Economist 1/12/15

  1. NEARLY 22m people took a cruise in 2014, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, an industry body. It reckons around 200 people die each year on cruise ships. According to the Telegraph, it all starts with an announcement. “Operation Bright Star”, for example, signals a medical emergency. “Operation Rising Star” means a passenger has passed away. Every cruise ship is legally required to include a morgue, and these must be away from food storage areas.Bodies are removed discreetly, often at the next port, and repatriated.A behind-the-scenes documentary profiling British Airways last year was revealing on the subject. Where possible, the dead are upgraded. According to the person in charge of training BA’s cabin crew, if there is a spare seat in first class, the body is strapped into that, covered to the neck with a blanket, and the passengers around it are informed.If there are no spare seats at the front of the plane, room is made in the economy section and a flight attendant has the dubious pleasure of sitting next to the corpse for the remainder of the flight.
  2. So it seemed after German officials leaked to Der Spiegel, a weekly, their assessment that Grexit would not only be bearable but might even make the euro stronger.On January 5th Steffen Seibert, Mrs Merkel’s spokesman, insisted that German policy had not changed: it still aimed to hold the euro zone together. Yet all sides are now debating Grexit.Carsten Nickel at Teneo Intelligence, a risk consultancy, thinks Mrs Merkel is trying to “send a strong signal to Athens” that aid would still be tied to reforms, but that she will be flexible. A deal with Mr Tsipras could include lower interest or longer maturities for Greek debt. But politics limit her room for manoeuvre.This is the tightrope Mrs Merkel must walk after January 25th. Until then, she is likely to keep quiet.
  3. Over 1m people, and perhaps as many as 2m, took to the streets for a peaceful “republican march”, after three days of terror in and around Paris that left 17 innocents and three terrorists dead.Leaders from across the world joined François Hollande, the French president, on the march.Equally important, the march was a moment in which France, a country marked in recent years by self-doubt, seemed to rediscover national pride. Now that the march is over, however, questions will start to crowd in. In particular, there are concerns about the capacity of French intelligence services to cope with radical Islamists, given the scale of the networks they are now facing. There are also doubts that Mr Hollande, the most unpopular president under the Fifth Republic, has either the political strength or the credibility to curb the rise of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
  4. At yesterday’s vast demonstration in Paris of world leaders and ordinary folk, there was no top-level representative of the Obama administration, and on both sides of the pond, some people regretted that.One of the first American responses to the Paris shootings was something like: the Europeans brought this on themselves through their weak-minded appeasement of Islam, and their unwillingness  to defend free speech in a robust way.s evidence of hypocrisy and softness, it is recalled that only a few years ago, President Jacques Chirac put heavy pressure on Charlie-Hebdo not to republish cartoons of Muhammad. But the American administration faced a broadly similar dilemma, and made a broadly similar response, when Pastor Terry Jones was threatening to burn copies of the Koran. Constitutional principles like free speech and church-state separation made it impossible to prevent Mr Jones from doing as he planned; but he came under massive pressure to desist from his plans, from such figures as General David Petraeus (not usually seen as an appeaser) who said the act would endanger American lives.n one instant, and on balance correct response to the Paris shootings, a respected American observer of religious freedom, Nina Shea, argued that Europe must not respond to the atrocity by succumbing to its already entrenched habit of  curbing free expression through “hate-speech” laws.
  5. On November 17th United Airlines, one of the three giant American carriers, and Orbitz, an online travel agency, filed a federal lawsuit demanding damages “in excess of $75,000” against Aktarer Zaman, a recent college graduate and the creator and owner of the website Skiplagged. The service enabled users to discover cheap airfares that did not appear on competing engines’ searches by utilising a tactic known as “hidden-city ticketing”, which takes advantage of occasional anomalies in airlines’ pricing algorithms.Ever since America deregulated air travel in 1978, the leading carriers have developed “hub-and-spoke” route networks, which require passengers to connect through a few strategically located airports en route to most destinations.A side effect of this model is that each carrier tends to dominate the market at its hubs, which gives it significant pricing power. Delta, for example, transports three-quarters of passengers at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International, a big reason why that airport is the most expensive to fly through in America.In contrast, non-hub cities, as well as markets so big that no airline can afford to ignore them, such as New York and Los Angeles, tend to offer much more competitive fares.Seeing a problem that called out for automation, Mr Zaman set up Skiplagged, which listed hidden-city options alongside conventional fares (with a “NO CHECKED BAGS” disclaimer), and linked to Orbitz to reserve them.

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