Sunday, January 22, 2017

More facts about Greece

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Jan 10th 1863 - The London underground is open

he London Underground is a rapid transit system in the United Kingdom, serving a large part of Greater London and some parts of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex. It incorporates the oldest section of underground railway in the world, which opened in 1863. It is also the first line to operate electric trains, in 1890, now part of the Northern line.

The Underground serves 270 stations and has 402 kilometres (250 mi) of track, 45 per cent of which is underground. It is the third largest metro system in the world in terms of route miles. In 2007, more than one billion passenger journeys were recorded, and in the year 2011/12 passenger numbers were just under 1.2 billion making it the third busiest metro system in Europe, after Moscow and Paris.


Sunday, January 08, 2017

Wage war

Illegal immigration from Mexico is not quite a century old. A law of 1917 was the first to regulate the southern border. Stricter controls gradually followed all through the 20th century, often during the low points of a recurring cycle of sentiment towards immigrants. Economic booms have lured workers across the Rio Grande, encouraged by American firms. Downturns have led to demonisation of “wetbacks”. The 1930s and 1950s both saw indiscriminate mass-deportations; in 1976 President Gerald Ford wondered how best to “get rid of those six to eight million aliens who are interfering with our economic prosperity”.

The latest bout of Trumpian immigrant-bashing fits the mould in one respect: it comes on the heels of an economic downturn. But it is also strange because the undocumented population levelled off after 2007. In 2015 there were just 188,000 apprehensions of Mexicans at the border, down from 1.6m in 2000 (see chart). This is partly because the recession reduced the magnetism of America’s labour market. But it also reflects a much more secure border—the number of border agents quintupled between 1992 and 2010—and changing demography in Mexico, where the birth rate has been falling since the early 1970s.

Nonetheless, undocumented immigrants still constitute 5% of America's labour force. Distinguishing their impact from that of other immigrants is hard because they are tricky to identify. Instead, researchers typically just rely on nationality. There is almost no way for low-skilled Mexicans who lack American relatives to migrate north legally. As a result, Mexicans make up about half of all illegal immigrants, but only a fifth of all legal ones.

Mexicans tend to be less educated than other immigrants. In 2014 nearly 60% had less than a high-school education, compared with less than 20% of immigrants from other countries, according to the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank. Undocumented migrants are more likely than legal ones to work in unskilled occupations like services and construction.

There is a vigorous—and sometimes ill-tempered—debate among academics about the impact of low-skilled migration, both legal and illegal, on wages. Most recently this has centred on a dispute between two economists, David Card at the University of California, Berkeley, and George Borjas, at Harvard University, over the effect of an unexpected surge in Cuban migrants to Miami in 1980 (the so-called “Mariel boatlift”). In 1990 Mr Card found this influx had no effect on the wages of low-skilled workers in Miami; Mr Borjas has now revisited the analysis, and claims that wages of high-school dropouts, in fact fell substantially.

This dispute, however, is only part of a much broader debate. Most other research finds that immigrant flows harm at least some workers, as economic theory usually predicts they should when immigration changes the balance of skills in an economy. The debate is over precisely who suffers, and how much.

The findings depend on two factors. The first is how to define unskilled workers. Mr Card and others like to include both high-school graduates and dropouts. In 2014, there were 64m such workers aged between 25 and 64 in America. Mr Borjas prefers to treat high-school dropouts separately in his research, so that the lowest-skilled migrants compete with fewer existing workers: 20m, at last count.

The second factor is whether, among those with similar education, migrants and native workers are substitutes or complements for each other. In 2011 a study by Gianmarco Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri, two economists, found that immigrants seem to compete mostly with other immigrants, even when controlling for age and education. One possible explanation is that unskilled natives respond to an increase in migration by specialising in work that makes better use of their command of English. Messrs Ottaviano and Peri concluded that between 1990 and 2006 immigration had a small positive effect on the wages of unskilled American-born workers, but reduced the wages of previous generations of migrants by 6.7%.

Mr Card says the “worst-case scenario” is that immigration has cut the wages of high-school dropouts by about 5% over 20 years, which, compared with the effect of technology and other trends, is not much. Mr Borjas says larger effects are possible. But everyone agrees that the more workers and new immigrants can substitute for each other, the more likely it is that immigration will change relative wages.

If the workers most comparable to illegal Mexican immigrants are legal ones, they will be most likely to have seen their wages depressed by illegal migration. Any such effects would probably have been compounded by the fact that firms who hire undocumented workers off-the-books need not pay them minimum wage or adhere to other regulations. One survey of low - wage workers in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York in  2008 found that 37% of undocumented workers has been paid less than the minimum wage, compared to 21% of legal migrant workers.

Illegal migrants also may find it hard to move jobs, especially in states that require employers to check their papers. Their immobility could reduce their bargaining power. It certainly seems to stunt their wage growth. In 2009 Pew found that among those who had been in the country for less than ten years, legal migrants earned 18% more than illegal ones; among those with more than a decade under their belts, the gap was fully 42%. It is possible, though, that the wages of both these groups had still been dragged down relative to those of their native workers.

The flipside of low wages for illegal immigrants, though, greater economic benefits for those who are not competing with them for work. A rare study of the effect of illegal immigrants specifically found that Georgia, a one-percentage-point increase in the undocumented workers in firms boosted wages by about 0.01%. One explanation is that such firms benefit from richer mix of skills within their workforce. Another explanation is that sharing the spoils of the savings that stem from hiring workers on the black market.

Were a President Trump to deport all illegal immigrants, the economy would suffer greatly. Just ask Arizona, where a crackdown on illegal immigrants in 2007 shrank the economy by 2%, according to a private analysis by Moody's, a rating agency, for the Wall Street Journal. The incomes of most workers would fall. Yet strangely enough, those best placed to benefit from mass deportation would be those who had crossed the border legally.


Saturday, January 07, 2017

A History of the Twelfth Night Cake

In the beginning, there was Saturn…
Saturn was the Roman god of agriculture. He was venerated in a celebration called Saturnalia around the time of the winter solstice (21st December). Once the serious business of going to the temple was out of the way, the Romans would have a jolly good knees-up involving feasting and exchanging gifts.

The usual social order was overturned, with masters serving slaves at table. As part of these festivities, someone would be chosen by lot as master of ceremonies or ‘king’ to preside over the celebrations. However, ludicrous his commands (such as 'sing naked'), they had to be obeyed by the guests.

The origins of Twelfth Night
The early Christians quickly realised that if they wanted the populace to adopt their new religion, they needed to give them an incentive. Rather than abolishing pagan festivals, the Christian church often rebranded them as their own. So Saturnalia would eventually morph into Christmas, and the 25th of December, previously honoured as ‘the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun’, was celebrated instead as the birthday of Christ.

Christmas was preceded by a 40 day Advent fast. This would be broken on Christmas Day, when the season’s festivities would begin with a great feast. The celebrations continued in one form or another for a further twelve days, ending with a final feast on ‘Twelfth Night’ – the evening before 6th of January, also known as Epiphany, the day on which the Magi are believed to have visited Jesus..

During this festive period food played an important role. By the medieval era it was common for a celebration bread to be baked, often containing fruit and spices, to be served at the Epiphany or Twelfth Night Feast.

Master of Mayhem
Part of the fun of the Twelfth Night Feast was the appointment of a Lord of Misrule. As in Roman times, he organised the games and entertainments at the final feast. To select the Lord of Misrule, a bean was baked inside a cake.

Whoever received the slice containing the bean was ‘crowned’ the Lord of Misrule, otherwise known as the King of the Bean. Sometimes a pea was also included, and its discoverer would be declared Queen of the Pea. This practice was particularly popular during the early Tudor period. Henry VII had an Abbot of Unreason – another name for the Lord of Misrule – at his festive gatherings.

Let them eat cake

The popularity of Twelfth Night traditions began to wane after the Reformation, when Epiphany as a religious festival was observed with decreasing enthusiasm. Instead Twelfth Night became a purely secular feast, although the cake endured. By the early nineteenth century the tokens inside the cake had evolved from a bean and pea to silver trinkets such as thimbles or charms.

During the medieval and Tudor periods, the Twelfth Night Cake was leavened with yeast, rather like a fruit-laden brioche. The introduction of cake hoops in the late seventeenth century and the discovery during the early eighteenth century that beaten eggs could be used to raise a cake meant that the fruit breads of earlier times were replaced by a plum cake.

These cakes could be elaborately decorated for feasts with sugar and almond pastes, although elaborately decorated Twelfth Night Cakes weren’t really that popular until the late 18th- and early 19th- centuries.

New festive traditions
As we Brits wholeheartedly embraced ‘new’ Christmas traditions during the reign of Queen Victoria, such as the Christmas Tree and sending Christmas cards, the Twelfth Night Cake was gradually replaced by the Christmas Cake, and its hidden charms sometimes migrated to the Christmas Pudding.

However, the tradition has not been entirely lost. An eighteenth-century actor called Robert Baddeley left a legacy to the Drury Lane Theatre so that actors appearing there on Twelfth Night could still enjoy a traditional cake and toast the production in punch.

Making a cake for Twelfth Night
Strictly speaking you won’t find dedicated recipe for Twelfth Night Cake, as a rich fruit cake is usually served. All you need to do is include a bean (I used a dried butter bean) along with the fruit when you make the cake.


225g butter
225g dark muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon black treacle
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
4 large eggs
225g raisins
225g currants
225g sultanas
50g chopped mixed peel
50g glacé cherries, halved
50g ground almonds
1 tablespoon brandy


Preheat the oven to 160℃.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and then beat in the treacle.

Sift the flour, spice and salt into the bowl. Lightly whisk the eggs with a fork and then beat them gently into the butter and sugar mixture, together with the flour. When thoroughly mixed, stir in the fruits, nuts and brandy and then pile into a greased and lined 18cm/7inch round cake tin.

Place in the centre of the oven. Bake for approximately 1½ hours, then reduce the temperature to 120℃ and bake for a further 1 hour or until the cake is well risen, golden brown and firm to the touch. A skewer inserted into the centre should come out cleanly.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin, covered with a clean cloth. Turn out when completely cold.

Originally posted: English Heritage
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