first, and that the ECB had not made a mistake in assessing that its disclosure too "would undermine the economic policy of the EU and Greece"

This obviously stinks to high heaven...

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Leveson report day

by ceebs
Thu Nov 29th, 2012 at 07:46:10 AM EST

yesterday at midday the first copies of the Leveson Inquiry report were delivered to David Cameron. Over the next period, at 8:30 this morning the political oposition leaders recieved their copies, and at 11:00 am today core participants were allowed locked in access to the report.

At 1:30 Uk time the judge will present the report with a short statement, he's not then taking questions orholding a press conference. and at that point the report will be available from the Inquiry website.

At 3:00 David Cameron will be getting up and making a statement, then approximately an hour Later Nick Clegg his coalition partner is also getting up and making a statement,  which is an interesting  event.

Rumours are that the full thing is roughly 2000 pages long,although there is a shorter summary copy.

More will be here once the report is available

Comments >> (18 comments)

'The Multiplier is at Least Two'

by ARGeezer
Thu Nov 29th, 2012 at 05:38:35 AM EST

From The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Economic Letter #2012-35 of November 26, 2012:

(Cascading Hat Tips to Migeru Shimbun and Economist's View)

Highway Grants: Roads to Prosperity?

By Sylvain Leduc and Daniel Wilson

Federal highway grants to states appear to boost economic activity in the short and medium term. The short-term effects appear to be due largely to increases in aggregate demand. Medium-term effects apparently reflect the increased productive capacity brought by improved roads. Overall, each dollar of federal highway grants received by a state raises that state's annual economic output by at least two dollars, a relatively large multiplier.

Increasing government spending during periods of economic weakness to offset slower private-sector spending has long been an important policy tool. In particular, during the recent recession and slow recovery, federal officials put in place fiscal measures, including increased government spending, to boost economic growth and lower unemployment. One form of government spending that has received a lot of attention is public investment in infrastructure projects. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allocated $40 billion to the Department of Transportation for spending on the nation's roads and other public infrastructure. Such public infrastructure investment harks back to the Great Depression, when programs such as the Works Progress Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority were inaugurated.

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MMT, full employment, and the limits of power

by Zwackus
Wed Nov 28th, 2012 at 04:34:36 AM EST

In my previous diary, Once more into the fray, taxes, deficits, and MMT, an interesting discussion developed on the social and economic limits to the ability of the government to create full employment.  That is a really interesting topic which was only partly addressed in the discussion, and I'd like to invite the ET community to return to that topic for a more focused examination of the topic.

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Krugman asks: What's the matter with Italy?

by Metatone
Tue Nov 27th, 2012 at 04:00:34 AM EST

And it seems to me, ET is a good place to look for people with some theories of an answer:

Economics and Politics by Paul Krugman - The Conscience of a Liberal -

Italy is often grouped with Greece, Spain, etc. in discussions of the euro crisis. Yet its story is quite different. There were no massive capital inflows; debt is high, but deficits aren't. The most striking thing about Italy is a remarkably dismal productivity performance since the mid to late 1990s. Here's a comparison of Italian with French productivity, as measured by output per worjer, from the Total Economy Database:

I've been reading many attempts to explain what happened; while there's a lot of interesting stuff about everything from regulation to firm size to export mix, I really don't see anything that feels like a slam dunk.

And no, it's not just a too-big welfare state -- France's welfare state is even bigger.

I'm not going to answer this; truly, I don't know. But it's important.

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The Spiegel: "Notes on the Decline of a Great Nation"

by Democrats Ramshield
Mon Nov 26th, 2012 at 02:33:35 PM EST

(Republished and updated: November 2012) A look at our empire in decline through the eyes of the European media...
SPIEGEL: Notes on the Decline of a Great Nation: The United States is frittering away its role as a model for the rest of the world. The political system is plagued by an absurd level of hatred, the economy is stagnating and the infrastructure is falling into a miserable state of disrepair.
As an American expat living in the European Union, I’ve started to see America from a different perspective through the prism of the European media. The European Union has a larger economy and more people than America does. Though it spends less -- right around 9 percent of GNP on medical, whereas we in the U.S. spend close to between 15 to 16 percent of GNP on medical -- the EU pretty much insures 100 percent of its population. The U.S. has 59 million people medically uninsured; 132 million without dental insurance; 60 million without paid sick leave; 45 million on food stamps. Everybody in the European Union has cradle-to-grave access to universal medical and a dental plan by law. The law also requires paid sick leave; paid annual leave; paid maternity leave. When you realize all of that, it becomes easy to understand why many Europeans think America has gone insane, particularly as 2 million long-term unemployed Americans are getting ready to lose their jobless benefits as America approaches the year end fiscal cliff.

Read more... (10 comments, 1372 words in story)

Client therapy

by Sven Triloqvist
Mon Nov 26th, 2012 at 11:58:48 AM EST

One of those tricky situation today where a new client wants a voiceover, but the script (obviously concocted by a nice committee of engineers, lawyers and timeservers at a major Finnish company) is crap.

The issue is safety, and the audience is lorry drivers. "Please read out this text approved by the lawyers." Will I fuck? Very few lorry drivers, in my experience, have a university education. But that doesn't mean they don't understand when idiots are talking among themselves.

Read more... (16 comments, 496 words in story)

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