Spelling Mistake at Orly Sud Airport… really!

Have you ever spotted a spelling mistake on restaurant’s menu and wondered if you should tell the waiter?

What about when you see an error on an official document or signpost?  Wouldn’t it be handy if, right near by, there just happened to be a comment box (complete with a pen on a string) where you might be able to jot down and drop in a helpful comment?

Instead, I am again left with the only means I know how: a little blog post.  Below is an error spotted at the baggage carousel area at Orly Sud airport, Paris.  I had spotted mistakes in less developed airports (most recently in Marrakesh), but Paris should know better.  Forgiving the extra space after Norway, I could not, however, let the faulty translation of Islande pass by.  For my friends from Iceland: I am looking out for you!

CDG Airport Error on Signpost: Island instead of Iceland

Mixing it up in the French Government – Model of diversity?

In a democratic sense, the Government is the representation of the people.  As such, you might expect the notion of “fair” representation to be more heralded by the latest Sarkozy government, ushered in the last week of June 2009.  The new cabinet, under the loyal PM François Fillon, announced on June 25, covering the 38 ministries, contains 8 new people and the mélange is rather interesting.  If it is still not fully representative from a socio-demographic standpoint, the latest Sarkozy cabinet covers a wide spectrum of races, age, sex and ideology.

Fillon IV, New Sarkozy Government at Elysees Palace
Sarkozy’s Shuffle:  Fillon IV – The new government

25 men and 13 women (of which just 4 are full portfolio ministers, down from 7 full ministers in the prior cabinet, while 9 are junior ministers).  13/38 = 32%

In terms of age distribution, 5 ministers are under 40 years old, 12 are over 60.

There are a handful of “French liberals” aka capitalists or just “conservatives” (P Lellouche, H de Raincourt, H Novelli, D Bussereau, H Falco), another handful of centrists (H Morin, M Mercier, V Létard, C Blanc & AM Idrac) and yet another handful that could be said to sway more toward the “left” (Hirsch, Kouchner, Eric Besson, Frédéric Mitterrand et JM Bockel).

There are 4 ministers that represent “diversity” and all four are women.  Insofar as France, following in Norway’s footsteps, has imposed a quota of 40% of women on executive and advisory boards (of state and publicly traded companies) by 2015 (20% by 2011), this Sarkozy government is well on track, if perhaps a little light among the full portfolio ministers.

I was particularly interested by the preliminary words used by President Sarkozy to his assembled team (I transliterate): “ Don’t speak too quickly to the journalists, until you have a good grasp of your subject.  Show solidarity with your fellow cabinet ministers, don’t transgress on each other’s territory (aka don’t step on each other’s toes), and don’t forget that you are NOT in your position just to recycle dossiers that have been prepared for you by your administration.”  (note the double negative).

In these lines, one can read many things.  Communication is absolutely key to success.   Be master of your destiny by gaining knowledge (and I might have added more field work).  And, providing Sarkozy defines carefully enough the said territories, then it will be possible not to interfere with one another’s work.  That said, with such a diverse population in his cabinet, one could also expect to have diverse interpretations.  And that is the benefit and the difficulty of diversity.  Let us see how Sarkozy and PM François Fillon manage. 

Wingsuit “Birdman” BASE Jumping

Ever heard of BASE jumping? I had not until I was sent this video (below). BASE stands for Building, Antenna, Span, Earth. To qualify for a BASE number, you need to have jumped off from all four locations. And, on a variation on a theme, you can add an aerodynamic “wingsuit”, alternatively called “squirrel” or “birdman” suit before pulling the chord. Wingsuit Base Jumping is clearly one of the most extreme sports out there and you can live it vicariously through these exceptional videos below. There is no trickery in these videos. This is the real thing. As is my wont, I have done a little digging around to find out a little bit about BASE jumping. Read on below for more.

wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

Evidently, one of the best places to do this is in Norway as indicated in the film above. But, it seems that the “Earth” jumping in wingsuits has a set of most recommended spots, meaning you get to do some travelling before you can casually sign up. A report from ARTe (en français) is also available on YouTube:

BASE jumping was apparently started in 1978 and mainstreamed in the early 1980s. Considering you need to jump from a building and an antenna, there are legal challenges to overcome. To whom do you apply to say that you would like to jump off a skyscraper? You also need to consider carefully where you land. To do a BASE jump, you don’t need to use the wingsuit. That is an intermediary option for the longer jumps before you get to the parachute. The number of BASE jumpers (“BASE numbers” or people that have managed to execute a jump from all four locations) is now around 1,300 and the graph seems to be rising fast (the tipping point seems to be around the year 2000… not to metion the million+ viewers of the videos above. The trusty Wikipedia provides some good information.

For those of you who need to brush up on the gravitational pull, you need 12 seconds of freefalling before you reach maximum speed which is 119 mph or 191.59 kph, meaning you are hurtling down at 53.04 metres per second. My favourite statistic (pictured below): 30 people jumping simultaneously from the Ostankino Tower in Moscow (2004) and apparently captured in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Base Jump Ostankino Tower World Record

And if you want to get into the action, there is advice (safety tips, how to do it, where to do it) for those of you who are singularly crazy enough to do it here from the Dropzone. There seems to be much debate as to how many skydives one ought to do before starting to do BASE jumping. The debate rages between 100 and 1,000 sky dives. See here for the BLiNC Magazine’s version on the debate. (BLiNC claims to be the source for everything you wanted to know about Base Jumping).

But, aside from the untold costs (equipment, travel, etc.) of getting into BASE jumping, now time for some cosmic reality: there are plenty of fatalities. Here is a list of the BASE jumping recorded fatalities that goes back to 1981. This particular list chronicles 124 deaths (as of summer 2008), including 7 women. Among other statistics you can find here with another slightly different list, it would seem that jumping from Earth is the most common departure point. And, in terms of departure point fatalities, not surprisingly Earth departures constitute two thirds of the recorded fatalities. Antenna comes second (at 14%). 74% of the fatalites have non-gear related reasons. Only 14% of the fatalities concern the wingsuit variety. Curiously, the stats say that just 49% died on impact.

Clearly, BASE jumping does not stand to get this Blogger Actively Subscribing to this Exercise. However, the wingsuit videos are still absolutely mind boggling to watch.

Incandescent Light Bulbs banned in Europe by 2012

Stop Wasting Electricity - Light BulbThe European Union voted in October 2008 to ban outright incandescent light bulbs which transform a miserable 5% of the electricity into light. On Monday this week, they published the timing for the suppression of these inefficient incandescent bulbs over the next four years. Starting September 1st 2009, the sale of 100+ watt bulbs will be banned throughout Europe. Over the following two years, the 75W+ and 60W+ will go from European store shelves. And finally, as of September 1st 2012, all classic incandescent bulbs will disappear. Even poor performing halogen bulbs will be targeted (objective to eliminate these by 2016).

A couple of comments: Australia was the first country to vote the end of incandescent bulbs (an outright ban by 2010). The US Congress voted at the end of 2007 the ban of incandescent bulbs by the end of 2014. Europe has voted one year after the US to end these polluting bulbs two years before the US.

With regard to the European decision, they estimate that a household will save 50 euros per year by moving to the low consumption options. Taken in another light, so to speak, this could sound like a stimulus package for the economy? Le Figaro suggested that the savings for all Europe would amount to between 5 and 10 billion euros annually. Admittedly I don’t know the efficiency in the production of the compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) or other low consumption bulbs, but I am going to hope that the life cycle analysis shows that the halogen or the LED (Light Emitting Diode) is indeed a winner for the environment. Advocates argue that the CFL lasts five years longer and uses about 75 percent less energy than the incandescent bulb. From one article (Red, Green & Blue blog), I note that the 60% reduction in energy consumption would translate into a reduction of 30 million tonnes of CO2 for Europe. The LED option, whose sales have been increasing 40-60% per year, costs a lot more than the incandescent polluter, but the almost infinite durability and tremendous efficiency make a winning proposition as long as you don’t drop it along route from the store.

It is worth noting that, as detractors of this decision state, CFLs contain mercury. CFL’s are still a little bulkier and don’t fit all fixtures. For others, the European decision does not go far enough (e.g. Ban-the-Bulb). So, it may yet be hard to always look on the bright side of light. Nonetheless, I believe that such a decision will, among other things, continue to bring home the need to take action. Like “quota” systems (e.g. Norway’s women on corporate boards…), this law is perhaps anti-free market and will have its detractors. It will obviously change the landscape of the light bulb market (affecting electricians, lamp manufacturers and more). Nonetheless, there are justifiable impositions and, in this case (as in the case of the Norwegian quota) I cast my vote in favour. What about you?

Global Gender Gap 2008 Report – Who’s on Top?

The World Economic Forum have just released the results of the Global Gender Gap Report 2008.

Yin & YangThere are a few suprising facets to this WEF report, now in its third year, authored by Ricardo Hausmann, Director, Centre for International Development, Harvard University, Laura Tyson, Professor at University of California, Berkeley, and Saadia Zahidi from the WEF.  First, what strikes me is the tremendous dynamism in the results — from one year to another a country can change by more than 30 places (as France did jumping from 51st to 15th).  Secondly, the list of sponsoring companies for the research includes a number of banks, consultancies and a car company hardly known for women’s equality as well as the employment services company MANPOWER.

Gender Gap
Those quibbles aside, the research shows that there is a “…a strong correlation between competitiveness and the gender gap scores.”  And the report indicates once again the strength of the equality movement in Scandinavia, with Norway coming out on top this year ahead of its neighbouring Scandinavian countries.   Here is the list of the top 10 for 2008.  Noteworthy for being absent from the top 10 (I should say again) are the United Kingdom (13th) and the United States (27th, behind Cuba) which scores highest in “economic participation and opportunity.”  And, fairly astonishing for being in the top 10 are the Philippines and Latvia.  The report voluntarily overweights the importance of having female leadership — as a way of providing visible role models (which clearly boosted the Philippines).  How much credit for France’s rise goes to Ségolène Royal (and Carla Bruni)?.  A

Global Gender Gap Index

Rank 2008

N. Zealand



Rank 2007
*0 to 1 scale: 0=inequality, 1=equality

The report establishes the following “top line” numbers, indicating that on balance things are tending to get better, although there were nearly twice as many countries where the gap was widening in 2008 versus 2007 as opposed to the prior year.  The big conclusions of the report are that the world has again shown progress in closing the gaps in economic, political and education; however, it has actually lost ground on the health gaps.

Gender Gap 2008 Report

The criteria for selection are worth citing:
Male & Female Signs“The Report examines four critical areas of inequality between men and women:
1. Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
2. Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher level education
3. Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures
4. Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio”

Meanwhile, tailing off the bottom of the list are a host of countries without need for comment: Saudi Arabia, Chad and YemenIndia (113rd) landed basically on par with Iran (116th).  Japan wallowing in at 98th is a blemish…especially when you find higher up Mongolia (40th), Kyrgyz Republic (41st) and Russia (42nd).  Italy lies at 68th, not exactly brilliant.  Meanwhile, I thought Turkey (123rd) might have ranked higher.

Here is the writeup from the BBC and from TIME (with a good and lively analysis).  If nothing else, the research and report allow for some debate and exposure to this very important issue.

Norway quota for women on corporate boards

A bold decision

I read with interest about Norway’s legislated quota for women’s presence on publicly traded private limited liability (“ASA”) corporate boards. The improvements in equality on boards in Norway were not coming fast enough*, so, in 2005, the government put in place a minimum quota of 40% of women on every ASA corporate board by the end of 2007, with consequences if not met. In the last six months of 2007, it is estimated that 400 additional women were voted onto corporate boards, making Norway by far and away the country with the highest representation of women on boards. Quoting from GlobeWomen.org, “In its 2007 study, Women Directors in the Fortune Global 200 Companies’ released in Berlin at the June Global Summit of Women, Corporate Women Directors International reported that only 11.2% of corporate board seats are held by women in the 200 largest companies in the world.” The successful implementation of the Norwegian law has been observed by many other countries (including Canada, Spain) seeking similar diversity. I note that Sweden apparently balked on a similar quota initiative five years ago.

A 40% target

Having been set the objective of 40% female representation on boards, the targeted Norwegian companies are now on average at 37%, at parity with the 37% of their women parliamentarians, although below the true parity achieved in PM Jens Stoltenberg’s current cabinet (8/16)**. The very least one can say is that the Norwegians are putting their money with their mouthes are…and with great courage. I was able to find, for example, many sites with stats on gender equality (including this one at Statistics Norway).

I was intrigued by a blogger’s following explanation for the strong presence of women in Norwegian society:

usini wrote (find in the comments section): “I think that one has to be very careful not to generalise from the particular. Women in Norway always had quite a strong position politically, because, so I believe, of the economy being based on fishing and sea-faring which meant that a lot of men were absent when decisions had to be made. Thus a solution which is suitable for them may not necessarily apply to other cultures.”

One of the items to watch closely in the near future will be how the Government deals with non-compliant companies. This Guardian article identifies the scope of the problem with 111 yet to comply and 5 companies that still have zero women on their boards. Clearly, closing down those companies will be an explosive solution. The second evolution to watch carefully is how the board members are re-elected… When/if a woman leaves a board, will she systematically have to be replaced by another woman?

Sensitive topic

This quota law was naturally a topic of great sensitivity. Quotas are a generally reviled policy. And most of the commentary I have read on this particular policy are predictably unfavorable. Certainly the ambition of going from 6% to 40% was enormous, if also artificial, over such a short period of time. As much as some Norwegian unions might have been delighted by the quota, most of the private sector was up in arms and there is probably continuing concern that foreign companies will look less favorably at installing in Norway. As reported by the Centre for Corporate Diversity, there was also concern that some of the 500 concerned companies would change their ASA status to avoid this law. That particular concern has proved unwarranted. Meanwhile, even the Norwegian Gender blog, authored by Ragnhild Sohlberg, has put up reservations as to the success and/or desirability of a quota system. Susan Gunelius at Women on Business also issued reservations against quotas. In any event, finding qualified talent in those numbers over such a short time frame does not appear healthy–and one has to imagine some negative fallout in the first few years. Nonetheless, I applaud the courage of their convictions.

In many ways, the trick for the Norwegians will now be to validate the new status to show that corporate performance is at least as good as in the past (if not better) in order to encourage other companies (such as Luxottica, which has committed to 30% of women in management positions) if not other governments, to follow suit. Proving that the performance has otherwise been altered by a higher presence of women will ultimately fall to the numbers and bottom line. The question is whether the benchmarks and interpretation of those numbers will be clear.

Looking at the global playing field, it is interesting to note how a smaller country can become, in a certain fashion, the experimental laboratory for other bigger countries. Not that the context in any country can perfectly translate for other countries, but this policy and its successful implementation could surely give rise to new initiatives in other countries. Its failure would only reinforce the “I told you so” against quotas. In the same vein of looking at “small” country initiatives, I am tracking Norway’s actions on the ecological front (including this Green Prison initiative in a prior post) where they are pioneers as well. The least one can say is that they are attempting to bring about change. And since the end is desirable…to what extent does that justify the means? Any thoughts?

Other blogs on this topic:

Yvonne Roberts speaks out in favor on Guardian Unlimited. The comments are quite heated.
Ibibo Blogs – One blog supporting the notion that Quota works…
Fresh Inc. — 40% of business school students in Norway are women.
NYT Article from Jan 2006 — Women more reasonably represented in politics & media…
Mises Blog – The Ludwig von Mises Institute is the research and educational center of classical liberalism, libertarian political theory, and the Austrian School of economics. Even this post inspired a lot of debased, inflammatory comments (from 2005)…
Reinvention Inc... where I picked up the story about Spain following Norway’s example (not on the imposition of a quota, but an incentive to have higher female representation. In 2006, Spain had under 4% female representation on corporate boards.
CareerDiva – with a balanced comment section to date (just 5 comments).


* The initial request from the Norwegian government was made in 2002, with a non-binding law established in 2003. In the following three years, the percent of women present on boards rose from a poor 6% to an ‘average’ 11%. I read a 2003 article from Time magazine on the topic… makes for good recent retrospective information.

** I found a blog posting on Writes Like She Talks, referring to a Huffington Post posting from 2006 that discusses the representation of women in politics across the world, where the USA ranked 67th. Write Like She Talks has an updated blog site now, here.

Norway – Greening of the prison

Following my last post, (How Green Are You?), on the topic of being green, going to have to give a plug for our Norwegian friends, whose government have decided to render Bastoey, one of its low security prisons, “ecologically friendly.” The 115 inmates get an education on values such as respect of one another and the environment. Inmates play a role in the daily operations; the prison produces most of its own food, recycles, etc. Got to love it.

Others writing on the topic: