Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Monday, 11th February, 2008


Looking at the various types of commodities, some strategists are most optimistic about the outlook for agricultural products like corn, wheat and soybeans. They argue that two big stories are behind the rise in crop prices: the diversion of land to grow crops for production of biofuels like ethanol, and an increase in food consumption in emerging markets, particularly in Asia.
Bernstein said that both of these trends were real — but long term. "When people start talking about long-term stories, they tend to ignore the short-term cyclicality of commodities," he said.
In the near term, Bernstein said that if oil prices fell, there would be less incentive to bolster ethanol production. And he said that "everybody in Asia is not going to wake up tomorrow and say, 'gee, I want a burger.' " Those cultural shifts are usually measured in years or even decades, he said, not months.
But Michael Lewis, the global head of commodities research at Deutsche Bank, favors agricultural products now largely because "there's a fight between feeding people, cattle and cars." He predicted that crop prices would continue to rise and might not peak until sometime in 2009.
But by this point, he said, agricultural sector stocks might have more room to rise than the prices of crops. He recommended looking at stocks like Monsanto, the seed and pesticide maker based in St. Louis, Missouri; PotashCorp, a fertilizer maker based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and Archer Daniels Midland, the giant grain processor based in Decatur, Illinois.


"There's plenty to laugh about," the Socialist Party leader, François Hollande, said, "a presidential spokesman designated by Nicolas Sarkozy, a plot, a family intrigue."
François Bayrou, the centrist who placed third in the presidential election last year, on Sunday called the Martinon affair a new illustration of the "monarchical" style of Sarkozy, with its "perpetual contest of servility" involving those in and out of favor.
"It is pathetic for France," he said. "It makes you want to cry."


"France has lost contracts to Germany, the U.K., Spain, Italy and Greece because of its constant Turkey-bashing discourse," said Bahadir Kaleagasi, Brussels representative of the Turkish Industrialists' and Business Association, or Tusiad.
The latest blow came last week when the state-controlled Gaz de France was shut out of a consortium to build the €5 billion Nabucco gas pipeline from Turkey to central Europe in favor of the German utility RWE at Ankara's behest.

Turkey earlier awarded a big military helicopter order to an Italian company rather than the French-based aerospace group EADS after the French National Assembly voted to make it a crime to deny that the killing of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 had been genocide.


Société Générale also revealed that its losses related to the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis for 2007 had risen to €2.6 billion from the €2.05 billion it reported less than three weeks ago.
Société Générale said the new figure included €1.25 billion from its portfolio of nonhedged collateralized debt obligations; €947 million on counterparty risk related to bond insurers; and €325 million in trading losses on its investments in residential mortgage-backed securities.



Airbus won more than three and half as many orders as Boeing last month, led by contracts from the Chinese government and an Irish aircraft-leasing company.

Airbus received orders for 238 planes in January, the company said. Boeing accumulated 65 orders, according to its Web site. The European company was also ahead by deliveries, hading over 37 aircraft, compared with 34 at Boeing.

MEANWHILE (Kumiko Makihara)
Japanese elementary schools don't believe children should hang loose during extended vacations. "Unless you are vigilant, you could end up spending time passively," warned my son's school's newsletter.Teachers assign large amounts of homework to make sure students don't lose their academic momentum. Entrance exams for the next level of schooling loom ahead, after all. Studying during the holidays prevents delinquency, too, by keeping children busy and off the streets.
The holidays are also viewed as a time to tackle that project you couldn't get to during the school year. "Do you want to organize your drill sheets and test papers," suggested the newsletter...

Such heavy-handed instruction from all corners doesn't give children much opportunity to think independently or play with ideas, and it may be one of the reasons Japanese students lack initiative and motivation.
Among 57 countries surveyed in 2006 by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, Japanese students demonstrated an understanding of scientific facts and theories but showed the least amount of confidence in their abilities to apply that information.


"There are lots of programs in different countries that are 'kind of like,' 'in partnership with,' or 'inspired by' American education," said Charles E. Thorpe, the dean of Carnegie Mellon in Qatar. "But this is American education. And for many of our students, that's a very big change. Almost all of them went to single-sex secondary schools. As recently as six years ago, the elementary reader in Qatar was the Koran, so students learned beautiful classical Arabic, but they had no experience with questions like 'What do you think the author meant by that?' or 'Do you agree or disagree?' "

POLITICUS: John Vinocur
"What we are dealing with is a truly pathological situation," Klose told me. He explained: "It goes to a German mind-set that says, 'We are now not only clean, but we are now cleaner than you' " - meaning the United States.
Dealing with the issue means convincing the 84 percent of the Germans who oppose a higher level of engagement in Afghanistan that they are not out of the sights of the Islamic jihadists, regardless of Germany's having steered clear of Iraq.


COMMENTARY: William Pfaff
When after the 9/11 attacks the NATO allies spontaneously offered support to Washington, the United States said no; it had its own plans and wanted no alliance interference. That's the way things remained until Washington needed reinforcements for Afghan stabilization. Naturally, the same old difficulties have now arisen.
There is only one model for an effective military alliance. It is that the group has strong common views and powerful common interests, and is willing to consult and compromise. If the common view is not there, the alliance is a sham. Washington likes to pretend that in dealing with Afghanistan, it's still the old NATO.
But it's not. In the so-called war on terror, the political substance of alliance is missing.


LETTER: Francesco Bastagli, Milan Former UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping.
Considering the current difficulties of the U.S. military in recruiting and retaining personnel with the simplest skills, one wonders how could it secure the kind of new and complex know-how required for "shaping the civilian situation."

The report on rebuilding Iraq was part of a seven-volume series by RAND on the lessons learned from the war. Asked why the report has not been published, Timothy Muchmore, a civilian army official, said it had ventured too far from issues that directly involve the army.
"After carefully reviewing the findings and recommendations of the thorough RAND assessment, the army determined that the analysts had in some cases taken a broader perspective on the early planning and operational phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom than desired or chartered by the Army," Muchmore said in a statement. "Some of the RAND findings and recommendations were determined to be outside the purview of the army and therefore of limited value in informing army policies, programs and priorities."
Warren Robak, a RAND spokesman, declined to talk about the contents of the study but said the organization favored publication as a matter of general policy.

Forced by the threat of terrorism to cancel the race this year, organizers hope to give the Dakar Rally a new beginning by swapping continents and going to South America in 2009.

Many African countries are all about haves versus have-nots, with millions of people toiling in the fields, barely surviving, while a tiny elite holds all the wealth. Kenya is different.
James Shikwati, a Kenyan economist, estimates that out of Kenya's population of approximately 37 million, about 4 million are in the middle class, making between $2,500 and $40,000 a year. The number of Kenyans enrolled in college has more than doubled in the past 10 years, to more than 100,000.
"There are sizable fortunes in the hands of people of all ethnic backgrounds," said Richard Leakey, the noted Kenyan paleontologist. "I think the middle class will ultimately prevail on the government authority in one form or the other to just pull itself together and get on with business."


Kicked into urgency in part by the one-button simplicity of the iPhone from Apple, some of the brightest minds at Microsoft, Google and Yahoo are working on software to dumb down the smartphone.
They, along with the traditional telecommunications industry, have their eyes on the world's 3.3 billion mobile phone subscribers, a number that makes the 900 million personal computers and the 1.3 billion Internet surfers worldwide seem like a diversion.
U.S magazines reported a 2.2 percent rise in paid circulation in the second half of 2007, led by increases from Wired, The Economist and AARP.
The total circulation of 608 magazines reporting copies sold for the six-month period ended Dec. 31 was 359.6 million...Gains were also helped by new magazines such as "Taste of Home", introduced last year.
The Econimist's North American edition led circulation gains in U.S business magazines. with an increase of 13 percent to 721,000 copies. BusinessWeek, the top selling business magazine, advanced 1.3 percent to 934,000 after redesigning its publication in October to attract readers and advertisers.
Wired, focused on consumer technology, gained 7.6 percent to 706,000 copies.

Conroy, whose job title is "off-air reporter" is one of many young journalists hired by the networks to follow the candidates accross the country, filing video and blog posts as they go. Originally hired to cut costs, these reporters, also called "embeds" have produced a staggering amount of content, especially video. They have changed the dynamic of presidential campaigning this year, making every unplugged and unscripted moment on the trail available for all to see.

Some Spanish women are pear-shaped, some look like cylinders and some are curvy as an hourglass. But 6-foot-tall waifs they are not, according to a government-sponsored report aimed at determining their true shape and size.
The yearlong study, which used laser beams to measure more than 10,000 women aged from 12 to 70, claims that 4 out of 10 have trouble finding clothes that fit them, mainly because sizes are inconsistent from one outlet to another and because what is on the racks is too small...
But shoppers were skeptical that the government's pledge to revolutionize the sizing system would come to much.
"I don't think they'll ever really put this into practice," said Gemma Bustamente, 29, who was picking out clothes with Vaquero. "Designers idolize tall, skinny women: They are just hangers for their clothes. It's depressing when you can't find things that fit. It makes you feel fat."
"But it's not just about the designers, it's about our whole society. Look at the television: Presenters get thinner every day; actresses get thinner every day. But they look nothing like us."

I consulted the poet Paul Muldoon, who also is the new poetry editor of The New Yorker, plays in a rock band and has had his own words set to music (although not yet, as far as I know, by Bruni, who features only dead poets of the 19th and early 20th centuries).
What did he think about Bruni's choices, for a start?
"My first observation is that she has exceptionally good taste in poetry," Muldoon wrote in an e-mail message. "Yeats was himself very interested in the song tradition and wrote, partly, within it. He was a master of the ballad and of that great device that spans both the verse and song traditions - the refrain. In the case of Emily Dickinson, much of her poetry is indistinguishable from the ballad tradition and, more often, the alternating eight- and six-syllable lines of the hymnal.
"So I'm certainly looking forward to hearing what Carla Bruni comes up with. In general, I welcome the idea of poetry casting its net as widely as possible, including its taking in the song tradition from which it sprang."

Even with families victimized in the Virginia Tech massacre looking on, lawmakers in Virginia lined up like clay pigeons for the gun lobby last month to block legislation that would have closed the state's notorious gun-show loophole. That means that anyone - ex-felons and deranged citizens included - can continue to buy firearms at "sportsmen" shows.
In the wake of the massacre, Congress was finally shamed into passing legislation intended to make it harder for people with a criminal history or a history of dangerous mental illness - like the Virginia Tech gunman - to purchase firearms from licensed gun dealers. Threat closed? No.
The truth is that even if the troubled student had been denied by licensed dealers, he could have easily turned to the many unlicensed peddlers at weekend open-air shows to buy his high-tech arsenal.
The Virginia Legislature's failure again underlines the need for federal legislation to close gun-show loopholes. A bipartisan bill is already awaiting action, but the gun lobby never rests.

Erdogan said that "those who do not learn German from the beginning will always be at a disadvantage." While he urged Turks who live in Germany to see themselves as part of that nation, he also argued that integration should not mean giving up their own culture.
"Assimilation is a crime against humanity," he said.


Brown's spokesman said that he understood the difficulties that Williams was going through, but he added: "There is no plan to introduce Sharia law and make English criminal or civil law in any way inferior to religous law."

The headlines here still focus on conflict: the West's demands that Iran halt enrichment of nuclear fuel, for instance, and Tehran's refusal.
Yet the hunger for all things Western is once again breaking through on the streets. The signs tend to be most visible in the north of the city, which has always been wealthier and more Western oriented, with sound-a-like shops like, Starcups and Kabooky Fried Chicken.
"Everyone here is thirsting for American brands, it's that simple," said Mehdi Mortazavi, who is helping to create a "Fridays" restaurant in Tehran. The sign out front looks just like the TGI Friday's in the states, with red and white stripes. But they had to drop the "TGIF" because Thursday is the last day of the work week and the whole reference to "God" might not have gone over well. But there will be waiters with suspenders decorated with buttons and there will be pancakes, Cobb Salad and hamburgers on the menu.

Here in Mumbai, the rising intolerance is visible in a new segregation by diet. More than ever before, whole buildings and neighborhoods are declaring themselves vegetarian, off-limits to egg sellers, meat-serving restaurants and Muslim tenants, whose cuisine is typically centered on meat. Even Marine Drive, the city's most popular tourist destination, is virtually free of meat and alcohol.Gautam Adhikari, the editorial page editor of the influential Times of India newspaper, recalls munching hamburgers and sipping beer with his family overlooking Marine Drive decades ago. That is impossible today.He worries that a new generation of Indians, while thriving economically, is regressing culturally, obsessed with personal success and unmindful of civic ideals like "live and let live.""Unless you get that," he said, "it's difficult to create a modern, urban society."
As a political document, President George W. Bush's new budget could not be timelier for Republican candidates who wax xenophobic about immigration and the Mexican border. Food aid for impoverished children? Medical research? Environmental protection? Well, friends, hard calls for hard times. But when it comes to enforcement-heavy immigration policies, don't spare the expenses.
Republican talking points on immigration are all attended to: $3 billion for arresting illegal immigrants and acquiring 1,000 more beds at detention pens. More than $700 million to keep building the celebrated border fence. And $442 million to hire and equip 2,200 new border patrol agents in the name of homeland security.
The poor and the vulnerable aren't the only ones being told to sacrifice. The budget fine print shows homeland security grants for states, cities and local first responders being slashed by almost half, to $2.2 billion. This includes deep cuts in transit and port security and in the still unrealized priority of better emergency communications.
The last time the nation noticed, the bigger threat to the homeland came from terrorists - at ports, airports and still poorly secured chemical and nuclear plants, just to name a frightening few - not migrants sneaking across the Rio Grande in a search of opportunity.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch lawmaker who has been the target of death threats because of her criticism of radical Islam, said she had asked France to grant her citizenship because she could not be assured of protection at home.


The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has directed florists and gift shops to remove red roses, and anything colored scarlet, before Valentine's Day on Thursday, The Saudi Gazette reported. The newspaper said that the squad believes that Valentine's Day encourages relations between men and women outside wedlock.

Foreign-born population headed for record in U.S., researchers say
If present trends continue, within two decades the foreign-born population of the United States will surpass the historic 19th-century peak of nearly 15 percent of all residents, according to projections.
Further, because a vast wave of baby boomers will be swelling the ranks of the elderly, the so-called dependency ratio - the number of people below 18 and above 64 compared with the number of those in the prime working years - will rise to 72 per 100 by 2050 from about 59 per 100 in 2005, according to the projections, which were released by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center on Monday. The ratio will be even higher if immigration subsides, the report found.
What such an outcome could portend, other analysts have said, is a nation riven politically between older, whiter, voting retirees who are increasingly supported by a younger, darker, working population that, as immigrants, may be disproportionately ineligible to vote.

In world religion class, Shamila Kohestani is neither the adolescent who defied the Taliban in Afghanistan nor the symbol of liberation who shared the stage with stars from Hollywood and sports at the 2006 ESPY Awards. She is a teenager whose lips move as she takes notes, and whose list of words to look up grows each minute, each hour and each day.
Some of her classmates at Blair Academy know that Kohestani, 19, is the captain of the Afghanistan national women's soccer team. Some are aware that she is Muslim. Most know her only as the striking young woman who is eager to stock her iPod with any kind of music they recommend.


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