Sunday, June 26, 2016

Your long read for the weekend

A reading recommendation for those with a bit of time on their hands -- check out this deep dive from the New York Times, "When You Dial 911 and Wall Street Answers". It's the first in their "Bottom Line Nation" series on the growing influence of private equity firms in daily public life.
The business of driving ambulances and operating fire brigades represents just one facet of a profound shift on Wall Street and Main Street alike, a New York Times investigation has found. Since the 2008 financial crisis, private equity firms, the “corporate raiders” of an earlier era, have increasingly taken over a wide array of civic and financial services that are central to American life.
Today, people interact with private equity when they dial 911, pay their mortgage, play a round of golf or turn on the kitchen tap for a glass of water.
Private equity put a unique stamp on these businesses. Unlike other for-profit companies, which often have years of experience making a product or offering a service, private equity is primarily skilled in making money. And in many of these businesses, The Times found, private equity firms applied a sophisticated moneymaking playbook: a mix of cost cuts, price increases, lobbying and litigation.
In emergency care and firefighting, this approach creates a fundamental tension: the push to turn a profit while caring for people in their most vulnerable moments.
This is nothing new, of course. The US has a... colorful history with private fire departments, for example. Still, the effects of turning vital public services over to private firms driven by a profit motive are worth remembering when we hear certain people extolling the virtues of deregulation and privatization as a panacea against the evils of "inefficiency".

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A pause that refreshes

You might have noticed a slowdown in posting here. The summer semester -- in which we cram 13 weeks of material into eight weeks -- is every bit as hectic as I feared. I'm never taking a language course in the summer again if I can help it.

In the meantime, here's three Ireland fans singing in a French train station. Enjoy. (HT Chris Jones)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

For those about to Crock, we salute you

Sometimes it's the little things that make you feel at home. Maybe it's peanut butter, or finding your favorite TV show from home on a local channel. Or maybe it's finding a particular kitchen appliance of which you are particularly fond.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Teetotal like you mean it

Here's the thing: I don't drink alcohol. I don't make a big deal about it or judge those who do imbibe; it's just never been something that interested me. This makes me an odd duck among expat journalists, of course, as we're expected to drink, smoke, have the occasional illicit drug experience, and cavort with women. I don't care, but it has led to some sideways glances at social gatherings.

In truth, I've been cutting out quite a few beverages from my life. I've been in the new apartment for about a month and haven't had a caffeinated beverage this whole time. Yes, I'm going off caffeine. Yes, again. Don't judge me.

I haven't even had non-caffeinated soda save for two glasses of ginger ale (assuming that counts). Part of it is down to another self-improvement kick. Caffeine is a stimulant, after all, and cutting back wouldn't be a bad idea seeing as heart trouble is not uncommon in my family. Even though the evidence behind the claims that drinking diet soda leads to weight gain is inconclusive at best, I figured eliminating it would be a good idea all the same. There's also the cost savings to consider. I have to make what little savings I have stretch until December 2017, so every bit helps.

So if soda and non-carbonated drinks are out, what's next? Find out below the jump.