Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Daughter, aka covered meat, defends Aussie iman

Sheikh Hilali's daughter--presumably "covered meat" to potential rapists and cats--says her dad won't step down. She was mum on who feeds the cat in the family.

The tributes to the great man are flowing:
One large placard read: "We Wish U All The Best, Get Well Mufti."

One group of young men who delivered more than 50 bunches of flowers to the hospital shouted at waiting media: "At least our priest is not a child molester."
That's it, look on the bright side. More honors:
Founding president of the Muslim Women's Association, Aziz El Saddik, said the sheik had been a great supporter of women and a great supporter of Australia.

"Those who say bad things about him, they have very bad manners to say what they say," she said. "He was very very good to all Muslim women."
Hmm, that second "very" is very troubling. Perhaps their nickname for him is "here, kittie".

The latest explanation: Iman Hilali's comments referred only to Muslim women inviting rape. It's a sensible point. How are Muslim men wishing to engage in consensual rape with their congregationalists going to know who is asking to be raped if no one wears the veil?

Thankfully, this burning issue is an Islamic one, and Aussies should just step back and let the imans deliver the proper fatwas:
Mr Zreika [president of the Lebanese Muslim Association] criticised comments by state and federal politicians as unhelpful and said Islamic issues should be left to the Muslim community.

Thinking of joining the French Foreign Legion?

Then go here; they have a website with plenty of information. From the IHT (internal links are in original):
[...] Since the 8,000-man legion started running its Web sites in 2001, the composition of the force has shifted. Latin Americans now make up 25 percent of the force, up from 15 percent, while the Asian presence has increased to 8 percent from 6 percent.

China, in particular, has been a new source of candidates, who are attracted by the legion's promise of a French passport within five years, as well as room and board and a stable income starting at €1,030, or $1,310, per month.

"The Internet has really been a mini- revolution for the Foreign Legion," Lieutenant Colonel Christian Rascle, a spokesman for the force.

This year, about 600,000 visitors have sampled the legion's Web sites, www.legion-etrangere.com and www.legion-recrute.com, which promise a new life regardless of nationality, religion or education. The legion also offers musical clips of traditional legion marching songs ("Adieu Old Europe"), screen savers, and an online boutique selling green berets and camouflage T-shirts. [....]
The golden era of the Legion is held to be in the 50s and 60s, when German recruits moved into senior NCO positions and turned the Legion into a truly elite unit.

My own brush with the Legion: At loose ends in 1990, I'd just arrived in the Marseilles train station, saw a Legion recruiting poster, and on a whim took a bus out to the local recruiting center where I picked up a brochure (in German).

A few days later I was in Paris, where I went out to Fort Nogent and discussed the Legion with a recruiter. He told me to come back in two hours with only my passport and a set of clean underwear. After a bit of thought, I declined. Not enlisting remains one of my top "what if" questions.

Turkey's chances for EU membership go glimmering

This article in the FT should make it clear that the EU is fully in the grip of enlargement fatigue. While Turkey may be a part of Europe, Europe wants no part of Turkey, at least for the next several years.

And I can't say that I blame them. While Turks themselves are superb people, their government and society are simply too backward, corrupt, and for the zeitgeist, too Muslim, for Europe to digest without severe indigestion.
Turkey’s bid for European Union membership will be dealt a fresh blow next week when an official report will slate Ankara for failing to make enough progress on freedom of expression, curbing the use of torture and establishing civilian control over the military. [...]
The reason for ending ascension talks will be prosaic:
The Commission’s report faults Ankara for failing to allow access to Cypriot ships, which it states infringes the EU’s customs union agreement with Turkey. It is this issue that could formally halt negotiations, since as an EU member state, Cyprus wields a veto over Turkey’s possible accession. [...]

The Commisison draft adds that “cases of torture and ill treatment are still being reported, in particular outside detention centres,” although it also notes a diminution in the incidence of torture.

“The armed forces have continued to exercise significant political influence,” the report also says, citing statements made by senior military officials on Cyprus, secularism and the country’s Kurdish minority.

The draft report faults Turkey for corruption, insufficient independence of the judiciary, and inadequate protection of minority rights. [....]
In the end, to save some pride, Turkey will call for a suspension of talks, or may even walk away altogether.

Spooky Halloween RINO roundup

The Halloween edition of the weekly RINO roundup is at Inside Larry's Head, where the host did a fine job. Lots of scary posts on display.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Juergen Klinsmann to head US soccer?

Please, God, let this rumor be true.
Just what is former German national football team coach Jürgen Klinsmann up to these days? Ever since he gave up his job at the helm of the German team after coaching it to a third place finish in the World Cup -- and headed back to sunny California where he lives -- there has been speculation as to what his next move might be.

Coincidentally, the US team is looking for a coach. Fate?

It's beginning to look that way. In an interview with the AP on Thursday, Klinsmann, 42, indicated that he was in "casual and relaxed" contact with the United States Soccer Federation and that he had held several informal talks with USSF president Sunil Gulati. "I will stay in touch with him and see what it leads to," Klinsmann said.

Speculation has centered on Klinsmann ever since former US trainer Bruce Arena was sent packing after the Americans' poor showing at this year's World Cup tournament in Germany. After impressing in the 2002 tournament by reaching the quarter finals, this year the United States was knocked out in the first round after losing to Ghana and the Czech Republic and drawing with eventual champions Italy. [...]
This guy is a proven winner, with loads of ideas and experience. He is just what US soccer needs in order to get over the hump and become a soccer power.

The Lancet has become the medical adjunct to the NYT

The Lancet is infamous for publishing two poorly designed studies purporting to estimate surpluss Iraqi deaths resulting from the US led invasion. Over the past several years the journal has used its bully pulpit to champion causes dear to the left.

This week's The Lancet medical journal has 35 articles. Of those, a scant two represent original research, while three are editorials, and a few others are correspondence. The rest are largely made up of "discussions" such as this politically correct topic: "Hilda Tadria: proponent of gender equality and maternal health". Even the book review manages to be PC: "The need for action in global health policy".

Nevertheless, The Lancet must be doing something right, as its impact factor has risen from 13.251 in 2001 to a lofty 23.878 in 2005 (the last year available). It currently lies 17th among all scientific journals, well behind the top general medical journal, The New England Journal of Medicine (3rd overall, impact factor of 44.016).

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Eric Newby, travel writer, dead at 86

One of my favorite travel writers, Brit Eric Newby, died last week. He wasn't one of the adventure-story writers who chronicle hardship and death defying feats. Rather he was a writer who traveled and simply reported the interesting things that happen when one travels. It was easy to see oneself in his stories; he was unsurpassed at conveying the appeal of being in a new place without a clue.

The Beeb has an obit.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Economist: France needs a Maggie Thatcher

God knows it doesn't need more of Jacques Chirac. The Economist has a survey of France's problems and strengths. Here is the lead article (quick and dirty synopsis: France's political class needs to tell the French this hard truth: things must change).
[...] Just as Britain battled through its winter of discontent in 1978-79, when rubbish went uncollected, school gates unopened and ambulances undriven, France has fought its way through a series of social upheavals in the past 18 months. First, its electorate revolted over the European Union in May 2005, rejecting a new constitution for the European project that its own countrymen co-founded. Next, its multi-ethnic underclass revolted against exclusion, with 20 consecutive nights of rioting in nearly 300 banlieues across the country, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency. Most recently, its students and unions revolted against insecurity, holding countrywide strikes, university sit-ins and protest marches to contest a plan to make it easier to hire and fire the under-26s. [...]

Why are the French so restless? The answer is threefold. First, their economy has lost ground. For example, France's GDP measured at current exchange rates has been overtaken by Britain's, which is now 5% bigger (even though the two countries' populations are much the same). Back in the late 1970s it was the other way round: the British economy was only three-quarters the size of the French one. Over the past 25 years, in terms of GDP per head at current exchange rates, the French have dropped from seventh place in the world to 17th. [...]

Second, France's heavily planned economy has reached its limits. In the past, the French dirigiste model, which relies on a strong centralised state in the pre revolutionary tradition established by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's finance minister, served the country well. It speeded up reconstruction after the second world war. It delivered the trente glorieuses, or 30 years of post-war prosperity. And it laid the ground for the rapid transformation of the economy into an industrial powerhouse. [...]

Yet the planned society relies crucially on an intelligent and efficient state, and over the years the French version has become untenable: too many bureaucrats, supported by too many taxes, impose too many rules in too many overlapping organisations. Despite all this effort, there is little sign that the public sector in France is any more efficient than in other rich countries.

French public spending accounts for 54% of GDP, compared with an OECD average of 41% (see chart 1). One in four French workers is employed by the public sector. Public debt amounts to 66% of GDP, compared with 42% in Britain, and over the past ten years has grown faster in France than in any other EU-15 country. The baby-boom generation is leaving behind a poisoned legacy: as the title of a recent book puts it, “Our Children Will Hate Us”. [...]

Even so, politicians have consistently failed to explain to the citizens why the country cannot afford to go on as before. This is the third source of French electoral dissatisfaction. Instead of making the case for change, successive politicians have preferred to blame, and thus to discredit, outside forces—usually Europe, America or globalisation. “The French political class has constructed a wall of lies against the globalised world,” comments Nicolas Baverez, author of “France in Freefall”. No wonder there is no consensus for reform.

Yet this survey will argue that French decline is not inevitable, any more than British decline was inevitable in the 1970s. There is nothing that necessarily predisposes the French to conservatism or resistance to change. Just because political leaders in the past have failed to push through bold reforms—Mr Chirac himself, in 1986-88; Alain Juppé, a former prime minister, in 1995—does not mean that the country is unreformable. [...]

Now the good news for Francophiles (like me, at heart):
The parallel with Britain is plainly inexact. For a start, France is rather better placed than Britain was in the 1970s. Public finances may be under strain, but there is no financial crisis of the sort that forced Britain to go cap in hand to the IMF in 1976.

Corporate Britain at the time was ailing; corporate France now is thriving. The CAC 40 stockmarket index reached its highest level for five years this year and profits are at record levels. French firms are buying up companies across Europe. Both these factors should help France to rebound more rapidly than Britain did. Moreover, France has the second-highest birth rate in the European Union, sparing it some of the demographic worries preoccupying countries such as Britain, Germany and Italy.

Change need not mean trampling on values that the French cherish. Some of those who defend the status quo argue that France is a civilised country that has simply chosen different priorities. Like a misunderstood teenager, it wants to do things its own way. It still believes in solidarity and social cohesion, in small farmers and local markets. It does not want to abandon its poor to the streets and its shopkeepers to Wal-Mart. [...]

Politicians will have to explain that tightening welfare rules need not rip a hole in the safety-net; that subjecting hypermarkets to more competition need not drive the boulanger or patissier from the high street; that removing pharmacists' monopoly on non-prescription drugs need not deprive every village of its green cross. They will also have to persuade voters that the prize is worth having. According to the IMF, more competition in French markets for both goods and services, combined with labour-market reform, could in the long run boost GDP by more than 10%.

The stakes are high. Next year's presidential and parliamentary elections will arguably be the most important for a generation. Unless Mr Chirac unexpectedly decides to stand again, they will bring an end to a stagnant 12-year presidency and provide a chance for a fresh start. France cannot afford to waste five more years. [....]

First non-cancellation cancellation of an Airbus A380 order

Airbus' management and engineering problems with its superjumbo A380 have claimed the first causulty. Virgin Atlantic has postponed delivery of the six planes it had on order by four years, thus benefitting Singapore Airlines (a major stockholder who will take them instead) and allowing Airbus to retain a fig leaf of pride.
Virgin Atlantic Airways said late Thursday that it had decided to postpone its order for six Airbus A380 jets by four years, making it the first airline to step back from its commitment to the troubled twin-deck plane and signaling the potential for more trouble.

The British carrier, owned by the billionaire Richard Branson, and Airbus agreed in principle to defer delivery of the first A380s until mid-2013 instead of 2009, said Paul Charles, a Virgin spokesman.

"This means that they can take those production slots and give priority" to customers like Singapore Airlines that are scheduled to take the first planes, Charles said.

Virgin Atlantic is 49 percent owned by Singapore Airlines, which is due to receive the first A380 from Airbus in October 2007, two years later than promised.

The 555-seat plane has been beset by major production problems linked to the installation of electrical wiring. Airbus has said that the delays could wipe $6 billion off the profit of its parent, European Aeronautic Defense & Space, over four years.

Analysts said Virgin Atlantic's decision to defer its order was a setback for Airbus, though less so than an outright cancellation.

"Virgin isn't a huge customer, but it is valuable to Airbus to be associated with Richard Branson and to have A380s on North Atlantic routes," Yan Derocles, an analyst at Oddo Securities in Paris, told Bloomberg News.

Doug McVitie, a consultant at Arran Aerospace in Dinan, France, agreed, but warned that Virgin Atlantic's decision could be a sign of more A380 deferrals or cancellations. "There might well be a domino effect," McVitie said.

So far, none of the 15 other airlines that have ordered the A380 have said definitively whether they plan to revise their orders, though several major customers, including Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Qantas have said they are considering "all options" in their talks with Airbus.

Barbara Kracht, a spokeswoman for Airbus, declined to comment on the status of those talks, saying only that the plane maker "is always trying to find solutions that are agreeable to both sides."

Virgin Atlantic has reached an agreement with Airbus on compensation for the delays, a source with knowledge of the talks said. Neither Virgin nor Airbus would comment on the terms.

Airbus has pushed back the A380 delivery schedule three times in 16 months, frustrating the expansion plans of carriers that had expected to put the plane in service by the end of this year.
That the A380 is delayed is understandable. After all, the 747 was delivered some two years behind schedule. At the time though, no competitors were offering an alternative. Not quite the case now, with Boeing pushing the excellent 787. Not understandable is that Airbus dicked its customers around for so long. The loss of confidence that engenders must worry senior management quite a bit.

By the end of this management debacle, Airbus will need to sell some 500 of these monsters in order to turn a profit, rather than the originally expected 270. That's quite a task.

Good career move

Cobain bumps off Elvis as top-earning dead celeb.

2007 Tour de France route unveiled

The 94th Tour looks to be a tough one, with six mountain stages, including a mountain-top finish on the fearsome Col d'Aubisque in the Pyrenees. Climbers will be pleased. Expect a smaller than usual number of finishers in Paris due to the toll of the climbs on the sprinters (plus there is no Bordeaux sprint to look forward to after the mountain are left behind).

I can't wait.

The route is here. Profiles of two good mountain stages are here (Col d'Aubisque) and here (Col du Galibier).

Death tourism booming in Switzerland

Thanks to uncertain ethical guidelines and overly helpful organizations, Switzerland is a leading destination for "death tourists", that is, people wishing to commit suicide. Now the ethics folks want to tighten up some laws, making it more difficult for all but the sickest to come to Switzerland in order to draw their last breath.

Swissinfo reports (the article contains links to a couple of groups providing assisted suicide):
A national ethics commission is recommending that there should be more external controls in place for people using suicide assistance organisations to end their lives.

The Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics says organised suicide assistance should only be permitted for people suffering from serious illnesses.

The commission last year recommended that tighter controls should be introduced on assisted suicides, with organisations carrying them out to be put under state surveillance.

Pressure for such controls has been mounting in recent years, partly because Switzerland has gained a reputation for "death tourism" involving such groups as Exit and Dignitas.

They advise on and facilitate assisted suicide, which has led to increasing numbers of foreigners coming to Switzerland, specifically to die.

The commission, which presented its latest recommendations at a news conference in Bern on Friday, noted that since there was a legal framework for assisted suicide, it was important to make sure that organisations carrying out the practice were properly controlled.

They should not rely excessively on the principle of the free determination of the patient to the detriment of the protection of life.

The commission said that assisted suicide should not be offered in cases of a temporary crisis, mental illness or in which there was outside pressure.

In its assessment, the commission also defined criteria permitting an evaluation of the desire to die and the awareness of persons wanting to commit suicide to fully understand what they were doing.

It insisted in particular on the need for several face-to-face meetings with a person wanting to commit suicide and recourse to a second opinion.

It also said that an assessment based on an exchange of correspondence was not acceptable for ethical reasons.

The commission also warned there were a number of risks that could lead to possible abuse regarding assisted suicide.

It noted that decisions and services offered by organisations should not be motivated by financial gain, and it was unjustified to take advantage of a situation of distress. It also repeated the importance of external controls of the cases handled by assisted suicide organisations.

The Swiss government said earlier this year that legislation governing assisted suicide in Switzerland was sufficient and it had no plans to tighten the rules.

A very ill friend of my father whom I had know for three decades came to Switzerland two years ago just to make use of an assisted suicude group's facilities. He was successful.

The Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences guidelines are here (go to page 6, point 4.1).

Stud of the week: Spirit, the Mars rover

The Mars rover Spirit celebrated its 1,000 Martian day of operation yesterday, which is about an order of magnitude beyond what was expected of it.

This panorama is what it currently views.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Euro = disaster for Europe?

Anatole Kaletsky (not numbered among my favorite columnists) warms the cockles of EU haters and euro (the money) bashers alike with this pessimistic piece on what adopting the Euro has meant to hundreds of millions of Europeans. For what it's worth, I find his criticisms unfounded and off the mark. He seems to be opposed to little more than nations being told to keep inflation under control, as per their treaty obligations.
[...] The Iraq invasion, disastrous though it has been, may not go down in history as the greatest political blunder of the past decade. That dubious honour will probably belong to an event most people still regard as a triumph: the creation of the euro. What we see today, not only in Italy and Hungary, but also in the other relatively weak economies on the southern and eastern fringes of the EU, is the beginning of the end of the European project. And if the euro project does turn out to be the high-water mark of European unification, then history will judge it a far more important event that anything happening in the Middle East.

But what does the euro have to do with the political troubles in Hungary and Italy? And how can I compare the technocratic financial problems connected with the euro to a moral and humanitarian disaster such as Iraq? These two questions have a very clear answer: democratic self-government — or, more precisely, its denial.

What we see in Eastern and Southern Europe today are the consequences of the EU’s transformation from a union of democratic countries into a sort of supra-national financial empire in which the most important decisions affecting EU citizens are no longer subject to democratic control.

In Italy the Government is on the brink of collapse because of Signor Prodi’s insistence on implementing tax increases and budget cuts demanded by Joaquín Almunia, the EU Economic Commissioner, under the terms of the Maastricht Treaty. In Hungary, the riots began a month ago because the Prime Minister showed his contempt for democracy by publicly admitting that he had “lied, morning, noon and night” about the tax increases and public spending cuts that he had promised Señor Almunia before a recent election — and after the election was over, he naturally felt that his promises to Brussels were far more important than the ones he had made to Hungarian voters.

The resulting budget cuts of 7 per cent of GDP over two years would be roughly equivalent in Britain to closing down the entire NHS. And Hungary, remember, is being forced to do this to comply with the Maastricht treaty, without even being admitted to the eurozone.

There is now almost no chance of Hungary, or any other new European country, being admitted to the euro-zone in the foreseeable future. This was demonstrated over the summer when Lithuania and Estonia was refused permission to join the euro on the flimsiest of grounds. This EU decision attracted little attention in Britain but was hugely controversial in Eastern Europe. It effectively meant that the accession countries would continue to have their economic policies set in Brussels and Frankfurt without even being able to enjoy the modest benefits of using the single currency.

The political consequence of this asymmetry of power is growing disillusionment in the East, not only with the EU but even with the concept of parliamentary democracy. The economic effect of forcing Central Europe to abide by deflationary policies designed for the mature economies of the eurozone is the weak demand growth and mass unemployment experienced by the accession countries. This unemployment has been the main driving force behind the huge flow of labour out of Central Europe. And that flood of workers, in turn, has provoked the hostile and ultimately self-defeating rhetoric of the British Government against Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants.

The Maastricht treaty has turned the Eastern Europeans into second-class citizens. The belated recognition of this fact is starting to have the predictably ugly impact on the politics of Europe’s eastern periphery. But before getting too indignant about the injustices to Eastern Europe, let us spare a thought for the citizens of old Europe who are privileged to “enjoy” full membership of the eurozone. The latest budgetary crisis in Italy may well be averted and the Prodi Government will probably survive for a few more months. But as Signor Prodi’s huge tax increases begin to bite, the Italian economy is almost certain to sink back into recession. Moreover, there will be no chance of Italy tackling any of its real economic problems once unemployment starts rising next year.

What Italy needs today is competition, privatisation of grossly inefficient state-sponsored utilities, deregulation of the financial system and changes in labour laws. Such reforms can be hard to implement even in a booming economy. In a stagnant or declining one, they will become impossible.

To make matters worse, Italy will be tightening its budget at the same time as Germany implements the biggest tax increases in its modern history — also in deference to the Maastricht Treaty, if not under quite such direct compulsion from the EU. These simultaneous fiscal blunders in Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe will almost mean another “lost year” for the euro zone, with economic performance falling far behind America, Britain and Japan. But the long-term consequences could be more far-reaching.

At some point the people of Europe will realise that there is something rotten in a political system that leaves them forever in the world economy’s slow lane — and which cannot be changed by any democratic process, regardless of how people vote.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Venuzuela hurting in UN vote; Profile of France's finance minister

Some quick links from today's IHT.

First up: Chavez' big mouth evidently has hurt Venuzuela's chances for one of the two Latin America seats on the UN Security Council. Chavez had made getting one of the seats his foreign policy goal of the year. Now the bloody minded pissant may get aced out.
[...] "The speech really hurt his case," said Enrique Berruga, the ambassador of Mexico. "Most members don't want this place to be turned into a mockery. In the General Assembly, there are limits, and he went way beyond them."

"The speech played the most important role in what happened," said Riordan Roett, director of the Latin American Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University. "You can talk like that in Latin America, and people will have a chuckle, but there is traditional respect for protocol, and it was not amusing to a lot of people who see the UN as the forum for expressing third- world views."

One Latin ambassador said he knew of many countries that voted against Venezuela because of Chávez's performance before the General Assembly. [...]

Asked whether Chávez's popularity might be flagging closer to home, Roett pointed out that presidential candidates in Ecuador, Peru and Mexico that Chávez endorsed recently had done badly.

"For sure he's not gone as a force, but people are less impressed with him than they were four or five years ago," Roett said. "What we may be seeing is Hugo reaching the glass ceiling in his ability to deliver." [....]
Perhaps he can grease a few more palms.

Next, a nice article on a most un-French, French politician (not Sarkozy) $:
Thierry Breton, the French finance minister, bubbles with ideas. He bubbles to the point that he scarcely has time to eat during a lunch interview. A presidential election looms and Socialist candidates are talking about the wonders of the 35-hour workweek and that's enough to choke this entrepreneurial politician's appetite.

But before we get to the Socialists, a rich subject, rich in every respect, a few bullet points from Breton, a man so driven he describes himself as a "motor," a man who learned young to love America and now moves markets between mouthfuls.

On European interest rates, Breton said financial markets had anticipated the recent 0.25 percent hike, putting the European Central Bank benchmark rate at 3.25 percent, and now expect one more such increase before the end of the year. After that, he added, "a pause" is expected next year and "I hope this pause will continue."

He described these market expectations as "generally shared" and "fairly accurate," indicating his approval. Breton's aim is to push up European economic growth rates by about one percentage point from 2006 levels so that we reach "rates of between 3 and 4 percent."

Breton, speaking over a plate of grilled fish and lentils at the French Consulate in New York, also said that the euro was "absolutely fully valued" against the dollar and there was a need to be attentive because any further euro rise "would be excessive."

Since Oct. 25, 2000, when it reached a record low, the euro has risen more than 50 percent against the American currency, and now trades at about 1.26 to the dollar. The increase has tested the competitiveness of European exports, and the likes of Airbus, already beset by internal problems, would welcome a cheaper euro.

[...] Breton moved from animated to agitated when the subject of France's 35-hour week arose. It was introduced in 1999 at what he considers a great cost to the country.

"With the 35 hours, you work less, you earn more. It's a beautiful, a generous, idea. But who pays? Our children pay," Breton said. He reckoned the shortened workweek had added over €100 billion, or $126 billion, to the French national debt, because of the need to boost the competitiveness of companies working shorter hours through subsidies.

Yet, in recent debates, Socialist candidates for the presidency have embraced the 35-hour week. Laurent Fabius has argued for its "generalization," a way of saying circumvention of the measure would be eliminated. Dominique Strauss-Kahn has said "we must get beyond this question" because the 35-hour week is "in place."

As for Ségolène Royal, the clear favorite to lead the Socialist charge next year, she has called the 35-hour week "a formidable social progress for a majority of salaried workers," even as she has lamented that a minority have not benefited and noted, quaintly, that farm workers in her Poitou-Charentes region now have to slaughter "150 pigs an hour instead of 100 pigs an hour" because they work only 35 hours.
Clearly, the Socialists are looking to campaign on the "French exceptialism is working fine, therefore no need to force changes" platform. They produce little more than round, plummy, feel-good phrases.
Royal, incidentally, has indicated a broader penchant for quaintness with her suggestion that politicians be overseen by "popular juries," whatever that may be, and a talent for non-opinions, declaring on the subject of possible Turkish membership of the European Union, that "my view is that of the French people."

Breton, whose market-oriented convictions were formed during a long career in the private sector, does not have the luxury of sitting on the fence. Because people are living longer, he is convinced that the French must work more.

"We have to rethink the organization of work time," he said. "People are going to have to work longer. French Socialists are the only people in the world who say work time must be cut. That's why I react violently." [...]

Under Breton's guidance of the economy, France does appear to be stepping forward. Unemployment is still high, but down from over 10 percent to just under nine. The national debt is falling. Foreign investment is surging. Growth in the last quarter stood at an annualized 4.8 percent - a level that puts France at the head of the European pack (with Sweden) and suggests the old view of a stultified country needs adjusting.

But old images die hard, and it will take the maintenance of these trends over a longer period before economic vitality and France become linked ideas. That, in turn, may well hinge on the election result, whose outcome Breton refuses to predict. Modern democracies, he noted, are marked by 50-50 divisions of the electorate. [....]
France has made a good start. Electing the Socialists risks losing the traction the economy has gained over the last year, and continuing to paper over France's social ills.

Germany to increase peace keeping abilities and profile

Germany is restructuring its military in order to increase its flexibility and prepare it for an increased international role. Chancellor Merkel is clearly positioning Germany to better pull its weight on the peace keeping front. The world is becoming progressively more dangerous. Germany will be asked to contribute more militarily.

A permanent seat on the UN Security Council remains Germany's ultimate goal. However, without a credible military and the political will to send it on dangerous missions, Germany has little chance of achieving its goal.

Previous Chancellor Schroeder was unapologetic when requesting a UNSC seat, arguing that Germany's economic might (world's numero uno exporter of goods, Europe's largest economy) had earned it a place in the halls of power. He even--to his credit--began preparing Germans for the increased responsibilities and risks. Now Merkel has picked up the pace of Germany's climb to international prominence.
Germany will on Wednesday adopt the most radical restructuring of its military since 1945, turning the Bundeswehr into an international intervention force, according to an internal cabinet strategy paper obtained by the Financial Times.

The paper, which will be endorsed at a special cabinet meeting in the defence ministry, is the product of a review – the first of its kind since 1994 – begun by Angela Merkel, chancellor, after she won office last November. It will see Germany’s military officially abandon its primary postwar task of defending the country’s borders in favour of a more robust role for German troops on international missions.

The military’s most sensitive international deployment since the second world war came this month when the German navy took control of patrolling Lebanese waters to stop weapons smugglers. The military has taken part in other international missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo, for example, but has largely avoided direct involvement in war zones.

The 133-page strategy paper argues that the capacity of the Bundeswehr must be expanded to allow for the deployment of a total of 14,000 troops to five international missions simultaneously.

This will be achieved by drawing troops previously deployed on national defence into units involved in staffing or supporting overseas missions.

The Bundeswehr has about 250,000 military personnel, including about 50,000 conscripts. About 9,000 troops are currently overseas in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Congo and elsewhere.

The paper confirms conscription will be retained.

Henning Riecke, European security specialist at Berlin’s DGAP foreign policy institute, said the paper will “give German policymakers a way of handing increasing international pressure to join overseas missions”.

RINOs at Searchlight Crusade

In the better late category: the latest Carnival of the RINOs is up at the always excellent Searchlight Crusade.

It was posted Monday, but because I'm only now getting around to dealing with my email, etc., after returning from the States, I am late with this notification.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cycling and doping update

Sam Abt of the IHT brings us up to speed on the status of many of cycling's biggest names. All are in the news because of doping, either alleged or real.
The off-season in European road racing is usually a quiet time, with gossip limited to this or that minor rider who is changing teams or retiring. Not this off-season, though; 10 days after the last races, the news involves some of the biggest names in the sport. [...]

The thread that links them all in this corrupt year is doping charges.

Basso, the 29-year-old Italian who won the last Giro d'Italia and was a favorite in the Tour de France before he was suspended on doping suspicions, heard last week that he had been provisionally cleared to ride again but that he no longer has an employer.

After examining documents purportedly linking Basso to a blood-doping ring in Spain, evidence.

Basso was facing a two-year racing ban until a Spanish court ruled last month that evidence collected could not be used to sanction riders while the inquiry, which began in May, remains open. Whether it will ever be closed is uncertain.
Although I suspect Basso of doping, until charges are brought and proven, he should be allowed to compete. I am sure he will catch on with another team.
Despite the Italian decision, Basso's team, CSC, decided last week to cancel the two years remaining in his contract.

"After all that has happened, especially this summer, Team CSC and Ivan Basso have agreed to part ways," said the team's director, Bjarne Riis. "It has been a very difficult decision, but both parties agree it is time to move on."

Move on to where? Basso said he had received a job offer from Discovery Channel and had drawn interest from other teams. Somewhat unconvincingly, Discovery Channel denied making an offer.

The team also denied that it might hire Ullrich, the 32-year-old German who has won the Tour de France once and finished second five times.

Ullrich was also accused in the Spanish scandal and barred from the Tour the day before it started. He was suspended, then fired by his T-Mobile team.

If Basso got the benefit of the doubt from Italian officials, Ullrich was treated more critically in Switzerland, where he lives and races with a Swiss license.

After officials there said they would continue their investigation of him, he announced last week that he was leaving the country and yielding his license.

"This split from the Swiss federation doesn't mean I'm ending my career," Ullrich said. While he looks for a new team, he is likely to move to Austria since his native German federation has been highly suspicious of him.

Both Ullrich and Basso have repeatedly denied any involvement in the Spanish scandal while refusing to give DNA samples to be tested against bags of blood found in a laboratory in Madrid.

The blood is transfused into the donor to increase the red corpuscles that carry oxygen to weary muscles.

Landis is handling his case differently. The 30-year-old American, facing being stripped of his victory in the last Tour de France over doping charges, is mounting a defense based on openness.

Last week, he posted on his site, www.floydlandis.com, a presentation prepared by Arnie Baker, a retired doctor and longtime coach and adviser, as well as several hundred pages of documents about the charges against him relating to his testosterone level after he won a decisive stage in the Tour.

Landis and his lawyer were rebuffed last month when a review board of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency refused to dismiss the case. His defense focuses mainly on alleged procedural errors made by the French laboratory that dealt with his urine samples.

He will present a formal appeal to a panel from the American Arbitration Society early in 2007 and has asked for a public hearing.

Hamilton, the 2004 Olympic time-trial champion, who has been banned for two years, may join a new Italian-Russian team, Tinkoff, for 2007, according to VeloNews.com. It added that the team roster would be made public Monday.

The 35-year-old American was found guilty of blood doping during the Vuelta a España in 2004 and, despite a long court fight, banned. He has also been accused in the Spanish case and faces further disciplinary action in it.

Finally, Armstrong.

The seven-time Tour de France champion is the subject of a new book by Pierre Ballester and David Walsh, authors of "L.A. Confidentiel" two and a half years ago, that renews charges that Armstrong owed his victories to illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

The book, "L.A. Officiel," was published in France last week and is based mainly on a 2005 legal dispute between Armstrong and a Texas insurance company, SCA, that, citing doping suspicions, refused to pay him $5 million for winning the Tour. Armstrong won the lawsuit and the money.

Denouncing "another baseless attack by another French book," Armstrong said last week that "this latest attack will be no different than the first - a sensationalized attempt to cash in on my name and sully my reputation."

Because of libel laws elsewhere, the book is available only in French, as is the first one.
Armstrong, whose career would not have been possible without resorting to doping, in my opinion, will weather this storm. Unless a few teammates testify that they saw him doping, he will escape with his reputation more intact than not. Nevertheless, the press seems more and more likely to disbelieve his claims of purity.

Back in Switzerland

The Frau and I returned from our US trip last night. The kids were pleased, especially (solely?)becasue we'd brought plenty of clothes and gifts.

We visited Chicago for a few days, then I went on to Albuquerque and stayed with my brother and his family for a too short couple of days. Then I met my wife in the Cleveland airport beofre we visited friends in Shaker Heights.

Cleveland turned out to be quite nice, with much to recommend it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Back to the States for 10 days, yeah!

Speaking of Homeric quests (see previous post)... I'm off to the States tomorrow. Chicago for a few days, Albuquerque for a few days (visiting my brother and his family), then on to Cleveland for a few days. Light posting predicted.

My Penelope will be travelling with me for most of the journey.

Epic quest: geologists search for Odysseus' home

No wonder it took Odysseus so long to get home. No one is sure where his home was. Some geologists aim to uncover evidence it wasn't on Ithaca.

From the Beeb:

A UK-led team is challenging cherished ideas on Greek mythology by proposing an alternative site for Ithaca.

The island was said to be the home of Odysseus, whose 10-year journey back from the Trojan War is chronicled in Homer's epic poem the Odyssey.

Most people think the modern-day Ionian island of Ithaki is the location.

But geologists are this week sinking a borehole on nearby Kefalonia in an attempt to test whether its western peninsula of Paliki is the real site.

The scientists hope to find evidence that the peninsula once stood proud, separated from Kefalonia by a narrow, navigable marine channel. It is only in the last 2,500-3,000 years - and after Homer's time - that the channel has been filled in, the team contends. [....]

Politics takes center stage in Airbus/EADS crisis

In light of the ongoing troubles at Airbus and the inevitable decision to cut jobs, the three main goverments (Spain, Germany, France) behind EADS (Airbus' parent company) are jostling to protect their workers.

From France comes this whopper:
"There is no question of interfering with the management of the company, but it's the government's responsibility to monitor closely how these things are done," said the spokesman, who asked not to be named in keeping with standard presidential office protocol.
Not a chance that is a true statement, especially given that France's man at EADS is also now Airbus's head honcho. No nation is better at bureaucratic judo than is France.

Germany, though, will fight for its Hamburg plant:
Germany will be watching closely to make sure the anticipated cuts are "distributed fairly," the economics minister, Michael Glos, said Wednesday.

"The federal government will stand up for the German sites with all its power."
Meanwhile Spain is reported to want to raise its stake in EADS, doubtless in order to safeguard Spanish manufacturing jobs.

The absolute necessity of transferring some jobs overseas remains something of a third rail for EADS' national champions. Luckily for EADS, it can keep sucking from the public teat for some time to come.

Look for France's presidential candidates to talk tough regarding French influence over Airbus/EADS in the run up to the election.

Male IUD?

Actually an IVD (Intra Vas Device). No matter what it's called, it's damn scary. It's advertised as two tiny, soft silicone plugs, but they aren't tiny or soft enough for my taste:

"Somehow psychologically, it's a little easier to think about something being added than something being cut," said Elaine Lissner, director of the non-profit Male Contraception Information Project based in San Francisco. "They put in two tiny, soft silicone plugs per side, and any sperm that make it past the first plug are stopped by the second. It's not rocket science, but it seems to do the job." [....]

Here's more on the procedure:
The technique for inserting an IVD could be performed by any trained vasectomy practitioner. A doctor exposes the vas using a no-scalpel procedure [what do they do, tear the scrotum with their hands?--P]. Then the doctor makes a small opening in the wall of the vas. Once the width of the vas has been measured, the doctor inserts a set of plugs between 1.2 and 1.6 millimeters wide, each less than an inch long. To make the insertion easier, the doctor uses a patented delivery tool to stretch the plug lengthwise, making it momentarily narrower than the vas. When it is released, it expands to its full width, blocking the vas. Finally, the IVDs are anchored to the wall of the vas with a tiny suture. This whole procedure is performed under local anesthetic and takes about 20 minutes. The researchers also plan to test an insertion procedure that does not require an incision at all [doubtless by cramming the thing down your Johnson--P].

New UN Human Rights Council: business as usual

This editorial in today's WaPo makes clear that the new UN Human Rights Council was poorly conceived. Its rules allow specious claims to be brought by a determined minority of members acting in concert.

The Swiss government spearheaded the push for a new council. At the time the result was hailed as a triumph of Swiss diplomacy. What a shame.
A MAJOR piece of the United Nations reform promised by Secretary General Kofi Annan was a new Human Rights Council. The idea was to replace the Commission on Human Rights, which had been hijacked by rogue states such as Libya and Sudan, with a body that could refocus attention on serious human rights violations around the world -- and in so doing remove what Mr. Annan said was "the shadow" cast by the old organization on "the United Nations system as a whole."

When the Human Rights Council was approved by the General Assembly in March, we were among the skeptics who doubted that it would be much of a change, mainly because the membership rules still allowed for the election of human rights violators. As it turned out, we were wrong: The council, which completed its second formal session last week in Geneva, has turned out to be far worse than its predecessor -- not just a "shadow" but a travesty that the United Nations can ill afford.

For all its faults, the previous U.N. commission occasionally discussed and condemned the regimes most responsible for human rights crimes, such as those in Belarus and Burma. China used to feel compelled to burnish its record before the annual meeting. The new council, in contrast, has so far taken action on only one country, which has dominated the debate at both of its regular meetings and been the sole subject of two extraordinary sessions: Israel.

Western human rights groups sought to focus the council's attention on Darfur, where genocide is occurring, and on Uzbekistan, where a dictator refuses to allow the investigation of a massacre by his security forces. Their efforts have been in vain. Instead, the council has treated itself to report after report on the alleged crimes of the Jewish state; in all, there were six official "rapporteurs" on that subject in the latest session alone. One, Jean Ziegler, is supposed to report on "the right to food." But he, too, delivered a diatribe on Israeli "crimes" in Lebanon.

This ludicrous diplomatic lynch mob has been directed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which accounts for 17 governments on the 47-member council and counts on the support of like-minded dictatorships such as Cuba and China. Council rules allow an extraordinary session to be called at the behest of just one-third of the membership, making it easy for the Islamic association to orchestrate anti-Israel spectacles. Several Muslim governments that boast of a new commitment to democracy and human rights -- including Jordan and Morocco -- have readily joined in this willful sabotage of those values.

Human rights groups that supported the creation of the council, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, admit to being appalled by the outcome; they nevertheless argue that the panel should be given time to right itself. That could happen, they say, if the democratic members of the council organize and work with the same cohesion as the "unfree" states. They also suggest that the United States, which refused to join the council, reconsider.

Perhaps that strategy would work -- though once again, we're skeptical. If there is no turnaround, the council's performance ought to invite consideration of the measure that was applied to the U.N. cultural organization, UNESCO, when it ran amok in the 1980s: a cutoff of U.S. funding. If this ill-formed body is to become an exclusive forum for anti-Zionist rants, the principal victim will be not Israel but the United Nations.
Perhaps these are just teething pains, although it sure looks to be just business as usual at the UN.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Populist backlash against Muslims in full swing in Europe

An opinion piece in The Guardian notes that several of Europe's must multi-culti friendly nations are passing laws--at both the local and national level--obstensibly designed to force Muslims to integrate.

Unfortunately, many of these laws smack of populism and nativism. This sort of backlash is always a risk in any society, but is especially problematic in Europe, where unbridled nationalism led to the first World War, while populism of the worst sort led to Hitler's rise.

As much as I oppose the multi-culti mindset that encourages immigrants to establish parallel cultures in their new lands, I also greatly fear the rise of European populism. It is too facile a way of dealing with problems of integration and identity.

Populists always begin with laws nearly everyone can support or aren't overly offended by. In the case of Muslims, the tatget of choice seems to be the Burka. Although I am not upset by Burka-wearing women on the streets of Switzerland, I am put off by the sight. Both for the separation it implies, and that it shows how Switzerland has changed over the years. Populists are expert at tapping into those feelings.

From the article (written as a call to Liberals to not be hypocritical on the question of freedom of expression):
[...] [T]he Dutch parliament has voted for a ban on wearing burkas in public places, and three Flemish towns have actually instituted a ban. In this country [England], Yasmin Alibhai-Brown supports a burka ban on feminist grounds, and the "progressive nationalist" David Goodhart, who edits the left-leaning Prospect magazine, calls for a ban on the burka in schools and public offices [...].

That liberalism can so easily collapse into nativism is clearly seen in Rotterdam, where designs for mosques are rejected as "too Islamic" and a citizenship code makes it compulsory to speak only Dutch in the street. That Muslims will not be the only victims of cultural proscriptions is seen in Flanders, where the bans on burkas in public places have been followed by one on speaking French in schools. That bans on veils don't end there is shown in Germany, where several states are seeking - pace David Goodhart - to ban civil servants from wearing the hijab, including Baden-Württemberg - the first German state to bar headscarf-wearing teachers from the classroom. [....]

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

First Swiss Sharia bank opens

The first Swiss-chartered Sharia compliant bank has opened in Geneva. Good for them. They fill what is apparently a very large niche in the banking world.
The first Islamic private bank launched in Switzerland is hoping to tap into the $200 billion (SFr252 billion) of Arab funds currently managed by Geneva institutions.

The Faisal Private Bank, which opened its doors for business in Geneva last week after being granted a Swiss banking licence, will be the first in Switzerland to operate according to Sharia principles.

Until now, there have been limited investment options for wealthy Arabs wanting to invest in Switzerland in accordance with Islam. The Faisal Private Bank now hopes to mine the rich potential of this fast-growing market. Financial agency Moody's Investors Service estimates that Islamic financial institutions manage around $750 billion globally.

"The launch of the bank is a landmark development towards building the bridge between two distinct yet complementary traditions: Swiss private banking excellence and financial solutions based on ethics derived from Sharia," Faisal Private Bank said in a statement.

Other European countries also have Sharia banks, but these mainly cater to immigrants, unlike the Faisal Private Bank that will target non-Swiss residents. The bank, formerly the Geneva-based Faisal Finance that traditionally looked after small investors, is turning its attention to the huge petrodollar fortunes from the Gulf region. "We hope to double our investment fund over the next two to three years worth SFr1.25 billion," Khalid Janahi, Faisal's chairman, told the Geneva-based Le Temps newspaper.

"The Swiss banking sector has been courageous as it is not traditionally very innovative," added Alexander Theocharides, head of Wealth Management at Faisal Private Bank.

Swiss banks, including the country's largest bank UBS, already have branches in the Middle East offering Sharia-compliant financial products to wealthy Arabs, and demand for such services has risen significantly in recent years.

But Swiss banks trying to attract Arab investors have been accused of not reacting quickly enough in Switzerland, as clients from the Gulf are known to prefer to keep part of their fortunes safe outside the region.

And when choosing between such services offered by the major banks and financial investments from Sharia banks, Anthony Travis, a British-Swiss financial expert working in Geneva, said most Muslims who respect Islamic principles would probably favour a Sharia bank.

"If I was a Muslim really keen to avoid usury and respect religious rules, and someone who didn't want my money to be invested in arms, tobacco, alcohol or other things prohibited by my faith, I would choose an Islamic bank," he declared.

But for many Arab investors the biggest selling-point remains Switzerland's stable sociopolitical climate."Faisal Private Bank certainly adds value by providing its clientele and potential partners with their own bank within the safety of Switzerland," said Janahi.
Saw the story on the Brussels Journal, which also has lots of background info.

Airbus' continuing woes

I'd thought that Airbus and it's parent company EADS were slowly hacking their way out of the woods they'd stumbled into during their pursuit of the A380 superjumbo snipe. Silly me, I'd forgotten the political angle--a terrible mistake given the political importance of Airbus to Europe's leaders.

Well, The Economist put me right with a lengthy article containing the most pessimistic conclusion I've yet read on Airbus' future.

But first allow me to unlimber a brief rant:

Airbus was a good idea when it began some 35 years ago. Boeing was fat and lazy, and ready to be plucked. Europe had excellent engineers, a well educated workforce, a political establishment willing to advance Airbus' interests, and a growing world market for its products. Should have been a recipe for success. Instead the A380 superjumbo increasingly looks to be a disaster, while the A350 XWB competitor to Boeing's 787 will arrive too late on the scene to make much impact.

What went wrong? While some degree of business setbacks is inevitable, in the end it is the politicians who are the root cause of Airbus' problems. Turning Airbus into a European manufacturing icon became the goal; Airbus has long been exempt from being responsible for the bottom line. It was to be a symbol of European unity and technological ability. In return for political and financial support, Airbus was forced to bend several business principles. Production was parcelled out to several nations without regard to efficiancy, while expensive manufacturing jobs stayed within Europe rather than being transferred overseas.
PRIME MINISTERS and heads of state from France, Germany, Britain and Spain were all there to claim credit for a European triumph when the A380 passenger jet was unveiled in January 2005 in a grand ceremony in Toulouse, at the factory where the final assembly of pieces from all over Europe takes place. Barely six months later, while everyone was admiring the plane's first flight, Airbus slipped out news of a six-month delay in deliveries. Then last June it announced a further six-month delay and said it would deliver a mere nine planes in 2007, rather than 25. Heads rolled, both at Airbus and its parent company, EADS: two Frenchmen and the German boss of Airbus lost their jobs.

But new aircraft are often overdue. The first Boeing 747s were two years late in 1969. That delay nearly bankrupted Boeing, however. And this week EADS confirmed rumours that the delay to the A380 had increased to two years and spelled out the financial consequences. Only one aircraft will now be delivered next year. The delay will knock a further €4.8 billion ($6 billion) off profits and €6.3 billion off revenues at EADS between 2006 and 2010.

The bill could yet prove even higher. No one expects the big early customers such as Emirates or Singapore to cancel all their orders, but threatening noises this week from Emirates' boss Tim Clark about “considering all his options” suggest that large-scale compensation and even partial reductions in orders could be in the offing. These airlines and other early customers, such as Qantas, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic, have built their growth plans around having large numbers of extra seats available on an aircraft that promises cost-per-seat reductions of 15-20%. They will want Airbus to pay for the leasing of smaller Boeings or Airbuses to plug that gap. All this comes as orders for the new airliner have stuck at around 160: each delay pushes up the number needed for break-even from the original figure of 250.

The immediate cause of the disaster was a breakdown in the snap-together final assembly process in Toulouse that has served the company well for over 30 years. Rear fuselages made in Hamburg were supposed to arrive in Toulouse with all their wiring ready to plug into the forward parts coming in from factories in north and west France. But the 500km of wiring in the two halves did not match up, causing huge problems. Failure to use the latest three-dimensional modelling software meant nobody anticipated the effect of using lightweight aluminium wiring rather than copper, which is to make bends in the wiring looms bulkier. Worse, the engineers scrambling to fix the problem did so in different ways. So the early aircraft all have their own one-of-a-kind wiring systems. It will take all of next year to introduce a proper standardised process.

None of this would have mattered so much if the airliner's fuselage had all been built in France. But Germany lobbied hard to land a big chunk of the A380, to add to the final assembly of some derivatives of the A320 family. Now the greater complexity of the super-jumbo has shown up the inherent weaknesses in Airbus's production system, just as it faces a revitalised Boeing and a weaker dollar. Most of Airbus's costs are in euros, but sales are in dollars. So Airbus's new boss, Christian Streiff, must slash costs.

Yet all that emerged this week was the vaguest of outlines of a plan called “Power8” to trim head-office costs and other overheads by 30% and to aim for a 20% improvement in productivity over the next four years, without mass firings. EADS hopes this will save some €5 billion, to plug the cash hole caused by the delays.

That does not go far enough. As Mr Streiff pointed out this week, Airbus must also catch up with Boeing in product development, cutting its lead-time for new aircraft from seven to five years. Boeing is enjoying record sales of its 787 Dreamliner, but Airbus had to go back to the drawing board to redesign its riposte, the A350. EADS has not yet said how much the delayed development of the A350 will cost, but Sash Tusa, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, estimates that it could be more than €2 billion.

For a real solution to its problems, Airbus must take more drastic action, such as doing away with the politically motivated division of labour between German, French, Spanish and British production sites. Mr Tusa says that Airbus, with 16 sites, has seven too many. Two factories in France, four in Germany, and one in Spain could be sold or closed down. And it would make most sense to build all of the A380 in France and all of the A320 in Germany. But both countries want to keep production of the prestigious new jet.

Airbus's relationships with its suppliers is another thorny issue. Boeing has benefited enormously by outsourcing production, but that is a no-go area for Airbus. Yet the combination of Europe's high wages and strong currency means that some of Airbus's production will have to move into countries where the currency is linked to the dollar. Mr Streiff promises to rethink such taboos and present the results of his inquiry early next year. If Airbus does nothing, says Scott Babka, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, an investment bank, its profit margin will be some 4% and it will be destroying capital. The outfit will be competitive only with a margin of around 10%. More alarmist analysts think that doing nothing would kill the company and make Boeing a monopoly producer.

But Mr Streiff's room for manoeuvre is constrained by politics. German politicians are up in arms about rumours that all A380 production will be moved to France; Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a Socialist candidate for the French presidency, has said that rather than slashing costs, Mr Streiff should hire more workers in order to make up for the delays. He regards talk of job cuts as a symptom of rampant capitalism.

To further complicate matters, the German government has not denied that it has plans to buy a stake in EADS when DaimlerChrysler reduces its stake from 22.5% to 15%, as the carmaker plans to do. Rather than engaging in such power struggles, however, the German government should be helping Mr Streiff with his restructuring. French politicians, in the run-up to the presidential election next year, are unlikely to have anything useful to contribute. The fate of Airbus now depends as much on political courage as on managerial expertise.
On top of Airbus' economic problems, it seems very likely that the man (Christian Streiff) hired to focus on the A380 production snafu is being kept on an understandably short leash by his bosses at EADS and may soon resign.

UPDATE: That was fast. Mr Streiff is out. The solution, making one of his ex-bosses (Gallois) resonsible for Airbus as well, is political. It may work though. Previously Mr Streiff reported to the other Co-chief of EADS, leaving Mr Gallois out of the loop. This will streamline things so long as France doesn't seek to overly influence things through Mr Gallois (tensions are reportedly quite high at EADS headquarters).

Monday, October 02, 2006

Minnesota cab controversy: let the market sort it out

Muslim airport taxi drivers in Minnesota are rejecting customers carrying alcohol in their bags. Nothing wrong with that. If someone wants to lose business over a religious principle, let them, is my laissez-faire response. Market conditions will certainly sort this out. Mid-westerners will not support such businesses, and others will come along.

The Australian editorializes (second editorial down); while I appreciate the multi-culti bashing, I think the outrage is misplaced.
FLYING to Minneapolis-St. Paul in the US any time soon? Unless you wish to add some drama to the trip, don't swan out of the terminal swinging a sack of duty free alcohol and expect to hop into a waiting taxi. Chances are the first cab off the rank will be driven by a Muslim immigrant from Somalia who will refuse the fare on the grounds that alcohol is forbidden by his religion and therefore in his vehicle. And that the driver will tip off his mates to your infidel ways, making you wait that much longer for a ride home. It is a situation which both demonstrates the global nature of the debate on values and which presents a textbook case of how not to deal with Islamic fundamentalists in the West. Rather than threatening such cabbies with fines or loss of licence for refusing to carry fares, the Metropolitan Airports Commission has proposed special colour-coded lights to indicate which taxis are driven by non-Muslims and those willing to tote alcohol and those where sharia applies bumper to
bumper. This is exactly the wrong solution. It opens moderate Muslim taxi drivers who are willing to carry passengers possessing alcohol open to harassment from their more radical co-religionists. It violates the long-enshrined legal principle that taxis are a public conveyance open to all. And it uses a particularly strict interpretation of Muslim sharia law to create second-class citizens who are forced to endure hassles and delays because they have offended Islamic sensibilities - in the heart of the American midwest.

What is happening at the airport in Minneapolis-St. Paul is just as much of an indictment of multiculturalism as other incidences of self-censorship and self-flagellation that occur on a near-daily basis among Westerners seeking to avoid or atone for offending the most prudish or outlandish of Islamic sensibilities. And it shows what can happen when a culture allows immigrants to behave as conquerors, instead of politely but firmly suggesting that newcomers who wish to impose their theocratic ways on a secular community try their luck elsewhere. One wonders what Minneapolis's cabbies will demand next. The right not to drive passengers home from the supermarket if they are carrying bacon? That couples present a marriage licence before holding hands in the back seat? [....]
I believe that before this bit of cultural sensitivity, taxi drivers were free to reject fares, but had to move to the back of the taxi line, which seemed a decent way of running things.

Should the color-coded lights scheme goes into effect enough consumers will, on principle, choose taxis allowing alcohol transportation so that economic pressure forces taxi drivers to either look for other work or change their minds about ferrying booze. I know I would choose a cabbie willing to schlep duty-free schnapps.

I smell a compromise fatwa: Allah allows booze to be in a taxi, but only if carried in the trunk. Plus the driver won't have to handle the luggage.

Read it on Tim Blair's excellent site.

More Airbus A380 delays

Airbus cops to another delay in the A380. Costs are rising, and customers are agitating for more penalties. 2006 has not been a good year for Airbus.
Airbus will scale back deliveries of the A380 superjumbo passenger jet for a third time and reduce costs by as much as €2 billion by cutting jobs and shifting production, three people with knowledge of the plans said.

Airbus, based in Toulouse, can probably deliver just four A380s next year, less than half the number predicted in June, because of delays in installing wiring, said the people, who asked not to be identified before an announcement. The Airbus chief executive, Christian Streiff, presented a plan to the board of Airbus's parent company, European Aeronautic Defense & Space on Friday in Amsterdam, the people said.

Airbus, facing late-delivery penalties from airlines and rising costs on the A380, may eliminate jobs through early retirement and by moving production of the A320 to Hamburg from Toulouse, the people said. Delays of the A380 have angered customers and sparked the departure of two top executives, and shares of EADS have plunged 29 percent this year. Airbus is trailing Boeing in orders for the first time in five years.

"The only way Airbus can get out of its current problems is by reducing costs," said Doug McVitie, managing director at Arran Aerospace, a consulting firm based in Dinan, France. "If they consolidate narrow-body planes in one location and wide body planes in another, then you have two separate cost centers. That makes sense."

The latest delays in the A380 may slice a further €1 billion, or $1.27 billion, from EADS's earnings, said Olivier Esnou, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas in Paris. [....]
Give credit to Airbus' cheif executive Chritian Strieff for aggressivley coming to terms with the manufacturing problems. Once in place he ordered a comprehensive review of the problems plaguing the superjumbo A380.

While customers won't be pleased with yet more delays, at least Airbus's sales force will be able to provide clear answers to any delivery questions (once the delivery schedule is finalized later this week or next).

I expect the A380 delays will have a ripple effect throughout the Airbus operation. The A380 has required so much attention that other projects--like the A350 XWB--will have suffered. Nevertheless, Airbus seems to have at least gotten on top of the problem, and can now work on solving it.

A painful decision remaims: Airbus must ship more of its production overseas.

Roman holiday

My family's visit last week to Rome went pretty well. We had great weather, with not too many fellow tourists. Although hotel prices are quite high, restaurants are far cheaper than in other European capitals. Plus, the locals are very nice, and seemed to appreciate my stumbling attempts at speaking Italian.

Our youngest caught a nasty cough/cold, which meant that I had to carry her on my shoulders for long stretches (I hate taking taxis). Nevertheless, both kids held up fairly well, even with the punishing pace I set.

I was really pleased to see so many monuments and churches. It was incredible to wander into a church and find Caravaggio's paintings, or Michelangelo's Moses, or to walk through the Pantheon.

That Romans love kids is no lie. Our two daughters were coddled and cooed over everywhere they went. Conversely, we saw very few young Roman children or expectant mothers. Italy's very low birth rate was on display. It seems the only folks with a decent birthrate are the immigrants.

Unlike in Paris where the women are dressed better than the men, it was the Italian men who were beatifully dressed. Additionally, every Roman seemed to have a cell phone stuck to their ear--which made it easy to tell tourists from locals. Interestingly, the Italian habit of speaking with hands continues when on a cell phones, even though the other person can't see the gestures.

Three days was simply not enough. We've already made plans to rerun next Spring.