Monday, October 31, 2005

Chavez: Halloween is a "game of terror"

You go, Hugo. Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela is onto America's lastest cultural export. It is not, as most parents believe, a harmless holiday for kids.

Uncle Hugo explains that Halloween

"[...] was part of the US culture of "putting fear into other nations, putting fear into their own people". [...]

"Families go and begin to disguise their children as witches. This is contrary to our way," Mr Chavez said during his weekly radio and TV show. [...]

He did not refer to incidents earlier this month when lanterns made from hollowed pumpkins carrying anti-government messages appeared in several places in the capital, Caracas.

Yeah, pumpkins with anti-Chavez slogans must be extremely scary for someone who doesn't tolerate dissent.

Notwithstanding Hugo's feelings, the Pigilto household is busy evangelizing Halloween in our little Swiss town. Our house is full of spider webs, skeletons, rats, bats, a coffin, various body parts, and a human BBQ. We expect plenty of trick-or-treaters.

The event is quickly catching on in Switzerland (well, the German speaking part; the French speakers feel the same way as Hugo).

Happy haunting, everyone!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

2006 Tour de France schedule

The TdF unvieled its itinerary. It has the makings for a good race. Overall it favors strong time trialists (because they get three stages instead of two in order to gain time on others), but the mountain stages ought to balance things out.

Here is a listing of individual stages:

1 July: Prologue in Strasbourg - 7 km
2 July: 1st stage - Strasbourg - Strasbourg - 183 km
3 July: 2nd stage - Obernai - Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg) - 223 km
4 July: 3rd stage - Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg) - Valkenburg (Netherlands) - 216 km
5 July: 4th stage - Huy (Belgium) - Saint-Quentin - 215 km
6 July: 5th stage - Beauvais - Caen - 219 km
7 July: 6th stage - Lisieux - Vitre - 184 km
8 July: 7th stage - Saint-Gregoire - Rennes (individual time trial) - 52 km
9 July: 8th stage - Saint-Meen-le-Grand - Lorient - 177 km
10 July: Rest day in Bordeaux
11 July: 9th stage - Bordeaux - Dax - 170 km
12 July: 10th stage - Cambo-les-Bains - Pau - 193 km
13 July: 11th stage - Tarbes - Val d'Aran, Pla-de-Beret (Spain) 208 km
14 July: 12th stage - Luchon - Carcassonne - 211 km
15 July: 13th stage - Beziers - Montelimar - 231 km
16 July: 14th stage - Montelimar - Gap - 181 km
17 July: Rest day in Gap
18 July: 15th stage - Gap - L'Alpe d'Huez - 187 km
19 July: 16th stage - Le Bourg d'Oisans - La Toussuire - 182 km
20 July: 17th stage - Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne - Morzine - 199 km
21 July: 18th stage - Morzine - Macon - 193 km
22 July: 19th stage - Le Creusot - Montceau-les-Mines (individual time trial) - 56 km
23 July: 20th stage - Antony - Paris (Champs-Elysées) - 152 km

Stage 15, with its mountaintop finish jumps out. In fact the Alps stages will settle the top three places, with the final time trail deciding who ends up in the yellow jersey.

The Pyrenees stages don't look troublesome, but it can get quite hot down there in July, so even if the mountains aren't the most difficult, some riders could find themselves in real difficulties.

Note to my brother: how many start/finish sites did we go through or camp in on our tour? I count five.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Crude oil in Austria. Wine Country Spouts Black Gold

Der Spiegel plays up the cuteness aspect of jolly geologists drilling in Austria's wine country. Care to guess how they would treat it if American oil companies began drilling in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys?

Alpine mountains and tasty milk chocolate spring to mind when thinking about Austria. But oil? Actually, the country is home to Central Europe's largest reserves and it has become a testing ground for new drilling technology. And the country is in the middle of a mini oil boom. [...]

But over an above its relatively modest production, the Austrian oil fields are vital for another reason. The 1,500 mile long branch-like pipeline network is the only one of its kind in the global oil business. And Austria is an ultra-modern laboratory whichcould come up with answers to two of the most pressing questions facing the energy industry. How much gas and oil can still be found? How much scope is there for further developing existing fields?

In the fossil fuel treasure hunt, Austria is way ahead of the rest of the world in terms of efficiency and exploration. This is reflected in a remarkable production curve. Normally, one would expect a new field to chart a rapid increase in yield to begin with, followed by a so-called plateau for a number of years, before dropping off at a similar rate to the initial rise.
Austria leading the world in oil field technology? Not likely.

The sustained pumping of the Vienna Basin fields would not be enough in itself to maintain production levels. Austria would have experienced a similar rate of decline as their Northern German competitors in Lower Saxony had OMV not invested vast sums in the exploration of new fields. In the past two years alone, expenditure on the search for oil and gas has topped €120 million. This year will see another 90 million spent.

The explorers are placing their faith in costly technology which they see as key: 3D seismic stratigraphy.

Using either explosives or heavy trucks, which stamp the ground with a powerful mechanical foot, oil explorers shake the earth and then use a series of geophones to measure the rate and strength of the ensuing mini earthquakes. By analyzing this data, it is possible to determine the geological nature of the rock strata. When this technique was first implemented, analysis could only provide two-dimensional results, rather like slices of cake.

Advances in computer technology, however, mean that a much greater body of data can be processed. Geophones can thus be distributed across greater expanses of land, leading to a far more revealing 3D representation, which, in turn, can give much clearer structural information about where potential oil and gas deposits may lie. [...]

The writer treats 3D as a new technology, not aware that it has been around for quite a while, and is in use around the world.

The rest of the piece is goes downhill from there and is more like what one would expect of Der Spiegel.

Results of Swiss survey of Muslims

Results of a recent survey of Muslims in Switzerland were just released. The methodology is pretty weak (30 out of a population of 310,000 were surveyed, or 1 in 10,000), but it reads as if they selected the right 30 folks to allay Swiss fears. Somehow, I think that was the goal of the survey. Results in German and French (note to Italian speakers: get with the program).

Swissinfo brings the news:
[...] One of its main findings was that most Muslims had no problem practising their religion while keeping to Swiss law and the principles of Swiss democracy.

Co-author Matteo Gianni said that, for many, religion was a private affair and that for this reason the influence of Imams was not so large as is generally feared.

Earlier this month the Swiss authorities barred Geneva's Islamic Centre from hiring a Turkish imam because of doubts over the content of his teachings.

Problems were identified with regard to certain religious practices, such as wearing a headscarf, which divided Muslims living in the country.

The issue is a divisive one in Switzerland, with some cantons banning the wearing of headscarves. On Wednesday the city of Fribourg said it would not back down over a decision to sack two school employees for refusing to remove their headscarves.

Gianni said many Muslims praised Swiss integration policy and a majority said they were influenced by Swiss culture.
True. Most Muslims that one sees are well-integrated, although I'm guessing they don't serve cheese fondue too often. Of the European nations I'm familiar with, Switzerland most closely approximates the American integration policy, so it isn't surprising that Muslims tend to fit in well.
It seems to be that the integration of Muslims in Switzerland is good," remarked Matthey. "We have handled the situation well on a pragmatic level."

But the report found that discrimination or racism were still issues - such as harassment of women wearing traditional headscarves.

Some Muslims also felt that they had been more closely scrutinised since the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

The report was carried out by the Group of researchers on Islam in Switzerland and asked 30 men and women from the community for their views. The aim was to give a voice to the "silent majority" to help contribute to national cohesion and better understanding.
Asking thirty selected people is giving voice to the silent majority? It would be highly instructional if a representative sample were surveyed.
Speaking at the media conference to introduce the study, Amira Hafner-AlJabaji, a Swiss of Iraqi origin, who is a specialist in Islam issues, said the survey was "an important step" towards a better mutual understanding.
The number of Muslims in Switzerland has risen sharply in the past 30 years. In 1970 the number stood at around 16,350, but this had risen to 310,000 by 2000.

This means that the community now makes up 4.5 per cent of the population.

The majority come from the Balkans and from Turkey. But only 36,000 of
Muslims living in Switzerland have a Swiss passport.

Poll: which side of your head has more grey hair

I want to see if there is any correlation between which side of your head contains more grey hair (adjust for where you part your hair), and whether you are right- or left-handed. I would also like to see if there is any difference on this between men and women.

I hypothesize that people tend to have more grey on the side of their head opposite their dominant hand. For instance: I am left-handed and have more grey hair on the right side of my head. I would like to check how common this is, at least among older bloggers.

Although the poll is not designed scientifically, if the results are interesting, I'll approach a physician in the hospital where I work for advice on conducting a real study. Perhaps there is some genetic explanation (e.g. it is known that redheads require more anesthesia due to their genetic makeup).

The poll is found on the side bar to the right. The poll asks five questions. Please answer all five. Please take the poll only once. I would appreciate it if anyone stopping by would help publicize the poll. Thanks very much.

France and Russia named in UN Oil for food report

To no one's surprise, France and Russia, who both went to bat for Iraq in the Security Council, were named as prime beneficiaries of Iraq's largesse. Here is the Volcker report. This is the IHT on the report:
An independent investigation of the United Nations' $64 billion oil-for-food program reported Thursday that Russia and France received favored treatment from the government of Saddam Hussein as part of a system that ultimately led to the emergence of an elite circle of political beneficiaries and fixers who made company connections and reaped the benefits. [...]

The committee reported that the Iraqi government developed a policy of favoring France, as well as Russia; it considered France a "friend" for opposing sanctions against Iraq. [...]

Tariq Aziz, Iraq's deputy prime minister under Saddam, who was in charge of relations with France, told investigators that beneficiaries had received oil barrel allocations based on their level of active opposition. [...]

The report provided new information that ties the multibillion-dollar Russian energy majors with the cash payments to the Iraqi Embassy. Russia, a country that had argued for lifting the sanctions, led the pack in oil contracts and in paying surcharges. Russia received the largest amount of oil, with one-third of the oil exported from Iraq through the program ending up in the hands of Russian companies, according to the report.

An Iraqi document accompanying the report showed Russian companies, including Lukoil, the country's largest private energy company, and TNK, now merged in a joint venture with BP, paying surcharges in cash to the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow. [...]
Ah, those sophisticated, world-weary Europeans. They love to lecture about principles, but given the opportunity to profit, they get down to business as briskly as any Babbitt.

UPDATE: Through INDC and Tim Blair, I found this bit in the Volcker report about American-lover George Galloway:

Some 18 million barrels of oil were allocated for British lawmaker George Galloway, an outspoken opponent of U.N. sanctions against Iraq, for later sale. A portion of the profits from those sales were put into a bank account belonging to his wife.

That's going to leave a mark.

It makes no sense that if Iraq rewarded those based on level of active opposition to the war, for them not to have tossed millions of gallons in Galloway's direction. It's hard to imagine anyone more outspoken and in-line with Iraq's views than Galloway.

Swiss soft drink Rivella not a hit in America

This is hardly surprising. The stuff tastes like nothing else, and takes awhile to get used to. And it's made from milk serum; that alone is enough to turn most people off.

Interesting that they tried selling it in the health food section. In Switzerland it's found next to the other sodas. Swissinfo reports:

Rivella, the quintessentially Swiss soft drink, is being pulled from the United States' market at the end of the year after a disappointing performance.

History seems to be repeating itself as it's not the first time that English-speaking taste buds have failed to be tickled by the beverage, made with milk serum.

Canned versions of the Swiss speciality first appeared on the shelves of the Publix supermarket chain in Florida in spring 2004 as part of a year-long test phase. It was marketed as a niche product, available in the healthfood section.Spokeswoman Monika Christener told swissinfo that the Rothrist-based company was disappointed by the volume of sales. While not unsubstantial, they "did not fulfil expectations".

She added that the company had underestimated how long it would take to establish a new brand in the US and was unwilling to invest more time and money into breaking into the market.

The firm's US website is here.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

So that's why my call to Gaddafi didn't go through

I called to ask if the Colonel wanted to buy a few choice Swiss goats for the harem, and to ask why after all these years was he still a Colonel, but I kept getting disconnected. Turns out I wasn't being snubbed, as the Beeb reports:
Libya has commemorated the Italian invasion 94 years ago by cutting links with the outside world for the day.

Callers from abroad heard a message saying communications were being interrupted to "denounce the odious crimes" by Italy on the Libyan people.

Libyans were also asked to wear black to mark the 1911 invasion. [...]

"International communications are interrupted until 6pm (1600GMT) to denounce the odious crimes committed by the Italians against the Libyan people," the telephone message, in Arabic and English, told callers from abroad dialling Libyan numbers.

International air and sea links were also interrupted, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported.
Must be somewhat embarrassing to have been occupied by mighty Italy. Revenging oneself on Italy is also fairly pointless, but if that's what helps one stay in power, so be it.

Blair to the EU: Modernize or be left behind

It's going to be a tough sell; I'm far less optimistic than I was a couple of months ago, given how France's leading politicians have begun playing the protectionist card in their quest for votes.

The IHT notes that Blair is attempting to lower expectations for today's EU summit in England. Nevertheless, if the EU won't act as a body, member nations are free to pursue individual policies that will free up their own markets.
On the eve of a summit meeting aimed at healing Europe's ideological divisions, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain called Wednesday for a transformation of the European Union's economic approach and warned critics that Europe needed to embrace globalization if it wanted "to put the EU back together again."

The speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg was greeted equally with heckles and applause, suggesting the difficulties Blair will face Thursday when he plays host to an informal summit meeting in Hampton Court, near London, aimed at reviving Europe's stagnating economies and reconciling political differences. [...]

"He is trying to lower expectations ahead of the summit," said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, a London-based think-tank. [...]

"Blair wants to clear the air in order to get a deal over the budget. But we aren't expecting anything big or historical to happen," said Eduards Stiprais, Latvian ambassador to the EU. Anticipating the likely divisions at Hampton Court, he stressed that the EU's newest members were skeptical of the French social model and determined to expand the free markets that helped liberate them from their Communist past.

Blair told the European Parliament he was determined to solve the budget dispute by December.

But in a barely veiled criticism of the French, he renewed calls to reform the EU's heavily subsidized agricultural regime and stepped up his demand for the bloc to deregulate its trade in services.

"I think it is agreed generally in Europe we need to get Europe moving in the right direction," he said. "We need a vision on how to meet the challenges of globalization."

In recent months, Blair and other European leaders have traded insults over Europe's direction after failing to agree on a long-term budget at a summit meeting this summer.

Since then, President Jacques Chirac of France has called Blair's vision of Europe "pathetic and tragic," while the outgoing chancellor of Germany, Gerhard Schröder, accused him of having "rejectionist attitudes."

The recent divisions in the EU stem from the bloc's bitterly contested $120 billion budget. [...]

Blair appeared to be trying to placate the French by supporting the creation of a multibillion euro EU fund to help prop up European regions hit by job losses due to global competition and restructuring.

The idea, proposed last week by the European Commission and initially opposed by Britain, has been applauded by France.
No question why France wants such a fund: it is their people who will access it the most. The French social model has failed to create jobs, and not it is failing to preserve jobs.
Chirac has argued that such a fund could have been used after the American company Hewlett-Packard announced plans earlier this month to lay off 1,240 workers in France.

However, in a sign that even compromise risked stoking conflict, Blair emphasized that the fund should be used for retraining unemployed workers rather than supporting failed industries.

"It should not be a fund that protects companies that don't succeed but should help people in circumstances where they have been made redundant," he said. [...]

Embracing aspects of the U.S. economic model, Blair called on Europe to step up its investment in research and technology.

He warned that European universities were falling behind their American counterparts. He also recommended that the EU develop a common energy policy. [...]
In the end Blair's vision of the EU must win through. The path may be more tortuous than I expected, but the EU will realize that it is far better to put money into research than growing excess sugar beets, and that the way to compete globally is through nimble, quick-reacting corporations.

Zapatero helps find Nazis hiding in Spain

Not much about Spanish P.M. Zapatero to admire. His pulling Spanish troops out of Iraq in the face of Islamist threats defined Euro-appeasement. However as this article shows, he is the first Spanish leader to actively help track down the dwindling number of Nazi war criminals.

After more than 40 years of searching, an international manhunt for Aribert Heim, a doctor from the German concentration camps and one of the most-wanted Nazi war criminals, has zeroed in on a stretch of Spain's Mediterranean coast, according to Spanish police officials.

Heim, born in Austria 91 years ago, is accused of torturing and killing hundreds of prisoners at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria in 1941 and 1942.

The crimes for which he is sought include injecting gasoline into the hearts of victims, conducting mock operations on prisoners without anesthesia and executing prisoners just to record how long they took to die.

"The trial would be the most significant in the last 30 years," said Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which helps search for Nazi war criminals.

"This case symbolizes the Nazi perversion of medicine and science, and the application of medicine to commit the most horrible atrocities."

Heim is second on the Wiesenthal Center's most-wanted list of living Nazi war criminals after Alois Brunner, an assistant to Adolf Eichmann who is accused of deporting tens of thousands of Jews to concentration camps.

Brunner is believed to be in Syria and there is thought to be little chance that he will be captured.

Spain has been a haven for Nazi war criminals since the end of World War II in 1945, when many were drawn here by the protection offered by the government of Francisco Franco, according to scholars of the issue.

Even after Franco died in 1975 and democracy was established, Spain's elected governments did little to cooperate with international searches for war criminals, these scholars say. [...]

Zuroff, the Wiesenthal center official, said Spain had "a horrendous record on Nazi war criminals."

But he added that under the government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a Socialist who was elected in 2004, Spain appeared to have begun cooperating.

The Spanish police began searching for Heim during the summer in response to a request from the German government, which detected large transfers of money to Spain from Heim's family in Germany, according to Zuroff and a Spanish police official.

The transfers, worth a total of about $400,000, were sent to Palafrugell, a town near Spain's northeastern coast, from 2000 to 2003, Zuroff said. [...]

The developments in the search for Heim came 18 months or so after Germany set up a task force to find him. [...]

There is reason to believe Heim is still alive, Zuroff said, because his million-euro bank account in Berlin has yet to be tapped by his children, who are free to do so if they can prove he is dead.

Heim has been a fugitive since 1962, when he fled his home in Baden-Baden, Germany, as the police were preparing to arrest him.

In 1979, a Berlin court declared him a major Nazi war criminal and convicted him in absentia of killing scores of prisoners at the Mauthausen concentration camp, some out of "pure boredom."

Forget for a moment how he managed to live unmolested for so long, it looks as if Spain's help will pay off. Let's hope they get this monster before he dies. Justice should be inexorable in cases like this.

Iran's President: Wipe Israel off the map

Two questions pop to mind after reading about the Iranian President's remarks: Can anyone now blame Israel if they launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities? And will the EU finally get serious about referring Iran's IAEA noncompliance to the Security Council?

UPDATE: This sounds reasonable: Israel's Peres says UN should expel Iran.

This is beyond disgusting.

There has been widespread condemnation of a call by the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for Israel to be "wiped off the map".

The UK, France, Spain and Canada are summoning Iranian diplomats to demand an explanation for the remark.

The US said the comment highlighted concerns about Iran's nuclear programme, which Washington suspects is being used to develop weapons.

Iran says its programme is for peaceful purposes only.

Mr Ahmadinejad made his comments at a conference in Tehran entitled The World without Zionism, the official Irna news agency reported. [...]

"If these comments are true, they are unacceptable. I condemn them with the greatest firmness," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said.

A British Foreign Office described the comments as "deeply disturbing and sickening". [...]

Spain, Canada and Germany also condemned Mr Ahmadihejad's comments.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom his country regarded Iran as "a clear and present danger".

Mr Shalom said it was clear that Iran was trying to develop a programme to make nuclear weapons.

Mr Ahmadinejad told some 3,000 students in Tehran that Israel's establishment was "a move by the world oppressor (the West) against the Islamic world".

Referring to Iran's late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mr Ahmadinejad said: "As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map."

Correspondents say this was the first time in years that such a high-ranking Iranian official had called for Israel's eradication, although such slogans are still regularly used at regime rallies. Mr Ahmadinejad warned leaders of Muslim nations who recognised the state of Israel that they "face the wrath of their own people".

He added: "Anyone who signs a treaty which recognises the entity of Israel means he has signed the surrender of the Muslim world." [...]

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Because even Martians practice basic house cleaning

A sharp image of a suspected crash site for the Mars Polar Lander has turned out to contain only natural features of the Martian landscape. [...]

What was thought to be the lander's parachute is actually the sunlit slope of a hill. The candidate rocket blast zone has faded and the spot that was thought to be the lander itself has completely disappeared. [...]

Maybe the Martians got tired of waiting for NASA to come and clean up the mess.

In other space news: NASA may require future crew members to have limited or non-existent sex drives. One hyphenated word, NASA: Salt-peter. Put it in the food and you can send Ron Jeremy and the Playboy playmates to Mars and back with no worries. We had it all through Army basic training, and I still recall how extra-repulsive my fellow infantrymen were to this practising heterosexual.

All that glitters. Gold's allure brings trouble

The IHT and NYT are running a series of articles on the harm that gold mining does to the environment. As a geologist who once wanted to go into hard-rock mining, I read quite a bit on the methods used to leach ounces of gold out of tons of crushed rock. The processes involved are truly nasty and if done improperly can destroy the environment for decades.

The article also notes that Asia's new wealth has translated into increased demand. It is quite long, and written with characteristic NYT lefty overtones, but is very informative.
[...] The price of gold is higher than it has been in 17 years - pushing $500 an ounce. But much of the gold left to be mined is microscopic and is being wrung from the earth at enormous environmental cost, often in some of the poorest corners of the world.

And unlike past gold manias, from the time of the pharoahs to the forty-niners, this one has little to do with girding empires, economies or currencies. It is almost all about the soaring demand for jewelry, which consumes 80 percent or more of the gold mined today. [...]

Consider a ring. For that one ounce of gold, miners dig up and haul away 30 tons of rock and sprinkle it with diluted cyanide, which separates the gold from the rock. Before they are through, miners at some of the largest mines move a half million tons of earth a day, pile it in mounds that can rival the Great Pyramids, and drizzle the ore with the poisonous solution for years. [...]

Now to the nasty part.
"You can mine gold ore at a lower grade than any other metal," said Mike Wireman, a mine specialist at the Denver office of the E.P.A. "That means big open pits. But it must also be easy and cheap to be profitable, and that means cyanide."

That kind of massive operation can be seen at Yanacocha, a sprawling mine in northern Peru run by Newmont. In a region of pastures and peasants, the rolling green hills have been carved into sandy-colored mesas, looking more like the American West than the Andean highlands.

Mountains have been systematically blasted, carted off by groaning trucks the size of houses and restacked into ziggurats of chunky ore. These new man-made mountains are lined with irrigation hoses that silently trickle millions of gallons of cyanide solution over the rock for years. The cyanide dissolves the gold so it can be separated and smelted. [...]

Mining companies say they are meeting a demand and that this kind of gold mining, called cyanide heap leaching, is as good a use of the land as any, or better. [...]

But much of those masses of disturbed rock, exposed to the rain and air for the first time, are also the source of mining's multibillion-dollar environmental time bomb. Sulfides in that rock will react with oxygen, making sulfuric acid.

That acid pollutes and it also frees heavy metals like cadmium, lead and mercury, which are harmful to people and fish even at low concentrations. The chain reaction can go on for centuries.

Many industry officials, reluctant to utter the word pollution, protest that much of what they leave behind is not waste at all but ground-up rock. The best-run mines reclaim land along the way, they say, "capping" the rock piles with soil and using lime to try to forestall acid generation.

When a mining company does this correctly, the results are impressive. And notwithstanding the next few paragraphs, the capping does stop the problem of harmful leaching. The Times makes no attempt to quantify how successful the capping solution is. If even some harmful chemicals find there way out, they will report that the method failed.
But stopping pollution forever is difficult. Even rock piles that are capped, in an attempt to keep out air and rain, can release pollutants, particularly in wet climates.

Cyanide can present long-term problems, too. Most scientists agree that cyanide decomposes in sunlight and is not dangerous if greatly diluted. But a study by the United States Geological Survey in 2000 said that cyanide can convert to other toxic forms and persist, particularly in cold climates.

And just as cyanide dissolves gold out of the rock, it releases harmful metals, too.

There have also been significant accidents involving cyanide. From 1985 to 2000, more than a dozen reservoirs containing cyanide-laden mine waste collapsed, the United Nations Environment Program reported.

Here the Times is on to something. Accidently dropping concentrated cyanide solutions into streams and lakes can take a hideous environemtal toll. Thankfully, though, the damage is relatively short term.
The most severe disaster occurred in Romania in 2000, when mine waste spilled into a tributary of the Danube River, killing more than a thousand tons of fish and issuing a plume of cyanide that reached 1,600 miles to the Black Sea.

That spill led to calls for the gold industry to improve its handling of cyanide. After five years of discussion, the industry unveiled a new code this month. It sets standards for transporting and storing cyanide and calls on companies to submit to inspections by a new industry body.

But the cyanide code is voluntary and not enforced by government. And Glenn Miller, a professor of environmental science at the University of Nevada, says it does not adequately deal with one of mining's most important, unattended questions: What happens when the mine closes?

One answer can be found in a rural, rugged area of northeastern Montana called the Little Rocky Mountains. [...]

Zortman-Landusky was the first large-scale, open-pit cyanide operation in the United States when it opened in 1979. [...]

What happened there - a cacophonous, multilayered disaster involving bankruptcy, bad science, environmental havoc and regulatory gaps - foreshadowed the risky road that gold has taken in the years since, mining experts, government regulators and environmentalists say. [...]

Mining with cyanide can be tricky even in the best conditions. At Zortman, the company made the mistake of building their cyanide heaps atop rock that turned acidic. The cyanide and the acid mixed in a toxic cocktail that seeped from the mounds. [...]
The Zortman mine was an unmitigated disaster. However it taught valuable lessons to the mining community.

What to do? Certainly the US can make cyanide handling codes the law of the land (although there are any number of ways to prosecute those who spill. Those working in the field probably already take all reasonable precautions out of fear of prosecution and civil fines and lawsuits. State governments can more diligently examine mining plans. Other than that, lobbyists can attempt to change buying habits (although best of luck to them when dealing with gold).

However so long as most new mines operate in poor, corrupt nations, the environmental damage will continue.

The whole article is worth reading. The IHT site also has links to articles focusing on individual mining operations--but be warned, most are written with an environmentalist viewpoint.

Which General am I?

The one who sent William Wallace to his grave, of course. Most people who take this test come up with Wallace, Caesar, or Grant.

King Edward I
You scored 62 Wisdom, 73 Tactics, 53 Guts, and 54 Ruthlessness!
Or rather, King Edward the Longshanks if you've seen Braveheart. You, like Edward, are incredibly smart and shrewd, but you win at any costs.... William Wallace died at his hands after a fierce Scottish rebellion against his reign. Despite his reputation though, Longshanks had the best interests of his people at heart. But God help you if you got on his bad side.

I apologize for cutting off the rest of the link, but I wasn't able to get it to post properly with the code supplied.

The link to the test is here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

EU falling behind in R & D

The drumbeat of bad news for the EU continues. After pledging--in that way only the EU, the USSR, and China under Mao could do--to become the world's leading knowledge economy by 2010, the EU gets a "D" on its latest report card.

The bright side of this story?: It gives Blair more ammo in his quest to trim agricultural benefits. Surely even France recognizes that R & D carries more benefits to the French than does saving a few family farms.

The Financial Times reports:
The European Union has fallen further behind the rest of the world in research and development spending according to new figures published on Monday, lending new urgency to an EU economic and social summit this week.

The increase in corporate R&D investment for 2004-05 was 2 per cent in Europe but 7 per cent in the US and Asia, according to the International R&D Scoreboard. [...]

Europe's failure to keep pace with its competitors in "a race to the top" will be a key theme of this Thursday's EU summit at Hampton Court, near London.

Tony Blair, the British prime minister and host of the summit, wants to "get Europe back on track in the direction of modernisation". Only five years ago the EU committed itself to becoming the world's leading knowledge economy by 2010.

A priority of the British presidency of the EU is to refocus the Union's €100bn-a-year budget towards R&D and away from traditional support for farming and struggling regions.

The R&D research and development scoreboard, produced by the UK Department of Trade and Industry, lists the world's top 1,000 companies by R&D spending.

The scoreboard shows that European companies as a whole have not increased R&D investment over the past four years, while their US counterparts are spending 12 per cent more on R&D than their four-year average. [...]

Mr Blair told a number of European newspapers at the weekend that he hoped this week's Hampton Court summit would pave the way for a successful deal in December on the next seven-year EU budget.

He wants European leaders to abandon protectionist efforts to protect jobs and to focus instead on giving people the training they need to find new work if they lose their job.

To illustrate the point, Mr Blair said he "definitely supports" a European Commission plan to set up a new "globalisation adjustment fund" to retrain workers hit by restructuring.

The fund, which is also backed by France, is intended to show that Europe is not purely bent on opening markets and breaking down barriers.

But the new fund is likely to be strongly resisted by big net contributors to the EU budget, including the Netherlands and Sweden. British officials said it might be funded by finding savings elsewhere in the EU budget, starting with agriculture.
Sounds like a plan that will give France the neccessary cover to agree to cutting agriculture subsidies. Europe has a tremendous pool of researchers, but a lack of governmental funding means that many of the brightest and most ambitious head overseas. If the EU can sweeten the pot with the promise of increased funding, they will benefit themselves enormously.

Assad on the way out?

German newspapers sure think so. Could it be that another leader who opposed the war in Iraq is doomed to follow Germany's very own Gerhard Schroeder to the ash heap of history?

Der Spiegel has the roundup:

The Financial Times Deutschland argues that it's time for President Bashar Assad to leave. Despite his relatively innocent appearance, the paper notes, he is considered a supporter of Hizbollah and of the Islamist resistance in Iraq. The UN report is just the final nail in his coffin. "Now," the paper writes, "the long-awaited moment has come to put Assad under pressure, so that his destabilizing regime can be shut down." The paper notes that the US and France are already working on a UN Security Council resolution that will further isolate Syria internationally. That, combined with pressure from Lebanese and Syrian opposition groups, "allows hope that even the symbolic effects of a resolution would be enough to provide the coup de grace for Assad's shaky regime."

Germany's other financial daily, the Handelsblatt, likewise sees regime change as the likely result of the UN report -- but imagines it coming from internal pressure rather than from outside. Just days before the report came out, the paper points out, Assad had clearly stated that Damascus had nothing to do with the murder of Hariri. Now, it is clear that either Assad was lying, or he didn't know that his own officials carried out the assassination. "A president who doesn't even have his own secret service in line, who doesn't have a clear political strategy and who is leading his country into isolation," the paper writes, "may at some point fall out of favor with his own followers. Not today and not tomorrow. But maybe earlier than one thinks."

The prospect of regime change is one that the right-leaning daily Die Welt also welcomes, but at the same time finds a bit uncomfortable. After all, were Assad to fall, the country could very well descend into chaos. Because Syria's opposition is so weak and at odds with itself, the implosion of the regime "threatens an 'Iraqization' of the country -- a mixture of political collapse, Islamist radicalization and terror."

Finally, the left-leaning Berlin daily Berliner Zeitung comes through with an editorial replete with its standard dose of anti-Americanism wrapped around a few good points. First, the anti-Americanism: Poor Assad has, for some time now, been bombarded with threatened sanctions and "absurd demands" like that of preventing insurgents from crossing the border from Syria into Iraq. Now the US won't waste any time taking advantage of this new report because it badly needs a success in the Middle East to draw attention away from its failures (read: Iraq) in the region. "Some domino has to fall," the paper writes.

Now, the good points: The end of Assad will come not because of mounting international pressure, but because he's no longer useful to powers within Syria. He has, "at a breathtaking rate, gambled away the legacy of his father." Not only has he managed to turn France and the European Union against Syria, but he has made grave errors in domestic policy as well. He has been unable to get rid of the old guard nor can he seem to discipline his own powerful family members. His weakness made him useful, writes the paper; but now that his political bumbling has led to the hurried withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and to intense international attention, he's worn out his usefulness.
OK, the crystal-ball abilities of the German press aren't highly regarded, and their sudden interest in getting rid of bad actors in the Middle East and promoting Democracy is a bit of a stunner, but it's nice to see them working up a drumbeat of support to get rid of this disagreable man.

I guess even the EU has to take notice of his inept skullduggery. Now they have the opportunity to demonstrate some foreign policy unity and principled regime change rhetoric. God has delivered Assad into the vacuum that was EU foreign policy; they should be grateful. The speed at which denunciation/action will play out is anyone's guess.

Perhaps the papers are a bit early on this. No Tradesports market for Assad yet.

Did Galloway perjure himself?

Remember George Galloway? The flamboyant British MP who grandstanded his way through the Senate subcommittee investigations of the oil for food debacle may have perjured himself. At the very least, this will raise uncomfortable questions for Mr. Galloway.

From the Financial Times:
More than $600,000 raised from allocations of Iraqi crude oil was deposited into accounts for the wife and campaign charity of George Galloway, the British member of parliament (MP), a Senate subcommittee investigating the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal alleged on Monday.

Documents, including wire transfers, as well as interviews with top officials of the Saddam Hussein regime show Mr Galloway “personally solicited and received lucrative oil allocations from the Hussein regime”, the committee alleged.

The charges raise new questions about Mr Galloway's public statements that he never profited from the oil-for-food scheme, which is the subject of criminal investigations, as well as inquiries by the United Nations and the US Congress.

Mr Galloway defended himself on BBC radio on Tuesday morning, claming the subcommittee was “being cavalier with any idea of process and justice” and challenging it to bring perjury charges against him. [...]

“We have what I think we call the smoking gun,” Norm Coleman, the Republican chairman of the subcommittee, said of the bank transfers. “The additional evidence clearly demonstrates the testimony Mr Galloway provided the sub-committee was false and misleading.” [...]

The documents released on Monday include wire transfers to and from the Citibank account of Fawaz Zureikat, a Jordanian businessman who was allegedly the agent for transactions related to Iraqi oil allocations for Mr Galloway.

The documents show a transfer of $740,000 (£420,000) in July 2000 into the account of Mr Zureikat as a commission from Taurus Petroleum, a Swiss company. Taurus had purchased the oil from another company, Aredio Petroleum, which had acquired the oil directly from Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organisation.

Within days after the transfer, Mr Zureikat moved $150,000 from that account to an account for Mr Galloway's wife, Amineh Abu-Zayad, and another $340,000 to an account for Mariam Appeal, Mr Galloway's UK-based political campaign.

Dr Abu-Zayad told the committee in a statement on Monday: “I have never solicited or received from Iraq or anyone else any proceeds of any oil deals, either for myself or for my former husband.”

Mr Zureikat in turn is alleged to have paid illegal under-the-table surcharges back to the Hussein regime totalling more than $1.6m over two years.

The investigation also quotes Taha Yasin Ramadan, the former Iraqi vice- president, saying Mr Galloway had been granted allocations “because of his opinions about Iraq” and because he “want[ed] to lift the embargo against Iraq”.

Mr Galloway denied that allegation, telling the FT: “The first time I have ever seen Taha Yasin Ramadan was when I saw him [on TV] standing in the dock behind Saddam Hussein a few days ago.” He said statements from other Iraqi officials should be discounted because they were in custody and facing the possibility of death sentences.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Multi-culti tolerance>> honor killings

The principle of Multi-Culti has many drawbacks as Europe is learning. Most notable, of course, is that by not forcing immigrants to assimilate, the immigrants became alienated; a sizable number of Muslim immigrants either turned to terror or support terrorism in their adopted European countries.

Another problem coming to light is the wayMuslims, by living their lives according to the Islamic cultural norms (Multi-Culti in a nutshell), have come into conflict with Western ideals--especially in Germany.

In this case, Roger Cohen of the IHT ($) notes that many Muslim men are highly controlling regarding the women in their family. Too often, women who attempt to live as a German woman would are killed by family members who feel the woman has brought shame to the family.

Six recent "honor killings" in Berlin, where about 10 percent of the 2.5 million Turks in Germany live, have focused attention on a culture of violent male repression of women in some Muslim immigrant communities in Europe. [...]

"Such killings reflect the widely held view in Islam that the honor of a man lies between the legs of a woman," Ates, a secular Muslim [attorney practicing in Berlin], said. "It is not understood that the honor of woman lies in deciding what she does with that."

Strong words, but this is no time to shrink from confrontation with difficult issues between the West and Islam. A form of political correctness has long contributed to a European habit of tolerating, or being blind to, what went on within Muslim communities living parallel to, rather than as part of, their adopted European societies. The dangers of this approach have now become apparent in various forms of violence.

Of course, the picture is not uniform. Many young Muslims, whether retaining or renouncing Islamic identity, integrate into European societies. A survey last year in Germany, commissioned by the ministry responsible for women's affairs, questioned the stereotype of oppression among young women from Muslim households and found a majority preparing to pursue careers.

Beyond Europe, the place and image of femininity in Arab society vary enormously, from the veiled and largely invisible women of Saudi Arabia who are barred from exposing their hair or ankles outdoors, to the scantily clad beauties on 24-hour Arabic rock-music channels or the punchy professional women presenting the news and weather in cities from Beirut to Casablanca. [...]

These very differences raise the question of whether the problem lies in Islam itself - the Koran and the Prophet's sayings as embodied in Shariah law - or whether the issue is rather how those texts have been interpreted or perverted within some societies and communities to justify the humiliation of women.

The answer is no doubt some of both. But that the Koran, read literally, and in male-dominated cultures inclined to perpetuate that domination, offers men the latitude to humiliate women and claim God's blessing in doing so seems clear enough.

After all, the Holy Book allows men to marry four wives, beat them if they are disobedient, dismiss women's legal testimony as less weighty than men's, and insist on modesty in women's dress.

"Islam is a religion obsessed with sex and sexuality and limiting and regulating that of women," said Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian-born member of the Dutch Parliament living in hiding because Islamic fanatics have threatened to kill her. "The religion was founded by and in a tribal Arab desert culture, marked by distrust between clans, and the only way to survive was to be in the tribe with more male members, and that required protecting your women from impregnation by others."

Hirsi Ali, who has worked with battered Muslim women in a Dutch society shaken by several "honor killings" in the past year, believes that "challenging sexual morals is the key to a better integration of Islam in the West, because once you get rid of this neurosis, women are no longer kept in the house, they can choose their own partner, and a partner not necessarily of the tribe."

A lot more than sex and sexuality is at stake here. The group culture that says a Muslim woman is not free to choose her mate or lifestyle is an expression of a value system that places extended family and clan and ultimately the whole Islamic community, or umma, above the norms, and often the laws, of Western societies.

That, in turn, can only exacerbate division and distrust that, in the post-9/11 world, have proved the prelude to explosive violence.

Some European Muslims respond that it is the prejudice of Western society that forces them into their own cultural islands, and that Islam is the only authentic alternative they have to the homogenizing, all-trampling force of Western modernity. Hence, they say, the revival of Islam and, on the fringes, the growth of fanaticism.

But an authentic culture is one thing, trampling on fundamental human rights like the equality of men and women quite another.

More to the point: Europe must not be hypocritical by allowing at home what it so eloquently condemns abroad.

"My clients," Ates said, "say their men beat them and then claim this is allowed by the Koran, this is a man's role in the Koran, you must accept the authority of the male, which is higher than that of women."

The time is ripe, more than ripe, for a Muslim Freud.

More than a Freud, Islam needs to disentangle its historical roots from its broad message. Muslim wise men seem to have lost sight of the forest because of the trees; they are caught up in parsing scriptural passages in order to justify behavior while failing to place it in the context of Islam's overarching themes.

Cohen has been on a tear of late reporting on the dysfunctional relationship of Islam in Europe. Germany and Europe have turned a blind eye to problems stemming from a lack of assimilation, assuming perhaps that because their society was a desirable social model, everyone would be happy to adopt it. For many immigrants, the opposite was true.

Rather than being enamored of European ways, they were appalled. That Europe made no real effort--through social or economic pressure--to integrate these folks has led in part to the spreading problems Europe faces with its Muslim immigrants.

RINO carnival XVI is up

The Ragin' Cajun at Louisiana Libertarian has the latest pointed opinions from the Ragin' RINOs (Republicans/Independants Not Overdosed on the party kool-aid).

There are some pretty nice posts up, including several on the Miers nomination.

France, founding member of the EU, is shocked at the ingratitude

To no one's surprise, France is resisting nearly all calls to liberalize the EU's economy. France was long a powerful voice within the EU for expansion, now, as an article in the IHT makes clear, they find themselves in opposition to most of the new members. Enjoy the irony.
[...] The latest flash point came when France broke with the rest of the Union to demand continued protection for Europe's farmers from cheaper producers elsewhere. It was one of several clashes between Paris and Brussels this year as France resisted efforts to liberalize Europe's services sector, sought to weaken rules on national finances, tried to protect major companies from foreign takeovers and pushed for new quotas on Chinese textiles.

The growing friction is explained by French attempts to hold back the pace of economic liberalization on the Continent in the face of intensifying global competition. This comes as the French economy is weak and the government is playing to the public's protectionist mood with presidential elections coming in less than two years.

Amid a resurgence of national self-interest, the French government has come to view the European Union, and the projects that the European Commission is trying to pursue, as a threat to its old ways of life and to its standing in the world, which are coming under intense pressure from globalization.

Traditionally, the Union was an instrument that France used to project power beyond its borders. But the swelling of the bloc to 25 members from 15 in May 2004 has meant a loss of influence for France in Brussels. The surprising result is that, suddenly, the country that helped invent European integration over the past 50 years has become its biggest opponent.

"France has not internalized a very important transition that is happening in Europe right now, which is the shift from the industrial economy to the knowledge and services economy," said Ann Mettler of the Lisbon Council, a market-oriented research group based in Brussels. "Its interest groups, which are very strong, are still trying to preserve the industrial age." [...]

But the disquiet in France was already clear earlier in the spring when the country, along with Germany, forced the European Commission to water down plans to open up Europe's services sector to competition because of fears that lower-paid workers from Eastern Europe would pour into Western Europe.

This trend continued in June when France led a group of textile-producing countries that included Spain and Italy to make Europe reimpose import quotas against Chinese textiles that threatened to flood Europe. The French government also reacted strongly to speculation that PepsiCo, the American food and beverage company, might take over Danone, the French yogurt and mineral water producer, and then announced plans to draw up a list of 10 strategic sectors it wanted to protect from foreign takeover, even though doing so might in many cases violate EU law on the free movement of capital.

French fears about the threat posed by the growth of economies beyond Europe's borders were encapsulated in the debate about the beginning of EU membership talks with Turkey, which France resisted before giving its approval. But the full picture of France's resistance to its unprotected integration in the global economy became much sharper this month when it held up trade talks at the World Trade Organization, whose goal was significantly lower farm subsidies and tariffs, mainly because of fears it would severely damage French farming.

In France, the two main contenders for the French presidency, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and the governing party leader Nicolas Sarkozy, have taken turns in courting, rather than calming, the French public's protectionist mood. [...]

Even President Jacques Chirac faulted the European Commission this month for not intervening to stop Hewlett-Packard, the U.S.-based technology company, from cutting jobs in France even though there was nothing it could have done. [...]

As France's mood has turned sour, the commission, and in particular its president, José Manuel Barroso, have become favorite targets in France. Barroso has tried to defend himself against Chirac's attacks, warning of "a kind of populism that is against the very idea of Europe."

But he has become associated in the French public psyche with the free-market economics of Britain and of the United States. As a perceived supporter of their economic model, Barroso is seen by France as a direct threat to its own more generous, but also more restrictive, Continental social model, which it says has served it well and which it promotes as better for Europe.

Without the support of Paris, and with Germany until recently mired in its own political stalemate and no longer willing to play EU paymaster in any case, Barroso has been unable to push through any big changes from Brussels.

It all means that the French-German alliance that used to propel Europe now appears to be pulling it apart. [...]

Blair contends, as Barroso does, that Europe needs to turn in a new direction if it is to cut unemployment and take on the economic challenges posed by the United States, China and India. But Blair now has to persuade the rest of the Union of the wisdom of this course just as the protectionist tendencies of France are growing stronger.

"The liberal regime within Europe, combined with the protectionist regime toward the rest of the world, worked pretty well when we could dictate the terms of trade," said Stephen Wall, a former adviser to Blair. "One of the things that we have had to realize in the age of globalization is that that is no longer the case."
Perhaps the French won't recieve another thrashing like at the battle of Traflagar 200 years ago, but Blair has used the six months of his EU presidency to frame the debate in terms unfavorable to the French. Unfortunately, the French have effective veto power over many things the EU reformers wish to accomplish, so economic liberalization will continue to move slowly.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

My view on the Miers nomination

I'm late to this, but the TLB is asking bloggers to declare where they stand on the Miers nomination. Relatively easy for me.

My position: I oppose the Miers nomination. For all her obvious worth to Bush, she simply doesn't have the qualifications required of a Supreme Court justice.

I suspect she will lose big in this on-line poll.

France to third world: piss off

France--the nation that loves to talk about brotherhood of man, and the need to help the poor, especially in Africa--will not support the EU's chief trade negotiator over attempts to bring down agricultural subsidies as reported in the IHT.

These subsidies encourage the over production and dumping on the world market of surplus crops, leading to artificially low prices, thus preventing farmers in poor countries from selling. In nearly all cases these farmers are able to produce for less than could their un-subsidized counterparts in Europe and the USA.

A meaningful reduction in subsidies across the board, or eliminating certain targeted subsidies would have an enormous impact on struggling farmers in the third world.

Many nations are no longer willing to let France's hypocrisy pass unchallenged. The recent US offer to cut aid to farmers is thrown that hypocrisy into sharp relief.

France on Thursday dug in on its refusal to permit new cuts in European farm supports that are needed to advance global trade talks, irking the United States and raising questions about whether a blueprint to lower trade barriers around the world can be completed before a crucial set of talks scheduled for December in Hong Kong. [...]

The Brazilian foreign minister, Celso Amorim, who has become a spokesman for developing nations in these talks, urged Europe to break the logjam. "European countries that always put a lot of emphasis on development and poverty must realize this is a crucial moment," he said.

Both the United States and Europe have large farm communities that benefit from tens of billions of dollars in handouts each year, allowing their farmers to export inexpensive food to world markets.

Developing countries led by Brazil are anxious to overhaul this system, which they say encourages overproduction and crushes the livelihood of their farmers as agricultural products subsidized by rich countries depress global food prices.

The United States also sees an opportunity to reduce some $19 billion worth of agricultural subsidies, as corporations and a growing body of U.S. farmers complain that the backlash against these subsidies has caused trading partners to seal off market access to a variety of U.S.-made goods.

Getting Europe to reduce its barriers would open up markets for American farm exports. But European farmers, supported by $60 billion in annual subsidies, are vehemently opposed to any change in the current system.

In countries like France, politicians often view farm reform with suspicion, equating it with attempts to undermine the French way of life.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister, said Thursday in an opinion piece published in the French business newspaper Les Echos that further reform was "not acceptable." He said it would mean a dismantling of Europe's Common Agricultural Policy, which dictates farm subsidies across the EU, and would put "an end to Europe's status as an agricultural power."

An implicit admission that their power is entirely artificial, and that true competition would expose French (forget his talk about Europe, he's stalking French votes) farmers to hardship.

The Australian trade minister, Mark Vaile, lashed out at that stance, saying, "France and other EU members have taken the EU to the brink of collapsing the round."

Mandelson this week drew an angry rebuke from France after he offered deeper European subsidy cuts in response to the American offer to slash trade-distorting support by 60 percent and tariffs by 55 percent to 90 percent. The French said that by making this offer, Mandelson had overstepped his negotiating mandate. [...]

Divisions at the core of the 25-member Union were aggravated Tuesday in Luxembourg when foreign ministers from countries including Britain and Sweden, which have much smaller farming communities, rejected French demands to rein in Mandelson's negotiating authority. Mandelson urged European governments to match the American offer on farm reform, arguing that the benefits to Europe of opening new export markets for its products would far outweigh any negative shocks to agriculture. [...]
As other portions of the article make clear, the US is also guilty of dragging its feet on subsidies, but at least they are seeking to move forward on this important item.

It will be interesting to see what the EU comes up with as a counter proposal. The EU tends to be be very good at appearing to act while accomplishing nothing. Let's hope the rest of the world blasts any backsliding.

The Financial Times has this apt quote: “Some speak of a deadlock in the talks,” said Celso Amorim, Brazil's foreign minister. “I prefer to talk of a padlock, and the key is in the hands of the EU.”

Saturday, October 22, 2005

My brush with greatness

While shopping with my kids for halloween costumes (the holiday is taking hold even in conservative Switzerland) in the local department store, we saw that Miss Switzerland was appearing at the Nivea skin care stand.

My daughter got her autograph. I can report that Miss Swiss is a real Swiss miss. Very attractive and able to keep a smile plastered on her face at all times. Plus she has quite good penmanship.

Her autograph picture is a straightforward snap of her in tiara and sash. The other side shows her scantily wrapped in a towel, applying Nivea skin care products. You guess which is the better picture.

Look for her at the Miss World competition.

UPDATE: No, that isn't her left nipple poking out of her dress. The picture I stole from the Miss Switzerland website is defective.

Nelson and Victory: Trafalgar battle 200 years ago yesterday

Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was one of my earliest heroes. Although I no longer have heroes, he remains one of my favorite historical figures.

Today is the 200th anniversary of the sea battle off of Cape Trafalgar, where Nelson's British fleet thrashed a combined French and Spanish armada.

Here are some good links:

Nelson's flagship HMS Victory

BBC News web page on all things Trafalgar

Wikipedia on Nelson, and the battle of Trafalgar

Friday, October 21, 2005

Krauthammer on the Miers nomination

Charles Krauthammer sees the future, and it is not favorable to Harriet Miers or President Bush.

Gazing into his crystal ball, he sees any number of problems from the Right, and if she survives that onslaught, the Left, during her Senate confirmation hearings.
First she will have to pass an implicit competency test. As case upon case is thrown at her on national television, she dare not respond, as she apparently did to Sen. Chuck Schumer while making the rounds, that she will have to "bone up on this a little more." Then there will be the withering fire of conservatives such as Sen. Sam Brownback who will try to establish some grounds to believe that (a) she has a judicial philosophy and (b) it is conservative.

And then there will be the Democrats who, in their first act of political wisdom in this millennium, have held their fire on Miers, under the political axiom that when your opponent is committing suicide, you get out of the way. But now that Miers is so exposed on abortion, the Democrats will be poised like a reserve cavalry to come over the hills to attack her from the left -- assuming she has survived the attack from the right.

The omens are not good. When the chairman and ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee express bipartisan exasperation, annoyance and almost indignation at her answers to the committee's simple questionnaire, she's got trouble. This after she confused Chairman Arlen Specter about her position on Griswold , the second most famous "right to privacy" case, and seemed confused when answering ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy's question about her favorite justice.
I am sure that even though someone as smart and ambitious as Miers will come properly boned up on major constitutional issues, there are any number of clever people working on questions designed to expose her lack of Constitutional training/experience.

The only hope Bush has for a successful outcome is if conservative Republicans on the committee hold their fire in the belief that Miers is a fellow believer on the important issues likely to come before the court. Which still leaves the Dems and their increasingly inflamed base.
He also sees an honorable way out:

[...] [I]rreconcilable differences over documents.

For a nominee who, unlike John Roberts, has practically no record on constitutional issues, such documentation is essential for the Senate to judge her thinking and legal acumen. But there is no way that any president would release this kind of information -- "policy documents" and "legal analysis" -- from such a close confidante. It would forever undermine the ability of any president to get unguarded advice.

That creates a classic conflict, not of personality, not of competence, not of ideology, but of simple constitutional prerogatives: The Senate cannot confirm her unless it has this information. And the White House cannot allow release of this information lest it jeopardize executive privilege.

Hence the perfectly honorable way to solve the conundrum: Miers withdraws out of respect for both the Senate and the executive's prerogatives, the Senate expresses appreciation for this gracious acknowledgment of its needs and responsibilities, and the White House accepts her decision with the deepest regret and with gratitude for Miers's putting preservation of executive prerogative above personal ambition. [...]

Even though such a choice will raise questions of just what information she seeks to protect (adhering to few principles, the media can't believe that other's posses them), I still like it.

UPDATE: The Kommissar notes the odds on Miers being confirmed have dropped.

Loser marketing slogans

A website offering cheap watches with Russian movements has this less than reassuring slogan:

The best of soviet [sic] technologies for modern watch design
Presumably this includes Soviet attention to detail and quality control.

The new watches are named after famous mass produced Soviet era models like the Pobeda ("Victory") (ebay pic of original), but don't resemble those classics in the least.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Finally, a NYT editorial I agree with: Mugabe is a disaster

The NYT and I don't often come to the same conclusions, but this time we are in agreement. Robert Mugabe, president until death of Zimbabwe, is a walking, talking African Strongman who is slowly ruining his once prosperous land.

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe went to Rome for the meeting of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization this week. As he usually does whenever he manages to elude sanctions that restrict his travels to Europe and America, he let loose at George Bush and Tony Blair, likening them to Hitler and Mussolini and blaming them for all of Zimbabwe's woes.

While he spoke, armed bandits back in Zimbabwe were raiding potato farms, and opposition leaders were drumming up support for a boycott of Senate elections next month. In addition, aid agencies say 4 million of Zimbabwe's 11.5 million people are facing famine.

Mr. Mugabe's response has been to raze squatter camps around Harare, driving hundreds of thousands of the destitute into greater misery. The U.N. has called that a "catastrophic injustice." Mr. Mugabe has called criticism of the destruction "blatant interference." Zimbabweans are not hungry, he said - they just can't eat their favorite foods.

Clearly, the Food and Agriculture Organization can allow anyone it wants to attend its World Food Day ceremony in Rome. The United Nations and its agencies must remain ecumenical and open. And the occasional appearance by Mr. Mugabe does help remind the world that the 81-year-old tyrant is still around, still blaming colonialists, neocolonialists, racists and everybody else for his country's suffering, still fixing elections and hounding his opponents.

There was a time when Mr. Mugabe's credentials as a fighter against white-minority rule earned him respect. That time is long gone. He is a millstone around the neck of one of Africa's best endowed lands. Who says so? The South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has said Mr. Mugabe is a "caricature of an African dictator"; Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, who has called on Mr. Mugabe to stop "fighting colonialist ghosts"; the Nobel-Prize-winning writer Wole Soyinka, who has labeled Mr. Mugabe's regime "a disgrace to the continent."

Mr. Mugabe has run Zimbabwe for a quarter of a century, crushing every attempt to dislodge him, so there's little point in urging him to heed his fellow Africans. But there is every reason to support the opposition in its brave efforts to oust Mr. Mugabe's clique, and to assure the suffering people of Zimbabwe that the world has not forgotten them.
It would be nice if the Times kept up some sort of drumbeat over this disagreeable person.

Overall, I give the editorial a "C". They should have concentrated more on his on-going persecution of those who voted against him, not just his hounding of the organized opposition.

Switzerland: Bio milk no better than normal milk

Ah, yes. How nice to have a pet peeve validated. I understand people's desire for Bio foods--the idea that this is how it once was; back to Nature; yada, yada. But I never bought into the the culture of Bio foodstuffs, namely, that they are inherently better and healthier.

Researchers at the University of Bern (my employer) recently released the results of an eight-year study showing that the milk produced from cows on a Bio diet is no better than that from non-Bio cows. Moreover, the cows themselves do poorer. And the infections they are more prone to may make the milk less healthy.

Despite its healthy image, the organic milk produced in Switzerland is no better than ordinary milk, Bern University researchers have found.

What's more, they say, this type of dairy farming may be detrimental to the health of cattle. The findings could have implications for Switzerland's growing organic food sector, which is worth more than a billion francs a year.

Bio Suisse, the Swiss umbrella group for organic organisations, dismissed the findings of the report, which was partly funded by the Federal Agriculture Office and the Federal Veterinary Office.

"This study tells us nothing new," Bio Suisse director Stefan Odermatt told swissinfo.
"Organic products are not automatically 'healthier'. You have to look at organic farmland as a whole. By renouncing chemical or synthetic fertilisers, protective sprays and the preventive use of antibiotics we produce high-quality foodstuffs."

Professor Jürg Blum and his team spent eight years studying animals raised on conventional and organic dairy farms, comparing their health, milk production and quality of milk, according to the university newspaper Uni Press.

They came to the conclusion that despite its higher price, organic milk is not better than the normal variety. On the contrary, organically produced milk contains more disease-causing bacteria."

One thing is clear: organic milk is not, as consumers think, better than conventional milk," the report's authors said.

Organic cattle produce five to 12 per cent less milk than cows in conventional production partly because their fodder is not rich enough in proteins, the researchers
say. [...]

So organic cows often expend more energy in milk production than they draw from their food.

Another problem identified by the researchers is that organic cattle suffer more frequently from udder inflammation because the regulations state that organic farmers cannot administer antibiotics as a precautionary measure."

A risk for consumers is that these germs can end up in the milk we drink," warned the authors.

The Federal Veterinary Office said it was aware of the problem of udder infections in organic cattle but "there is no health risk because sufficient controls are carried out".

Odermatt said it was ridiculous to reduce the quality of organic milk to the number of germs it contained. "That is completely beside the point." [...]

That's pretty poor spin given that most Bio-milk is bought in the belief that it is healthier.
Bio Suisse says it is worth paying a higher price for milk produced by happy cows.

"Organically produced foodstuffs offer better value because the animals are treated correctly - allowed to run around and mingle with other animals - and receive the right food. An organic cow is a happy cow that is not trained for maximum milk production.

"Making a profit is not the main concern of organic farmers."

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Europe heading rightward?

The IHT's Roger Cohen ($) discusses the move of Europe's Left to the right. Interesting for me was that the Left's most cherished bit of social policy, multi-culti, is in danger of ending on top of communism on history's trash heap.

Multi-culturism is simply the latest Leftist "ism" to be found wanting. The mess one sees in Europe-- Holland especially comes to mind--can be ascribed in large part to a willful shirking of national identity in the belief that everyone's culture counted equally. Thus, immigrants were under no social or economic pressure to conform to mores and rules of their new society.

(Quick rant: One of the least impressive books I have read over the past few years is Guns, Germs, and Steel. The author attempted to show that national and regional characteristics had little to do with how successful a society was. Rather, he claimed it had much to do with the sort of animals and grains a region began with thousands of years ago, as well as geography and many other lesser factors. Ballocks. Western civilization became dominant because of its approach to science, commerce, and the individual.)

On to the article (I include nearly the whole thing):

The pendulum of Europe's political direction tends to be erratic, but for the moment it is pointing rightward. That may be surprising at a time when the Continent has spent a lot of time defining itself in opposition to President George W. Bush's conservative administration.

But it's less surprising when two factors are considered: the alarm caused by jihadist killings in Madrid and Amsterdam and London, and the difficulties of social market economies with comprehensive welfare systems creaking under the strain of high unemployment and aging populations.

The terrorism means that law and order, part of Angela Merkel's winning message in Germany, is in and indulgence toward immigrants is out. The economic difficulties, especially in France and Germany, are pushing in the direction of free-market reform. Both these trends favor the right.

It has not been lost on Europeans that terrorism has come from within. The killings have in general been perpetrated not by agents sent from the Middle East, but by Europe's own, Muslims born and raised in European societies or long-term residents. The murderers knew freedom, often a great deal of it, and opted for an attempt to destroy the open societies that nurtured them.
Although much of Europe recognizes this to be true, their solution involves capitulation. The idea is that if they just do a little of what the Islamists want, then they will continue attacking the US, and leave Europe alone.
That is disquieting, especially for a European left that had long held aloft the "multi-culti" model of diverse peoples living side by side and in harmony without a strong overarching national culture.

So the left is moving right. Earlier this month, Wouter Bos, the leader of the Dutch Labor Party, had some sharp comments for a gathering of European socialists. His speech suggested the degree to which the mainstream European left is reconsidering its past policies in the light of the violence that has struck the Continent.
Cohen has penned several articles on how the Dutch are dealing with these questions. Clearly--and correctly--he sees Holland as the canary in the coal mine.
"Every society has limits to its capacity to absorb newcomers," Bos said. "Successful integration therefore above all requires a restrictive migration policy because our capacity to integrate and emancipate is not limitless. And it will require toughness, both on those who arrive new into our societies and the society that adopts them."

Toughness on immigration is a new message for the left. So is talk of "emancipating" immigrants, a clear message that European Muslims will have to show more readiness to buy into the norms of Western societies on such matters as the equality of men and women and freedom of sexual choice.

Bos acknowledged that past policies had proved inadequate. "Social Democrats all over Europe have not been too good at tackling these problems," he declared. "Maybe because they were afraid to be accused of racism."

Another reason, of course, was that hostility to immigration was the terrain of the right and, in its ugliest form, the preserve of extreme-right xenophobes like France's Jean-Marie Le Pen.

But the left now sees that it is possible, indeed critical, to confront the grave failures of immigration policy without adopting the bigoted excesses of the right. For one thing, the welfare state that is the great creation of European social democracy depends on change because a welfare system supporting out-of-work immigrants in disproportionate degree tends to stir resentments that are explosive. [...]

In a similar way, if basic values are not shared in a society, the welfare system, ultimately based on a sense of solidarity, frays. The welfare state is a form of collective insurance. For it to work, there has to be some agreement on the nature of the risk and the nature of the way of life to be defended. From Britain to Spain, evidence has accumulated that such a consensus has been lacking.

The bottom line, after Europe's recent violence, is that greater efforts, in education and in imparting the meaning of citizenship in a European democracy, appear essential if tensions with immigrants are to be eased. Nationalism tends to be anathema in Europe, which knows its downside too well. But national values and national pride may be making a comeback.

Of course, as long as the economies of Germany and France remain stalled with unemployment rates hovering around 10 percent, tensions within European societies will tend to persist. Societies that fail for long periods to produce significant growth or jobs are societies that promote a paralyzing dependency and stifle hope.

That is why both Merkel and the center-right French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, have proposed tax cuts, greater labor market flexibility, reductions in nonwage labor costs and other measures to try to stop the institutionalization of unemployment in their countries.
Villepin is called center right because of party affiliation. In truth, his policies and outlook are Leftist.
In a coalition with the Social Democrats, Merkel's margin for maneuver will not be great; Villepin faces French labor unions and may opt to zigzag into ineffectiveness. But at least they have been frank about the core of their countries' problems: the fact that it has often been more attractive financially not to work than to work.

Their joint presence may just revive the French-German alliance and give a new impulse to free-market ideas in the euro zone. Resistance will be significant. But Merkel has real convictions about where she wants to go; Villepin has unusual energy. This combination could bring results, especially as the railing of leftists against globalization, neoliberalism and the like has an increasingly sterile air in both countries.

The most successful politician in a major industrialized democracy, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, has successfully deployed a mixture of radical reform and carefully dosed nationalism. Merkel and Villepin may take a leaf from his book.

After all, toughness, national values and a freer market are even being espoused by some of Europe's mainstream left. Could there be a looming market for European neocons?

US and third world aligned

It happens more often than we imagine. Most recently the cooperation involves international trade and agriculture. In this case, the two are working together to bring down farm subsidies.

Subsides in Europe and, to a lesser extent, the US harm developing nations (I can do PC) by leading to over production and dumping on the world market of surplus crops. Consequently, prices are artificially low, so poor farmers around the world are unable to sell their crops.

Guess which European nation seeks to keep the subsidies high? The IHT has the answer:
[...] With global trade talks at a critical juncture, France has corralled European foreign ministers to a gathering here in a bid to block further cuts to European Union farm aid - a sticking point in the discussions.

France called for the one-day meeting after saying that Mandelson had overstepped his authority at trade talks last week in Switzerland. In those discussions, aimed at breaking a deadlock, Mandelson offered to deepen EU farm subsidy cuts in reaction to a proposal from the United States to slash its agricultural subsidies and tariffs. France wants Mandelson, who will also be in Luxembourg, to consult the EU's 25 members before making any new trade offers. [...]

But the angry French reaction to Mandelson's proposal - which the United States has rejected as not ambitious enough - shows that a deal is far from assured. Facing huge political pressure from farmers, many European governments are loath to give even modest ground at the talks. At the same time, the United States has warned that its farmers are unlikely to accept any deal unless Europe comes up with equal concessions. [...]

The Luxembourg meeting is likely to highlight discord within the core of the EU as France and other nations like Italy fight to protect large subsidized farm industries and countries like Britain seek to reduce supports that are not much of a benefit to their own farmers. That divide has also sparked a dispute over the EU's budget, which allocates about 40 percent of total spending for farm support. Britain and other EU members have argued that this spending should come down. European leaders will try and break an impasse over the budget at a summit meeting this month near London. [...]

Developing countries like Brazil are demanding an end to the tens of billions of dollars that Europe and America pay their farmers each year. The system, these nations say, leads to overproduction, dumping on global markets and artificially low prices.[...]

By offering to cut its trade-distorting subsidies by 60 percent, the United States gave an important boost to the talks, negotiators say. Mandelson met that by offering to cut EU subsidies by 70 percent - up from a previous offer of 65 percent. But he gave no sign that Europe was willing to match another U.S. proposal that nations agree to reduce import tariffs on farm goods by between 55 percent and 90 percent. As Europe levies higher protective duties than the United States, this proposal would disproportionately hit European farmers.

Last week, Portman called Mandelson's offer on tariffs "disappointing," saying he hoped to receive a better proposal when he returned to Geneva this week. But France's reaction to the talks makes that look extremely unlikely, negotiators say.

French politicians know in their hearts that these ruinous subsidies must end. Their current position may be more than pandering to the voters. Perhaps they seek to improve their negotiating position within the EU for when the talks get serious.

UPDATE: The Financial Times reports that France was unable to block the negotiations.

Glow in the dark donkeys

After scoffing, I read the article. Turns out to be a good idea. Namibia (South-West Africa for those of a certain age) has plenty of donkeys, many of which like to lie on roads after the sun goes down. They tend not to move when cars come barreling along at night. Result: Donkey burgers and ruined vehicles. The Beeb reports:
A British-based donkey welfare group has started a campaign to put reflective tags on Namibia's donkeys.

The idea is to make the animals easier to see at night, and thus to avoid collisions on main roads. Donkeys in Namibia and other African countries frequently wander onto the tarmac at night - and fail to get out of the way when vehicles approach.

Collisions involving vehicles and donkeys are believed to account for a quarter of road accidents in Namibia.
Placing tags on them seems a sensible, low cost solution to the problem.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Quote of the day, Blame globalization version

Today's quote comes from Europe. Decrying the poverty many in Europe have to live with, Joaquim Soares, director of the emergency shelter network of the Abbé Pierre Foundation of Housing for the Underprivileged in France, says:

"These conditions represent a collective failure of our rich societies to cope with several aspects of globalization."

Wrong. The conditions represent a continent that had its head in the sand for the last twenty years. None are so blind as those who will not see.

The article the quote is plucked from gives numerous examples of how Europe has let things slide.

The New Scientist is desperate for content

And so am I; so here goes:

In a paper presented at a climate-change conference in Edinburgh last week, Salter [an engineer] says that chimneys mounted on a fleet of 500 £1 million sprayer yachts would cancel a year's worth of global warming from carbon dioxide emissions over their 20-year lifetime.

[...] As the remotely controlled vessels move through the water, the motion will drive propeller-shaped turbines that will generate electricity to power the water sprayers. The form the sprayers will take has yet to be decided, but Salter is investigating the use of a centrifuge or ultrasonic atomiser, like the nebulisers used for dispensing asthma drugs.

The idea builds on a system proposed by Salter three years ago for rainmaking whisk-shaped wind turbines (New Scientist, 25 May 2002, p 20).

Though water vapour can itself cause greenhouse warming, Salter is aiming for an evaporation rate of 90 cubic metres per second, compared to a natural global rate of 12 million cubic metres per second.

Should global warming continue, increased temperatures will anyway lead to higher rates of evaporation, thus negating the need for these yachts.

Mugabe, a monster for all seasons, likens Bush to Hitler

Close to a ten on the self-delusion meter. That the man whose policies lowered Zimbabwe's food production to below sustainable levels was invited to a gathering devoted to food and agriculture pegs the irony meter, until one learns that it is a UN meeting, then it is just business as usual.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on Monday railed against U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, calling them "unholy men" and "international terrorists" bent on world domination.

Mugabe departed from his text at a ceremony for the 60th anniversary of the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to accuse Bush and Blair of illegally invading Iraq and looking to unseat governments elsewhere.

"Must we allow these men, the two unholy men of our millennium, who in the same way as Hitler and Mussolini formed (an) unholy alliance ... to attack an innocent country?" he said, occasionally gesticulating for emphasis.

"The voice of Mr. Bush and the voice of Mr. Blair can't decide who shall rule in Zimbabwe, who shall rule in Africa, who shall rule in Asia, who shall rule in Venezuela, who shall rule in Iran, who shall rule in Iraq," he said.

"Is this the world we desire? The world of giants and international terrorists who use their state muscle in order to intimidate us? We become the midgets," he said.

Some of the delegates applauded his fiery anti-Western speech several times.

Zimbabwe is grappling with its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, and aid groups have estimated 5 million of its 12 million people may need food aid this year. Mugabe's critics say his government policies have exacerbated the hunger.
This is sugarcoating; his critics rightly say he caused the crisis.

Mugabe blames Zimbabwe's economic crisis on sanctions it says Britain has organised in retaliation for Harare's land reform programme, which gave white-owned farms to landless blacks.

In his speech, Mugabe defended the land redistribution saying it was needed to redress the "gross imbalances" of British colonialism.

The European Union slapped a travel ban on Mugabe after accusations of vote rigging in parliamentary polls in 2000 and in Mugabe's re-election two years later. However, he is allowed to travel to EU countries to attend U.N.-sponsored events. [...]