Spectacular violet diamond to go on tour this week

argyle violet diamond

An “impossibly rare” violet diamond, plucked deep from a remote mine in the north of Western Australia, will go on tour later this week, with an estimated value of nearly $4 million.

The gemstone, originally 9.17 carats, was the largest jewel of its kind ever discovered when found last summer at Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine. It has since been polished down to a 2.83 carat oval-shaped beauty.

“Rio Tinto said that the jewel had been assessed by the Gemological Institute of America, and while they said it would be the centerpiece of their upcoming show, they would not disclose its estimated value,” according to the website Red Orbit. “However, the firm noted that they expected to receive a significant amount of interest from potential buyers, and some figures suggest it could bring in $3.96 million.”

The diamond has been assessed by the Gemological Institute of America as a “notable diamond with the color grade of Fancy Deep Greyish Bluish Violet.”

Site of Argyle Diamond Mine, in the East Kimberley region in north of Western Australia.

Site of Argyle Diamond Mine, in the East Kimberley region in north of Western Australia.

“It is not known how diamonds acquire their colored tinge but it is thought to come from a molecular structure distortion as the jewel forms in the earth’s crust or makes its way to the surface,” according to Agence France-Presse.

The Argyle Violet is the largest such diamond Rio Tinto had ever recovered from the mine.

London-based Rio Tinto said that violet diamonds are extremely rare, and that only 12 carats of such polished stone have been produced during the 32 years the Argyle mine has been in operation.

Other unusually colored diamonds, including those that are pink or red, are typically worth 50 times more than regular white diamonds, the firm told the Daily Mail. Some of them have even sold for as much as $1.95 million per carat, it said.

The Argyle Violet gem was polished in Western Australia by one of Argyle’s master polishers, according to a Rio Tinto press release. The diamond’s tour will take it to Copenhagen, Hong Kong and New York, the company added.

(Top: The Argyle Violet diamond – the big, purty one – next to smaller diamonds.)

Venezuela: Continuing down the rabbit hole of ineptitude

venezeula inflation

Unbridled inflation tends to wreak havoc with economies, but one would think that if any industry were to benefit from rampant rising prices it would be that of paper currency manufacturers.

A country which is churning out billions of bank notes has got be good for the folks who run the printing press, right?

Leave it to Venezuela to botch that line of business, along with just about everything else.

As the country’s hard currency reserves sink to critically low levels, Venezuela’s central bank is paying foreign paper currency providers so slowly that the latter are beginning to back off on taking on additional contracts. In addition, it was disclosed recently that one company under contract to print money for the South American nation was owed more than $70 million.

Venezuela began its downward spiral with Hugo Chavez’sBolivarian Revolution,” which involved nationalizing different industries, implementing price controls and expropriating farmland.

Today Venezuela’s inflation is the highest in the world; it’s expected to rise to nearly 700 percent this year.

Adding to the nation’s fiscal difficulties is the fact that it takes a boatload of money for even the most basic transactions. Venezuela’s largest bill, the 100-bolivar note, barely pays for a loose cigarette at a street kiosk, according to Bloomberg.

Venezuela differs from other countries that have struggled with hyperinflation because it hasn’t reacted to raging prices by printing bank notes of astronomical denominations, such as the $100 trillion note produced by Zimbabwe not too long ago.

As inflation skyrockets and hard currency reserves plummet in Venezuela, paper currency manufacturers find themselves reluctant to commit sizeable resources as the nation’s ability to repay dwindles daily.

“The first signs of the currency shortage date back to 2014 when the government began increasing shipments of bank notes as wallet-busting wads of cash were already needed for simple transactions,” according to Bloomberg.

Today, Venezuelans spend hours waiting in line for consumer staples, lining up first at banks and cash machines, and often carrying money in backpacks and gym bags to pay for dinner out.

In 2015, the nation’s central bank selected companies in the United Kingdom, France and Germany to produce 2.6 billion bank notes. Before the delivery was even completed, the companies were approached by the central bank seeking even more notes.

UK-based De La Rue, which handles work for more than 150 nations, took the lion’s share of the order and enlisted Ottawa-based Canadian Bank Note Company to ensure it could meet a tight end-of-year deadline.

How big an order are we talking about?

Once printed, they arrived in Venezuela in dozens of 747 jets and chartered planes, according to Bloomberg. Under cover of security forces and snipers, it was transferred to armored caravans where it was spirited to the central bank in the dead of the night.

Even as the cash was still arriving authorities began planning for 2016. In late 2015, the central bank more than tripled its original order, offering tenders for some 10.2 billion bank notes.

But currency manufacturers began to grow concerned.

“According to company documents, De La Rue began experiencing delays in payment as early as June,” Bloomberg reported. “Similarly, the bank was slow to pay (Germany’s) Giesecke & Devrient and (France’s) Oberthur Fiduciaire. So when the tender was offered, the government only received about 3.3 billion in bids, bank documents show.”

Just last month, De La Rue sent a letter to the central bank complaining that it was owed $71 million and would inform its shareholders if the money were not forthcoming.

(Top: Even simple transactions require stacks of paper currency in Venezuela, thanks to massive inflation.)

Teamster lackey: Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing


This blog remains largely immune from hate mail, probably because a) it’s readership is miniscule and b) the topics so arcane that few crackpots can work up the energy to put crayon to paper in order to fire off a misguided missive.

Still, just as a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while, the occasional screwball will manage to direct a harebrained epistle my way.

Consider: Last week a hack for the Teamsters Union decided to take me to task for a post I wrote in February 2009 about an area trucking company that had gained a well-deserved reputation for treating its employees particularly well. Mind you, this is a post that’s more than seven years old, but that didn’t stop the commenter, using the decidedly unoriginal nom de plume of “Greg Hoffa,” from wading into the fray, albeit very tardily and very ineptly.

Last Thursday, Mr. “Hoffa” wrote:

“WHY DONT YOU PAY YOUR DRIVERS OVERTIME PAY AFTER 8 hrs in a day or after a 40 hour work week? You are a damn crook, a typical preacher of religion. You must be related to Lyin’ Ted !!! Ps: and don’t tell me you don’t pay overtime because of some ridiculous agricultural law or railroad act. The Teamsters should represent this and every other shady trucking outfit. Pay your drivers what they deserve.”

It’s difficult to say what set off old Greg Hoffa. The point of my story, penned oh so many moons ago, was that a family-owned trucking company, during what was then the heart of the Great Recession, had managed to avoid laying off any of its more than 6,500 employees, the only major US trucking line able to be able make that claim.

My post contained no talk of pay, overtime and certainly no indication that I worked for the company. I don’t and never have. But then again, when it comes to reasoning skills, Teamster trolls are rarely mistaken for the second coming of Socrates.

I didn’t realize blogging made me a crook, and a “damned crook,” at that. As for being a typical preacher of religion, I am again mystified. I keep the proselytizing to a dull roar here, and with good reason. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “We were good Catholic boys when the weather was doubtful; when it was fair, we did wander a little from the fold.”

As to whom “Lyin’ Ted” is I have no idea. Cruz? Turner? Kennedy? Kaczynski?

A good rule of thumb if you’re going to write angry letters is that they should make sense and be based, at least in some small degree, on reality. Also, lay off the exclamation points. Greg Hoffa, you dropped the ball on all three counts.

I will give Mr. Hoffa one point and admit that he was pretty close to being accurate in one of his closing lines. Toward the end, where he wrote, “The Teamsters should represent this and every other shady trucking outfit,” he need only have shortened it to “The Teamsters should represent every shady trucking outfit,” and he would have been right on the money.

New app allows users to rent backyards in crowded cities

tiny urban backyard

This blogger makes no secret of his love of the outdoors. Whether its woods or wilderness; swamps or savannas; fields or fens; meadows or marshes; pastures or plains, I’ll take being outside most any day to being enclosed in the glass and steel of the city.

Yes, there are plenty of interesting things to do in a metropolis, but if I have to pick one over the other, my first choice is always going to be the countryside.

As such, I’ve never understood those that willing live in crowded cities where greenery is almost non-existent and it’s a lengthy drive to romp in legitimate open space.

Apparently in the San Francisco Bay Area, green space is at such a premium that a new sharing app has been launched to allow you rent out your backyard or rooftop by the hour.

Nookzy allows the reservation of small “creative urban spaces,” according to its website.

In fact, it is currently beta testing a selection of backyard-based spas and saunas in San Francisco and Oakland, and is in the process of finding swimming pools and other amenities to list.

It has been called the “Airbnb of backyards,” referring to the website that enables people to list, find and rent lodgings for short periods.

Nookzy users can reserve spaces for as little as 30 minutes and as long as hosts are comfortable with.

Upon booking, guests will receive access permission and instructions, agreeing to host-specified conditions for conduct. During their reservation, guests will receive text message notifications, including when they have 15 minutes remaining in their reservation. Guests may extend their reservation if the space is still available.

I never cease to be amazed by the ingenuity of some. Those behind this app apparently identified a need and have created a means to fill it. Good for them.

On the other hand, I can’t help but feel for kids who live in an environment with so little green space that their parents have to go online to rent a backyard or pool. Seems like a rather Dickensian childhood in some respects.

(HT: Carpe Diem blog)

Addiction, trial and error part of Coke’s humble beginning

john s. pemberton statue

Coca-Cola products are recognized and consumed around the globe. Today, products of the Coca-Cola Co. are consumed at the rate of more than 1.8 billion drinks per day. Compare that with the first year the product we call Coke was “on the market,” 1886, when sales averaged nine drinks a day and tallied just $50 for the entire year.

Coke’s creator was Dr. John S. Pemberton, a Tennessee native who had moved to Georgia to study medicine in 1850. Pemberton was serving as a lieutenant colonel in the 12th Georgia Cavalry (state guards), when he was wounded during one of the very last clashes of the Civil War. On April 16, 1865, at the Battle of Columbus, Ga., Pemberton suffered a serious injury when he was slashed across his chest with a sabre.

During his recovery he became addicted to morphine, like many wounded veterans of the conflict.

Pemberton had the advantage of having been a pharmacist in civilian life, so he sought a cure for his addiction and the following year began work on devising painkillers that would serve as opium-free alternatives to morphine.

Before long, Pemberton was experimenting with coca and coca wines, eventually creating a version of a then-popular patent medicine containing kola nuts and damiana, a shrub native to Texas, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. He called his concoction, an alcoholic beverage, Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.

Pemberton moved from Columbus to Atlanta in 1870 and continued to sell his beverage, among other items. He was forced to changed gears in 1886 when the city of Atlanta and Fulton County enacted temperance legislation.

In an effort to provide a non-alcoholic alternative to his French Wine Coca, Pemberton tried a variety of alternatives, ultimately blending the base syrup with carbonated water. He ultimately opted to market it as a fountain drink rather than a medicine.

Pemberton never got rich off Coca-Cola. In fact, he never even kicked his opiate addiction.

Sick, still addicted to morphine and nearly bankrupt, Pemberton sold a portion of the rights to the soft drink to his business partners in 1888 for approximately $500. Later that year he died of stomach cancer.

Pemberton had recognized at least a portion of Coke’s potential and left an ownership share to his only child, Charles Pemberton. Pemberton’s son, however, died from complications related to opium addiction six years later with little to show for his father’s efforts.

Asa Candler, the Atlanta businessman who bought out Pemberton, formed the Coca-Cola Co. in 1892 and ended up making millions of dollars.

Coca-Cola, created by an ex-cavalryman trying to deal with prohibition legislation, is today one of the largest global brands in history.

(Top: Statue of Dr. John S. Pemberton, Atlanta, Ga.)

A reminder of the golden age of sweet potato farming

lexington county 3 19 2016 023

Located in a rural area of Lexington County, SC, is a dilapidated sweet potato drying house. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a sweet potato drying house, welcome to the club. I, too, had no idea such a structure existed until I happened across it recently.

From its appearance, it’s safe to say that it’s been many a year since any sweet potatoes were cured in the rectangular wooden structure. The building has a single door, four openings in the roof, and four small windows and one larger window. It was definitely not built for comfort.

Estimating its age is inexact at best, but because it was built with round-headed nails it was almost certainly built after 1890 and, from its appearance, most likely before World War I.

The structure recently achieved higher visibility because, after many years of being surrounded by thick woods, the land surrounding it was cleared, leaving it sitting in the open.

When constructed, sweet potatoes were a staple of the American diet. At the beginning of the 20th century the tubers were the second most-important root crop in the nation. Per-capita consumption of sweet potatoes in 1920 was 31 pounds, but by the start of the 21st century that figure had dwindled to just 4 pounds per person, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Storing sweet potatoes is a relatively straightforward. The bottom line is to cure the tubers, than keep the potatoes dry, to fend off rot, and prevent them from getting too warm or too cold.

The main goal behind curing is to heal injuries so that sweet potatoes remain in good condition for marketing during the winter and to preserve “seed” roots for the next crop, according to the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Georgia College of Agriculture.

Healing takes place rapidly at 85 degrees Fahrenheit and between 85 to 90 percent humidity, for four to seven days.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes in all their glory.

“Curing should start as soon after harvest as possible to heal injuries before disease-producing organisms gain entrance,” according to the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. “Healing involves production of cells that are very much like the skin in their ability to prevent infection. These new cells form in a layer just below the surface of the injuries. Because this layer is corky, it is commonly called wound cork. Healing is more rapid under clean cuts and skinned areas than in deep wounds where tissue is crushed. The rate of healing differs a little among varieties.”

In the above structure, heaters and exhaust flues were used to promote circulation, remove excessive condensation and prevent accumulation of carbon dioxide produced by sweet potato roots.

The four holes in the roof were used to vent the flues.

After the tubers were cured, the temperature in the storage house was brought down to a narrow range of between 55 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit, with relative humidity maintained at between 85 and 90 percent.

Much below that and sweet potatoes experienced an increased susceptibility to rot and discoloration, and the quality of roots was diminished, hurting their ability to produce sprouts when planted the following season.

It’s unclear how common standalone sweet potato drying houses were. It’s likely most individuals who raised the tubers simply relied on earthen structures, whether dug into banks or put into holes then simply covered with dirt.

Standalone structures like the one shown above would likely have been used by more than one farmer, a cooperative of sorts, or by an individual with an extremely large spread.

(Top: Old sweet potato drying house, located in rural Lexington County, SC, west of Columbia.)

Shining a light on anti-independence fallacies

Portrait of a boy with the flag of Wales painted on his face.

Among common canards used to thwart peaceful independence movements is the idea that the entity attempting to go its own way is too small, too poor, has too few people, etc.

These were arguments employed by those who opposed Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014, and who resist sovereignty movements in Catalonia and Corsica, among other regions of the world where a segment of the population is pondering an autonomous path.

But the blog Borthlas, focusing on the idea of Welsh independence from the UK – said by some to be impossible because Wales is “too poor” – raises interesting points:

Borthlas turns to a comparison of national per-capita GDP as a means to judge a region’s muscle, admitting that this is not an exact science because per-capita GDP tells nothing about the relative cost of living in a country.

“The population of a country with a low GDP per capita and a low cost of living might actually feel better off than the people of another country where both figures are higher,” the blog explains. “It also tells us nothing about the way wealth is shared out in a country – so the population of a country with a low GDP per capita but where the wealth is evenly shared might feel better off than the people of a country with a high GDP per head and huge inequality.”

But despite those caveats, per-capita GDP is still a good starting point to assess where would Wales fit were it an independent state, Borthlas writes.

  • According to International Monetary Fund figures, Wales would place 24th in the world in per-capita GDP were it independent of the UK, out of more than 170 countries;
  • The World Bank puts Wales at 27th, ahead of more than 150 other nations; and
  • The United Nations ranks Wales 31st place, with more than 160-odd countries beneath it.

Each organization has per-capita GDP figures for a different number of countries; currently there is something like 195 recognized independent nations.

Map of Wales.

Map of Wales.

Wales fares relatively well among European Union nations, as well, ranking in the top half, according to Borthlas.

The real issue why it’s difficult for regions such as Wales, Scotland and Catalonia to gain traction when it comes to independence is multi-fold.

First, these areas are often compared economically to the countries of which they are a part. Wales and Scotland aren’t going to stack up very well against the UK as whole, but then again, neither would England proper. But if there’s a place in the world for the likes of Andorra, Belize, Equatorial Guinea and Liechtenstein, entities such as an independent Wales, Scotland and Catalonia would not only have little problem surviving, but would almost certainly thrive.

Next, traditionalists, and certainly hidebound imperialists, are almost always reluctant to give up that which they have spent centuries holding reign over, for psychological and political reasons.

Finally, the loss of any portion of a nation to independence means a loss of money, one way or the other. Some may point to a region such as Wales and say that it receives significant sums from the UK Treasury. However, Wales is denied sovereign control over its natural resources, including water, mineral and energy exports.

Ultimately, the bottom line tends to be the bottom line these days when it comes to adhering to the concept of self-determination.