Thursday, September 30, 2004

POLITICS: US Election Officials Not Keen on Advice from Switzerland

Swiss computer specialist Beat Fehr wanted to export Switzerland’s voting system to the United States to make US elections much more reliable. The Americans weren't keen on his advice.

He is convinced that the Swiss voting system would work in the US, although he concedes it is a little late in the day for November’s presidential race.

“About two months ago we sent more than 1,500 emails to election officials in the US but only got one or two responses,” Fehr told newswire Swissinfo.

Undaunted, he is pressing on with his ideas. “We can wait and make changes after the election,” he added.

Fehr argues that he could save the Americans millions of dollars, as well as promote confidence among voters that the elections are secret and secure.




Wednesday, September 29, 2004

SCIENCE: Arsenic Fights Rare Form of Leukemia

Sept. 29, 2004 -- Arsenic, despite its poisonous nature, may help save lives. Mounting evidence suggests that an arsenic treatment is effective for a rare form of leukemia.

At the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer annual meeting -- held this week in Switzerland -- a group of Iranian researchers discussed new clinical trial findings of arsenic trioxide (its chemical name).

Only about 10% of leukemia patients have the rare condition called acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL).

WebMD

Monday, September 27, 2004

Science: Largest European Mushroom is Swiss and Carries a Funny Name

A fungus that has been discovered in a mountainous Swiss national park area near the Ofenpass might be the biggest mushroom of Europe, scientists of the Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Countryside have declared.

The record-breaking fungus is a Honey Mushroom (armillaria ostoyae) and spans an area of 35 hectares (86 acres) or the equivalent of 35 football pitches. It is believed to be roughly 1000 years old. It is considerably smaller than another fungus of the same species that has been found in a national forest in Oregon, U.S. that measures 890 hectares, the largest living organism ever discovered.

The Honey Mushroom is mostly an underground network of threads the size of shoelaces. What is usually perceived as the mushrooms, the stereotypically shaped hats and stems standing above ground, are only the genitals of the fungus, rising out of the soil to spread their spores once they are mature.

In German, the Honey Mushroom is called "Hallimasch," a name derived from its medical function. Eaten raw, the Honey Mushroom can have the effect of a purge, thus its name "Heil im Arsch" or cure-in-the-bottom.

In the Media: Swiss Election Results covered by Reuters and AP

The result of last weekend's elections in Switzerland have been carried in U.S. media, although exclusively through the reports of Associated Press and Reuters.

In what the AP called a "surprise result," the rejection of a two-part proposal to ease naturalization of second- and third- generation immigrants by 56.8% and 51.6% respectively, has been described as a victory for the conservative German-speaking regions.

Second-generation immigrants or "Secondos" are the first generation of children raised or born in Switzerland, while third-generation immigrants are first-generation immigrants' grand-children that have been born and raised in Switzerland.

The election results are said to be in accordance with the past 21 years of elections on the topic of eased naturalization and a further reinforcement of the "Hash-Brown Divide" of the alpine European country, the frontier between French- and German-speaking Swiss that runs along the popularity lines of the potato dish.

Friday, September 24, 2004

POLITICS: Swiss Muslim prof to try again for US visa

SOUTH BEND -- Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan plans to reapply for a work visa in hopes of beginning his teaching position at the University of Notre Dame.

Ramadan had been scheduled to move to South Bend in August to begin a job as a tenured professor of religion, conflict and peace-building at Notre Dame. However, his work visa was revoked in late July by the U.S. State Department at the recommendation of the Homeland Security Department. Homeland Security officials have declined to specify why Ramadan is considered a risk.

Asked about the scholar's status, Notre Dame spokesman Matthew Storin said Thursday that Ramadan has decided to reapply for a visa through the American consulate in Switzerland.

"Because the State Department has said on a number of occasions they believe Ramadan should reapply for his visa, he is in the process of doing that," Storin said.

The application process generally takes about two months, Storin said.

Copyright: South Bend Tribune

BUSINESS: Struggling Swiss Airline Secures Loan

BASEL, Switzerland - Switzerland's struggling national airline Friday announced it had agreed to a 325 million Swiss franc ($258 million) loan from an international banking syndicate.

The deal still needs the consent of unnamed "third parties" before it can be finalized and the company can draw on the credit, Swiss International Air lines said.

Talks were steered by Halifax Bank of Scotland and Barclays Capital, the airline said.

Under the deal, Halifax Bank of Scotland is set to provide 100 million francs and Barclays Capital 55 million francs.

Credit Suisse and UBS will provide 75 million francs each, while the Zurich Cantonal Bank's contribution is set at 20 million francs. All three Swiss-based banks are major shareholders in the airline.

Swiss has suffered massive financial problems since it was created out of the defunct Swissair in March 2002.

Copyright ap

Thursday, September 23, 2004

BUSINESS: Swissnex San Francisco opened

Leading Swiss and American scientists, authors and two of the world's most famous science-fiction museums gather at swissnex.

swissnex presents From Fiction to Science, a four-day event examining the mutually influencing domains of
science and fiction. The event takes place from September 29 to October 2 at swissnex in San Francisco.

The four-day symposium From Fiction to Science will be hosted by swissnex (http://www.swissnex.org) in collaboration with the Swiss science-fiction museum House of Elsewhere and the newly-opened Seattle Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. Panel members include Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier and former White House advisor and author Gregory Benford.

swissnex offices and conference space are at 730 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA

BUSINESS: Swiss Gate Gourmet and Delta go to court in food fight

A food fight Delta Air Lines is having with Swiss based caterer Gate Gourmet temporarily yanked regular food service off the menu for the struggling carrier.

the airline said a Georgia judge has ordered Gate Gourmet to resume full food and beverage service immediately.

Delta turned to the courts after telling its customers for the past day and a half that it was negotiating to end a vendor dispute.

Officials with Zurich, Switzerland-based Gate Gourmet, one of the world's largest airline caterers, acknowledged a spat with Delta but declined to explain the nature of the dispute.

"It's Delta's decisions -- I really can't comment," said spokeswoman Connie Voigt. She added she wasn't even sure if Delta remained a client as of Wednesday. She declined to say whether her company requested upfront payments in light of the possibility that Delta might file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Voigt and other Gate Gourmet officials were unavailable for comment after Delta announced it had a court order.

Copyright: Kentucky Post

POLITICS: Swiss abroad get a voice in parliament

Swissinfo reports that Swiss citizens living abroad are to be better represented in politics, following the founding on Wednesday of a special parliamentary group.

Some 83 politicians from all the main parties formed the group to ensure that the 600,000-strong Swiss abroad community is given a voice in parliament.

The Swiss have long been accustomed to forming groups across party lines to represent their interests in parliament. Farmers, for example, constitute a major lobby, and benefit from some of the most generous agricultural subsidies in Europe.

Now, thanks to the efforts of Christian Democrat parliamentarian Thérèse Meyer and others, it is the turn of Swiss living abroad to enjoy some say in the nation's affairs. Swiss expatriates number 612,000 people - equivalent to nearly a tenth of the country's population.

Most live in neighbouring France and Germany, but substantial numbers reside in Italy, Britain and the United States. Smaller communities can also be found in places like Israel, South Africa, Australia and Argentina. The numbers may in fact be far higher, says Jean-Paul Aeschlimann, vice-president of the Swiss Abroad Organisation, and honorary consul in Montpellier, France. "It's likely that 30 to 40 per cent of Swiss living in France are not registered," he told swissinfo.

Around 90,000 Swiss living abroad are registered to vote - the same number as in an average-sized canton. Political parties in Switzerland tend to "rediscover" the Swiss Abroad briefly at election time, but the difficulty in appealing to such a diverse constituency means they tend to be forgotten once the polls close.

According to Meyer, it should not be solely up to Swiss voters abroad to inform themselves about the country. She believes they should have some support back home as well. Aeschlimann takes the view that the Swiss abroad are an undervalued asset to the country - namely in the form of ambassadors.

He says Swiss at home have the perception that their fellow citizens abroad live in a time warp, nurturing fond memories of the way Switzerland used to be. In reality, he says, the Swiss abroad tend to be young, dynamic, and very often in positions of influence in the countries where they live.

Copyright: Swissinfo

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

SPORTS: New York Soccer Players Wanted

The Swiss Soccer Club of New York is looking to get more players.

They play every Wednesday evening from 6:00 to 7:30 pm, followed by a friendly get-together at the Mont Blanc Restaurant on 48thStreet in Manhattan.

The skill level is from mediocre to excellent and everyone is welcome, and you don’t have to be Swiss to qualify.

The gym is located at: Humanities High School 351 West 18th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues on the 7th Floor.

If you are interested in joining please contact al@dlnyc.com.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

MEDIA: Marc Neumann has first look at Swiss American Blog, says he might join

NEW YORK - Free lance media entrepreneur Marc Neumann has had his first look at the The Swiss American Blog, and he liked what he saw. "I was particularly impressed by two things: by the simplicity of the blog, and by the amount of work my good friend and possible future partner Roman Elsener has already put into the blog."

Answering the invite he had received in late August, Neumann promised to join the efforts of Roman Elsener without further hesitation. To prove his point he would post a blog entry on his own. "We really have to get things going and I am delighted to have been offered the opportunity to join Roman in his excellent work", Neumann said.

Neumann already envisions future enhancements to the site, although without giving further specifics. "Improvements will be announced in due course", he said.

Unnamed sources have been cited saying that it is an open secret Elsener and Neumann have already a Beta version of the blog. According to these sources, the new version will provide news and press monitoring services and will be structured according to areas of interest such as politics, business and arts culture, in a brand-new design.

The new blog could go up as early as mid-October.

Asked to comment, Neumann would not go into details. "Just stay tuned and you will see", he said.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

POLITICS: Swiss companies raided in nuclear weapons probe linked to Libya

BERNE - Police have raided three Swiss-based companies in connection with a probe into a German national suspected of having helped Libya develop nuclear weapons, a media report said on Sunday.

Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag said the raids had been carried out at the request of the German authorities and were linked to the activities of the man, Gotthard L., a resident of the northeastern city of St. Gallen active in the nuclear industry.

The Swiss prosecutor's office would only confirm that a police operation concerning "a person resident in Switzerland" had been carried out, and refused to reveal the identity of the person or the type of company targeted by the raids.

Last February the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) handed the Swiss authorities a list of 15 people suspected of having taken part in secret Libyan and Iranian nuclear programmes.

Switzerland admitted then that the name of a German national aged 61 and living in St. Gallen ws on that list and his home had already been searched.

PEOPLE: Swiss becomes world's first jet propelled flying man

A Swiss pilot, Yves Rossy, became the first ever jet propelled flying man, after he managed to fly over the Swiss Alps for four minutes.

The 45-year old flier attached two jet engines to wings on his back, and managed to reach a speed of 112 miles per second.

The feat, which took him five years to perfect, was achieved by flying out of a plane and landing with a parachute. "It was absolutely fantastic - freedom in three dimensions. I felt like a bird," Rossy was quoted as saying.

BUSINESS: Swiss named "Best Airline for Europe"

The travel magazine "Travel Savvy" awarded Swiss International Airlines the title of "Best Airline for Europe". According to the magazine's readers, Swiss beats all other European competition. The winner of the "Best Overall Airline" award, however, goes to Air Singapore.

In September 2003, Travel Savvy splashed onto the scene as a hip and refreshing alternative to stodgy travel publications. To celebrate its first anniversary, the September/October issue features the "Best of" Awards, which reveal readers' picks for the best in travel today.

Copyright: rel./PRNewswire

BUSINESS: Scientists at CERN Set Internet2 Speed Record

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) set a new land-speed record for Internet2, a second-generation network serving universities and research institutes.

The team transferred 859 gigabytes of data in less than 17 minutes. It did so at a rate of 6.63 gigabits per second between the CERN facility in Geneva, Switzerland, and Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., a distance of more than 15,766 kilometers, or approximately 9,800 miles.

Scientists are racing to move gigantic amounts of data by 2007, when CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will switch on. This huge underground particle accelerator will produce some 15 petabytes of data a year, which will be stored and analyzed on a global grid of computer centers.

High-energy physicists are excited about the LHC because they hope it will allow them to find the Higgs boson, a theoretical particle that they believe creates mass. "Physicists are trying to fill in the blank spaces in our model of high energy physics," said Jim Gray a Microsoft Research engineer who helped set Wednesday's record.

Researchers aren't the only ones excited about blazing data speeds. This record speed of 6.63Gbps is equivalent to transferring a full-length DVD movie in four seconds. There are uses in astronomy, bioinformatics, global climate modeling and seismology, as well as commercial applications from entertainment to oil and gas exploration.

Copyright: Enterprise IT Planet

Friday, September 03, 2004

SCIENCE: Get Your Licks

To most of us, ice cream is merely delicious. But to a food engineering professor it's a phenomenon of physics.

One enemy of the creaminess is heat shock. "When you take ice cream out of the freezer and let it sit for a while, and some of the ice cream melts, and then you put it back in the freezer…we have more ice that's being formed, but not in the form of new ice crystals. It's forming around the existing ice crystals, so all the remaining ice crystals get bigger," says one scientist. "The ultimate outcome is that you feel ice crystals in your mouth when you eat the ice cream, and that's not a good eating experience."

Now, a new technique from Switzerland for battling heat shock is making ice cream that can stay creamy longer. Described in Discover Magazine, the patented process pioneered by Erich Windhab, a food engineering professor at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, churns and pumps the ice cream out of an extruder at lower temperatures and with smaller ice crystals than the traditional process allows.

CULTURE: Schiller's Tell in New Glarus

NEW GLARUS, Wis. - Telling the tale: For the 67th time, performances of "Wilhelm Tell" by Friedrich Schiller will be held in New Glarus this weekend. The drama, based on Swiss history and lore, is performed three times: once in German and twice in English. The German language play will begin at 10:15 a.m. Saturday. The English performances are scheduled at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. For more information, check www.wilhelmtell.org or call (800) 527-6838.

Other Swiss weekend events include a Laternenumzug, or Light Parade, at 8 p.m. today; a yodeling contest at 6 p.m. Saturday; an "Alpine Festival" at 8 p.m. Saturday and an ethnic fashion show at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

BUSINESS: Heidi.com Streetwear Clothing Brand is Growing

Heidi.com, based in Switzerland is selling t-shirts, jackets and other clothes all over the web. This urban streetwear fashion brand has doubled its sales in less than one year.

The Swiss company based near Neuchâtel in Switzerland has successfully launched its first summer street wear clothing collection. Now this young company is about to launch its first winter collection. Skateboard, snowboard and surf oriented, the team is working hard every night to create something original and of high quality.

For more info visit www.heidi.com

POLITICS: Blocher proposes setting up refugee camps abroad

Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher has proposed setting up refugee camps abroad as a way of stemming the flow of asylum seekers into the country.

But the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has criticised the plans and warned that they will not solve the problem of illegal immigration.

Blocher’s proposals come as the Swiss parliament debates plans to tighten the country’s asylum laws. The justice minister, a member of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, suggests that refugee centres could be built in African countries and the Balkans.

Under Blocher’s plans, the UN would be charged with sharing out quotas of “genuine refugees” among European countries able to take responsibility for them.

Switzerland would no longer have to deal with large numbers of asylum applications, but would be responsible for 4,000 refugees per year.

Blocher added that the Swiss army and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) would take charge of the refugees in purpose-built camps set up in crisis regions.

But SDC spokesman Harry Sivec said the proposals should be taken in the context of a wider international debate on asylum.
“This suggestion needs to be discussed in the first instance at the international level, together with the UNHCR,” said Sivec.

SCIENCE: Swiss researchers' study ties revenge with satisfaction

WASHINGTON -- Dirty Harry had it right: Brain scans show revenge really might make your day.

Planning revenge sparks enough satisfaction to motivate getting even -- and the amount of satisfaction actually predicts who will go to greater lengths to do so, report Swiss researchers who monitored people's brain activity during an elaborate game of double-cross.

That might not sound too surprising. Just consider the old saying, "Revenge is sweet."

But beyond helping to unravel how the brain makes social and moral decisions, the study illustrates growing interest in the interaction between emotion and cognition -- which in turn influences other fields such as how to better model the economy.

The new study chips "yet another sliver from the rational model of economic man," said Stanford University psychologist Brian Knutson, who reviewed the Swiss research. "Instead of cold, calculated reason, it is passion that may plant the seeds of revenge," he said.

People often are eager to punish wrongdoers even if the revenge brings them no personal gain or actually costs them something. From a practical standpoint, that might seem irrational.

In research reported in today's edition of the journal Science, University of Zurich scientists used PET scans to monitor the brain activity of game players to determine what motivates that type of revenge.

Two players could either trust and cooperate with each other so they both earned money or one could double-cross the other and keep an unfair share. Sometimes the double-cross was deliberate; other times, rules of the game dictated it. The victim could retaliate by fining the double-crosser different amounts, but sometimes had to spend his own money to impose that fine.

All 14 players chose revenge whenever the double-cross was deliberate and the retaliation free. Only three retaliated when the double-cross wasn't deliberate.

POLITICS: Swiss Arrest Seven Suspected in Laundering Case

Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Swiss police arrested seven people suspected of laundering billions of Swiss francs in illicit gains from trading drugs and weapons.

The arrests were made in connection with investigations of ``international criminal groups'' thought to have invested in cigarettes to disguise the source of their funds, the Office of the Attorney General in Bern, Switzerland, said in a faxed statement.

Police raided about 20 homes and offices in the Ticino, Jura, Vaud and St. Gallen regions, seizing a ``large amount'' of documents and assets. The people arrested are Swiss citizens and foreign nationals residing in Switzerland, the statement said.

``They are strongly suspected of belonging to or aiding a criminal organization,'' the statement said. ``They are accused of have laundered money totalling several billion Swiss francs over a period of years.''

No further details would be given while the investigation is ongoing, the authorities added.

BUSINESS: Swiss trade with US continues to decline

The decline in Swiss trade with the United States continued in 2003 and has become an “unsatisfying trend”, according to the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce.

Officials warn that no upturn can be expected for at least the next 18 months. At its annual press conference in Zurich on Monday, the chamber reported that Switzerland’s trade surplus with the US was at an all-time high, reaching a record SFr8.4 billion ($6.56 billion) in 2003.

Swiss exports to the US declined by 3.3 per cent last year to SFr13.8 billion. While the total value of Swiss imports worldwide was virtually unchanged in 2003 at SFr122.4 billion, imports from the US fell by 17.3 per cent to SFr5.4 billion.

The chamber said the decline could partly be explained by the fact that Swiss consumers were turning away from US products in protest against some of the Bush administration’s policies.

Imports of wine fell by nine per cent in 2003, while the number of cars imported from the US declined by seven per cent. Both are what US officials call “emotional” consumer products.

“American products in favour a few years ago are currently out of favour and these are products which follow the daily political volatility rather than the very strong underlying business relationship,” the chamber’s new chief executive officer, Martin Naville, told swissinfo.

The chamber said another reason for the decline in imports was that the US had recovered much faster than Europe after the global economic slowdown of 2000 and 2001. It added that the economic impact of the war in Iraq was less pronounced in the US than it was in Europe.

Tourism has also been hit hard over the past few years. The number of Swiss choosing to visit the US on holiday has fallen by 42 per cent since 2000. “Unfortunately, given the current visa and security [regulations], we don’t see this changing very fast,” said Naville.

“It is really up to us to provide a lot of information and transparency to persuade people to travel much more [than they are doing now] from Switzerland to the US and in the other direction,” he added.

The business relationship between Switzerland and the US is [still] very healthy,” said Naville. “Trade has retracted due to a weak dollar, which makes Swiss products in the US very expensive. But it's also due to weak demand in Switzerland, which has [found it difficult] to get out of recession over the last few years,” he added.

On a more positive note, the chamber noted that investment showed some resistance to political concerns. Swiss direct investment in the US last year totalled around $112 billion, making Switzerland the sixth-largest investor in the country.

US investment in Switzerland jumped by 21 per cent in 2003 to $86 billion.

Copyright: swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Zurich

BUSINESS: Victorinox launches Swiss Army, Erm, Daggers

SWISS ARMY knife-makers Victorinox are launching a new range of kirpans, the Sikh ceremonial daggers, in India to coincide with the 400th anniversary of installation of the Guru Granth Sahib.

“We want people to treasure the kirpan the way the Samurai sword is prized,” said Anish Goel, whose Sasana Enterprise is the sole representative of Victorinox in the country. Goel believes that the popularity of Victorinox’s stainless steel kirpans won’t be limited to the 500-year-old religion’s more than 20 million followers around the world.

“You don’t have to be a Sikh to appreciate the ideals that the kirpan stands for - valour, spirit, honour, sacrifice, pride and determination,” Goel told IANS. “Just like the Samurai sword finds place in many non-Japanese households, we believe that knife-collectors around the world would be fascinated by the kirpan.”

The company has invested about Rs 10 million in the last one year for the production of the kirpans. They come in two sizes - one with a handle length of five inches and a blade size of 7.2 inches, and another with a 3.5-inch handle and 3.6-inch blade.

Started in 1884 in the tiny Swiss town of Schwyz high up in the mountains, Victorinox is renowned for its Swiss army knives, which are used by armies across the world, including NATO forces, the South African and the Malaysian armies and some of the Indian special security forces.

The company sold 30,000 knives in India last year and is targeting a growth of 20 per cent this year.