Friday, 1 February 2008

A Place in the Auvergne, Thursday, 31st January, 2008


In a determined attempt to deal with litter, Ireland passed a plastic bag tax in 2002 - now 22 euro cents, about 33 U.S. cents - at the register if you want one with your purchases. There was an advertising awareness campaign. Then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts.
Within weeks, there was a 94 percent drop in plastic bag use. Within a year, nearly everyone bought reusable cloth bags, which they now keep in the office and the back of their cars. Plastic bags became socially unacceptable - on par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after your dog...

As of last week, nearly 37 billion plastic bags had been used [worldwide] in the first weeks of 2008, according to, a figure that rises by about a half million bags every minute. The vast majority are not used again, ending up as waste, landfill or litter. Because plastic bags are light and compressible, they constitute only 2 percent of landfill, but since most are not biodegradable they will be there for decades. Plastic bags were invented in the 1970s.

The mood of alarm was stoked by news a week later that a Delhi woman, Meera Mittal, had been murdered by her driver. The accused confessed and told the police that he had killed her because he was fed up with her repeated scolding. Three days later, on Jan. 17, newspapers reported the murder of a 20-year-old girl by the household odd-job man, who had worked for the family for the past 12 years.
Police records suggest no rise in such violence (there were four murders of employers by their domestic staff in 2007 in Delhi, six in 2006), but maid crime is an increasingly talked-about phenomenon, debated in appalled whispers at cocktail parties and analyzed in the papers, where advice is published on preventive measures ("install grills, double-doors and peepholes")...

There is another, less discussed, side to these crimes. "While the occasional case of murder by a staff member of their employers is front-page news, the everyday abuse and oppression of the staff members is ignored or not considered newsworthy," said Ashok Agarwal, a lawyer working for Social Jurist, a charity that supports the rights of domestic workers.
As a rule, he said, servants are ill paid and ill treated by their employers, given no fixed days off, no overtime and receive on average as little as 500 rupees a month, or $12.70, considerably lower than the minimum wage of 3,200 rupees, or $81.

"They are forced to work even when they are sick," he said. "Their wages are often withheld by the employers. They are put to work 15 to 16 hours a day and are turned away from the job in their old age."

Half a million American children take classes online, with a significant group, like the Weldies, getting all their schooling from virtual public schools. The rapid growth of these schools has provoked debates in courtrooms and legislatures over money, as the schools compete with local districts for millions in public dollars, and over issues like whether online learning is appropriate for young children.

Google, owner of the most popular Internet search engine, reported Thursday profit and sales that trailed analysts' estimates, signaling that an economic slowdown may be cutting into online shopping and Web surfing.

The village itself is in transition, with tourism and a still-thriving vacation-home market causing some angst in certain quarters. Longtime residents are experiencing property-tax sticker shock as their home values skyrocket, said the former Town Supervisor Norm Stocker, who lost his bid for re-election in November.
"That's why I'm out of a job," said Stocker, adding that the taxes haven't slowed a booming market in luxury vacation homes, many going to Canadians.

Personal Best: Staying a step ahead of aging
"One of the major determinants of endurance performance is oxygen consumption," Tanaka said. "You have to make training as intense as you can."
When you have to choose between hard and often, choose hard, said Steven Hawkins, an exercise physiologist at the University of Southern California.
"High performance is really determined more by intensity than volume," he added. "Sometimes, when you're older, something has to give. You can't have both so you have to cut back on the volume. You need more rest days."
Hawkins, who says he no longer runs competitively, adds that he tries to put his findings into practice. "I run a couple of times a week and I try to make it as fast as I can," he said. "I'm not plodding along."

President Boris Tadic of Serbia, facing an election Sunday, pledged his support for the Serbian minority in Kosovo during a visit Thursday to the province that is widely expected to declare its independence soon...
Whoever becomes Serbia's next president will probably be faced with Kosovo independence within days of taking office, followed swiftly by recognition from the United States and the major EU countries.
If Nikolic wins, political sources in Pristina say the West will support a declaration the following weekend, seeing no hope of easing the blow with a hardline president whose party leader is standing trial for war crimes in the 1990s.
A Tadic victory could buy at least another week, as the European Union tries to minimize the political fallout from the declaration.

Economists have been warning for months that this country's decade-long role of keeping a lid on global inflation was on the wane. "China has been the world's factory and the anchor of the global disconnect between rising material prices and lower consumer prices," said Dong Tao, a Hong Kong-based economist at Credit Suisse. "But its heyday is over. We're going to see higher prices."
Because of new cost pressures here, American consumers could see prices increase by as much as 10 percent this year on specific products — including toys, clothing, footwear, and other consumer goods — just as the United States faces a possible recession.
In the longer term, higher costs in China could spell the end of an era of ultra-cheap goods, as well as the beginning of China's rise from the lowest rungs of global manufacturing.

Last year, 106 domain names sold for more than $100,000, including, which went for nearly $9.5 million. In 2006, only 70 domain names sold for more than six figures. Millions of generic domain names, pointing to sites with little more than automated Google or Yahoo text ads, brought in untold more millions of dollars.
As a result, over the past few months, private equity and venture capital firms have poured money into the largest companies in the industry. Last year, Demand Media and, two companies based in Los Angeles that own hundreds of thousands of domain names each and offer hosting and advertising services to other domainers, raised nearly $400 million from investors.

Eli Lilly considers $1 billion fine to settle U.S. case
Eli Lilly and U.S. prosecutors are discussing a settlement of a civil and criminal investigation into the company's marketing of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa that could result in Lilly's paying more than $1 billion to federal and state governments...
The fine would be in addition to $1.2 billion that Lilly has already paid to settle 30,000 lawsuits from people who claim that Zyprexa caused them to suffer diabetes or other diseases. Zyprexa can cause severe weight gain in many patients and has been linked to diabetes by the American Diabetes Association.

Nets and new drug curb malaria deaths in parts of Africa
In Africa, malaria is a major killer of children, but so are diarrhea and pneumonia, which have multiple causes, as well as measles, which has been declining as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization has expanded.
Until recent infusions of money from international donors and the reorganization of malaria leadership at the WHO, the fight against malaria had been in perilous shape, with nets scarce, spraying programs dormant, diagnoses careless and many countries using outdated or counterfeit medicines.
Even the most commonly cited mortality figure - one million deaths of children a year - has always been no more than an educated guess.

COMMENTARY: The dynastic question (Nicolas D. Kristoff)
We Americans snicker patronizingly as "democratic" Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Singapore, India and Argentina hand over power to a wife or child of a former leader. Yet I can't find any example of even the most rinky-dink "democracy" confining power continuously for seven terms over 28 years to four people from two families. (And that's not counting George H. W. Bush's eight years as vice president.)

Thomas Mayer, chief European economist at Deutsche Bank in London, said growth in the euro zone was likely to slow soon, and that policy makers would gain latitude on rates as a result.
"It's reminiscent of the situation in 2001, when the U.S. dot-com bubble collapsed," he said. "Then, too, people argued that Europe would 'decouple' from the U.S. - that turned out to be not the case."
"If you believe growth is slowing significantly this year, you would believe that inflation is at or near its peak," Mayer said. "I strongly believe that growth is about to start slowing."

Addressing Pöttering, Hannan said that it was only his personal affection for Pöttering that prevented him from likening this to the Enabling Act of 1933 that gave Hitler special powers.
After the comments, one deputy suggested that the dispute should be settled "outside," others booed or yelled at Hannan.Hannan now faces expulsion from the grouping of center-right European parliamentarians after its leader, Joseph Daul of France, assailed the remarks, which were made during a voting session in Brussels...
"By comparing a vote today in the European Parliament with a vote in the Reichstag in 1933, U.K. conservative MEP Daniel Hannan is plumbing new depths in U.K.-EU relations and in the Tories' approach to democracy in the EU," said Graham Watson, leader of the Liberal and Democrat group.

Many Raizals say state spending here focuses on the needs of tourists, like a recently completed beachfront walkway. A short drive away, past mansions owned by mainlanders, is a large garbage dump with the unlikely name Magic Garden where recently a dozen Raizals searched for scrap metal and discarded food.
"I don't see how Nicaragua or Colombia would give me more to eat," said Janice Bent, 43, who scavenges through trash to feed her four children. "If I can survive doing this, I can survive under independence."

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