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August 15, 2014

Flexibility of System of Industrial Relations Makes German Economy Strong



(p. 183) We have argued that the remarkable transformation of the German economy from the "sick man of Europe" to a lean and highly competitive economy within little more than a decade is rooted in the inherent flexibility of the German system of industrial relations. This system allowed German industry to react appropriately and flexibly over time to the demands of German unification, and the global challenges of a new world economy.


Source:

Dustmann, Christian, Bernd Fitzenberger, Uta Schoenberg, and Alexandra Spitz-Oener. "From Sick Man of Europe to Economic Superstar: Germany's Resurgent Economy." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 167-88.






June 16, 2013

Behind the Iron Curtain, Those Who Opposed "Were to Be Destroyed by "Cutting Them Off Like Slices of Salami""



Iron-CurtainBK2013-05-13.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.opednews.com/populum/uploaded/iron-curtain-20882-20130113-95.jpg



(p. 16) That Soviet tanks carried Moscow-trained agents into Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and East Germany was known in the West at the time and has been well documented since. When those agents set out to produce not only a friendly sphere of Soviet influence but also a cordon of dictatorships reliably responsive to Russian orders, Winston Churchill was moved to warn, just days after the Nazis' surrender in 1945, that an Iron Curtain was being drawn through the heart of Europe. (He coined the metaphor in a message to President Truman a full year before he used it in public in Fulton, Mo.) And Matyas Rakosi, the "little Stalin" of Hungary, was well known for another apt metaphor, describing how the region's political, economic, cultural and social oppositions were to be destroyed by "cutting them off like slices of salami."

Applebaum tracks the salami slicing as typically practiced in Poland, Hungary and Germany, and serves up not only the beef but also the fat, vinegar and garlic in exhausting detail. She shows how the knives were sharpened before the war's end in Soviet training camps for East European Communists, so that trusted agents could create and control secret police forces in each of the "liberated" nations. She shows how reliable operatives then took charge of all radio broadcasting, the era's most powerful mass medium. And she demonstrates how the Soviet stooges could then, with surprising speed, harass, persecute and finally ban all independent institutions, from youth groups and welfare agencies to schools, churches and rival political parties.

Along the way, millions of Germans, Poles, Ukrainians and Hungarians were ruthlessly driven from their historic homes to satisfy Soviet territorial ambitions. Millions more were deemed opponents and beaten, imprisoned or hauled off to hard labor in Siberia. In Stalin's paranoid sphere, not even total control of economic and cultural life was sufficient. To complete the terror, he purged even the Communist leaders of each satellite regime, accusing them of treason and parading them as they made humiliating confessions.

It is good to be reminded of these sordid events, now that more archives are accessible and some witnesses remain alive to recall the horror.



For the full review, see:

MAX FRANKEL. "Stalin's Shadow." The New York Times (Sun., November 25, 2012): 16.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 21, 2012.)


The book under review, is:

Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. New York: Doubleday, 2012.






October 5, 2012

Modern Humans Created Flutes Over 42,000 Years Ago



BoneFluteHohleFelsCaveGermany2012-09-03.jpg "LOST AND FOUND; Scientists say that this bone flute, found at Hohle Fels Cave in Germany, is at least 42,000 years old." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. D4) In hillside caves of southwestern Germany, archaeologists in recent years have uncovered the beginnings of music and art by early modern humans migrating into Europe from Africa. New dating evidence shows that these oldest known musical instruments in the world, flutes made of bird bone and mammoth ivory, are even older than first thought.

Scientists led by Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford in England reported last week that improved radiocarbon tests determined that animal bones found with the flutes were 42,000 to 43,000 years old. This is close to the time when the first anatomically modern humans were spreading into Central Europe, presumably along the Danube River valley.

Earlier tests had yielded dates of 35,000 years ago for artifacts at several caves where flutes and also ivory statuettes of voluptuous women have been found near Ulm, Germany, and the Danube's headwaters. The best preserved bone flute, with five finger holes, was collected at Hohle Fels Cave. The new analysis was based on material from the nearby Geissenklösterle Cave.



For the full story, see:

JOHN NOBLE WILFORD. "Flute's Revised Age Dates the Sound of Music Earlier." The New York Times (Tues., May 29, 2012): D4.


Some of the new results summarized above are reported to the scientific community in:

Higham, Thomas, Laura Basell, Roger Jacobi, Rachel Wooda, Christopher Bronk Ramseya, and Nicholas J. Conardf. "Τesting Models for the Beginnings of the Aurignacian and the Advent of Figurative Art and Music: The Radiocarbon Chronology of Geißenklösterle." Journal of Human Evolution 62, no. 6 (June 2012): 664-76.






July 15, 2012

Hitchens Adds to the Case Against Woodrow Wilson



ToEndAllWarsBK2012-06-22.jpg

















Source of book image:
http://media.oregonlive.com/books_impact/photo/9635633-large.jpg



Reading the review quoted below, reminded me of how much I will miss Christopher Hitchens.


(p. 12) If General Pershing's fresh and plucky troops had not reached the scene in the closing stages of the bloodbath, universal exhaustion would almost certainly have compelled an earlier armistice, on less savage terms. Without President Wilson's intervention, the incensed and traumatized French would never have been able to impose terms of humiliation on Germany; the very terms that Hitler was to reverse, by such relentless means, a matter of two decades later. In this light, the great American socialist Eugene V. Debs, who publicly opposed the war and was kept in prison by a vindictive Wilson until long after its ending, looks like a prescient hero. Indeed, so do many of the antiwar militants to whose often-buried record Hochschild has done honor. (Unsentimental to the last, though, he shows that many of them went on to lose or waste their lives on Bolshevism, the other great mutant system to emerge from the abattoir.) This is a book to make one feel deeply and painfully, and also to think hard.


For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS. "Mortal Debate." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., May 15, 2011): 1 & 12.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 13, 2011, and has the title "The Pacifists and the Trenches.")


The book under review is:

Hochschild, Adam. To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2011.






May 22, 2012

Entrepreneur Krupp Was Paternalistically "Benevolent" and Was Skeptical of Capitalism



KrupBK2012-05-17.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.








(p. A13) Harold James, professor of history and international affairs at Princeton University, portrays a vastly different organization in "Krupp," a painstaking chronicle of a company that traces its roots to a steel foundry in Essen in 1810. Mr. James's Krupp is a company for which the manufacturing of war matériel was always of secondary interest to that of civilian production. The company might have preferred to concentrate on manufacturing railroad equipment and consumer goods, but in the developing and expansionist German empire of the 19th century, state requirements for the tools of power dovetailed with Krupp's desire for regular long-term contracts. The result for Krupp was a practical, if not deliberate, focus on armaments.

From the manufacturer's perspective, the emphasis on war matériel did not consign Krupp to the ranks of belligerent militarists; it was just smart business. "The purpose of work should be the common good," founder Alfred Krupp once said, or at least that quote graces a statue the company erected after his death in 1887. All through the 19th century, Mr. James says, the pursuit of profit was less central to the Krupp mission than building a solid enterprise within a framework of social responsibility. As early as 1836, Krupp established a voluntary health-insurance program for its workers. By the middle of the century, life-insurance and pension plans had been instituted. Workers' hostels and company hospitals were constructed. In exchange for this paternalistic benevolence, Krupp expected complete loyalty from its work force and vehemently opposed the slightest hint of union organization or political activity among its employees.

"Alfred Krupp perfectly fits the mold of the heroic entrepreneur," Mr. James writes. "Profoundly skeptical of joint-stock companies, banks, and capitalism in general, but also of big-scale science and modern research methods, he was a genius at extending to its utmost limits the possibilities of the craft entrepreneur."



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SIEGEL. "BOOKSHELF; Heavy Industry, Burdened Past; The company's 19th-century founder said it was devoted to the "common good." In World War II, it worked hard for the Third Reich." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 17, 2012): A13.

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated April 16, 2012.)






April 11, 2012

"A Greek, an Italian and a Spaniard Walk into a Bar"



(p. A15) A joke making the rounds: A Greek, an Italian and a Spaniard walk into a bar. Each orders a drink. Who pays? The German.


For the full commentary, see:

DAVID WESSEL. "CAPITAL; For Europe, a Lehman Moment." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., December 1, 2011): A15.





January 12, 2012

AFA Scholars Predict Sovereign Defaults



At the Chicago American Finance Association (AFA) meetings (held in conjunction with the AEA meetings), I attended a panel discussion on Fri., Jan. 6, 2012 on "Sovereign Default." The session was chaired by Simon Johnson, and included Kenneth Singleton and Carmen Reinhart (who has co-authored a much-discussed book on the history of economic crises). (Martin Feldstein was supposed to participate but did not, and I did not catch the name of the scholar who replaced him on the panel).

When asked if they expected multiple countries in Europe to default in the near to medium term, all panel members agreed that such default would happen. (The consensus was that Greece, and at least a couple of other countries, would eventually default---the Euros needed to bail them out were too large, even if the Germans and the ECB changed course and wanted to try.) Before seeing the panel, I was not aware that expert academic opinion was so agreed on this prediction.

There was less certainty about whether this would necessarily lead to the end of the Euro. Reinhart pointed out that even in Greece, where austerity is severe and unpopular, there is currently little popular support for abandoning the Euro.

The panelists seemed to believe that sovereign defaults might lead to slow growth, high taxes and inflation, but might not lead to catastrophe.

Reinhart suggested that Europe, and maybe also the United States and the rest of the world, might just muddle along for an extended period.





July 10, 2010

Former French Student Protest Leader: "We've Decided that We Can't Expect Everything from the State"



DynamismEuropeAndUnitedStatesGraph.gif
















Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A16) "The euro was supposed to achieve higher productivity and growth by bringing about a deeper integration between economies," says Simon Tilford, chief economist at the Centre for European Reform, a London think tank. "Instead, integration is slowing. The lack of flexibility in labor and product markets raises serious questions about the likelihood of the euro delivering on its potential."

Structural changes are the last great hope in part because euro zone members have few other levers for lifting their economies. Individual members can't tweak interest rates to encourage lending, because those policies are set by the zone's central bank. The shared euro means countries don't have a sovereign currency to devalue, a move that would make exports cheaper and boost receipts abroad.

The remaining prescription, many economists say: chip away at the cherished "social model." That means limiting pensions and benefits to those who really need them, ensuring the able-bodied are working rather than living off the state, and eliminating business and labor laws that deter entrepreneurship and job creation.

That path suits Carlos Bock. The business-studies graduate from Bavaria spent months navigating Germany's dense bureaucracy in order to open a computer store and Internet café in 2004. Before he could offer a Web-surfing customer a mug of filter coffee, he said, he had to obtain a license to run a "gastronomic enterprise." One of its 38 requirements compelled Mr. Bock to attend a course on the hygienic handling of mincemeat.

Mr. Bock closed his store in 2008. Germany's strict regulations and social protections favor established businesses and workers over young ones, he said. He also struggled against German consumers' reluctance to spend, a problem economists blame in part on steep payroll taxes that cut into workers' takehome pay, and on high savings rates among Germans who are worried the country's pension system is unsustainable.

"If markets were freer, there might be chaos to begin with," Mr. Bock said. "But over time we'd reach a better economic level."

Even in France, some erstwhile opponents of reforms are changing their tune. Julie Coudry became a French household name four years ago when she helped organize huge student protests against a law introducing short-term contracts for young workers, a move the government believed would put unemployed youths to work.

With her blonde locks and signature beret, Ms. Coudry gave fiery speeches on television, arguing that young people deserved the cradle-to-grave contracts that older employees enjoy at most French companies. Critics in France and abroad saw the protests as a shocking sign that twentysomethings were among the strongest opponents of efforts to modernize the European economy. The measure was eventually repealed.

Today, the now 31-year-old Ms. Coudry runs a nonprofit organization that encourages French corporations to hire more university graduates. Ms. Coudry, while not repudiating her activism, says she realizes that past job protections are untenable.

"The state has huge debt, 25% of young people are jobless, and so I am part of a new generation that has decided to take matters into our own hands," she says. "We've decided that we can't expect everything from the state."




For the full story, see:

MARCUS WALKER And ALESSANDRA GALLONI. "Europe's Choice: Growth or Safety Net." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MARCH 25, 2010): A1 & A16.





November 22, 2009

World Trade Barriers Are Increasing



ProtectionistMeasuresBarGraph2009-10-28.gifThe small dark blue squares indicate the "number of nations that have imposed protectionist measures on each country" and the light blue squares indicate the "number of measures imposed on each category of goods." Source of quotations in caption and of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) BRUSSELS -- This weekend's U.S.-China trade skirmish is just the tip of a coming protectionist iceberg, according to a report released Monday by Global Trade Alert, a team of trade analysts backed by independent think tanks, the World Bank and the U.K. government.

A report by the World Trade Organization, backed by its 153 members and also released Monday, found "slippage" in promises to abstain from protectionism, but drew less dramatic conclusions.

Governments have planned 130 protectionist measures that have yet to be implemented, according to the GTA's research. These include state aid funds, higher tariffs, immigration restrictions and export subsidies.


. . .


According to the GTA report, the number of discriminatory trade laws outnumbers liberalizing trade laws by six to one. Governments are applying protectionist measures at the rate of 60 per quarter. More than 90% of goods traded in the world have been affected by some sort of protectionist measure.



For the full story, see:

JOHN W. MILLER. "Protectionist Measures Expected to Rise, Report Warns." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 15, 2009): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





November 9, 2009

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall



(p. 4) The border guards, bereft of instruction from the command system that had trained them to defend this barrier with their lives, plainly did not know what to do. Some stood silent, others engaged in conversation with the crowd; what they did not do was what they ordinarily would have done: Drive them away.

Eventually, the good-natured crowd -- "we just want to go and drink a beer over there; tomorrow we'll be at work!" shouted one man -- was allowed into a forecourt. West Berlin seemed tantalizingly close. But then the commander of the Eastern checkpoint sent them away, saying they would have to get visas the next morning from local police stations.

By contrast, I was spotted by the commander taking notes. Unmasked as a Western reporter working without authorization in a border area of the German Democratic Republic, I was declared persona non grata and shoved into a small corridor that led to a passport check and the door into West Berlin. And it was in that narrow passage that I met Angelika Wachs.

Whispering "Ja-a-a-a!" and smiling broadly, she had somehow squeezed in behind me, and had almost nothing of the scared reticence common to most East Germans. A pimply young man, barely in his 20s, sat at passport control. He looked at my British passport, and then at Angelika's papers, which somehow bore a rare stamp permitting her to visit West Berlin. But it was only valid Nov. 17, he objected. I urged him to consider what was happening. He shrugged. He pressed the switch to open the door. We tumbled through.

It was the only moment in my life when I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming. I had just crossed Checkpoint Charlie with this stranger, a woman exactly my age, 34, a citizen of Communist East Germany.

There were only a handful of West Berliners on hand to cheer our arrival. Shouting that it was "unglaublich," or unbelievable, Angelika ran off to seek a ride to a friend who had escaped west years earlier, and I headed for a cheap bar where I glommed on to that precious commodity, a telephone.


. . .


. . . Americans, unlike Europeans, do not dwell much on the past. Tomorrow is always another day, and yesterday's lessons fade.

Not so the story of Angelika Wachs. Once I found her name in the long-lost articles, it did not take many minutes on the Internet to track her down. She e-mailed; this past Saturday, we talked. I discovered that she had that precious stamp that night because, some years earlier, her parents had fled west, and she had been granted permission to visit. When we met, she had been working in administration at the Staatsoper, the state opera; her career has continued in P.R.

Ten years ago, she met an Englishman. They married this year, she said, on the deliberately chosen date of July 4 -- "a way to mark independence, and freedom." On Nov. 16, when a conference takes me to Berlin and a gleaming hotel among the skyscrapers that now fill Potsdamer Platz, we will meet for the drink we never had 20 years ago.



For the full story, see:

ALISON SMALE. "When the Future Swung Open in Berlin." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., November 8, 2009): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated Nov. 6, and has the title "Chasing the Story on a Night That Changed All .")



WachsAngelikaCheckpointCharlie2009-11-08.jpg














"20 Years; Angelika Wachs posed last week at Checkpoint Charlie, remembering the jubilation on the Wall's western side on Nov. 10, 1989." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





November 5, 2009

European Central Bank (ECB) Warns that Cash-for-Clunkers "May Delay Necessary Structural Change"



(p. A9) Cash-for-clunkers programs have no lasting economic benefit and could even lead to a "substantial weakening" in euro-zone automobile sales next year, the European Central Bank said.

The findings, though far from original, amount to an official slap on the wrist to European governments including those of Germany, France and Spain that rolled out the popular programs to stoke demand in their auto sectors at the height of the financial crisis.


. . .


Such incentive measures should be applied "with caution," the ECB said, "as they may hamper the efficiency of the functioning of a free-market economy and may delay necessary structural change, thereby undermining overall income and employment prospects in the longer term."



For the full story, see:

BRIAN BLACKSTONE. "Clunker Plans Are Risky Route, Central Bank Says." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCTOBER 16, 2009): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





October 7, 2009

Global Warming Creates Benefit of Arctic Shipping Shortcut



GermanShipArtcticPassage.jpg "A German ship, following a Russian icebreaker, is about to complete a shipment from Asia to Europe via Arctic waters." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) MOSCOW -- For hundreds of years, mariners have dreamed of an Arctic shortcut that would allow them to speed trade between Asia and the West. Two German ships are poised to complete that transit for the first time, aided by the retreat of Arctic ice that scientists have linked to global warming.

The ships started their voyage in South Korea in late July and will begin the last leg of the trip this week, leaving a Siberian port for Rotterdam in the Netherlands carrying 3,500 tons of construction materials.

Russian ships have long moved goods along the country's sprawling Arctic coastline. And two tankers, one Finnish and the other Latvian, hauled fuel between Russian ports using the route, which is variously called the Northern Sea Route or the Northeast Passage.

But the Russians hope that the transit of the German ships will inaugurate the passage as a reliable shipping route, and that the combination of the melting ice and the economic benefits of the shortcut -- it is thousands of miles shorter than various southerly routes -- will eventually make the Arctic passage a summer competitor with the Suez Canal.

"It is global warming that enables us to think about using that route," Verena Beckhusen, a spokeswoman for the shipping company, the Beluga Group of Bremen, Germany, said in a telephone interview.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW E. KRAMER and ANDREW C. REVKIN. "Arctic Shortcut Beckons Shippers as Ice Thaws." The New York Times (Fri., September 10, 2009): A1 & A3.




NortheastPassageMap2009-09-26.jpg "A Shortcut Across the Top of the World." Source of caption and map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





October 1, 2009

Free-Market German Aristocrat Receives Ovation for Opposing Bailout



(p. A7) BERLIN -- Could the heir apparent to Chancellor Angela Merkel be a wealthy, handsome 37-year-old baron who loves rock 'n' roll?

The baron, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, vaulted to prominence this year when he took over the often dull job of economics minister in the midst of the financial crisis. His independent stand on a thorny economic matter earned him the respect of voters.


. . .

It was his independent streak that earned him the respect of voters, rather than just their curiosity. Mr. Guttenberg broke ranks with Mrs. Merkel over how to handle the troubled German automaker Opel. Mrs. Merkel supported a consortium led by Magna International, a Canadian auto parts maker, and Sberbank, a Russian bank. Mr. Guttenberg favored bankruptcy, and even offered to resign just months into his tenure.

He lost the battle, but gained credibility with voters -- an important commodity with a disenchanted electorate that has largely ignored the coming vote. At the big kickoff campaign rally in Düsseldorf for Mrs. Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union, Mr. Guttenberg was the only politician to receive a spontaneous ovation from the crowd of 9,000.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS KULISH and JUDY DEMPSEY. "Aristocrat's Rise Shakes German Doldrums." The New York Times (Weds., September 22, 2009): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





September 12, 2009

"Axel Springer Has Dared to Compete with Itself"



The European newspaper publisher Axel Springer, discussed in the story quoted below, appears to be following the advice of Christensen and Raynor in their book The Innovator's Solution. In that book, they suggest that incumbent firms need to be willing to set up units that compete with their older business models, if they hope to survive the introduction of disruptive innovations.


(p. B4) PARIS -- As the death toll in the American newspaper industry mounted this month, the German publisher Axel Springer, which owns Bild, the biggest newspaper in Europe, reported the highest profit in its 62-year history.


. . .


Axel Springer generates 14 percent of its revenue online, more than most American newspapers, even though the markets in which it operates -- primarily Germany and Eastern Europe -- are less digitally developed than the United States.

One reason, Mr. Döpfner said, is that Axel Springer has dared to compete with itself. Instead of trying to protect existing publications, it acquired or created new ones, some of which distribute the same content to different audiences.

At one newsroom in Berlin, for example, journalists produce content for six publications: the national newspaper Die Welt, its Sunday edition and a tabloid version aimed at younger readers; a local paper called Berliner Morgenpost, and two Web sites.



For the full story, see:

ERIC PFANNER. "European Newspapers Find Creative Ways to Thrive in the Internet Age." The New York Times (Mon., March 29, 2009): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The Christensen and Raynor book mentioned above, is:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.





January 9, 2009

French Entrepreneur Fourneau Was Against Law, But Used It


The existence and details of patent laws can matter for creating incentives for invention and innovation. The patent laws in Germany and France in the 1930s reduced the incentives for inventing new drugs.

(p. 141) German chemical patents were often small masterpieces of mumbo jumbo. It was a market necessity. Patents in Germany were issued to protect processes used to make a new chemical, not, as in America, the new chemical itself; German law protected the means, not the end.   . . .

. . .

(p. 166) Fourneau decided that if the French were going to compete, the nation's scientists would either have to discover their own new drugs and get them into production before the Germans could or find ways to make French versions of German compounds before the Germans had earned back their research and production costs---in other words, get French versions of new German drugs into the market before the Germans could lower their prices. French patent laws, like those in Germany, did not protect the final product. "I was always against the French law and I thought it was shocking that one could not patent one's invention," Fourneau said, "but the law was what it was, and there was no reasons not to use it."



Source:

Hager, Thomas. The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.

(Note: ellipses added.)




January 1, 2009

Industrialist Duisberg Made Domagk's Sulfa Discovery Possible



(p. 65) . . . Domagk's future would be determined not only by his desire to stop disease but also by his own ambition, his family needs, and the plans of a small group of businessmen he had never met. He probably had heard of their leader, however, one of the preeminent figures in German business, a man the London Times would later eulogize as "the greatest industrialist the world has yet had." His name was Carl Duisberg.

Duisberg was a German version of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller rolled into one. He had built an empire of science in Germany, leveraging the discoveries of dozens of chemists he employed into one of the most profitable businesses on earth. He knew how industrial science worked: He was himself a chemist. At least he had been long ago. Now, in the mid-1920s, in the twilight of his years, his fortunes made, his reputation assured, he often walked in his private park alone---still solidly built, with his shaved head and a bristling white mustache, still a commanding presence in his top hat and black overcoat---through acres of forest, fountains, classical statuary, around the pond in his full-scale Japanese garden by the lacquered teahouse, over his steams, and across his lawns.



Source:

Hager, Thomas. The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





November 17, 2008

"Nuclear Power Provides 77 Percent of France's Electricity"



FrenchNuclearReactorFlamanville20080824.jpg "France is constructing a nuclear reactor, its first in 10 years, in Flamanville, but the country already has 58 operating reactors." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6) FLAMANVILLE, France -- It looks like an ordinary building site, but for the two massive, rounded concrete shells looming above the ocean, like dusty mushrooms.

Here on the Normandy coast, France is building its newest nuclear reactor, the first in 10 years, costing $5.1 billion. But already, President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that France will build another like it.

. . .

Nuclear power provides 77 percent of France's electricity, according to the government, and relatively few public doubts are expressed in a country with little coal, oil or natural gas.

With the wildly fluctuating cost of oil, anxiety over global warming from burning fossil fuels and new concerns about the impact of biofuels on the price of food for the poor, nuclear energy is getting a second look in countries like the United States and Britain. Even Germany, committed to phasing out nuclear power by 2021, is debating whether to change its mind.



For the full story, see:

STEVEN ERLANGER. "France Reaffirms Its Faith in Future of Nuclear Power." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., August 17, 2008): 6. (Also on p. 6 of the NY edition)

(Note: ellipsis added.)

FranceNukeMap20080824.jpg





Source of map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





July 27, 2008

Solar Energy Costs Soar in Germany



(p. C1) Thanks to its aggressive push into renewable energies, cloud-wreathed Germany has become an unlikely leader in the race to harness the sun's energy. It has by far the largest market for photovoltaic systems, which convert sunlight into electricity, with roughly half of the world's total installations. And it is the third-largest producer of solar cells and modules, after China and Japan.


Now, though, with so many solar panels on so many rooftops, critics say Germany has too much of a good thing -- even in a time of record oil prices. Conservative lawmakers, in particular, want to pare back generous government incentives that support solar development. They say solar generation is growing so fast that it threatens to overburden consumers with high electricity bills.

. . .

(p. C7) At the heart of the debate is the Renewable Energy Sources Act. It requires power companies to buy all the alternative energy produced by these systems, at a fixed above-market price, for 20 years.

. . .

Christian Democrats, . . . , say the law has been too successful for its own good. Utilities, they note, are allowed to pass along the extra cost of buying renewable energy to customers, and there is no cap on the capacity that can be installed -- as exists in other countries to prevent subsidies from mushrooming.

At the moment, solar energy adds 1.01 euros ($1.69) a month to a typical home electricity bill, a modest surcharge that Germans are willing to pay. That will increase to 2.14 euros a month by 2014, according to the German Solar Energy Association.

But the volume of solar-generated energy is rising much faster than originally predicted, and critics contend that the costs will soar. Mr. Pfeiffer, the legislator, said solar power could end up adding 8 euros ($12.32) to a monthly electricity bill, which would alienate even the most green-minded. With no change in the law, he says, the solar industry will soak up 120 billion euros ($184 billion) in public support by 2015.



For the full story, see:

MARK LANDLER. "Solar Valley Rises in an Overcast Land." The New York Times (Fri., May 16, 2008): C1 & C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)





April 27, 2008

Hitler's Critique of American Materialism



Here are some musings by Hitler, in which he compares Germany under Hitler's National Socialism, with America. The musings are dated August 1, 1942, and are quoted in the article cited below:


(p. 3) I grant you that our standard of life is lower. But the German Reich has 270 opera houses - a standard of cultural existence of which they over there have no conception. They have clothes, food, cars and a badly constructed house - but with a refrigerator! This sort of thing does not impress us.


For the full story, see:

MARC D. CHARNEY. "Ideas & Trends; Well, at Least He Liked Our Cars." The New York Times, Section 4 (Sun., April 3, 2005): 3.




January 10, 2008

Putin's Russia Portrays Stalin, Not as Monster, But as Strong Ruler

(p. 5)  STALIN has undergone a number of transformations of his historical image in Russia, interpretations that say as much about the country’s current leaders as about the dictator himself.

In the West, Stalin is remembered for the numbers of his victims, about 20 million, largely his own citizens, executed or allowed to die in famines or the gulag. They included a generation of peasant farmers in Ukraine, former Bolsheviks and other political figures who were purged in the show trials of the 1930s, Polish officers executed at Katyn Forest, and Russians who died in the slave labor economy. Stalin’s crimes have been tied to his personality, cruelty and paranoia as well as to the circumstances of Russian and Soviet history.

While not denying that Stalin committed the crimes, a new study guide in Russia for high school teachers views his cruelty through a particular, if familiar, lens. It portrays Stalin not as an extraordinary monster who came to power because of the unique evil of Communism, but as a strong ruler in a long line of autocrats going back to the czars. Russian history, in this view, at times demands tyranny to build a great nation.

The text reinforces this idea by comparing Stalin to Bismarck, who united Germany, and comparing Russia in the 1930s under the threat of Nazism to the United States after 9/11 in attitudes toward liberties.

The history guide — titled “A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006” — was presented at a conference for high school teachers where President Vladimir V. Putin spoke; the author, Aleksandr Filippov, is a deputy director of a Kremlin-connected think tank.

 

For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW E. KRAMER.  "WORD FOR WORD | NEW RUSSIAN HISTORY; Yes, a Lot of People Died, but ..."  The New York Times , Week in Review section  (Sun., August 12, 2007):  5.

(Note:  ellipsis in title in original.)

 




December 26, 2007

"Global Warming Provides Opportunities"

 

(p. C3)  In the short term, global warming provides opportunities, . . . , especially in temperate zones. Warming trends have lengthened the golfing season in Antalya, Turkey, by over a month, said Ugur Budak, golf coordinator of Akkanat Holdings there.

Golfing used to begin in March. But tourists from Britain and Germany are now coming to Antalya in February.

“Winters are milder, so the effect on us for now is good,” Mr. Budak said. So far there had not been problems like water shortages that are experienced in other parts of the world, he said, “but we know we could be vulnerable in the future.” 

 

For the full story, see: 

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL.  "How Do You Ski if There Is No Snow?"  The New York Times  (Thurs., November 1, 2007):  C3.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




December 6, 2007

Energy Experts Question Reliability of Wind Power

 

   "A wind farm near Malmo, Sweden. The use of wind power in many European countries has stagnated in recent years."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. C1)  Yet Sweden’s gleaming wind park is entering service at a time when wind energy is coming under sharper scrutiny, not just from hostile neighbors, who complain that the towers are a blot on the landscape, but from energy experts who question its reliability as a source of power.

For starters, the wind does not blow all the time. When it does, it does not necessarily do so during periods of high demand for electricity. That makes wind a shaky replacement for more dependable, if polluting, energy sources like oil, coal and natural gas. More-(p. C5)over, to capture the best breezes, wind farms are often built far from where the demand for electricity is highest. The power they generate must then be carried over long distances on high-voltage lines, which in Germany and other countries are strained and prone to breakdowns.

In the United States, one of the areas most suited for wind turbines is the central part of the country, stretching from Texas through the northern Great Plains — far from the coastal population centers that need the most electricity.

In Denmark, which pioneered wind energy in Europe, construction of wind farms has stagnated in recent years. The Danes export much of their wind-generated electricity to Norway and Sweden because it comes in unpredictable surges that often outstrip demand.

In 2003, Ireland put a moratorium on connecting wind farms to its electricity grid because of the strains that power surges were putting on the network; it has since begun connecting them again.

In the United States, proposals to build large wind parks in the Atlantic off Long Island and off Cape Cod, Mass., have run into stiff opposition from local residents on aesthetic grounds.

As wind energy has matured as an industry, its image has changed — from a clean, even elegant, alternative to fossil fuels to a renewable energy source with advantages and drawbacks, like any other.

“The environmental benefits of wind are not as great as its champions claim,” said Euan C. Blauvelt, research director of ABS Energy Research, an independent market research firm in London. “You’ve still got to have backup sources of power, like coal-fired plants.”

 

For the full story, see: 

MARK LANDLER.  "Wind Power, and Resistance; Sweden Turns to a Promising Power Source, With Flaws."  The New York Times   (Fri., November 23, 2007):  C1 & C5.

(Note:  online the title was simply "Sweden Turns to a Promising Power Source, With Flaws.")

 




November 17, 2007

"Musing on the Sameness of Princes and Paupers"

 

   King Edward's suite is enjoyed by Münster, Germany resident Henriette Heussner.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A4) MARIANSKE LAZNE, Czech Republic — Anybody with a little cash in this quaint and quiet spa town can take a bath fit for a king.

Edward VII of Britain visited this bucolic corner of Bohemia six times during his short reign and each time took a bath in the Royal Cabin, as his private bathroom at the Nove Lazne hotel is still called. For about $45, you can, too.

. . .

King Edward’s Royal Cabin, a spacious Turkish-bath-style suite, is outfitted with a metal alloy tub and a medieval-looking oaken chair that serves as a toilet and a scale.

. . .

The windows are as delicately painted as a church’s stained glass, and the walls richly decorated with a tropical mural, just as they were in Edwardian days. Angels wearing miters look down from the ceiling.

Lying in the bath, staring up at the same blue parrot that King Edward surely contemplated on the opposite wall, one cannot help musing on the sameness of princes and paupers and those who are somewhere in between.

Tiny bubbles like the carbonation on a soda straw collect on the skin, and larger bubbles percolate around the bather, producing a peculiarly pleasant sensation.

An archaic water heater in a corner of the room clanks contentedly, keeping the bath at what the hotel staff call an “optimal” 97 degrees. The smell of the water is sulfuric and slightly metallic.

Much history and many baths have passed since the king bathed here. In the end, everyone grabs the same metal handle that he did to hoist himself up and out of the tub.

 

For the full story, see: 

CRAIG S. SMITH.  "MARIANSKE LAZNE JOURNAL; This Year at Marienbad, They’re Still Taking the Waters."  The New York Times  (Tues., July 3, 2007):  A4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

CzechMap.jpg   Source of maps:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




November 12, 2007

Strong Global Support for Free Markets

 

FreeMarketsPositiveViewTable.gif   Source of table:  "World Publics Welcome Global Trade -- But Not Immigration." Pew Global Attitudes Project, a project of the PewResearchCenter. Released: 10.04.07 dowloaded from: http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=258

 

(p. A10) WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 — Buoyed and battered by globalization, people around the world strongly view international trade as a good thing but harbor growing concerns about its side effects: threats to their cultures, damage to the environment and the challenges posed by immigration, a new survey indicates.

In the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey of people in 46 countries and the Palestinian territories, large majorities everywhere said that trade was a good thing. In countries like Argentina, which recently experienced trade-based growth, the attitude toward trade has become more positive.

But support for trade has decreased in recent years in advanced Western countries, including Germany, Britain, France and Italy — and most sharply in the United States. The number of Americans saying trade is good for the country has dropped by 19 percentage points since 2002, to 59 percent.

“G.D.P. growth hasn’t been as dramatic in these places as in Latin America or Eastern Europe,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, referring to gross domestic product, the total value of the goods and services produced in a country. “But worldwide, even though some people are rich and some are poor, support for the basic tenet of capitalism is pretty strong.”

 

For the full story, see: 

BRIAN KNOWLTON. "Globalization, According to the World, Is a Good Thing. Sort Of."  The New York Times   (Fri., October 5, 2007):  A10. 

 




October 17, 2007

UNO Protects Students from Cupcakes (Whether They Want to Be Protected, or Not)

 

Many years ago, I went along with a group of Exec MBA students to Germany.  Among them was Bill Swanson.  Bill had a sense of humor.

At some point in the trip, I spilled ketchup on my tie.  Bill's response was that normally a ruined tie would be sad, but given my tie, the ketchup was an improvement.

Yes, Bill has a sense of humor; so I'm hoping the story below is a joke.

That's what I hope, but what I fear is that the story below is one more example of the inefficient, sometimes painful (like when an 8th grader can't take aspirin to middle school), and sometimes funny, things that we are driven to do to protect ourselves from being sued, in an economy where congress has empowered personal injury lawyers to frequently sue for huge and unpredictable compensatory and punitive damages.  (When Joe Ricketts, Ameritrade founder, spoke to my Exec MBA class a few years ago, he said that the biggest threat facing the U.S. economy was the proliferation of tort law suits.)

So it's either a bad joke; or (most likely) it's UNO protecting itself against every potential law suit; or it's a third, and worse, alternative---which would be if the story below is to be taken at face value. 

In that case we would have to conclude that some UNO staff have nothing better to do with their time than to paternalistically 'protect' young adults from a minuscule risk of illness from freely choosing to purchase and eat cupcakes being sold by fellow students to raise money for good causes.

 

Here is an excerpt from the page one, lead story, of the Sat., Oct. 6, 2007, Omaha World-Herald:

 

(p. 1A)  Guns. Drugs. Bake sales.

What do these things have in common?

All have been banned at the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus.

Citing safety and health concerns, UNO last week prohibited selling homemade food items at campus fundraisers.

Officials said the prevalence of serious food allergies and the potential for contaminated food — either by accident or deliberately — led UNO to adopt the policy, which then drew complaints from student groups.

"The primary issue is the health of the students and the safety of the students," said Bill Swanson, assistant to the vice chancellor in the Career Exploration and Outreach Office.

No one on the UNO campus has reported problems with contaminated food purchased at a bake sale, Swanson said.

But there have been incidents around the country, he said, and those were enough to prompt a discussion among officials.

The decision has come under fire from students who say the restriction cuts off small student (p. 2A) groups from their primary fundraising source.

The Public Relations Student Society of America traditionally held bake sales once a month to raise money for national conferences, local business luncheons and volunteer work, said the group's president, Katie Dowd.

The group raised about $1,500 a year hawking homemade baked goods donated by members.

"It's a big blow to us," said Dowd, who called the potential for food contamination from her group's offerings "very unlikely."

 

For the full story, see: 

ELIZABETH AHLIN.  "Goodies ban half-baked, UNO students say." Omaha World-Herald  (Saturday, October 6, 2007):  1A & 2A.

 




September 7, 2007

Reagan's "Crazy" Speech Inspired Lessig to Pursue the "Impossible"

 

Mr. Lessig has become the standard-bearer for those who see copyright law as too protective of original creators and too stifling of the artists who follow them. That position has made him the darling of those who want a relatively unfettered Internet, whether it be music sharers or online poem reprinters.

But it has also made him an opponent of many big media companies, including the Walt Disney Company, whose signature creation, Mickey Mouse, would have passed into the public domain years ago if not for a series of well-timed extensions to the law.

. . .

. . . , it might surprise many of Mr. Lessig’s supporters to find that his inspiration for his copyright work was Ronald Reagan.

“I heard George Shultz give a talk in Berlin on the 20th anniversary of Reagan’s ‘tear down this wall’ speech,” Mr. Lessig said. “It was very moving to be at this event. Many of the Germans in the audience were moved to tears. They said that at the time this happened, it was impossible to see this change happening.”

In recalling his thoughts on the possibility of communism falling, he said, “When I heard Reagan’s speech, I remember thinking, ‘boy, he is crazy,’ ” he said.

It is fair to say you can quote him on that.

 

For the full story, see: 

NOAM COHEN.  "LINK BY LINK; Taking the Copyright Fight Into a New Arena."  The New York Times   (Mon., July 2, 2007):  C3.

 




August 29, 2007

"Total Freedom"

 

   On Monday, May 28th, protesters at the G8 meeting in Hamburg, Germany protested for "Total Freedom" and against globalization.  Source of this version of the banner picture:  http://www.infoshop.org/inews/article.php?story=20070528131819740

 

A photo fairly similar to the one above was run in the print version of the NYT on Tuesday, May 29, 2007, but was not included in the online version.  It appeared by itself, without an attached article.  But, referring to the "Total Freedom" banner, it had the following wonderfully ironic caption:

 

Except, Perhaps, When It Comes to Trade

Thousands of protesters marched against globalization on Monday in Hamburg, Germany, where the Group of Eight industrialized nations will meet next week.  After the largely peaceful rally, some protesters clashed with police and 21 were arrested.  The rest, however, were totally free.

 

Source of the NYT version of the banner picture, and of the caption:

The New York Times  (Tues., May 29, 2007):  A3. 

(Note:  caption title was in bold, and in larger font than the body of the caption, in the original.)

 




April 21, 2007

Castro's Legacy of "Death, Tears and Blood"

Like thousands of other Cubans, I was arrested in the middle of the night. Fidel Castro's police raided my parents' home, stuck a machine gun in my face and took me away. It was 1960 and I was 22 years old.

The news that the Cuban dictator is gravely ill floods my mind with memories of my years spent in captivity. I believe that those of us who were political prisoners know his legacy better than anyone. For 22 years, I was an inmate in his vast prison system, mostly confined to an island gulag, for crimes I did not commit.

. . .

The legacy of Castro for Cuba will be much like that of Stalin in Russia, Pol Pot and Ieng Sari in Cambodia and Hitler in Germany. It will be the memories of the unknown numbers of victims, of concentration camps, torture, murder, exile, families torn apart, death, tears and blood. Castro will go down in history as one of the cruelest of all dictators -- a man who tormented his own people.

But his poisonous legacy will also include the double standard by foreign governments, intellectuals and journalists who fought ferociously against the unspeakable violations of human rights by right-wing dictatorships, yet applauded Castro. To this day many of these intellectuals serve as apologists and accomplices in the subjugation of the Cuban people. Rafael Correa, the recently inaugurated president of Ecuador, has declared that in Cuba there is no dictatorship. Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, considers Castro his mentor and has already shown that he is willing to silence his own critics at the point of a gun. Venezuela, once a democracy, is the new Cuba, replete with a growing population of political prisoners.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ARMANDO VALLADARES.  "Castro's Gulag." The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., March 5, 2007):  A16.

 




March 16, 2007

"Nuclear Energy is Suddenly Back on the Agenda"

   The Belguim windmill looks nice, but the electiricty is produced by the nuclear plant in the background.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

The latest word on energy, from the 2006 World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland:

 

. . .  nuclear energy is suddenly back on the agenda — and not just here.  Spurred on by politicians interested in energy independence and scientists who specialize in the field of climate change, Germany is reconsidering a commitment to shut down its nuclear power plants.  France, Europe’s leading nuclear power producer, is increasing its investment, as is Finland.

At a time when industrialized countries are wrestling with how to curb carbon dioxide emissions, nuclear energy has one indisputable advantage: unlike coal, oil, natural gas, or even biological fuels, it emits no carbon dioxide. That virtue, in the view of advocates, is enough to offset its well-documented shortcomings.

“It has put nuclear back into the mix,” said Daniel C. Esty, director of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University. “We’re seeing a new balancing of the costs and benefits.”

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MARK LANDLER. "Europe’s Embrace; With Apologies, Nuclear Power Gets a Second Look."  The New York Times, Section 4  (Sun., January 28, 2007):  3.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

 




March 8, 2007

Communists Import Giant Rabbits to End Starvation in North Korea

 

Apparently the North Korean Communist government's plan to end starvation in North Korea, is to import and breed giant German rabbits.  If they were really serious, they would do better by respecting property rights, and embracing the free market.

 

EBERSWALDE, Germany -- Few people raise bigger bunny rabbits than Karl Szmolinsky, who has been producing long-eared whoppers since 1964.  His favorite breed, German gray giants, are the size of a full-grown beagle and so fat they can barely hop.

Last year, after the retired chauffeur entered some of his monsters in an agricultural fair, word of his breeding skills spread to the North Korean Embassy in Berlin.  Diplomats looked past the cute, furry faces with the twitching noses and saw a possible solution to their nation's endemic food shortage:  an enormous bunny in every Korean pot.

The North Koreans approached Szmolinsky in November and asked whether he'd advise them on how to start a rabbit breeding program to help "feed the population," the 67-year-old pensioner recalled in an interview at his home in Eberswalde, an eastern German town a few miles from the Polish border.  Sympathetic to the Koreans' plight, he agreed to sell some of his best stock at a steep discount and volunteered to travel to the hermetic nation as a consultant.

. . .

In December, Szmolinsky stuffed six of his rabbits into modified dog carriers and took them to the airport in Berlin, where they boarded a flight for Pyongyang, via Frankfurt, Germany, and Beijing.  Robert, a 23-pounder, was the largest of the bunch, which included four female rabbits and one other male carefully selected for their breeding potential.

How, exactly, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea intends to parlay the small herd of German Flopsies into hunger relief for its 23 million citizens is unclear.

 

For the full story, see: 

Craig Whitlock.  "A Colossal Leap of Faith In Fight Against Famine North Koreans See Potential in German Breeder's Giants."  The Washington Post  (Friday, February 2, 2007):  A10.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

 RabbitGiantGerman.jpg   A giant German rabbit.  Source of photo:  http://www.spiegel.de/img/0,1020,774187,00.jpg

 




March 4, 2007

German Brain Drain

   Engineer Benedikt Thoma is moving his family to Canada from Germany for a brighter future.  Source of photo:  online verion of the NYT article cited below.

 

ESCHBORN, Germany, Feb. 3 — Benedikt Thoma recalls the moment he began to think seriously about leaving Germany. It was in 2004, at a New Year’s Day reception in nearby Frankfurt, and the guest speaker, a prominent politician, was lamenting the fact that every year thousands of educated Germans turn their backs on their homeland.

“That struck me like a bolt of lightning,” said Mr. Thoma, 44, an engineer then running his family’s elevator company. “I asked myself, ‘Why should I stay here when the future is brighter someplace else?’ ”

In December, as his work with the company became an intolerable grind because of labor disputes, Mr. Thoma quit and made plans to move to Canada. In its wide-open spaces he hopes to find the future that he says is dwindling at home. As soon as he lands a job, Mr. Thoma, his wife, Petra, and their two teenage sons will join the ranks of Germany’s emigrants.

There has been a steady exodus over the years, but it has recently become Topic A in a land already saddled with one of the most rapidly aging and shrinking populations of any Western nation. With evidence that more professionals are leaving now than in past years, politicians and business executives warn about the loss of their country’s best and brightest.

. . .

. . . , there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that Germany has become less attractive for people in fields like medicine, academic research and engineering. Those who leave cite chronic unemployment, a rigid labor market, stifling bureaucracy, high taxes and the plodding economy — which, though better recently, still lags behind that of the United States.

. . .

In Mr. Thoma’s view, the root of the problem is [that] . . . Germany, . . . , has a “blockage” in its society.

“Germans are so complacent,” he said, sitting at the dining table in his neat-as-a-pin home here. “They don’t want to change anything. Everything is discussed endlessly without ever reaching a solution.”

As an example he cites the stalemate between his family’s firm and its 89 employees. After the firm became unionized, he said, the two sides began bickering over wages and working conditions.

With much of his 80-hour workweeks eaten up by those disputes, Mr. Thoma said he had developed high blood pressure and other ailments. He told his brothers he was burned out and ready to leave. 

 

For the full story, see:

MARK LANDLER.  "Germany Agonizes Over a Brain Drain."  The New York Times  (Tues., February 6, 2007):  A10.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

     Source of graphic:  online verion of the NYT article cited above.

 




October 15, 2006

German Opera House "Falling On Its Knees Before the Terrorists"

   "A scene added to “Idomeneo,” shown in a 2003 rehearsal, includes Muhammad and other religious figures."  Source of photo and caption:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  BERLIN, Sept. 26 — A leading German opera house has canceled performances of a Mozart opera because of security fears stirred by a scene that depicts the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad, prompting a storm of protest here about what many see as the surrender of artistic freedom.

The Deutsche Oper Berlin said Tuesday that it had pulled “Idomeneo” from its fall schedule after the police warned of an “incalculable risk” to the performers and the audience.

. . .

Political and cultural figures throughout Germany condemned the cancellation.  Some said it recalled the decision of European newspapers not to reprint satirical cartoons about Muhammad, after their publication in Denmark generated a furor among Muslims.

Wolfgang Börnsen, a culture spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc in Parliament, accused the opera house of “falling on its knees before the terrorists.”

 

For the full story, see:

JUDY DEMPSEY and MARK LANDLER.  "Opera Canceled Over a Depiction of Muhammad." The New York Times  (Weds., September 27, 2006):  A1 & A12.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)




April 14, 2006

Labor Market Flexibility Increases Employment and Prosperity



"France is definitely behind," says William Keylor, professor of International Relations and history at Boston University. "If France were to create a more-flexible labor market it would eventually increase productivity and prosperity, but the short-term transition would be difficult and people just aren't thinking long term."

There have been labor changes across continental Europe recently. Denmark's measures to liberalize hiring and firing have helped the country cut its unemployment rate in half from about 10% in the early 1990s to under 5%. Spain, too, has introduced short-term employment contracts which have helped cut its unemployment rate by more than half from 20% a decade ago.

But elsewhere, attempts at change have met with staunch opposition, often resulting in watered-down measures. Italy passed changes to its labor laws in 2004, introducing an extension of temporary-work contracts that were introduced in 1997 and were credited with helping cut Italy's overall unemployment rate to 7.1% from 12% when the contracts began. Yet many economists say Italy, which recorded zero growth last year, hasn't gone far enough.

In Germany, where unemployment stands at 11%, a coalition government headed by conservative leader Angela Merkel has promised to reduce unemployment by introducing similar measures to those hotly debated in France. The government had to settle on compromise measures that can extend a current probation period for workers to 24 months, from the current six. But companies don't have the right to terminate contracts within those two years without giving just cause. Other, more difficult, provisions, are still on hold.

The new measures that will be introduced in Parliament as early as today are targeted at "disadvantaged" youths, which refer to people between 18 and 25 who have left school without any qualifications and who are unemployed. The provisions include increasing financial incentives to employers to hire people under 26 who face the most difficulties.

It would apply to some 160,000 young people currently hired under government-subsidized job contracts, according to an interview with Employment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo in an interview with Le Monde newspaper. The cost to the government would be around €150 million ($180 million) in the second half of 2006, Mr. Borloo was quoted as saying.

But economists said the change of tack was a bad signal. "The real problem is that the results obtained by opponents of the new law...show that it is very difficult to introduce reforms in France," Dominique Barbet, economist at BNP Paribas, wrote in a research note. "This will give opponents of reform confidence for future actions."



For the full story, see:

ALESSANDRA GALLONI. "Bowing to Protesters, Chirac Abandons Youth-Labor Law; Reversal Highlights Europe's Difficulties With Painful Reforms." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 11, 2006): A3 & A10.

(Note: the title and version of the article quoted here are from the online version. The title and content of the version in the printed paper was a little different in a couple of places.)





March 14, 2006

EU Free Market Undermined by National Protectionism



BRUSSELS -- After French and Dutch voters killed the EU constitution last year, its framers fretted that Europe couldn't function without their bloated document. That was always laughable. But driven by economic insecurity, those failed referendums, particularly in France, ended up calling into question the very foundation of the EU, a common and free market.

It didn't take politicians long to take this message to heart. In recent weeks, the idea and reality of a single European market has come under threat. From France to Spain, from Luxembourg to Italy and even newcomer Poland, economic nationalism is gaining strength, evoking memories that the European project was created expressly to bury. Neelie Kroes, the EU's competition commissioner, told me that these developments "risk taking Europe into a 1930s-style downward spiral of tit-for-tat protectionism." This sensible Dutchwoman is not prone to hyperbole, and hardly alone in voicing the concern.

This winter, France made 11 sectors, from data security to (bizarrely) casinos, off limits to foreign buyers. And together with Luxembourg, Paris opposed a mooted merger between the world's biggest steel companies, Mittal and Arcelor. (The protectionist furies so far haven't managed to sink Mittal's hostile bid.)

Prime Minister José Louis Rodríguez Zapatero also wants to keep the energy sector in Spanish hands. When Germany's E.On moved to trump a rival Spanish bid from Gas Natural for the utility Endesa, Mr. Zapatero gave the regulator wider powers to block the takeover.

The most audacious national block was yet to come. Two weeks ago, France stepped in to stop Italy's Enel from acquiring Suez by forcing through a shotgun wedding between the publicly owned Suez and state-owned Gaz de France. This tie-up epitomized Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's notion of "economic patriotism." The Italians saw only economic protectionism, which the country's central bank governor, Mario Draghi, said was "doomed to failure." But Rome can't easily claim the moral high ground, having shielded its banking sector for more than a decade.

The single market isn't doing well on other fronts either. Last month, the European Parliament, with lawmakers following orders from their capitals, emasculated legislation that would have freed up the EU's services market. A free market for services, by some estimates, would have added 0.7% to Europe's GDP and created some 600,000 jobs.



For the full commentary, see:

DANIEL SCHWAMMENTHAL. "Common Market? Think Again!" The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 13, 2006): A19.





February 15, 2006

"Growing Recognition of Economic Costs" of Koyoto Protocol



Commentary on the Kyoto Protocol:

(p. 3) . . . the current stalemate is not just because of the inadequacies of the protocol. It is also a response to the world's ballooning energy appetite, which, largely because of economic growth in China, has exceeded almost everyone's expectations. And there are still no viable alternatives to fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gases.

Then, too, there is a growing recognition of the economic costs incurred by signing on to the Kyoto Protocol.

As Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, a proponent of emissions targets, said in a statement on Nov. 1: ''The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge.''

This is as true, in different ways, in developed nations with high unemployment, like Germany and France, as it is in Russia, which said last week that it may have spot energy shortages this winter.

. . .

The only real answer at the moment is still far out on the horizon: nonpolluting energy sources. But the amount of money being devoted to research and develop such technologies, much less install them, is nowhere near the scale of the problem, many experts on energy technology said.

Enormous investments in basic research have to be made promptly, even with the knowledge that most of the research is likely to fail, if there is to be any chance of creating options for the world's vastly increased energy thirst in a few decades, said Richard G. Richels, an economist at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit center for energy and environment research.

''The train is not leaving the station, and it needs to leave the station,'' Mr. Richels said. ''If we don't have the technologies available at that time, it's going to be a mess.''



For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW C. REVKIN. "THE WORLD; On Climate Change, a Change of Thinking." The New York Times, Section 4 (Sun., December 4, 2005): 3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





February 6, 2006

Unintended Consequences of Making My Cold Medicine Hard to Get


SudafedColdCcough.jpg
Source of image: http://www.sudafed.com/products/cold_and_cough.html

When I get a cold, nothing keeps me functioning as well as Sudafed Cold and Cough. Unfortunately, the pills contain pseudoephedrine, which apparently is an ingredient that can be used in the process of making meth. So in their zeal to protect people from their own bad choices, governments across the country, including my own Nebraska, have put increasingly severe restrictions on the sale and purchase of medicines like Sudafed Cold and Cough. Many stores that used to carry the medicine, have dropped it, and those that still carry it, have significantly increased the price.

So the government has made life harder for me. But at least they've benefitted the meth addicts, right? Read on:

(p. 1A) Restrictions on the sale of cold medicine appear to be reducing seizures of homemade methamphetamine labs in Nebraska and Iowa.

Both states passed laws last year restricting over-the-counter purchases of cold medicines used to make meth - and both report fewer lab discoveries.

But officials in the two states - and others with similar restrictions - now have a new problem: The drop in home-cooked methamphetamine has been met by a flood of crystal methamphetamine coming largely from Mexico.

Sometimes called ice, crystal meth is far purer, and therefore even more highly addictive, than powdered home-cooked meth.

And because crystal meth costs more, the police say thefts are increasing, as people who once cooked at home now have to buy it.

The University of Iowa Burn Center, which in 2004 spent $2.8 million treating people whose skin had been scorched off by the toxic chemicals used to make meth at home, says it now sees hardly any cases of that sort. Drug treatment cen- (p. 3A) ters, on the other hand, say they are treating just as many or more meth addicts.

And although Iowa child welfare officials say they are removing fewer children from homes where parents are cooking the drug, the number of children being removed from homes where parents are using it has more than made up the difference.



For the full story, see:

"Meth labs decline, but 'ice' fills gap." Omaha World-Herald (Sunrise Edition, Mon., January 30, 2006): 1A & 3A.


Apparently the only current substitute for pseudoephedrine in cold medicines is phenylephrine. But it has several drawbacks. Consider:

. . . pharmacologists, who specialize in the properties of medications, say oral phenylephrine has several disadvantages. First, the effects of the current formulations wear off faster than pseudoephedrine -- meaning users will need to take a pill after four hours instead of up to six for the shorter-acting pseudoephedrine. Pseudoephedrine also comes in long-acting 12- and 24-hour pills, an option not currently available for over-the-counter phenylephrine.

Another question is whether oral phenylephrine is as effective as pseudoephedrine. There have been no major published head-to-head trials comparing the two, and neither Pfizer nor Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, a major supplier of powder phenylephrine for pills, has studied the matter. In 2003, Pfizer conducted a consumer survey in which 400 mall-goers with stuffy noses were given either standard Sudafed or Sudafed PE. In a telephone survey a week later, about 70% of each group reported "good" or "excellent" results, the company says.

But pharmacologists say there are reasons for caution. For one, oral phenylephrine is heavily absorbed by the intestine and broken down in the liver -- so only 6% to 40% of the actual medicine makes it into the blood stream, compared with nearly all of pseudoephedrine, scientists say. Moreover, its use as a decongestant has been far less heavily studied than pseudoephedrine's. The FDA review cited more than six studies, primarily unpublished work from a single laboratory, which found it effective. The review also cited a nearly equal number of studies from a variety of laboratories that found phenylephrine no better than a placebo -- but the agency concluded overall that it does work. Little has been published since then.

The American Heart Association warns that both drugs can raise blood pressure, so people with high blood pressure or heart disease should consult their doctor before taking them. It isn't known whether phenylephrine poses more or less of a risk than pseudoephedrine, though some experts say phenylephrine has been less tested so may merit more caution.

If a stuffy nose is making you miserable and only the most proven remedy will do, you may want to take the time to look for pseudoephedrine -- even if it means you have to wait at the counter.



For the full story, see:

LAURA JOHANNES. " ACHES & CLAIMS; Choosing a Pill for That Cold." THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (Tues., December 27, 2005): D4.




January 23, 2006

Good Rules Encourage Entrepreneurship, Resulting in Vibrant Economy



Some useful observations from the 2004 co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Edward Prescott:

Good tax rates, . . . , need be high enough to generate sufficient revenues, but not so high that they choke off growth and, perversely, decrease tax revenues.  This, of course, is the tricky part, and brings us to the task at hand:  Should Congress extend the 15% rate on capital gains and dividends?  Wrong question.  Should Congress make the 15% rate permanent?  Yes.  (This assumes that a lower rate is politically impossible.)

These taxes are particularly cumbersome because they hit a market economy right in its collective heart, which is its entrepreneurial and risk-taking spirit.  What makes this country's economy so vibrant is its participants' willingness to take chances, innovate, acquire financing, hire new people and break old molds.  Every increase in capital gains taxes and dividends is a direct tax on this vitality.

Americans aren't risk-takers by nature any more than Germans are intrinsically less willing to work than Americans.  The reason the U.S. economy is so much more vibrant than Germany's is that people in each country are playing by different rules.  But we shouldn't take our vibrancy for granted.  Tax rates matter.  A shift back to higher rates will have negative consequences.

And this isn't about giving tax breaks to the rich.  The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece by former Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, who noted that "nearly 60% of those paying capital gains taxes earn less than $50,000 a year, and 85% of capital gains taxpayers earn less than $100,000."  In addition, he wrote that lower tax rates on savings and investment benefited 24 million families to the tune of about $950 on their 2004 taxes.

Do wealthier citizens realize greater savings?  Of course -- this is true by definition.  But that doesn't make it wrong.  Let's look at two examples:    First, there are those entrepreneurs who have been working their tails off for years with little or no compensation and who, if they are lucky, finally realize a relatively big gain.  What kind of Scrooge would snatch away this entrepreneurial carrot?  As mentioned earlier, under a good system you have to provide for these rewards or you will discourage the risk taking that is the lifeblood of our economy.  Additionally, those entrepreneurs create huge social surpluses in the form of new jobs and spin-off businesses.   Entrepreneurs capture a small portion of the social surpluses that they create, but a small percentage of something big is, well, big.

Congratulations, I say.  Another group of wealthier individuals includes those who, for a variety of reasons, earn more money than the rest of us.  Again, I tip my hat.  Does it make sense to try to capture more of those folks' money by raising rates on everyone?  To persecute the few, should we punish the many?  We need to remember that many so-called wealthy families are those with two wage-earners who are doing nothing more than trying to raise their children and pursue their careers.  Research has shown that much of America's economic growth in recent decades is owing to this phenomenon -- we should encourage this dynamic, not squelch it.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD C. PRESCOTT. "'Stop Messing With Federal Tax Rates'." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 20, 2005): A14.





December 25, 2005

With Flat Tax, Estonia Has 11% Growth




"Prime Minister Andrus Ansip of Estonia in the cabinet room, which is equipped with a computer for each minister." Source of caption and photo: online version of NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A4) TALLINN, Estonia - Estonia, one realizes after a few days in the abiding twilight of a Baltic winter, is not like other European countries.

The first tip-off is the government's cabinet room, outfitted less like a ceremonial chamber than a control center. Each minister has a flat-screen computer to transmit votes during debates. Then there is Estonia's idea of an intellectual hero: Steve Forbes, the American publishing scion, two-time candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and tireless evangelist for the flat tax.

Fired with a free-market fervor and hurtling into the high-tech future, Estonia feels more like a Baltic outpost of Silicon Valley than of Europe. Nineteen months after it achieved its cherished goal of joining the European Union, one might even characterize Estonia as the un-Europe.

"I must say Steve Forbes was a genius," Prime Minister Andrus Ansip declared during an interview in his hilltop office. "I'm sure he still is," he added hastily.

The subject was the flat tax, which Mr. Forbes never succeeded in selling in the United States. Here in the polar reaches of Europe it is an article of faith. Estonia became the first country to adopt it in 1994, as part of a broader strategy to transform itself from an obscure Soviet republic into a plugged-in member of the global information economy.

By all accounts, the plan is working. Estonia's economic growth was nearly 11 percent in the last quarter - the second fastest in Europe, after Latvia, and an increase more reminiscent of China or India than Germany or France.

People call this place E-stonia, and the cyber-intoxication is palpable in Tallinn's cafes and bars, which are universally equipped with wireless connections, and in local success stories like Skype, designed by Estonian developers and now offering free calls over the Internet to millions.

. . .

Germans showed how allergic they were to the idea when Angela Merkel chose a flat tax advocate as her economic adviser. Antipathy toward him was so intense that political analysts say it probably cost Chancellor Merkel's party a clear majority in the German Parliament.

Yet the concept has caught on in this part of Europe. Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia all have a flat tax, while the Czech Republic and Slovenia have considered one. Tax policy, not support for the American-led war in Iraq, is the bright line that separates the so-called old Europe from the new.



For the full article, see:

MARK LANDLER. "Letter From Estonia: A Land of Northern Lights, Cybercafes and the Flat Tax." The New York Times (Weds., December 21, 2005): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





December 13, 2005

Finland Building Europe's First New Nuclear Reactor in 15 Years



Petr Beckmann holding a copy of his The Health Hazards of NOT Going Nuclear. Golem Press, 1976. Beckmann died on August 3, 1993. Source of photo and Beckmann date of death: http://www.commentary.net/view/atearchive/s76a1928.htm


Not all those who are right, live to see their ideas vindicated. Thank you Petr Beckmann, for writing the truth, when the truth was not popular.


. . . when Finland, a country with a long memory of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and considerable environmental bona fides, chose to move ahead this year with the construction of the world's largest nuclear reactor, the nuclear industry portrayed it as a victory, one that would force the rest of Western Europe to take note.

But the decision to build the reactor, Olkiluoto 3, Europe's first in 15 years, was not taken quickly or lightly.

. . .

"There is an expectation that others will follow, both because of the way the decision was made and the boosting of confidence in being able to get through all the oppositional fear-mongering," said Ian Hore-Lacy, the director of public communications for the World Nuclear Association, an industry lobbying group.

The United States, which has not had a nuclear plant on order since 1978, is experiencing a groundswell of interest. Taking the first step in a long process, Constellation Energy, a Baltimore-based holding company, announced in late October that it would apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to construct and operate a pressurized water reactor like the kind being built in Finland, possibly in upstate New York or Maryland. The Finnish reactor, designed by Areva, the French state-controlled nuclear power group, is being built by Framatome ANP, a joint venture of Areva and Siemens, a Germany company.

In addition, President Bush signed into law an energy bill in August that offers billions of dollars in research and development funds and construction subsidies to companies willing to build new nuclear plants. Several utility companies have applied for early site permits, a preliminary step toward building reactors.

Worldwide, the resurgent interest in nuclear power is even more pronounced. Twenty-three reactors are under construction this year in 10 countries, most of them in Asia, which has aggressively pursued nuclear energy. India is building eight reactors. China and Taiwan are building a total of four reactors and are planning eight more. Russia is building four and South Korea is planning eight.

...

Nuclear energy's selling points were timely: it does not create emissions, unlike coal, oil and gas, and provides predictable electricity prices, a major bonus for Finnish industries, nuclear proponents said.

"The only viable alternative, if we want to maintain the structure of the economy, maintain our industries and meet our Kyoto targets, is nuclear," said Juha Rantanen, the chief executive officer of Outokumpu, one of the world's largest steel producers and one of Finland's biggest energy users. "We can't have a declining economy. We face huge challenges and an aging population. Something had to be done."

Environmentalists, however, argued that nuclear reactors could never be entirely safe. They are always radioactive, and their waste remains toxic for 100,000 years.

But the designers of Areva's pressurized water reactor, which is costing $3.5 billion to build, helped counter those arguments. In the event of a core meltdown, they said, the nuclear material would flow into a separate enclosure for cooling. They also said that the reactor is being built with enough concrete to withstand the impact of an airliner.

In the end, Finland's largest trade union supported the project, basically sealing the deal.

. . .




Read the full article at:

LIZETTE ALVAREZ. "Finland Rekindles Interest in Nuclear Power." The New York Times (Mon., December 12, 2005): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)





October 27, 2005

Nazi Economy Was Not Efficient



A common view of National Socialism is that it was evil, but efficient. A recent book by Richard J. Evans challenges the "efficient" part of the common view. Here is a relevant paragraph from a useful review of Evans' book:


(p. B5) The Nazi machine, as Mr. Evans describes it, moved forward with a good deal of creaking and squeaking. The economy was no exception. On many fronts, the Nazis managed nothing more than to bring the economy back to the status quo that existed before the Depression. As late as January 1935, one estimate put the number of unemployed at more than four million, and food shortages were still a problem in 1939. Workers put in longer hours simply to stay even.


For the full review, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "The Radical Restructuring of a Germany Headed to War." The New York Times (Weds., October 26, 2005): B8.

The reference to the book is:

Richard J. Evans. The Third Reich in Power: 1933-1939. The Penguin Press, 2005.





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