The convenience beverage market got jumbled recently when, first, Oregon-based Union Wine Co. announced in November that it would soon sell its Underwood pinot gris and pinot noir in 12-ounce cans and, second, the London department store Selfridges unveiled a Champagne vending machine for New Year's celebrations. (The French bottler Moet & Chandon offered bottles of bubbly behind glass doors for the equivalent of $29.)
It's a dog's world
"Does Germany really need a gourmet restaurant for dogs?" asked Berlin's Bild newspaper. Regardless, the Pets Deli in the Grunewald neighborhood of Berlin offers servings for the equivalent of about $4 to $6, either take-out or arranged in metal bowls on Pets Deli's floor. Said owner David Spanier, lauding his upscale, healthful treats, "Junk food is bad for animals."
A team of Czech Republic researchers led by Vlastimil Hart, writing in Frontiers in Zoology in December, reported that dogs (among a few mammals), dealing with a nature's call, spontaneously align their body axis with the Earth's magnetic field. To reach that conclusion, the researchers said they observed 70 dogs of 37 breeds over a two-year period.
Leading economic indicators
In November, the Army of Islam (Syrian rebels) announced, via a dazzling, fully functional website, that it had job "vacancies" in the fields of graphic design, photography, printing, journalism, reporting and media promotion and programming. The anti-Assad force already has a Facebook page featuring videos of alleged military victories.
Somalia's coastal pirates, having peaked in 2009 in boat captures, may now be lying low only because of the familiar business problem of "inventory management." A November analysis by Quartz (qz.com) showed the pirates with such a surplus of hijacked vessels (still with earnings potential) that they would likely wind those down before taking to the seas again.
Mumbai, India, has its share of Western-style financial advisers using computer programs familiar to Wall Street — but with the additional layering of "financial astrologers," who forecast successes and failures based on the alignment of the planets, among other indicators. According to a Business Week report in September, the GaneshaSpeaks service (with inspiration by the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha, god of wisdom) claims 1,200 subscribers at the equivalent of about $80 a year. Said one astrologer, "Fund managers used to laugh at me." During crises, he said, "I'm constantly crunching market and planetary data."
Fuzzy on the details
American health-care reformers routinely decry the inability of consumer-patients to compare prices of services to help drive down the costs. Two doctors, writing for the Journal of the American Medical Association in December, illuminated the problem by surveying 20 hospitals in the Philadelphia area. Nineteen fully disclosed the prices for parking in the hospital garage (and potential discounts were shown), but only three of the 20 would disclose their prices for routine electrocardiograms ($137, $600, $1,200).
In ubiquitous public relations announcements around Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) proudly points to its 52,000-person workforce delivering high-quality care. However, when the government sought to collect payroll taxes on UPMC, the company claimed it owed nothing because not a single employee actually works for UPMC. All 52,000 are, technically, on the books of UPMC's 40-plus subsidiaries, and a UPMC spokesman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in October that he not only did not know which subsidiary the UPMC CEO worked for but which one he himself worked for.
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