German conglomerate Siemens did not spare any expense when it recently revealed its new technical baby – a super-fast CT scanner. The company rented part of New York’s Museum of Natural History and hired Larry King to play host.

Having suffered a stroke himself, the CNN evergreen seemed the perfect choice to explain the significance of the scanner for people with lethal cardio-vascular diseases where the speed of treatment is vital. Telling his personal story, King pointed out that he deliberately postponed his urgent bypass operation by two months with the hope that “the thing might just go away”, explaining this irrational wish with the fact that “we Jews are optimistic”.

Siemens boss Klaus Kleinfeld and the head of the medical division, Erich Reinhardt, laughed loudly during King’s anecdote. However, they fell rather quiet when the talkshow veteran bluntly asked them on stage how much a patient would have to pay for a scan.

Kleinfeld, usually never lost for words, simply limited himself to a big smile. After a few awkward moments, Reinhardt broke the silence and mumbled: “Well, we will have to negotiate with the payers, the insurance companies”, adding that the machine would bring better services.

King smiled at the audience and remarked: “I learnt from that answer that Germans and Jews are closer than I thought.”

Cicero’s ghost

Gerhard Schröder works fast. Two days after surrendering the keys to the German chancellery, the outgoing leader has already clinched his first advisory contract.

Schröder will now act as “media adviser” to Swiss publisher Ringier, owner, among other titles, of the Blick tabloid daily.

The ex-chancellor is expected to spend about two days a week at the company’s headquarters in Zurich.

In a piquant twist, Ringier also publishes Cicero, a highbrow German political magazine, which has been in the headlines lately because of a row with...Schröder’s government.

A Cicero reporter had his house searched and some of his archives confiscated two months ago in reaction to an article about Iran’s links to international terrorism, which Otto Schily, ex-interior minister, thought included confidential intelligence material.

Schröder could be the perfect honest broker to patch things up.

Wurst Glossed over

Government requires sacrifice so for Berlin’s political press pack it is a sad farewell to cosy chats over Weisswurst and pretzels with Michael Glos, Germany’s new economics minister.

As head of the Bavarian Christian Socialist group in parliament, the sharp-tongued Glos held regular meals to ply journalists with Bavarian delicacies and colourful titbits about the governing Social Democrats and Greens.

It was at one such that he famously branded Joschka Fischer, the outgoing foreign minister, a “pimp”.

“As member of a ‘grand coalition’ I can no longer say bad things about my Social Democratic colleagues,” he told his Stammtisch, or dining circle, yesterday. “Having said that, I regret very little of what I have said in the past.”

So what does he regret? “There is not much elaborating now. I am a Catholic, so the little I regret is already forgiven.”

Plumbing the depths

Polish plumbers have cut a swathe across Europe, with their efficiency and low salaries almost causing a revolution by local tradesman in France.

However, all the best ones must have migrated because one of Poland’s most prominent politicians is having some waterworks problems.

Zbigniew Wassermann, the new minister in charge of special services such as intelligence agencies, is involved in a messy dispute with the builders of his villa.

Wassermann was so outraged by the shoddy quality of work on his hot tub that he accused the workers of trying to kill him and his family and got prosecutors to open an investigation.

He has also charged the 75-year-old mother-in-law of the contractor with slandering his dignity as a member of parliament after she had published an accusatory letter over the issue.

With the cases ongoing, now that Wassermann is much more powerful than an ordinary MP, perhaps more plumbers will head west.

France takes the rap

How the European Union works, part 94. When a Turkish court opted to prosecute novelist Orhan Pamuk, in spite of prime ministerial protests, for his remarks about the killing of Armenians, the country was rightly condemned and subjected to stern lectures about “European values” of free speech.

When French rapper Richard Makala, alias Monsieur R, calls France a “slut” and worse in a song, he is hauled before a court after complaints from an MP. He could face three years in jail.

Though the foul-mouthed rapper is being prosecuted for offending morals, Daniel Mach, the deputy in question, has proposed the criminalising of “assault on the dignity of France and the State”.

Cue an outcry about European values and free speech? Er, no. Some 150 MPs have backed his proposal.

Inflight entertainment

Americans cannot escape from work even at Thanksgiving, it seems. A survey by Chase United’s mileage visa card published for the holiday season shows that a third of air passengers discuss work with the person they meet on a flight.

All is not lost, however. Apparently 1 per cent said they had married or “had a serious relationship” with someone they met on an aeroplane.

Who said modern travel lacks romance?

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