Saturday, 5 April 2008

Friday, 4th April 2008


Commodities investors worry as prices tumble
It has been almost a decade since the high-tech bubble burst. Is the same thing about to happen to a low-tech bubble, as some investment advisers are warning?
Farming may be the world's oldest profession (there is some disagreement about this), and booms and busts have occurred for thousands of years. The latest boom has sent prices of many agricultural commodities to multiyear highs, but they have fallen back rapidly in the last couple of weeks. If that heralds the next bust, its impact is likely to be felt worldwide.
Prices of grain, like wheat and corn, and oilseeds like soybeans have doubled or tripled since the start of 2005, along with prices of industrial commodities like crude oil and copper. In each case the increase was attributed to increasing demand from emerging markets.
As economies grow richer, more buildings and infrastructure are constructed to make them run. As citizens become wealthier, they acquire more of an appetite for meat to make their bodies run. As Alec Walsh, an analyst at Harding, Loevner Management, noted, consumption of pork in China has doubled since 1990. And more meat means more grain: It takes up to five tons of grain to produce a ton of meat.
Walsh invoked an argument for higher grain prices that recalls the one long used to promote the virtues of owning real estate: "The amount of arable land that exists for new crops is finite."

The man who might have been France's greatest film comic, Louis de Funès, was virtually unknown in the English-speaking world. His genius just didn't get across.
If earnest French films are often criticized and described as poor export products because they are too talky, too motionless or too cynical, you could say de Funès, while wildly funny, was too French in that his humor held no final promise of pink clouds or rainbows.
De Funès's characters were obsequious, conniving and petty, all without the certainty there was a nice guy underneath. This is the great French comic edge, I think, and I once asked him why he thought his pictures never made it in America or Britain.
His answer: "I'm a louse in my films. I'm distrustful, I'm weak. I say bad things about everybody when they turn their backs. If you're looking for a comparison, then I resemble Donald Duck in terms of character."
He also left a tradition here of what could be called brilliant nastiness.
The premise of many good French movies that not everyone's decent or kind, that everything may not turn out great, and that nice doesn't automatically follow from funny, may be the key in making them a hard sell away from home.
In fact, this is exactly their uniqueness and what's not lost in translation.

SDEROT, Israel
"In Tel Aviv, you have great cafés, nice clothes and you live an illusion as if everything is all right," said Ilanit Swissa, a theater director who moved to Sderot a few months ago to work with high school actors, one of about a dozen liberal intellectuals setting up camp here. "But it is not true. Here I feel like I am contributing something. We are at war and you feel it here."
Meanwhile, a suicide bomber killed at least 15 people and wounded 8 when he blew himself up during the funeral for a police officer in Sadiya, about 95 kilometers, or 60 miles, north of Baghdad on Friday. The police said the bomber had joined the mourners and then triggered an explosive vest.

HARARE, Zimbabawe
About the same time, a second group of riot officers sealed off the York Lodge, a small hotel in suburban Harare that is frequented by foreign journalists. A lodge worker who refused to be identified for safety reasons said six people were detained, including Barry Bearak, a correspondent for The New York Times who was later located in a Harare jail.
"I can confirm that we have arrested two reporters at York Lodge for practicing without accreditation," a police spokesman, Wayne Bvudzijena, told The New Zealand Times.
Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, said that Bearak "was apparently one of a number of Americans and other foreign nationals rounded up Friday. An American consular official who visited him at the central police station reported that he was being held for 'violation of the journalism laws.' We are making every effort to assure that he is well treated, and to secure his prompt release."

Pirates seized control of a French luxury yacht carrying 30 crew members Friday off the coast of Somalia, the French government and the ship's owner said.
Attackers stormed the 288-foot Le Ponant as it returned without passengers from the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean, toward the Mediterranean Sea, said officials with French maritime transport company CMA-CGM.
According to the company's Web site, the three-mast boat features four decks, two restaurants, and indoor and outdoor luxury lounges. It can hold up to 64 passengers.
The Ponant was next scheduled to carry passengers as part of a 10-day, 7-night trip from Alexandria, Egypt, to Valletta, Malta, starting April 19. Prices started at $3,465, not including air fare or taxes.
Pirates seized more than two dozen ships off the Somali coast last year.

You can often tell if someone understands how wrong their actions are by the lengths to which they go to rationalize them. It took 81 pages of twisted legal reasoning to justify President George W. Bush's decision to ignore federal law and international treaties and authorize the abuse and torture of prisoners.
Eighty-one spine-crawling pages in a memo that might have been unearthed from the dusty archives of some authoritarian regime and has no place in the annals of the United States. It is must reading for anyone who still doubts whether the abuse of prisoners were rogue acts rather than calculated policy.
As President George W. Bush prepares to meet with President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Dimitry Medvedev in Sochi on Sunday, I hope he will remember the pledge he made in his second inaugural address in 2005. In that memorable speech, he promised that the United States would not ignore oppression and that it would stand with those who stand for liberty.
Thousands of Russians like myself have been speaking out and standing up for liberty and paying a heavy price. Some of us, like Anna Politkovskaya, have paid the ultimate price. The rest of us have suffered threats, defamation in the media, physical assault, fabricated prosecution and interference or obstruction of our work.
We hope that Bush will not excuse our oppressors, who act in the name of Putin.

At King's funeral, the marshals told the throngs that nobody should chew gum because it would look undignified. But niceties like that were obsolete.
Building the social fabric after the disruption of that period has been the work of the subsequent generations - weaving the invisible web of family, neighborhood and national obligations so that people stay in school, attend to their kids and have an opportunity to rise if they play by the rules.
Progress has been slow. Nearly a third of American high school students don't graduate (half in the cities). Seventy percent of African-American kids are born out of wedlock. Poverty rates in Memphis have scarcely dropped.

Few religions admonish their adherents as strongly to contribute to charity as Islam, and caring for orphans brings special blessings. But the Koran also forbids adoption in the Western sense, in which a child is absorbed into the adoptive family on equal footing with birth children. The blood relation between birth parent and child and all the rights and responsibilities it confers are sacrosanct and cannot be imitated in Islamic law.
As a result, a child raised by a family other than its birth family cannot be given that family's name, nor can he inherit his father's property as a birth child would. In addition, the child would be subject to the stringent laws governing relations between men and women.
An adopted son, once he turned 18, could not be permitted see his mother or sisters uncovered, since they lack a blood relationship that would bar them from marrying, and an adopted girl would face similar problems of having to cover herself before male family members. Adoption by foreigners is strictly forbidden.
This thicket of legal issues has led some Muslims to conclude that the whole idea of taking a strange child permanently into ones home is haram, or forbidden under the laws of Islam. This is especially true in countries like Sudan, where Shariah, or Islamic law, is the law of the land.

"It was no place to raise children," said Osman Sheiba Abu Fatma, a Unicef program manager. "There were children who could not speak because no one talked to them. Some were malnourished. All were unloved. No one touched or held them. After my first visit I was traumatized by it for a long time."
All that has changed. Admissions to the orphanage have held steady at about 600 a year, but the orphanage has been renovated, and its nurseries are decked out with Snoopy clocks and Care Bear posters on walls painted bright yellow, pink and blue. Nurses are trained to hold and play with the children as they feed and care for them. In 2004, the government passed a new law that said children should be raised in families, not institutions, as much as possible.

Why Women Mean Business
Understanding the Emergence of Our Next Economic Revolution
By Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Alison Maitland 376 pages. John Wiley & Sons
"Males typically oversell their abilities while women undersell themselves," said Alex Tosolini, general manager at Procter & Gamble in Poland. Smart leaders, he said, will "adjust men's claims about themselves downward and women's upward to get an accurate reading of reality."
In a Modern Gold Rush, Can Memories Beat $913 an Ounce?
Several weeks ago, a 30-something woman walked into Lombard Mutual, the pawnbroker and jewelry shop in Manhattan, to find out how much a pair of gold drop earrings might fetch.
Behind the counter, the shop’s owner, Joseph Grunberg, performed a routine test and delivered his verdict: “Gold plated,” he said.
“I’m shocked,” responded the woman, who would identify herself only as Jessica because of what she said next. “It figures. My boss gave me those earrings right before she fired me.”
The soft-coloured photographs of Sze Tsung Leon capture contrasting landscapes: the verdant green of Germany; the mirage of shimmering towers in Dubai; the urban geometry of Amman; the red tile roofs of Italy. But always the eye is drawn to the distinct line where sky meets earth.
"The horizon is such a basic way of comprehending the space around us, comprehending our basic relationship to the globe," Leong said one recent morning over tea in Manhattan.
"In terms of looking, the horizon is the farthest we can see," he explained, yet in terms of knowledge, it reflects the "limit of experience."

Rouyère's statement appears similar to testimony given last month by his deputy, Eric Cordelle, who was Kerviel's direct supervisor. According to court documents, Cordelle told the judges that he had received e-mail messages from the bank's back-office staff in November, seeking information to help explain some of Kerviel's trades, but that he had not read them all. In particular, he was unaware of one glaring red flag cited by the exchange: the purchase, on Oct. 19, of 6,000 DAX index futures contracts within two hours, valued at more than €1 billion, or $1.5 billion.
"I would have hit the ceiling," Cordelle said, according to the document. "The limit was €125 million for the team and that was recalculated every night by the risk-management department."
Kerviel has told investigators that the €125 million daily cap on unhedged risk exposure was a theoretical rather than a formal limit, which was frequently breached.

This is my first trip to China and, like most Americans, I had an image of what a Chinese factory looked like. Mr. Jin’s operation fit that image almost to a T. It was housed in a run-down building amid a sea of run-down buildings in the Kun Shan industrial zone, just northwest of Shanghai. Except for Mr. Jin’s own office, it was really just one cavernous room, filled with rows of tables, on which stood old-fashioned sewing machines. There was a cafeteria with rickety wooden chairs and beaten-up tables where the workers ate their meals, and a sad-looking dormitory where they slept. Behind the building was a dirty-looking river. Debris littered its banks.
Mr. Jin’s factory also makes the sort of thing you expect a Chinese factory to make: it churns out inexpensive clothing, aimed at the European market. Mr. Jin is the classic low-cost, tight-margin, squeeze-every-penny manufacturer, the kind of entrepreneur who has been the backbone of China’s astounding economic rise — and who has also been the primary beneficiary of the low yuan, which has spurred the market for China’s cheap goods. On the day I visited, his work force was making tan jackets under the French brand Camaïeu.

Off The Charts
Across the Globe, Hints of More Perils in Housing
AS a weakening housing market appears to be dragging the American economy into recession, the International Monetary Fund warned this week that home prices in other industrial countries were even more overvalued.
In its World Economic Outlook report, the fund also concluded that central banks should pay close attention to home prices and consider raising interest rates when prices are rising rapidly. That conclusion is directly contrary to the established policy of most central banks, including the Federal Reserve, which ignores home prices when they are expanding.
The fund looked at trends in housing prices and mortgage debt in 17 countries, and tried to assess how much of the price changes could be attributed to economic fundamentals, including trends in personal income, demographics and interest rates. It concluded that house prices in the United States in mid-2007 were 11 percent higher than the fundamentals would justify.
But that overvaluation was much lower than in Ireland, where the I.M.F. estimates that house prices were 32 percent higher than fundamentals would support. The Netherlands, Britain, Australia, France and Norway all showed overvaluations of at least 20 percent.
On the other end of the spectrum, the I.M.F. concluded that homes were undervalued in Canada and Austria.

LOS ANGELES: Kevin Federline might play the part of the pauper to his pop princess ex-wife Britney Spears, but in Las Vegas he is king.
Federline spent over $43,000 on Las Vegas hotels, dining and shopping between May 2007 and January of this year, according to documents filed by Federline's attorney in his custody battle with Spears. The documents were released by the Superior Court on Thursday.
The tabs included $1,445 for clothing at Gianni Versace, $3,863 at TAO nightclub, and $3,008 at the Hard Rock Beach Club.
He appears determined not to be branded a cheap tipper. At Scores strip club, he dropped a cool $2,000 on a $365 meal bill.
Meanwhile, his company, Gooseneck Productions, Inc., spent $841,129 in 2007 while earning $544,075, according to the documents.
The aspiring rapper also spent big on attempts to prop up his struggling music career.
Federline had $74,102 in "music production" expenses, but earned only $9,849 in "music income," according to the documents, which did not elaborate.

Unaccustomed Earth By Jhumpa Lahiri
333 pages. $25.
Alfred A. Knopf; £14.99. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Here, as in her first collection, "Interpreter of Maladies," and her novel, "The Namesake," Lahiri, who is of Bengali descent but was born in London, raised in Rhode Island and today makes her home in New York, shows that the place to which you feel the strongest attachment isn't necessarily the country you're tied to by blood or birth: it's the place that allows you to become yourself. This place, she quietly indicates, may not lie on any map.
The eight stories in this splendid volume expand upon Lahiri's epigraph, a metaphysical passage from "The Custom-House," by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which suggests that transplanting people into new soil makes them hardier and more flourishing.
Human fortunes may be improved, Hawthorne argues, if men and women "strike their roots into unaccustomed earth." It's an apt, rich metaphor for the transformations Lahiri oversees in these pages, in which two generations of Bengali immigrants to America - the newcomers and their hyphenated children - struggle to build normal, secure lives. But Lahiri does not so much accept Hawthorne's notion as test it. Is it true that transplanting strengthens the plant? Or can such experiments produce mixed outcomes? Geography is no guarantee of security. Lahiri shows that people may be felled at any time by swift jabs of chance, wherever they happen to live. Uncontrollable events may assail them. More often, they suffer less dramatic reversals: failed love affairs, alcoholism, even simple passivity - the sort of troubles that seem avoidable to everyone except the person who succumbs to them. Like Laura, the well-meaning narrator of "Brief Encounter," the men and women of Lahiri's stories often find themselves overwhelmed by unexpected passions.

"What I like is the poetique of the situation," he [Jean Nouvel] said. "I am a hedonist, and I want to give pleasure to other people."


04 April 2008 11:30
Subject: *** PROBABLY SPAM *** Sunday

Hi Ian,
We're at the academy in B. on Sunday if you fancy coming to a show. Drop me a line and I'll get a couple of tickets put by.
04 April 2008 16:58
Subject: *** PROBABLY SPAM *** Alors
Started the first few chapters and sent an email ten days ago. S. livedin K. for six years so I know the patch well.
Have to confess to only reading about a book a year since new wife and kids! So I shall be reading on the road over the next few weeks.
As I said in my email I really feel I know your characters well although I wasn't initially sure about your GP.
H. practised in the Cotswolds for a few years so I asked her if she knew anyone that glib - delighted to report that she did.
I just wondered if the hale and hearty types I've met through her wouldn't have fitted the tone of your opening chapters.
Look forward to reading the rest soon.


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