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Soylent Green is people

via | Food Costs Rising Fastest in 17 Years
The U.S. is wrestling with the worst food inflation in 17 years, and analysts expect new data due on Wednesday to show it's getting worse. That's putting the squeeze on poor families and forcing bakeries, bagel shops and delis to explain price increases to their customers. U.S. food prices rose 4 percent in 2007, compared with an average 2.5 percent annual rise for the last 15 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the agency says 2008 could be worse, with a rise of as much as 4.5 percent.... For the U.S. poor, any increase in food costs sets up an either-or equation: Give something up to pay for food. "I was talking to people who make $9 an hour, talking about how they might save $5 a week," said Kathleen DiChiara, president and CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. "They really felt they couldn't. That was before. Now, they have to." For some, that means adding an extra cup of water to their soup, watering down their milk, or giving their children soda because it's cheaper than milk, DiChiara said. U.S. households still spend a smaller chunk of their expenses for foods than in any other country -- 7.2 percent in 2006, according to the USDA. By contrast, the figure was 22 percent in Poland and more than 40 percent in Egypt and Vietnam. In Bangladesh, economists estimate 30 million of the country's 150 million people could be going hungry. Haiti's prime minister was ousted over the weekend following food riots there.

April 15, 2008

What really sank the titanic?

Talking Points Memo | Rivets

But apparently one of the things that became clear after the wreckage of the Titanic was discovered in the 1980s (besides the fact that there was no one still living in it like in those corny made-for-TV movies) was that the expected massive gash in the ship's starboard hull actually wasn't there. Instead there were "six narrow slits where bow plates appeared to have parted." And this in turn cast suspicion on the rivets.

The theory has been circulating for a decade. But the authors of What Really Sank the Titanic use a combination of physical evidence obtained from the wreckage (48 recovered rivets) and archival evidence from the archives of the ship's builder, Harland and Wolff, which is still in business, to make the case that the builders were building on such a vast scale and under so much time pressure that they simply couldn't come up with enough high quality rivets or riveters. So they cut corners. The result of which was that the ship's plates split open much more quickly than they might have with better materials. Better construction would have kept the ship afloat long enough for many more passengers and crew to be rescued.

In any case, not everyone believes the authors have made their case. And high on that list is Harland and Wolff, the Titanic's manufacture now accused of faulty or slipshod practices that resulted in the deaths of 1500 people. "There was nothing wrong with the materials," company spokesman Joris Minne said primly, before noting that one of Titanic's sister ships, Olympic, sailed for a quarter century without a hitch.

April 14, 2008

Murdock and Zell join AP board of directors

murdock.jpgzell.jpg Most of what you read here came from an AP wire story. And two of the fellows very active in consolidating ownership of media companies -- particularly newspapers -- and stripping them down to make them profitable, from left, Rupert Murdock (Dow Jones) and Sam Zell (Tribune Company), just joined AP's board of directors. NPR | Recording Shows Tribune Owner Zell's Fiery Side
All Things Considered, April 8, 2008 · Sam Zell, the no-bull billionaire who took over the Tribune Co. in December, swept in promising to turn around its troubled newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and The Sun in Baltimore.... And NPR has obtained a recording of a combative meeting Zell held with some of Tribune's top journalists in Washington that may help explain why many of them are deeply skeptical of him. "This is the first unit of Tribune that I've talked to that doesn't generate any revenue. So all of you are overhead," Zell said during the late February meeting with editors and reporters for the company's Washington bureau.... "Three guys in a garage create YouTube, and we've got 800 people in Chicago who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground!" he said at the February meeting.... Zell took over Tribune by borrowing billions against the future retirement funds of its employees. He effectively paid $315 million, and now Tribune is more than $12 billion in debt.... At a news conference in January, he mocked an Orlando Sentinel photographer who pointedly asked him about newspapers' public service mission. He derided the photographer's "journalistic arrogance" — and then cursed at her when she turned to leave. ... Mathews says he's most concerned about the call for journalists to think of new ways to make money. "I always thought there was a bright line there, and if you did that sort of thing you'd get fired," he says. "Reporters are there to serve readers, find the truth, get facts and present them to readers in as engaging a way as possible."... Zell insisted at the meeting that the news cannot be corrupted – but that bright lines are a luxury. "We are in crisis mode. The days of the newspaper being some kind of a holy monopoly are over."