On Tuesday negotiations of the “Doha round” being held in Geneva by representatives of the world’s major trading nations, under the rubric of the World Trade Organization (WTO), resulted in a break-up of the meeting with failure to reach any new agreement. Olivier le Bussy, writing for the Belgian daily La Libre Belgique, tackles the question remaining on all observers’ lips: And Now What Do We Do? (more…)
Archive for July, 2008
From the leading Dutch business newspaper Het Financiële Dagblad comes a report about an encouragement pronouncement from current OPEC chairman Chakib Khelil (OPEC Chairman Khelil Sees Oil Price Sharply Falling).
According to Khelil, the price-per-barrel of over $140 that we recently saw for oil was “abnormal.” (more…)
One of the latest developments on the European economic front – during what are otherwise these dog days of a European summer, when most everyone is off on vacation – is the recent announcement that British Airways and the Spanish carrier Iberia have begun discussions about an eventual merger. Featured in that FT piece was this quote from BA chief executive Willie Walsh: “The combined balance sheet, anticipated synergies and network fit between the airlines make a merger an attractive proposition, particularly in the current economic environment.” “Synergies”; “network fit”: I guess one doesn’t get to be CEO of a major international airline like BA without being able to tick the necessary B-school jargon boxes, but what is all that really supposed to mean?
That is what Patrick Anspach, writing in the Belgian paper L’Echo, would also like to know (Do the Air-Mergers Make Any Sense?). We can know what Walsh means when he says “in the current economic environment,” at least: that mainly refers to the ever-climbing (until recently) price for jet fuel that is turning profit-making routes into loss-makers for airlines the world over. And a merger does seem to be a popular thing to do these days, as in the US Delta and Northwest as well as Continental and United have taken recent steps towards union or at least greater cooperation.
But does the latter strategy really produce a solution to the former problem? Or, as Anspach puts it, “is it really useful to throw yourself in to the arms of your neighbor when you are in free-fall?” He thinks not; greater size is not the answer to the current ailments seriously afflicting the airlines. Those “synergies”? They don’t add up to much when two airlines merge, other than getting rid of redundancies where the two companies were engaged in doing the same thing. For the already-announced Delta-Northwest merger, for example, that adds up to savings of only $1 billion, when the two airlines’ combined turnover amounts to some $35 billion. Is that enough of a savings to make the move worthwhile, i.e. to ensure that the combined company will have a greater chance of survival in Walsh’s “current economic environment”?
No, according to Anspach the way to endure rather lies in a company remaining flexible enough to adapt and change the way it has to change to succeed under the new conditions. After all, he reminds us, it wasn’t the dinosaurs that survived back in pre-history.
The Dutch semi-tabloid De Telgraaf reports today on special preparations that the Japanese Olympic team is taking for the games in Beijing: Mouth-Covering for Japan’s Athletes. Yes, the Japanese Olympic Federation will make available to all national athletes the sort of wearable mouth-and-nose covering normally worn by construction crews.
It is perhaps not so surprising to see this coming from the Japanese, since people from that part of the world (i.e. including Korea, Taiwan) seem to be readier than most to go around in public looking like some sort of surgeon’s assistant, often not due to any fears of polluted air but rather things like catching someone else’s air-borne virus. But it’s an idea that could well spread to Japan’s Olympic competitors, since air quality at the games continues to be a concern despite the drastic measures Chinese officials have taken to clean it up.
Coming up this very next weekend: Gay Pride Amsterdam! What’s in it for you if you’re not gay? Well, the parade of boats through the city’s canals – actually, basically the Prinsengracht – is the highlight of the whole weekend and attracts 350,000 spectators, or so the above-linked website claims, so it’s something to consider going and watching, as long as you also realize that the “entertainment” on the passing boats verges into outright nudity not infrequently and into sheer camp always. Plus, there will be gay street parties all over the place from Friday to Sunday. Amsterdam is generally a big enough party-place on a summer weekend for one to be able to find a suitable heterosexual vibe somewhere, if that is more your thing – and meanwhile just think of all the sales- and tax-revenue those hundreds of thousands of visitors are bringing to the city! (more…)
Ben Smith, from Politico.com had the scoop first, about how the personal prayer-note that Barack Obama stuck into a crack in Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, according to long-standing tradition, was snatched up shortly afterwards by a “yeshiva student” and conveyed to the Israeli newspaper Maariv, which published it.
This led to the sort of furor you would expect, abroad but especially in Israel, since these sort of messages are supposed to be sacred and to be read by no one else than s/he who wrote them – and God. (more…)
Congratulations to Carlos Sastre, who yesterday won the 95th Tour de France, but let’s also issue a shout-out to his doctors, who managed the difficult feat of doping him up over a grueling 23-day tour well enough so that he could win the thing, but not too well, so that anything untoward would show up on any test (but was any sort of sample ever taken from Sastre? – the article does not say) and/or any particular day’s achievement would appear so out-of-the-ordinary as to raise the usual suspicions.
Still, if you look at that article (it’s the coverage from the NYT, which I am wont to link to when it’s just a matter of giving you a source for the simple facts, ma’am, about some event that has happened; it seems like English is the best language to go with in that situation), there is mention of a “surprisingly strong ride in the final time trial.” Hmm – “surprisingly strong,” and the article also notes that Sastre knew very well that it was specifically the time trials that he would have to do better in during the Tour, in order to finally win the thing after coming up short so many times before. Floyd Landis, you might recall, also had a “surprisingly strong” stage two years ago when it looked like he was falling behind and would lose his overall Tour lead; that was when he flunked the doping test he was administered immediately after. I ask again: was Sastre tested after that “surprisingly strong” time trial stage? (more…)
It’s all a bit bizarre: Here at EuroSavant we consider the Economist’s on-site blog Certain Ideas of Europe to be something of a watered-down competitor, in that its (anonymous) writers evidently command a few European languages themselves and take advantage of that often to remark upon noteworthy articles in the European press (really only the French and the German). Yet in its own day-after Obama-Berlin coverage, what else does Certain Ideas of Europe choose to highlight out of reaction to Obama’s Berlin speech from the German Fourth Estate than a breathless piece from the Bild Zeitung (Britons: think The Sun; Americans: maybe The New York Post but – as we’ll see – with a bit greater tolerance for female nudity.) The blog entry is entitled Obama and the ‘BILD girl’. Wow – 27-year-old Bild reporter Judith Bonesky (stifle the puns!) finds herself together in the gym of the Ritz Carlton hotel with HIM! Oh, he’s much taller than she had expected! They exchange some “How are you?”s! Then he goes and starts hefting some impressively-big weights, in such a manly fashion, without breaking a sweat! Naturally, when it’s time for him to go (he’s got a speech to deliver), she grabs her chance for a smugshot with the candidate. (more…)
At this point there are a little more than two weeks left to go before the start of the 2008 Peking Olympics. To prep those Germans planning to attend (although it now seems far fewer foreigners are planning to show up than had initially been estimated), the German newsmagazine Focus has put on-line an amusing set of mini-articles about the prejudices held in the West about the Chinese (Chinese Cannot Pronounce R), e.g. that they eat dogmeat, they all look the same, etc. (more…)
. . . and the weather is certainly continues to cooperate for the Democratic presidential candidate’s much-anticipated speech this evening at 19.00 at the Siegessäule, which after all will be an open-air affair. The website of the regional state media company, Rundfunk Berlin und Brandenburg expects only a chance of clouds and no chance of rain. Temperatures during the day in Berlin will peak at 27º C (= 81º F – getting a little high for Northern European standards, believe or not), but will of course cool down to more-comfortable territory by the evening. Perfect!
You can certainly expect a broad run-down of tomorrow’s reactions in the German press (and, possibly, elsewhere in Europe) to the Senator’s speech and the event in general on this site from tomorrow – so stay tuned!
The French weekly newsmagazine L’Express has taken up the new mini-dispute about whether the US press has abandoned its previous love for John McCain in favor of Barack Obama (John McCain, the Unloved One of the Media?).
(Bizarrely, the publication information at the article’s head indicates it was put on-line on Monday, which was before many of the developments that it discusses – such as the McCain campaign’s release of the mocking “Obama Love” videos – actually occurred!)
As the lede leads: “The Republican candidate for the presidential election, whose opinion piece about Iraq was ‘censored’ by the New York Times, is feeling unloved . . . Or at least less loved than his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, by the American media. In his latest campaign [film] clips he turns on some star journalists with derision.” (more…)
“Is history about to repeat itself?” asks Clément Daniez of the French newsmagazine Le Point in his article published on-line today, Russians and Americans Replay the Cuban Missile Crisis. Vladimiar Putin has already explicitly spoken of such a thing: last October (2007) he warned that Washington’s plan to set up an anti-missile shield in Europe, with the radar in the Czech Republic and the interceptor missiles themselves in Poland, was setting the stage for a similar sort of serious confrontation between the two world powers as occurred in October, 1962. Of course, in the meantime the Bush administration has gone ahead anyway, as Condoleezza Rice was in Prague on July 8 to sign the agreement with the Czech government for setting up the radar. (more…)
You might have been aware that the New York Times recently raised the hackles of the John McCain presidential campaign by rejecting an editorial it had submitted to be published on that paper’s Op-Ed page, when it had published one by Barack Obama the week before.
Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report promptly stepped in to publish on his site the spurned editorial. But now it seems Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel has stepped in to perform a similar service, translated into German of course: Obama Has Learned Nothing from History – perhaps a little counterpoint-reading to the speech from the Democratic Party candidate coming up on Thursday evening (CET).
Ever wonder what the French word is for “flip-flop,” that term that after all has become a key component of mainstream American political discourse over the past couple decades, but particularly in the early political campaigns of the 21st century? It’s revirement. (Look, you just knew that it had to sound rather more elegant in French than in English, did you not?) I was spurred to this little bit of self-education by the brief article on John McCain by Prof. Ibrahim Warde of Tufts University, in this month’s issue of Le Monde Diplomatique (John McCain, le revenant, and I’m leaving that title in the original French because the translation of revenant in this context is not straight-forward: my Larousse says “ghost, spook” but also in the sense of “stranger” or “back from the dead” – Prof. Warde could very well be calling Senator McCain the “come-back kid” here). Then the article’s sub-title (placed, however, above its main title) is “Between Flip-Flops and Compromise.”
Whatever Prof. Warde is choosing to call McCain in the article’s title, its purpose is definitely to prevent any illusions over the presumptive Republican Party candidate from lingering for long in the consciousness of the newspaper’s readers. Like he’s some sort of “maverick”; like he is truly ready to sacrifice his political career on some matter of principle. No, as Prof. Warde makes clear, John McCain is thoroughly a product of the “establishment,” whose wholesale changes-of-tack (i.e. revirements on issues such as the Christianist Right and Iraq and even support of George W. Bush generally are there, plain to see to anyone who will but look. (more…)
As I noted in this previous post, July 21 – yesterday – is each year the Belgian National Holiday: think along the lines, for example, of the 4th of July in the US. Except that yesterday in Belgium the occasion was more like America on 4 July 1860: then, Abraham Lincoln had just been nominated to be the Republican Party candidate for the upcoming presidential election in November, and it was evident that, while he had a good chance of sweeping the more-populated Northern states with his party platform forbidding any more slavery in US territories, nobody in the South would vote for him. Indeed, if he turned out to win the presidency nonetheless (which of course he did), there was very likely to be serious trouble, yet it was hard to think of any alternative scenario by which the presidency could be won by any of the other candidates, each of which were politicians backed by yet-narrower sections of the country. Likewise, there was precious little of any “national” nature to be celebrated in Belgium on its “National Holiday” yesterday, even as one can assume that any similar implicit prospect of violence does not apply in this modern case.
When last we left portly, avuncular old King Albert II, he had received Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s resignation but had yet to decide whether to accept it. (more…)
Some EuroSavant entries virtually write themselves. What’s the hottest thing going on now on the American scene – or, put another way, where can you find all of America’s top TV anchor-persons?
Traveling with Obama, of course! And while the itinerary to the first part of his overseas trip – to the Middle East and South Asia – is somewhat unclear, deliberately for security reasons, we can be more sure about where he is going to be in Europe during the second half, and when. Everyone knows already that the high point – the only public address he is scheduled to give – will occur in Berlin next Thursday evening, 24 July. There’s already been somewhat of a controversy over where he is to be allowed to give that speech. That has now been resolved, but let’s take a look at what further details are available from local Berlin sources. (more…)
The alert is out: the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel snagged a scoop in the form of an interview with Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki, in which (according to a Reuters report) he explicitly endorsed the idea of a 16-month timetable for American troop withdrawal, a plan which has been the centerpiece of presidential candidate Barack Obama’s intentions towards US engagement there. Blogosphere reactions are already here and here (among many others, no doubt, including forthcoming).
Fortunately, your friendly neighborhood EuroSavant was carrying his pager, and was able to receive the emergency message and leap into the nearest – no, not phone booth, you don’t see too many of those anymore – Internet café to get on-line. Let’s take a look at the original German-language article itself, which is on the Spiegel’s website. (more…)
Some things in life are entirely predictable. The sun comes up in the morning to the East; bears carry out their excretive functions in the woods; the Pope admits to being a practicing Catholic; and, one after the other, riders in the Tour de France are caught and banned from the race for doping offenses. The latest two-wheeled transgressor, Riccardo Ricco – not to be confused with Cuban band leader and husband-of-redhead Ricky Ricardo – had actually already won two of the Tour’s stages; his ejection from the competition led his entire team, Saunier Duval-Scott, to voluntary withdraw from the Tour as well. (Oh, and I’m reminded of yet another entirely predictable thing by the line in that New York Times article linked to above that reads “On Sunday, after Ricco’s second stage victory, he angrily denied allegations that he had suspect blood levels or that there was any reason for him to be targeted by French antidoping officials.”) (more…)
Oops, he did it again: At a press conference last Monday, John McCain made reference to the Russian government cutting off energy supplies to “Czechoslovakia,” a country that has not actually existed since it split apart into the Czech Republic and Slovakia as of 1 January 1993. And it’s not like that was the first time he has made this mistake.
No, not at all – and you can be sure that the Czechs themselves are watching closely and keeping track, as we can gather from today’s article on the website of the Czech Republic’s leading general interest newspaper, Mladá fronta dnes (Even after 15 Years the World Confuses Czechs with Slovaks, Chechens, and Chess-Players). In fact, author Jan Wirnitzer crowns the presumed Republican presidential candidate with the “Greatest Endurance in Repeating a Mistake” award, recounting how he also mistakenly spoke of Czechoslovakia in his first presidential campaign of eight years ago, and then also three months ago. (more…)
Austerlitz: the very name is covered in glory for the French, as well as for anyone else with any knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars. For it was on this Central European battlefield in 1805 (a little less than two months after the sea Battle of Trafalgar, as it happened) that Napoleon Bonaparte faced down the combined armies of two great empires – the Austrian and the Russian – and beat them bloodily and decisively in a battle regarded as a tactical masterpiece. In the aftermath the Austrian Emperor Francis would sue for peace, acknowledging France’s previous conquests in Italy and Germany; what was left of the Russian army would be permitted to scurry back on home; and Prussia (non-participating) somehow would become annoyed enough with this result to shortly go to war against Napoleon itself (bad move). In today’s Paris you will find a Gare (i.e. train station), a Quai (i.e. embankment), a Pont (i.e. bridge), a Rue (i.e. street), a Port and a Villa d’Austerlitz – despite the name itself being about as un-French-sounding as you can get while still staying within the Roman alphabet.
In fact it’s a German name, of course, because back in those days of the very early 19th century German culture and the German language were dominant over Central Europe, as they had been since the Thirty Years’ War, and the major city outside of which the battle was fought was known as Brünn. (more…)
Don’t look now – but Belgium is once again in a governmental crisis. Prime Minister Yves Leterme yesterday evening (Monday, 14 July) submitted his resignation to King Albert II, after having served in that capacity for thirteen months. You’ll recall that Leterme – leader of the Flemish political party Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams (CD&V) – had been the compromise candidate for prime minister in the first place, voted in by the kaleidoscope of Dutch-, French-, and German-speaking parties of the Belgian political landscape pretty much in desperation after nine months of haggling after the latest national elections of June, 2007. July 15 (i.e. today) was the deadline he had set to be able to present a new plan for re-structuring Belgium’s governmental structure. It seemed that the deadline was coming up fast and little to no progress on forming such a plan had been made. So Leterme resigned. The Economist weblog “Certain ideas of Europe” is keeping on top of developments with an summary entry Time to dissolve Belgium?. (more…)