December 06, 2005


I have just returned from a short trip to the Technical Institute in Lausanne, Switzerland (wonderful place, gracious hosts, good food, great scenery). After getting oriented I found myself having lunch with two Swiss gentlemen bearing strong resemblances to Inspector Cluseau and Walter Mathau respectively.

Inspector Cluseau tells his students to shape up or they will find themselves working as coolies for the Chinese. Then he started kvetching about India and the Indian's refusal to accept limits on the use of fossil fuel, saying that they have the same right to use it to develop their economies as the West. And imagine the state of the world environment if everyone in China had a car and a refrigerator?

Here's what I think: People here live a good life growing grapes on the sunny shore of Lake Geneva. They do not need economic development. China and India need economic development because of basic driving forces like malnutrition and dismal public health. Why should we deny them that, or feel threatened?

Walter Mathau (think Grumpy Old Men, not The Odd Couple) has developed a method for diagnosing cancerous bladders and for determining air quality using quantum cascade lasers.

Lausanne is in the French-speaking protestant Cavinist region of Switzerland. The hotel has polished marble floors, glass elevators and a Japanese garden in the inner courtyard. When I checked out the lady at the desk said, 'Did zjou have any drinks from zee mini bar?' 'Non.' I replied. It feels great to be called 'monsieur' and hear 'merci', 'bon jour', 'bon appetit' and 'bon soir.' Disorienting that this could be a hotel anywhere, in Duluth say, and be exactly the same except for the accents.

Walter Mathau had made a model for air pollution in the Alps. He thought it wasn't good enough, that the spatial resolution should be increased. 'At a 17 km grid size,' he said, 'the Matterhorn looks like the Great Plains!'

The train to the airport in Geneva goes past the World Meteorological Organization where they have written this fine document about global warming. This is only one of the many UN organizations found in Geneva. Its of course fun to travel and learn these things since my early education concerning Switzerland was limited to watching commercials for Swiss Miss Instant Cacao on TV. The Swiss think about global warming in terms of melting glaciers. At one point Cluseau proclaimed, 'Switzerland is Europe's watertower!'

Lausanne is home to the Picard family of adventurers, for example the first to visit the stratosphere and the Marianis Trench were Picards. The contemporary (third) generation Picard went around the world in a hot air balloon. He is now working on a solar-powered airplane.

I didn't have time to look for souviniers until I got to the airport, and then it was too late to get a Swiss Army Knife because I wouldn't have been able to take it onto the plane. However, the airline was kind enough to serve me a Swiss Army Lunch, complete with folding plastic knife and spork.


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