Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Tuesday, 25th March 2008


Probably this thing called 'yoshoku' is difficult to grasp from a foreigner's perspective," said Tatsuya Yokokawa, an executive at Shiseido Parlor. "If it's not traditional Japanese cuisine, and it's neither French nor Italian, they're thinking, What is it? And so they're unlikely to give it a try."
But the story of yoshoku goes beyond the familiar one of fusion cuisine. It sheds light on Japan's tumultuous modern history, from its traumatic early encounters with the West to its often uneasy embrace of Western values.
Yoshoku was born during Japan's Meiji Restoration, the period that followed this isolationist country's forced opening by America's so-called Black Ships in 1854. Japanese were dispatched to Europe and America to learn about Western laws, weapons and industry. They also brought back the cuisine. Shocked to discover how much shorter they were than Westerners, Japanese determined that they would catch up not only economically and militarily but also physically, by eating their food.
That desire survived at least until the 1970's, when a businessman named Den Fujita established McDonald's in Japan and claimed that its menu would make Japanese as tall and attractive as Americans.
"Japanese are poorly built because they eat rice," he said at the time. "We'll change that with hamburgers. After eating hamburgers for a thousand years, Japanese will even have blond hair."


Until last December, Republican and Democratic administrations had refused to raise fuel-efficiency standards for 30 years. And raising the puny gasoline tax remains a political nonstarter. By contrast, in Britain, gas at the pump costs around $7.70 a gallon, of which about $4.90 is taxes. In France, taxes account for about $4.60 of the retail price of $7.50 a gallon.
Higher taxes on energy mean other rich countries are more energy-efficient across the board. The average German or Japanese uses little more than half the energy consumed by an average American. In Germany and Japan, per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide spewed by cars, power plants and other sources of energy are half those in the United States. In France, they are a third.
The landmark energy bill passed in December tightened fuel standards for the first time since 1975 - demanding a 40 percent increase in cars' and light trucks' average fuel efficiency by 2020. Still, the Department of Energy estimates that by 2022, the new standards would have reduced gasoline consumption by only about 2 million barrels a day, which amounts to a 17 percent cut in projected gasoline consumption.


The trade, bolstered recently by global warming, which has melted the tundra and exposed more frozen remains, is not only legal but actually endorsed by conservationists. They note somewhat grudgingly that while the survival of elephants may be in question, it is already too late for mammoths. Mammoth ivory from Siberia, they say, meets some of the Asian demand for illegal elephant ivory and its trade should be encouraged.

Blasphemy has not been illegal in France since the 1830s, and the country is strict about its secularist heritage, even though it still has laws against racial and ethnic insults. Christian groups failed to block the screening here of Martin Scorsese's 1988 film "The Last Temptation of Christ," and in 2006, a court threw out a case against a jeans ad showing 13 semi-clad androgynous people around a table reminiscent of the Last Supper.
The EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights assures all European citizens the freedom of expression. If an elected politician like Wilders is denied the right to show his anti-Islam movie, the very basis of Europe's legal and political structure will be undermined, proving that the threat of riots and boycotts triumphs over the rule of law.
Voltaire famously argued, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." European Muslims have to accept this fundamental part of Europe's culture.


Heavy fighting broke out Tuesday in two of Iraq's largest cities, as Iraqi ground forces and helicopters mounted a huge operation to break the grip of the Shiite militias controlling Basra, and Iraqi forces clashed with militias in Baghdad. The fighting threatened to destabilize a long-term truce that had helped reduce the level of violence in the five-year-old Iraq war.
The battles, along with indications in recent weeks that militia and insurgent attacks had already been creeping up, raised fears across Iraq that Moktada al-Sadr, the renegade Shiite cleric, could pull out of a cease-fire he declared last summer. If his Mahdi Army militia does step up attacks, that could in turn slow American troop withdrawals.
There were also serious clashes in the southern cities of Kut and Hilla.

"Europeans have to get used to living with people in their midst who have sensibilities that weren't there before," says Ian Buruma, author of "Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance" and a professor at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. "If you're going to live in mixed societies, certain rules of civility have to be taken seriously."



"Here, people look up to you if you write poetry in English and publish it in America or England," said Rhee, an 82-year-old retired dentist. "But if you write Japanese poems, they despise you or dismiss you as a fool."

"No sooner do Koreans eat sushi or buy Japanese chocolate for their kids than they bad-mouth the Japanese," Rhee said. "Both Koreans and Japanese are too narrow-minded when it comes to dealing with their neighbors. How are we going to catch up and compete with Japan without studying Japan?"

"Japanese and Koreans have different ways of perceiving nature," Reiko said. "Japanese tend to find maximum beauty when they see cherry flowers falling. Koreans' hearts exult when the flowers are in full blossom."
Rhee agreed: "It's the same moon. But in haiku, Koreans sing the moon with our heart. To Japanese, our haiku may sound too subjective and hard to understand. Japanese sing the moon with their eye. They prefer realism. Koreans may find their haiku bare and superficial."


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia

King Abdullah has made an impassioned plea for dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews — the first such proposal from ultraconservative Saudi Arabia, which has no ties to Israel and bans public non-Muslim religious services.
The message from the Saudi monarch, who met with Pope Benedict XVI in November, comes at a time of tensions between followers of the three religions. Muslims have been angered by cartoons published in European papers seen as insulting the Prophet Muhammad — and the pope's baptizing on Easter of a Muslim commentator who converted to Catholicism has also raised eyebrows.
"The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God," the king told delegates Monday night at a seminar on "Culture and the Respect of Religions."

King Abdullah has made an impassioned plea for dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews — the first such proposal from ultraconservative Saudi Arabia, which has no ties to Israel and bans public non-Muslim religious services.
The message from the Saudi monarch, who met with Pope Benedict XVI in November, comes at a time of tensions between followers of the three religions. Muslims have been angered by cartoons published in European papers seen as insulting the Prophet Muhammad — and the pope's baptizing on Easter of a Muslim commentator who converted to Catholicism has also raised eyebrows.
"The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God," the king told delegates Monday night at a seminar on "Culture and the Respect of Religions."

Abdullah framed his appeal in strictly religious and ethical terms, aimed at addressing the weakening of the family, increasing atheism and "a lack of ethics, loyalty, and sincerity for our religions and humanity."
A Saudi official with knowledge of the proposal said it was not intended to have a regional political angle, saying "the initiative is not aimed at the Middle East but at the whole world. It's a global initiative." The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the proposal.



Tolle, 60, is the German-born spiritual speaker and author of "The Power of Now." With a seemingly limitless pool of middle-class discontent to tap into - and a major push from Winfrey - he has become the most popular spiritual author in the United States. His books hold the top two spots on the New York Times best-seller list for paperback advice books. Since March 3, he has been host to a weekly online seminar series alongside Winfrey in support of his 2005 book, "A New Earth," which is her latest book club selection and No. 1 on the list.
His secret, according to fans, publishing industry experts and booksellers, is packing thousands of years of teaching - from Buddha, Jesus, Shakespeare and even the Rolling Stones - into what one of his publishers, Constance Kellough, called "a clean contemporary bottle."

"He's essentially taken some of the wisdom of the ages and said, 'Let me make this easier for you,' " said Vivien Jennings, a major independent bookseller in Fairway, Kansas.
Tolle, who declined to be interviewed for this article, describes his message as both simple to learn and potentially world changing. In short, he believes that followers should turn off the mind's chatter, embrace the present and drop the ego, which he sees as a manipulative and divisive force. "The ego always wants something from other people or situations," Tolle writes. "There is always a hidden agenda, always a sense of 'not enough yet,' of insufficiency."
It is a message that resonates with baby boomers like Rachelle Quimby, 54, of San Anselmo, California, who attended two sold-out speeches by Tolle in Marin County in early March. Quimby, who said she belonged to two Eckhart Tolle groups devoted to meditation and watching his videos, said she worried about the world as much as she fretted about the ride home. "There's a lot of things wrong with the world: war, conflict, road rage," she said. "He's taught me to be more present. And if you're present with yourself, how can you scream at somebody on the road or bomb another country?"
Tolle suggests that by living in the moment and in touch with what he calls "the totality," good things may start happening to you.

Sara Nelson, the editor in chief of Publishers Weekly, said that Tolle was just part of a surging market that includes "The Secret," by Rhonda Byrne and "Eat, Pray, Love," by Elizabeth Gilbert, two other spiritually minded, mass-appeal best sellers backed by Winfrey.
"The books are really all the same," Nelson said. "The message is how to be happier, how to live the life you want, how to be at peace, how to be a more successful human. The genre never goes away, it just slightly changes its form. But it's doing amazingly well right now."


COMMENTARY: Markets and moral hazards

I don't know too many economists who get confused with preachers. But there are times when they talk about virtue and temptation as if they were free-market holy rollers.
Consider the phrase that has been popping up all over the Bear Stearns debacle: "moral hazard."
No, Moral Hazard is not the name of a country-western singer. It's the phrase economists use to explain why people shouldn't be protected from the consequences of their actions. In The Wall Street Journal's definition, moral hazards are "the distortions introduced by the prospect of not having to pay for your sins."
The idea began as an argument against insurance. If you had fire insurance, you would be careless around matches. Zap, more fires.
In recent decades, it's been used as a righteous reason for shredding safety social nets and toughening laws like those against declaring bankruptcy. Such safety nets, it's argued, only encouraged more sinners, excuse me, welfare mothers and bankrupt families.

The same language of morality has been used by economic fundamentalists who don't want to help homeowners who got subprime mortgage loans and find themselves in deep foreclosure weeds. Mike Huckabee once said that it "is not the purpose of government to prop people up from every poor decision they make. . . . It creates an enabling co-dependency."

And as recently as last weekend, the Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, insisted that government actions to prevent foreclosures would "do more harm than they would do good."

I grant you that moral hazard is not a myth. But most of the sermons railing against the harm of helping others are directed at the poorer pews.

We don't seem to worry about the moral hazard of, say, protecting a chief executive from his failings. Need I remind you that Robert Nardelli got $210 million in severance after he hammered Home Depot? Or that he now resides at the top of Chrysler?

This leads us right into the den of Bear Stearns. Last weekend, while its chief executive was off playing bridge, one of the most aggressive cowboy firms in the mortgage securities business collapsed. The government brokered a deal with J. P. Morgan Chase to buy the firm and guarantee its loans with your tax dollars.

Bailout is too strong a word for what happened. Teaspooned-out would be better.

The Bear Stearns worker bees looking at their life savings and pensions disappear are not flitting off to the beach, although I was charmed to note that the company will have grief counselors at hand.

But it is true that the government went to the rescue.

Suddenly, the risk of sin took a back seat to the risk of a full-scale economic disaster. As Representative Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, says ruefully, "People in the financial community were able to take sectors of the economy hostage and we have to pay a ransom. The best we can hope for is to keep the ransom as low as possible and help the least undeserving."

Is there a Sunday school lesson here?

Economic fundamentalists preach that the market - that wonderfully anthropomorphized creature - needs absolute freedom to operate. The unregulated creativity to buy and bundle mortgages made many of these firms a real bundle. But when the scheme tanked, they too ran for help. If we're going to rescue, we have to regulate.

And before we wrap up the sermon, a last word.

If a financial firm is "too big to fail" - a status I've always aspired to - why aren't homeowners? They too are on the brink of destroying not only themselves but their communities. At the very least, Frank and Senator Chris Dodd have introduced homeowner bills that would contain and share the damage.

Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of Republicans, used to say, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help."' This notion infiltrated the national consciousness. Any sort of government help was framed as hapless, useless or, yes, a moral hazard.

Reagan's line always got a belly laugh. Well, folks, not in this Bear (Stearns) market.

In July, a team of eight to 10 IBM employees will go to Ghana to help local businesses professionalize their operations. Another team will help entrepreneurs seek microloans in Turkey, while yet another will create training programs on information technology in Vietnam.
The projects, which were hatched by IBM's corporate citizenship group and being coordinated through nonprofit organizations, have all the trappings of corporate philanthropy. But that is not why they were created, or how they are being used.
"This is a management development exercise for high-potential people at IBM," said Randy MacDonald, senior vice president of human resources.


Two large banks - Industrial & Commercial Bank of China and Bank of China - posted higher fourth-quarter profits on Tuesday, buoyed by the country's surging economy. But the state lenders were hurt by holdings in subprime-related securities in the United States.
Bank of China, hardest-hit among the country's big banks by subprime exposure, said it held $5 billion in asset-backed securities at the end of 2007, or 2.13 percent of its investment securities, and booked $1.58 billion in provisions and markdowns on the holdings.
The lender said, however, that it believed that it had booked sufficient provisions and did not expect to incur further losses if it unloads its subprime-related holdings.
Industrial & Commercial Bank said it held subprime-backed securities worth $1.23 billion at the end of December 2007 and booked $400 million as an allowance for potential losses on that portfolio.



Banks in China are struggling with a curious result of the authorities' tight grip on the foreign exchange market: a severe shortage of U.S. dollars. And the shortage may get worse before it gets better.
The squeeze is dampening activity in the market and threatening to hinder some corporate customers' use of dollars for purposes such as trade and investment, dealers say.
For a country with $1.65 trillion in foreign reserves, much of it in dollars, the shortage may seem surprising.
But the vast bulk of those dollars is in the hands of the central bank, not commercial banks, which sell most of their U.S. currency on to the central bank as soon as they obtain it to avoid losses caused by appreciation of the yuan.

The Lives They Left Behind Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic. By Darby Penney and Dr. Peter Stastny. 205 pages. $25. Bellevue Literary Press.
A trunk in a dusty attic holds a sleeveless peach-colored silk dress belted in creamy lace, a cane topped with a carved duck's head, kid gloves, a riding habit, a few red leather date books and an eight-page typed essay analyzing Napoleon Bonaparte's love life.
Trunks like it usually inspire dress-up games, memory exercises and writing class assignments, not works of medical history — although that discipline could often sorely use some human interest. This particular trunk is an exception: it belonged to a delicately featured Frenchwoman who walked into Bellevue Hospital in New York one day in 1932 to engage the doctors in a dialogue on paranormal communication, and was committed to psychiatric wards for much of the rest of her life.
She wound up a long-term resident of Willard State Hospital, a gigantic institution in upstate New York that opened its doors to the incurable mentally ill in 1869 and closed in 1995, sending its last thousand or so patients out to smaller facilities. Left behind in an upstairs storeroom were hundreds of pieces of patients' luggage.

The Frenchwoman in whose trunk Edwardian elegance mingled with modern scholarship was transferred among several psychiatric hospitals for her first few years in the system. Still deep in the grips of her obsession with the supernatural, she arrived at Willard State in 1939 at age 43. For decades, she would speak only to demand her release. She developed permanent Parkinsonian symptoms from the drugs she was given. She was discharged to a rooming house in a nearby community in her 80s ("There is no evidence of gross psychiatric symptomatology," her last physician wrote) and died at 90. She never reclaimed her trunk.

SANTA ANA, California
In place of large-scale government assistance, McCain recommended two immediate but limited measures. He said that accountants should meet to review the system by which real estate and related assets are valued, and he urged mortgage lenders to step forward voluntarily to help credit-worthy borrowers who may be strapped for cash at the moment.
"They have been asking the government to help them out," he said. "I'm now calling upon them to help their customers and their nation out."

Although Darfur is part of Sudan, it is physically distant from the country's heartland and sources of military power. Every inch of the 600 miles of barren territory between Khartoum and the killing grounds is an opportunity for a reprieve commanded by American air power - with not a boot on the ground. The Sudanese military in Darfur can be trapped there without sustenance, to wither or retreat as the bulk of Sudanese forces are kept out. And the janjaweed can be denied tangible support merely by severing the few extenuated routes of supply.
The first requirement of a cordon sanitaire, however, would be to cut all air links, which would require carrier-based air strikes to destroy the Sudanese Air Force's 51 combat aircraft, 25 transports, and 44 helicopters (all figures from the International Institute for Strategic Studies); its fuel, munitions and maintenance facilities; and the few runways capable of supporting heavy transports and fighters. Were Chad to approve a small expeditionary force of America's A-10 tactical-air-support planes, which it probably would, just a few of these could closely suppress remnant Sudanese armor and check any force of the janjaweed militia sufficiently concentrated to overcome local means of self-defense.
Moreover, none of this would prove necessary were the United States willing to go further and threaten or accomplish the destruction of the Sudanese regime's means to power over a country that has been pulled apart centrifugally by multiple secessions.
One needn't be squeamish about such a proposition. It pertains to a government that has long massacred hundreds of thousands of its "own" people in its South and West, supported international terrorism and menaced most of its neighbors.
The precise targeting of a substantial portion of its 1,200 armored vehicles and 1,100 artillery pieces; its telecommunications exchanges and microwave towers; its dozen small naval vessels; its aircraft, runways, munitions, military headquarters, logistical stores, security ministries and presidential residences would be only a few days' work for long-range bombers dispatched from remote bases, and the planes of two carrier task forces hastened to the Red Sea.
Which would the regime in Sudan prefer? To be annihilated, or to discontinue its campaign of mass murder in Darfur? Given Sudan's record, very few nations would be willing to come to its aid with other than a pro forma whimper, and given the geography and the air and naval balance, no nation could. Though many a repressive dictatorship would protest, and Sudan's patron, China, might determine to speed up the formation of the blue-water navy it is already building, little else would change except for the better.
This is especially so because only in the worst case would a military strike actually be necessary. One of the chief attractions of such an initiative is that, if properly directed, it could, one way or another, military strike or not, accomplish its aims.


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