French Primary: Early Results

Ségoléne Royal is coming in with a wet sail in the French Socialists’ primary election tonight, according to early results. Final data should be out around 0300GMT, but the signs are all there – Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s man of business, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, has conceded defeat and wished her all good luck, Laurent Fabius’s campaign manager has called on his followers to rally behind the candidate, and the figures look decisive. Royal has 60 or so per cent, DSK 20 and Fabius 16 per cent. Including Paris, where DSK did markedly better, it’s more like 58 per cent Royal and 22 per cent Strauss-Kahn. Crucially, even the Rhone Valley federation, thought to be a banker for DSK, went strongly for Royal. The biggest Socialist group in France, up north in the Pas-de-Calais, went her way by 80 per cent, as did the DSK-leaning group in Maine et Loire – even though the controversial YouTube vid of her being rude about teachers was taken there.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Michéle Alliot-Marie engages Sarkozy-related targets..

A Fistful of Evro?

I see from EurActiv that the Bulgarians are runing into some linguistic trouble over the single currency:

The country has expressed concern over the differences between Bulgaria’s Cyrillic and the EU’s Latin alphabets, in response to renewed European Central Bank (ECB) demands that ‘euro’ be spelled and pronounced with a ‘u’ and not a ‘v’ as Bulgarians wish (‘evro’).

(Strictly speaking of course the argument is whether or not the Bulgarians should be allowed to continue calling it the “евро”, not the “evro”, as nobody plans to use the Latin alphabet for the word.)

Nobody seems to have noticed that in Greek the word ευρώ is also pronounced “evro”. Those who are more familiar with ancient rather than modern Greek (which is probably the majority of those outside Greece who have bothered to think about this issue) will have assumed that the word is pronounced with only one consonant rather than two.

Anyway, it’s not as if other languages are uniform. If that Latvians can say “eiro” and the Maltese “ewro”, the Bulgarians should be allowed their spelling, and not be made to go down the road of the Slovenes, who are forced to use “euro” officially but continue to use “evro” unofficially.

Wikipedia has a page about this. (Of course.)

Kosovo: Counting the days

So the Kosovar Albanians are counting the days until the January 21 elections in Serbia.

Not because they care who wins. If they have a preference, they’d probably want the loathsome nationalist Radical party to win, since that would immediately turn Serbia into an international pariah (again) and make Kosovar independence that much easier. But they figure independence is coming anyway, so they’re not much concerned.

But the UN envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, has announced that he will make his recommendations for Kosovo’s status at the end of January… after the elections. This is, everyone assumes, because he’ll recommend independence. If he were going to recommend that Kosovo stay part of Serbia, he’d do it now. Recommending independence (it’s believed) would be a shattering blow to the current, “moderate” government of Serbia, and might lead to a Radical victory. So, best to wait.

Well… maybe.
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200 Gigabits a Second

Todd Underwood of Internet consultants Renesys has an interesting post for the day AMSIX, the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, set the world record for Internet traffic through a single facility. At 2110 CET on Monday, the world’s biggest IX saw more than 200 gigabits a second of netty goodness hurtling through its multiple 10GB Ethernet switches. That’s a whole lotta traffic. And love, this being Amsterdam.

But what especially interests me about it is that somehow, everyone does these things differently. In North America, public IXen don’t really count for much—even the mighty Equinix sees only half AMSIX’s traffic across all its exchanges. Traditionally, ISPs and telcos have preferred to set up private interconnections, or else pay a private exchange operator like Equinix. In Europe, though, public exchanges run by their users as co-operatives, where everyone connects to shared high-capacity Ethernet switches, have been a vital part of the Internet infrastructure from the word go, with LINX in Tookey Street, London SE1 being the first. Over the years, they have grown spectacularly and continue to do so—a year ago, AMS-IX was doing half the traffic it is now, LINX has doubled since January, and DECIX in Frankfurt is up 150 per cent this year.

There’s obviously a political/cultural analogy here. The Americans prefer to set up their own private wires, and the Europeans prefer sharing a really big Ethernet ring, operated as a non-profit organisation. And the South Koreans have arrived at a sort of hybrid solution, doing private interconnection in a very big way but within a shared facility. But there doesn’t seem to be any great difference in the results.

Geek culture bleg: If multiple Linux boxes are boxen, multiple muxes are muxen, more than one VAX used to be VAXen, why aren’t more than one switch switchen?

Illiterate voters

I should know better than to visit Arts & Letters Daily when I am up to my ears in work. The wealth of reading material found there provides the ideal excuse for procrastination. “Hey, I am doing something intellectual here”. Nevertheless, after having resisted the temptation to go there for a while, I finally succumbed and discovered an interesting blog and an essay on the illiteracy of voters when it comes to basic economic principles. The blog is Cato Unbound and the essay, written by economics professor Bryan Caplan, is called Straight Talk about Economic Illiteracy (pdf, via Mercatus Center). My high school major in economics notwithstanding, please do not laugh, I consider myself to be an economic illiterate and therefore had to read the essay. It was a good call. One quote to wet your appetites as well:

Admittedly, economic illiteracy does not automatically translate into foolish policies. We could imagine that the errors of half the electorate balance out the errors of the other half. In the real world though, we shall see that such coincidences are rare. The public tends to cluster around the same errors – like blaming foreigners for all their woes. Another conceivable way to contain the damage of economic illiteracy would be for citizens to swallow their pride, ignore their own policy views, defer to specialists, and vote based on concrete results. Once again, though, this is rare in the real world. Politicians plainly spend a lot of energy trying to find out what policies voters want, and comparatively little investigating whether voters’ expectations are in error. Indeed, even when politicians brag about their “results”, they usually mean that their proposals became policies, and sidestep the difficult issue of whether those policies worked as advertised.

I do have to add one caveat concerning Bryan Caplan, at least for economic illiterates like myself. Caplan, according to wikipedia, “has been heavily influenced by Ayn Rand, Thomas Szasz, and Thomas Reid”. This influence is notable in the essay, just look for his take on the word “greed”. There may be an ‘agenda’ here. I especially like the before-I-saw-the-light style he adopts. In any case, I am mainly interested in his ideas about voter illiteracy and how he defines that illiteracy in terms of his own economic belief system. Is Caplan right, in general, in saying that voters are economically illiterate? Or is he simply using that angle as a trick to ‘convince’ true illiterates to see his light as well? This is an important, albeit naive, question, since illiterates like me are dependent on information from ‘specialists’, and Caplan ‘is’ an economics professor… To be filed under “forest and trees” and “caveat emptor”?

Alliance of Civilizations

This small post serves as an addendum to my previous posts on religion. Yesterday a group of prominent world figures met in Istanbul to discuss tensions between Muslims and Western Societies. The group, The Alliance of Civilizations, including Desmond Tutu and Mohammed Khatami, concluded that:

The chief causes of the rift are not religion or history, they say, but recent political developments, notably the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The group issued a report that details the problems leading to the growing divide between the West and Muslims, in which they reject the notion that a clash of civilizations is inevitable. I suppose these findings will provide much food for thought and even more fodder for debate, but the report is truly interesting, if only as a sign of the times. The report (pdf) can be downloaded right here. One quote:

3.8 The exploitation of religion by ideologues intent on swaying people to their causes has led to the misguided perception that religion itself is a root cause of intercultural conflict. It is therefore essential to dispel misapprehensions and to give an objective and formal appraisal of the role of religion in modern day politics. Indeed, a symbiotic relationship may be emerging between religion and politics in our time, each influencing the other. As an example from the past, the seemingly secular colonial enterprise of the ‘civilizing mission’ or the nineteenth century conviction of ‘manifest destiny’ in reality has deep religious roots. Conversely, the overtly religious platforms of some contemporary movements conceal political ambitions that appropriate religion for ideological ends.

Serbia: Elections at last

So Serbia has finally called for elections.

I admit that I was wrong about this government’s tenacity. I predicted back in July that the government would collapse in October. Not so. It has staggered on, month after month… gasping, retching, coughing blood, but somehow refusing to die. It bought a few weeks by holding a referendum on a new Constitution, which was pretty useless but got voted in anyway. Then G17 — the liberal technocrat Europhile party, the smallest member of the ruling coalition — gave the government a few weeks more by the Kafkaesque maneuver of having all its ministers resign, but not actually leave office until the government accepted their resignations. Which took nearly two months.

But anyway, elections are coming, and a date has been set: January 21, 2007.

So what does it all mean?
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European Energy Efficiency Plan

Sargasso, Dutch weblog and co-nominee in the recent BOB’s has a very interesting post on European energy policy, which prompted me to address the issue here as well. The point of my own post here on AFOE is not to elaborate extensively on European energy policy, I simply do not have the time right now, but simply to draw your attention to the fact that there is a European policy, the Energy Efficiency Action Plan, not to be confused with its US namesake (pdf), and to start a discussion.

The ambitious aim of the European EEAP is to have a 20% reduction in wasteful energy consumption by 2020. From the official press release:

“Europeans need to save energy. Europe wastes at least 20% of the energy it uses. By saving energy, Europe will help address climate change, as well as its rising consumption, and its dependence on fossil fuels imported from outside the Union’s borders.” said Energy Commissioner Piebalgs. “Energy efficiency is crucial for Europe: If we take action now, the direct cost of our energy consumption could be reduced by more than €100 billion annually by 2020; around 780 millions tonnes of CO2 will also be avoided yearly” he pointed out.

In another press-release on the same subject we can read the following:

At the same time saving energy is the easiest, most rapid and most effective way to answer the challenge of our energy dependence and reduce damage to the environment.

So, the objectives are clear: save money, help the environment and reduce our dependence on fossil fuel imports. How? The EEAP outlines these focal points (I have added a few informational links here and there):

1) Promote energy-efficient household appliances through labelling and performance requirements
2) Promote low-energy housing (pdf)
3) Render power generation and distribution more efficient
4) Further reduce CO2 emissions from cars
5) Facilitate financing of energy efficiency investments for enterprises
6) Stimulate energy efficiency in the new member states
7) Use tax tools in a carrot-and-stick fashion
8) Raise awareness and share information, both within the EU and worldwide

The big problem, as always, is mentioned at the end of the proposed plan:

Nonetheless, before any of these objectives can be achieved, political will and engagement at national, regional and local level are necessary. The European Council, European Parliament, as well as national and regional policy makers will need to renew their full commitment and establish a clear and unambiguous mandate to facilitate the implementation of the Action Plan by endorsing it and agreeing on the proposals set forth.

Nevertheless, I’d like to take a positive approach and welcome the proposed policy set forth by the European Commission while awaiting new developments in the area of alternative energy as well.

For those who are interested, please go and read the details of the EEAP in full and share your thoughts and insights with us.

Cultural war tax

In Italy people can choose to assign a small amount of their taxes, 0.8 percent, to a favourite good cause, the so-called otto per mille*. This contribution either goes to the Catholic or Lutheran Churches, or the State. The State is supposed to use the money for well-defined humanitarian, environmental and cultural causes. At least, that is what I gleened from the wikipedia entry. I am sure our Italian readers could expand on this.

To my surprise I had to learn from Middle East expert Juan Cole that the Italian government used the otto per mille contributions to fund… the Italian war effort in Iraq. Now, it could be argued that the Italian contingent in Iraq is engaged in humanitarian activities but I doubt all those generous Italian citizens had that in mind when they allowed the government to spend some of their tax money on a good cause.

However, the AGI article Juan Cole mentions is the only English language source I could find for this, so maybe we should be careful before we start talking about kleptocracies. Are there any Italian readers or Italy watchers who could tell us more?

Quick update: Italian online daily Affari Italiani quotes Forza Italia senator Giuseppe Vegas, who estimates the amount of money that went to Iraq at 80 million euros.

*Thanks to reader Stefano for correcting me on the definition of otto per mille

The Bob for the Best Weblog in English goes to

Deutsche Welle’s “Bobs” Cermony in Berlin, photo by ix, Rafat Ali’s great blog and, not at all ironically, flourishing micropublishing business about the economics (well, actually more the business) of digital content. Congratulations!

I haven’t found any English blog covering the Award Ceremony taking place in Berlin right now, but if you can read German, check out where Felix Schwenzel updates as the awards are handed out.