Quotulatiousness

April 8, 2014

Choosing when to die

Filed under: Europe, Health, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:52

Colby Cosh discusses the latest Swiss innovation to come to the tabloid newspapers’ attention:

Five or six times I must have read the story about the relatively healthy little old English lady who killed herself rather than struggle on through the “digital age”, and I still cannot quite think what to make of it. Surely there is something noble about leaving life on what are as nearly as possible one’s own terms, with some strength left, after a full, long, largely happy existence.

Unlike a lot of self-described “environmentalists”, she clearly believed the Malthusian script and took the recommended action: “The environmentalist was also worried about the damage being wrought on the planet by overcrowding and pollution.” If she was that worried about poor old Mother Earth, one might wonder why she took so long to take her leave of it.

I suppose Dignitas does its best to make sure oldies aren’t being urged to suicide by impatient heirs, but surely there is only so much the staff can do, and it is in their interest to do as little as possible. It is certainly easy to imagine ethically dubious ways of encouraging the irritability of a cranky, inconvenient old person. Oo, hardly worth the trouble of gettin’ out of bed in the morning, is it, gran? Oh, dear, are your lungs givin’ you a hard time again? Tsk, must make you want to chuck it all in sometimes. If you are a person of British descent, you take in a certain amount of this glum, boggy attitude with every meal anyway. It comes naturally.

And there is my only real concern about institutionalizing the right to die … that it will encourage a certain haste: not among the elderly or afflicted, but among their caregivers, descendents, and prospective legatees. I think you should have the right to decide when to die, but it is a situation that offers the unscrupulous and unprincipled a quicker route to impose their desires on others.

But who is ready to have the government issue packets of Nembutal every five years with Canada Pension Plan cheques? Whatever solution we decide on for the convenience of the legitimately ailing or hopeless, I want the doctors — who, after all, belong to a profession that cannot seem to stop prescribing useless antibiotics for upper respiratory infections — to have as little to do with it as possible. Physicians are not saints, and they will follow the “easier for me” heuristic, like other primates, if non-negotiable aspects of their duty are thrown open to fiddling. “Do no harm” has been at the top of the list for 2,400 years, and, please, keep in mind, it took them 2,200 of those to give up therapeutic bloodletting.

Exactly.

January 2, 2014

National reputation rankings for 2013

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:37

In Forbes, Susan Adams reports on the most recent reputable countries report:

Which countries have the best reputations? What does that even mean? The Reputation Institute, a global private consulting firm based in New York and Copenhagen, has just released its fourth annual list of 50 countries, ranked according to what it says is people’s trust, admiration, respect and affinity for those countries.

Topping the list for the third year in a row: Canada. Sweden comes in second, one place up from last year and Switzerland is third, up from fourth last year. (Australia slipped from second to fourth place.)

What’s most notable is how far down the U.S. ranks: 22nd place, behind Brazil and just above Peru. Several European countries that continue to battle severe economic turmoil ranked above the U.S. again this year including Italy in 16th place, France in 17th, Spain in 18th and Portugal in 19th place.

One reason the U.S. doesn’t rank higher, says Fernando Prado, a managing partner at the Reputation Institute, is that when asked what was most important to them in gauging a country’s reputation, respondents said it was effective government and appealing environment a bit more than an advanced economy. But the U.S. has been steadily gaining in each of those three categories, says Prado, which explains why it moved up one place from 23rd last year. Prado adds that the U.S. is burdened by what he calls “a negative emotional halo” that has to do with being a world superpower. Outside the U.S., people have mixed feelings about its dominant role in the world.

August 29, 2013

The new Swiss model of prostitution

Filed under: Business, Europe, Law — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:25

I think it’s impossible to stamp out prostitution, so making it legal and (hopefully) safer for the sex workers is a good idea. Switzerland seems to agree, although they’re going about it in an odd way:

Zurich’s new drive-in brothels opened earlier this week and they already raised a few eyebrows.

Across Europe there does seem to be a growing trend for sex drive-ins, however, with a widespread belief that it gets prostitution off the streets and into a safer environment, with similar schemes in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.

One of the most unusual aspects of the Zurich brothel — which are being referred to as “sex boxes” in Swiss media — are the signs being used at the facility, which cater both to Switzerland’s multilingual society (four official languages) and perhaps an odd sense of humor.

Rather than posting verbose signs in all four official languages (French, German, Italian, and Romansh), they’re using rather amusing “international” pictograms:

We’ve done our best to translate (going right to left then working down):

  • Swiss drive-in brothel signsNo one under the age of eighteen.
  • Only cars can use the facility — no motorbikes, people on foot, or bicycles.
  • Just one client at a time.
  • Use the facilities provided, not the outdoor space.
  • Again, do not use the outdoor space.
  • Do not go off facility grounds
  • Throw away your trash.
  • No photography, filming, or recording (or singing, perhaps).

December 23, 2012

Goldbugs, behold the CombiBar

Filed under: Business, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:48

If you’re a big gold fan, you might want to look at the CombiBar, which is a gold wafer that can easily be broken down into one-gram portions:

Private investors in Switzerland, Austria and Germany are lining up to buy gold bars the size of a credit card that can easily be broken into one gram pieces and used as payment in an emergency.

Now Swiss refinery Valcambi, a unit of U.S. mining giant Newmont, wants to bring its “CombiBar” to market in the United States and build up its sales presence India — the world’s largest consumer of gold where the precious metal has long served as a parallel currency.

Investors worried that inflation and financial market turmoil will wipe out the value of their cash have poured money into gold over the past decade. Prices have gained almost 500 percent since 2001 compared to a 12 percent increase in MSCI’s world equity index.

[. . .]

The CombiBar is particularly popular among grandparents who want to give their grandchildren a strip of gold rather than a coin, said Andreas Habluetzel head of the Swiss business of Degussa, a gold trading company.

Other customers buy gold for security reasons.

“Demand is rising every week,” Habluetzel said. “Particularly in Germany, people buying gold fear that the euro will break apart or that banks will run into problems.”

H/T to Tyler Cowen for the link.

November 9, 2012

Solving the “tax haven problem” … with military intervention

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:30

Radley Balko suggested that this is insanity. I agree, but as Dan Mitchell explains, it’s being bruited about by people who should know far, far better:

A former bureaucrat from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development actually called for the forcible annexation of low-tax jurisdictions, writing in the Financial Times that, “Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man should simply be absorbed lock, stock and barrel into the UK…Andorra, Monaco and Liechtenstein should be given the choice of ending bank secrecy or facing annexation.”

He wasn’t quite so belligerent about Switzerland, perhaps because all able-bodied male citizens have fully automatic assault weapons in their homes. But he did urge financial protectionism against the land of chocolate, yodeling, and watches.

What a bizarre attitude. It’s apparently okay for certain countries to persecute – or even kill – ethnic minorities, religious minorities, political dissidents, homosexuals, and other segments of their populations. Very rarely do people like Mr. Buiter call for annexation or sanctions against such loathsome regimes.

But if a nation has low taxes and a strong human rights policy on financial privacy, then cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.

November 8, 2012

The Swiss children of Malthus

Filed under: Environment, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:59

In sp!ked, Patrick Hayes points out the odd way that Malthusians and xenophobic far-right political groups converge:

For greens, the ends will always justify the means when it comes to saving the planet. In the UK, they have opportunistically latched themselves on to left-wing movements to try to gain purchase with a broader public. But, as Swiss campaign group Ecology and Population (EcoPop) has demonstrated, in an attempt to pursue their Malthusian goals, greens can be equally happy tapping into the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the far right.

In a stunt last week, members of EcoPop carried dozens of cardboard boxes into the Swiss chancellery which contained 120,700 certified signatures calling for immigration into Switzerland to be capped at 0.2 per cent of the resident population. Under Swiss law, this means that a referendum will now be held on the proposal. Such a move trumps even the efforts of the far-right Swiss People’s Party, which has long lobbied for greater immigration controls.

But these greens aren’t mobilising for an immigration clampdown with banners claiming ‘keep the darkies out’ as right-wing groups have done in the past. Nor are they using dodgy, discredited scientific arguments to justify racial superiority, wielding books like Madison Grant’s The Passing of The Great Race for evidence.

No, instead EcoPop delivers its demands for immigration curbs carrying a banner asking: ‘How many people can the Earth tolerate?’ The group’s members use the (equally dodgy and discredited) Malthusian science of population growth and babble on about our ‘finite planet’. And they have reportedly been strongly influenced by the theories of US Malthusian Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb.

EcoPop bends over backwards to claim that it is not singling out particular races when advocating its policies. According to the BBC, it claims to be ‘opposed to all forms of xenophobia and racism’. But, the group says, ‘Switzerland must limit immigration to avoid urbanisation and to preserve agricultural land’.

You could almost believe that EcoPop is just a bunch of backward-thinking NIMBYish Luddites wanting to stop a flood of immigrants from destroying what it sees as a rural idyll — until you see what the group has tacked on to its proposed referendum for immigration caps. EcoPop slipped an additional clause into the referendum calling for a tenth of all foreign aid to be used ‘for birth-control measures abroad’. (It’s highly questionable how many people would have signed a petition for that alone.)

So it’s not enough to keep foreigners out of Switzerland, then, it’s also necessary to keep them from breeding too much in their own countries as well. And the fact that most of the aid will go towards stopping poor black and brown families from breeding too much suggests that if they’re not intentionally being racist, then EcoPop’s members should really think very hard about how they come across.

October 12, 2012

McParland: How about Nobels for Canada, Switzerland, and Costa Rica!

Filed under: Americas, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:24

The latest Nobel Peace Prize winner follows a pattern that Kelly McParland thinks he’s identified:

I’m pretty sure the Nobel peace prize committee just bought itself a regular spot on Saturday Night Live. How could it award a peace prize to Europe – yes, all of Europe — based on the fact that it’s not at war with itself, and not become a target of satire?

[. . .]

Today, the notion of Italy invading Spain, or the Dutch royal family seizing the British throne, is unimaginable. Austria, once one of the world’s great powers, is now a small Alpine nation that’s a threat to nobody. Obviously this is a good thing; being friends is better than being enemies. But is that reason to give it a peace prize? Canada has never started a war with anyone, anywhere, so where’s our prize? Switzerland washed its hands of war a century ago and remained neutral through both world wars. Costa Rica doesn’t even have an army. How about a peace prize for that?

This whole peace prize thing is getting weirder by the year anyway. In 2009 it went to Barack Obama, for reasons even Obama couldn’t explain. Since then his administration has been picking off terrorists with drones with gay abandon. In 2007 it went to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore, because why? Because alternative energy is peaceful? Because you can’t stoke a nuclear weapon with solar power? Beats me. You get the feeling the committee finds itself facing a deadline, can’t make a decision, and someone says, “The hell with it, let’s just pick a name out of the hat.” This year some scamp had scribbled “European Union” on a piece of paper and slipped it in with the others, and that’s the slip they drew.

Maybe it’s more complicated than that. But you wouldn’t know it from this year’s winner.

September 18, 2012

Canada ranks fifth in the world for economic freedom

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:19

The annual Fraser Institute report on world economic freedom may confirm what a lot of Canadians have been noticing: we’re now much more free than our American friends, at least by the measurements tracked in this series of rankings (PDF):

  • In the chain-linked index, average economic freedom rose from 5.30 (out of 10) in
    1980 to 6.88 in 2007. It then fell for two consecutive years, resulting in a score of
    6.79 in 2009 but has risen slightly to 6.83 in 2010, the most recent year available.
    It appears that responses to the economic crisis have reduced economic freedom
    in the short term and perhaps prosperity over the long term, but the upward
    movement this year is encouraging.
  • In this year’s index, Hong Kong retains the highest rating for economic freedom,
    8.90 out of 10. The other top 10 nations are: Singapore, 8.69; New Zealand, 8.36;
    Switzerland, 8.24; Australia, 7.97; Canada, 7.97; Bahrain, 7.94; Mauritius, 7.90;
    Finland, 7.88; and Chile, 7.84.
  • The rankings (and scores) of other large economies in this year’s index are the United
    Kingdom, 12th (7.75); the United States, 18th (7.69); Japan, 20th (7.64); Germany,
    31st (7.52); France, 47th (7.32); Italy, 83rd (6.77); Mexico, 91st, (6.66); Russia, 95th
    (6.56); Brazil, 105th (6.37); China, 107th (6.35); and India, 111th (6.26).
  • The scores of the bottom ten nations in this year’s index are: Venezuela, 4.07;
    Myanmar, 4.29; Zimbabwe, 4.35; Republic of the Congo, 4.86; Angola, 5.12;
    Democratic Republic of the Congo, 5.18; Guinea-Bissau, 5.23; Algeria, 5.34; Chad,
    5.41; and, tied for 10th worst, Mozambique and Burundi, 5.45.
  • The United States, long considered the standard bearer for economic freedom
    among large industrial nations, has experienced a substantial decline in economic
    freedom during the past decade. From 1980 to 2000, the United States was generally
    rated the third freest economy in the world, ranking behind only Hong Kong and
    Singapore. After increasing steadily during the period from 1980 to 2000, the chainlinked
    EFW rating of the United States fell from 8.65 in 2000 to 8.21 in 2005 and
    7.70 in 2010. The chain-linked ranking of the United States has fallen precipitously
    from second in 2000 to eighth in 2005 and 19th in 2010 (unadjusted ranking of 18th).

September 6, 2012

Switzerland to buy Swedish warplanes

Filed under: Europe, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:12

Switzerland is planning to replace their aging fleet of F-5 fighter jets with a smaller number of modern Swedish aircraft:

Switzerland has decided to buy 22 Swedish JAS-39E Gripen fighters to replace their elderly F-5s. The 16 ton JAS-39E is roughly comparable with the latest versions of the F-16 and is a substantial upgrade of the current JAS-39C model. The Gripen is also used by Sweden, Thailand, South Africa, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. The 39E is still in development and will eventually replace the 14 ton JAS-39C.

[. . .]

Often regarded as an also-ran in the current crop of “modern jet fighters,” the Swedish Gripen is proving to be more competition than the major players (the F-16, F-18, F-35, Eurofighter, Rafale, MiG-29, and Su-27) expected. Put simply, Gripen does a lot of little but important things right and costs about half as much (at about $35 million each) as its major competitors. In effect, Gripen provides the ruggedness and low cost of Russian aircraft with the high quality and reliability of Western aircraft. For many nations this is an appealing combination. The Gripen is easy to use (both for pilots and ground crews) and capable of doing all jet fighter jobs (air defense, ground support, and reconnaissance) well enough.

The Gripen is small but can carry up to 3.6 tons of weapons. With the increasing use of smart bombs, this is adequate. The aircraft entered active service in 1997 and has had an uphill battle getting export sales. Sweden does not have the diplomatic clout of its major competitors, so they have to push quality and service. Swedish warplanes and products in general have an excellent reputation in both categories. Nevertheless, the Gripen is still expected to lose out on a lot of sales simply because politics took precedence over performance.

Update: Yes, I caught the mis-attribution in the headline about a minute after I posted this. Sorry for the error, etc., etc., etc.

September 6, 2011

Switzerland devalues the franc

Filed under: Economics, Europe — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:06

In what appears to be a successful attempt to devalue their currency, the Swiss have announced that they will peg the franc at €0.83, or SFr1.20 to the euro:

The Swiss National Bank in effect devalued the franc, pledging to buy “unlimited quantities” of foreign currencies to force down its value. The SNB warned that it would no longer allow one Swiss franc to be worth more than €0.83 — equivalent to SFr1.20 to the euro — having watched the two currencies move closer to parity as Switzerland became a “safe haven” from the ravages of the eurozone crisis.

The move stunned currency traders, and sent the Swiss franc tumbling against other currencies. Jeremy Cook, chief economist at currency brokers World First, said it was “intervention on a grand scale”, and the start of a “new battle in the currency wars”.

“That was the single largest foreign exchange move I have ever seen … The Swiss franc has lost close on 9% in the past 15 minutes. This dwarfs moves seen post-Lehman brothers, 7/7, and other major geo-political events in the past decade,” Cook said.

April 1, 2010

Blast from the past: “Panorama” looks at spaghetti farming

Filed under: Europe, Humour, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:55

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