Category: Business

Vatican rents out the Sistine Chapel to Porsche

Sistine Chapel parking

Pope Francis has revealed that the Vatican will rent out the Sistine Chapel for a corporate event for the first time in its 600-year history.

Porsche will hire the revered chapel, which is covered in Michelangelo’s stunning frescoes, and put on a private concert for 40 lucky – and high paying – guests. The concert, which takes place on Saturday, will be one stop on an exclusive tour of Rome organised by the car brand.

The Vatican has not divulged how much it will earn from the event, but the five-day tour of Italy’s capital, arranged by the Porsche Travel Club, costs up to €5,000 a head, meaning an overall intake of €200,000, reported…

The concert will be performed by a choir from the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, which traces its origins back to the 16th century. Participants will then sit down to a meal in the midst of the Vatican Museum, “surrounded by masterpieces by world-famous artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael”…

Proceeds from the event will go to charities working with the poor and homeless…

The Sistine Chapel’s…primary function is to be the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new Pope is selected.

Why not carry the logic a step or two further? Just imagine the annual revenue from the Facebook Chapel?

Thanks, Ursarodinia

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FTC expects record claims over AT&T cramming scam

AT&Y scum

Over 359,000 AT&T customers have already filled out an online application to obtain refunds from the company, which padded phone bills with suspect SMS charges.

Since the Federal Trade Commission announced a $105 million settlement with AT&T last week over fake billing charges, 359,000 individuals have already come forward to claim their share of the refund money, and that number is expected to climb.

The claims relate to so-called “cramming” charges in which AT&T customers paid extra fees, usually in the amount of $9.99, for “premium SMS” services that promised to deliver content like horoscopes and celebrity news to cell phones. Such services are a relic of the pre-smartphone days, but people still paid for them, often without authorization, with AT&T receiving a commission on the charges…

The process for making a claim is very straightforward: anyone who was an AT&T customer after January 1, 2009 can simply fill out this online form, which only requires a phone number and address.

Crooked corporation of the day, eh?

The Age of Vulnerability

Two new studies show, once again, the magnitude of the inequality problem plaguing the United States. The first, the US Census Bureau’s annual income and poverty report, shows that, despite the economy’s supposed recovery from the Great Recession, ordinary Americans’ incomes continue to stagnate. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, remains below its level a quarter-century ago.

It used to be thought that America’s greatest strength was not its military power, but an economic system that was the envy of the world. But why would others seek to emulate an economic model by which a large proportion – even a majority – of the population has seen their income stagnate while incomes at the top have soared?

A second study, the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report 2014, corroborates these findings. Every year, the UNDP publishes a ranking of countries by their Human Development Index (HDI), which incorporates other dimensions of wellbeing besides income, including health and education.

America ranks fifth according to HDI, below Norway, Australia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. But when its score is adjusted for inequality, it drops 23 spots – among the largest such declines for any highly developed country. Indeed, the US falls below Greece and Slovakia, countries that people do not typically regard as role models or as competitors with the US at the top of the league tables…

In the US, upward mobility is more myth than reality, whereas downward mobility and vulnerability is a widely shared experience. This is partly because of America’s health-care system, which still leaves poor Americans in a precarious position, despite President Barack Obama’s reforms.

Those at the bottom are only a short step away from bankruptcy with all that that entails. Illness, divorce, or the loss of a job often is enough to push them over the brink…

American politicians continue to reject the words and work of prize-winning economists like Joe Stiglitz for a couple of reasons. First, he won’t keep quiet about endemic illness in our economy. Inequality of opportunity being among the primetime crimes. Second, he doesn’t mind pointing out who benefits from the lousy politics, sleazy economics of the conservatives who have built this inequality into a new testament of American capitalism. Starting with fossil fuel and energy barons and following the money trail into the pants of Congress.

RTFA for details of the latest Stiglitz essay on a nation with leaders who really don’t care about the lives of ordinary people. Just stay in line and don’t ask too many questions.

Pig farms are recovering from virus — meat prices may drop — so they say


What a clean pig farm can look like

A virus that killed millions of baby pigs in the last year and led to higher pork prices has waned thanks to warmer weather and farmers’ efforts to sterilize their operations. And as pigs’ numbers increase, sticker shock on things like bacon should ease.

Already, hog supplies are on the rise, with 5.46 million baby pigs born between June and August in Iowa, the nation’s leading producer — the highest quarterly total in 20 years and a record 10.7 surviving pigs per litter, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

It’s a significant turnaround from a year ago when the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus was wiping out entire litters. Since the virus first showed up, the federal government rushed to give conditional approval for a vaccine and those in the industry began taking precautions, such as disinfecting trucks, equipment and clothing…

It’s clear the industry is managing the virus, but it’s far from eradicated. Two new cases were confirmed by South Dakota veterinary officials in the past week, bringing the state’s total to 38 farms. And there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic, Lear said, as the virus thrives in colder, wetter environments like those found in fall and winter…

Also – too bad it took the death of 10% of the young hogs in the United States to nudge a bit of activity by farmers and the USDA alike to invoke more sanitary conditions for the pigs they raise for food. Anyone wonder why so many nations keep a weather eye out for meat from the United States – how it may endanger their own consumers?

It takes about six months to raise a pig to market weight, so the increased supply could mean a slight drop in consumer prices this winter and a more noticeable decline in the spring…Many in the industry are optimistic that the worst of the PED virus is behind them, but there is still concern among producers.

Dale Norton — a livestock farmer in Bronson, Michigan, and president of the National Pork Board — lost 1,500 piglets over 2½ weeks in March, but said his barns are now free of the virus.

There may be additional outbreaks, Norton said, but he doubts they’ll be as severe, since hog farmers have learned more about the virus and how it spreads and have taken precautions.

This clown show – producers and regulators alike – are still astounded that cleaner living conditions make a difference. Scary as ever.

Thanks, Mike

New Mexico is Ground Zero for methane contaminating our air

One small “hot spot” in the U.S. Southwest is responsible for producing the largest concentration of the greenhouse gas methane seen over the United States – more than triple the standard ground-based estimate — according to a new study of satellite data by scientists at NASA and the University of Michigan…

In each of the seven years studied from 2003-2009, the area released about 0.59 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere. This is almost 3.5 times the estimate for the same area in the European Union’s widely used Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research.

…Researchers used observations made by the European Space Agency’s…SCIAMACHY instrument. SCIAMACHY measured greenhouse gases from 2002 to 2012. The atmospheric hot spot persisted throughout the study period. A ground station…operated by…Los Alamos National Laboratory, provided independent validation of the measurement…

Research scientist Christian Frankenberg of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, first noticed the Four Corners signal years ago in SCIAMACHY data…

The study’s lead author, Eric Kort of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, noted the study period predates the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, near the hot spot. This indicates the methane emissions should not be attributed to fracking but instead to leaks in natural gas production and processing equipment in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, which is the most active coalbed methane production area in the country.

“The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried,” Kort said. “There’s been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole…”

Phew! Where do we start?

The study includes time spent with Governor Bill the Democrat and Governor Susana the Republican. Both played kissy-kissy with our oil and gas industry. Sure, different levels of public blather; but, when push comes to shove, neither did a damned thing about oversight or regulation.

We shouldn’t be waiting for a Euro satellite or the coneheads up on the Hill to be telling us the air we breathe is being polluted. Everyone in the Four Corners knows it. Polluters, whether from the PNM power plants to gas and oil producers know it. They don’t care. And We The People – haven’t much of any elected officials really interested in acting on our behalf.

What could we have done? What can we do, now? How about a Green Party that actually tries to build political power instead of trotting out Ralph Nader every four years to tell us we’re screwed? Anyone concerned about quality of life already knows that. The rest of the population wallows in ignorance and ain’t reading Mother Jones. Most of our elected officials only respond to money and vested interests forking it over.

It’s time to stop the electoral posturing, put an end to political masturbation. That only perpetuates the absolute failure of any Green Party in the GOUSA. Our sister and brothers around the world enjoy our dissertations – and chuckle at how useless American environmentalists are at getting things done.

Aside from the Walt Disney theory of history which relies on electing a hero at the top – proven false most recently by the flop named Obama – reliance on the purportedly liberal wing of the two political parties we think is all we’re allowed is the broader example of being co-opted. Democrats respond to enviro fervor by saying, “Right on, y’all — vote for us and we’ll carry your banner to victory!” And then do nothing. Today’s Republicans do nothing by definition.

Nope. With continued polarization in this country – even if it’s based on the ignorance of perception – small victories, grassroots strength where possible, can provide the political power to make an independent difference. A Progressive swing vote in a gridlocked state legislature means a helluva lot more than buying TV time for this year’s self-chosen mellowed-out 60’s radical.

There are any number of city councils, state legislatures and eventually the bowels of Congress where program-based electoral campaigns can win the small victories which enable ecology gadflies to ally with other minorities to make a difference in how this state and this nation are run. And that includes the basic responsibility for oversight and regulation that restores our environment for future generations.

Worried about electromagnetic pollution? Should you be reading this on your iPad?

Hundreds of EMF-blocking garments and devices are marketed to reduce a person’s exposure to radiation, but the science says not to fret.

When Ameer Rosic went to jail for the last time six years ago, the stars aligned…He spent his time behind bars searching for answers about the type of person he wanted to be and what he wanted to do with his life.

When he got out, Rosic was obsessed with health, and he began working with businesspeople and entrepreneurs on a holistic approach…But for some of his clients, optimal health still seemed just out of reach, and Rosic concluded that the reason was because of their ongoing exposure to electromagnetic radiation from their cell phones, laptops, nearby cell towers, and so forth. So…he decided to launch a clothing company to reduce a person’s exposure.

Riparo, which in November will launch an Indiegogo campaign for its EMF-blocking briefs to “protect your balls” from what some like to call EMF “pollution,” joins an already established market of apparel aimed at minimizing how much radiation penetrates our bodies. This includes every type of garment imaginable, from shirts and underwear to hats and pregnancy bellybands.

The vast majority of scientists across many fields around the world say we don’t need to worry about what amounts to very small radiation exposure from our electronics. The World Health Organization, which launched an initiative to look into the topic in 1997 and has reviewed more than 25,000 studies, has concluded that “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.”

But considering long-term exposure is still being studied, is it better to invest in radiation-blocking clothing to “play it safe,” as Rosic says, or is this just a bunch of hocus pocus marketed to the most gullible among us…?

The answer depends, of course, on whom you ask…and I would ask – or read studies from – someone with qualified experience and study.

In fact, the most common explanation for the symptoms some describe, such as headaches, anxiety, and insomnia, is that it is the stress people feel about EMF exposure that causes the ill effects. In one instance, a number of people claimed that a new cell tower in their neighborhood was adversely affecting their health — before it had even been turned on.

Lots more fact and study in the article. A worthwhile read. Like anything with a realistic scientific bent, cautions are automatically included. The fact remains that regardless of how confident you can be about answers to a question there are advances in measurement and experimentation every day and it’s always worth revisiting a question. Up to the point of absurdity.

I live next to one of those communities where neighbors sue each other over wifi networks they are certain are giving them bad dreams. A community where in fact the city was sued for a cell tower that caused inestimable harm – even though it hadn’t yet been turned on.

To my mind, an outsized portion of the “problem” rests with a culture that rarely reads beyond headlines or listens to more than talking heads. Folks don’t even get to the place where they should be asking for qualifications.

How Medical-Industrial dollar$ reach your doctors

Drug Company money

In recent years, drug companies have started releasing details of the payments they make to doctors and other health professionals for promotional talks, research and consulting. As of 2013, 17 companies published the information, most because of legal settlements. Use this tool to search for payments. Read more about the data

Sure. Some of this is innocent. Probably a real aid to struggling young, idealistic doctors. I actually have known a few. Especially back in the days of the Medical Committee for Human Rights.

That’s not the target market for the Medical-Industrial Complex. They want the whole deal under their control.

Solar energy could be the largest source of electricity by 2050

The sun could be the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050, ahead of fossil fuels, wind, hydro and nuclear, according to a pair of reports issued…by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The two IEA technology roadmaps show how solar photovoltaic (PV) systems could generate up to 16% of the world’s electricity by 2050 while solar thermal electricity (STE) from concentrating solar power (CSP) plants could provide an additional 11%. Combined, these solar technologies could prevent the emission of more than 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2050 – that is more than all current energy-related CO2 emissions from the United States or almost all of the direct emissions from the transport sector worldwide today…

The Executive Director…stressed that the two reports do not represent a forecast. As with other IEA technology roadmaps, they detail the expected technology improvement targets and the policy actions required to achieve that vision by 2050, highlighting priority actions and milestones for governments, research and industry stakeholders.

A central message in both publications deals with the need for clear, credible and consistent signals from policy makers, which can lower deployment risks to investors and inspire confidence. “By contrast,” Ms. Van der Hoeven said, “where there is a record of policy incoherence, confusing signals or stop-and-go policy cycles, investors end up paying more for their investment, consumers pays more for their energy, and some projects that are needed simply will not go ahead.”

Phew! I thought she forgot about the United States.

The two documents underline the complementary role of the two technologies. With 137 GW of capacity installed worldwide at the end of 2013 and adding up to 100 MW each day, PV deployment so far has been much faster than that of STE, mainly thanks to massive cost reductions. Under the scenario described in the roadmaps, most of the growth of solar electricity comes from PV until 2030. However, the picture changes afterwards. When reaching shares between 5% and 15% of annual electricity generation, PV starts to lose value in wholesale markets. Massive-scale STE deployment takes off at this stage thanks to CSP plants’ built-in thermal storage, which allows for generation of electricity when demand peaks in late afternoon and in the evening, thus complementing PV generation.

PV expands globally, with China being by far the leading country, followed by the United States. Over half of total capacity is situated at the final consumers’ place – whether households, shopping malls or industries. STE expands in very sunny areas with clear skies, becoming a major opportunity for Africa, India, the Middle East and the United States.

We expect to modify our semi-rural compound with the addition of a solar panel array within the next two years. Making our home a point source in one of the several nationally-expanding solar power networks in the process of growing – with or without aid from politicians and public utilities. Oh, they are involved; but, only begrudgingly, dragging their bakelite brains and patent leather-shod feet all the way.

Buffalo beer silos

giant 6-pack

A cluster of 100-foot-tall grain silos in Buffalo is being turned into the world’s largest six-pack.

Crews are installing rolls of vinyl wrap spelling out Labatt Blue on six silos at the former GLF grain mill operation near the city’s Lake Erie waterfront, home to several long-defunct grain elevators.

The six silos have been painted blue to resemble huge Labatt beer cans. The silos are part of the Buffalo RiverWorks, a former grain elevator that’s being transformed into a brewery, entertainment and recreation complex.

A co-owner of the property says the vinyl being used to display the Labatt name can be removed easily to return the silos to their original look. The owners aren’t saying how much Buffalo-based Labatt USA paid for the huge outdoor advertising.

Now, if those silos were filled with beer we could do a remake of Strange Brew.

Thanks, Cináed