Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Monday, 7th April 2008


COMMENTARY (NB. This commentary by Paul Krugman puts this blog 3 months and 7 days further ahead of the information curve than Paul Krugman. I think today the world just tipped from Q1 to Q2 and the watch word to add to water, land, energy, food, environment is INFLATION)

Grains gone wild
What's behind the world food crisis?
These days you hear a lot about the world financial crisis. But there's another world crisis under way - and it's hurting a lot more people.
I'm talking about the food crisis. Over the past few years the prices of wheat, corn, rice and other basic foodstuffs have doubled or tripled, with much of the increase taking place just in the last few months.
High food prices dismay even relatively well-off Americans, but they're truly devastating in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family's spending.

There have already been food riots around the world. Food-supplying countries, from Ukraine to Argentina, have been limiting exports in an attempt to protect domestic consumers, leading to angry protests from farmers - and making things even worse in countries that need to import food.
How did this happen? The answer is a combination of long-term trends, bad luck - and bad policy.
Let's start with the things that aren't anyone's fault.
First, there's the march of the meat-eating Chinese - that is, the growing number of people in emerging economies who are, for the first time, rich enough to start eating like Westerners. Since it takes about 700 calories' worth of animal feed to produce a 100-calorie piece of beef, this change in diet increases the overall demand for grains.
Second, there's the price of oil. Modern farming is highly energy-intensive: A lot of BTUs go into producing fertilizer, running tractors and, not least, transporting farm products to consumers. With oil persistently above $100 per barrel, energy costs have become a major factor driving up agricultural costs.
High oil prices, by the way, also have a lot to do with the growth of China and other emerging economies. Directly and indirectly, these rising economic powers are competing with the rest of us for scarce resources, including oil and farmland, driving up prices for raw materials of all sorts.
Third, there has been a run of bad weather in key growing areas. In particular, Australia, normally the world's second-largest wheat exporter, has been suffering from an epic drought.
OK, I said that these factors behind the food crisis aren't anyone's fault, but that's not quite true.
The rise of China and other emerging economies is the main force driving oil prices, but the invasion of Iraq - which proponents promised would lead to cheap oil - has also reduced oil supplies below what they would have been otherwise.
And bad weather, especially the Australian drought, is probably related to climate change. So politicians and governments that have stood in the way of action on greenhouse gases bear some responsibility for food shortages.
Where the effects of bad policy are clearest, however, is in the rise of demon ethanol and other biofuels.
The subsidized conversion of crops into fuel was supposed to promote energy independence and help limit global warming. But this promise was, as Time magazine bluntly put it, a "scam."
This is especially true of corn ethanol: even on optimistic estimates, producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains. But it turns out that even seemingly "good" biofuel policies, like Brazil's use of ethanol from sugar cane, accelerate the pace of climate change by promoting deforestation.
Meanwhile, land used to grow biofuel feedstock is land not available to grow food, so subsidies to biofuels are a major factor in the food crisis. You might put it this way: people are starving in Africa so that American politicians can court votes in farm states.
Oh, and in case you're wondering: All the remaining presidential contenders are terrible on this issue.
One more thing: one reason the food crisis has gotten so severe, so fast, is that major players in the grain market grew complacent.
Governments and private grain dealers used to hold large inventories in normal times, just in case a bad harvest created a sudden shortage. Over the years, however, these precautionary inventories were allowed to shrink, mainly because everyone came to believe that countries suffering crop failures could always import the food they needed.
This left the world food balance highly vulnerable to a crisis affecting many countries at once - in much the same way that the marketing of complex financial securities, which was supposed to diversify away risk, left world financial markets highly vulnerable to a system-wide shock.
What should be done? The most immediate need is more aid to people in distress: the United Nations' World Food Program put out a desperate appeal for more funds.

We also need a pushback against biofuels, which turn out to have been a terrible mistake.
But it's not clear how much can be done. Cheap food, like cheap oil, may be a thing of the past.




The World Trade Organization has ruled that the European Union's import tariffs for bananas unfairly discriminate against many Latin American countries.
The ruling by the global trade body's dispute settlement panel was released Monday.

The WTO panel called on Brussels to bring its duties in line with global trade agreements, backing a complaint from Ecuador. The South American country claims to suffer as a result of the EU's preferential conditions for producers from African and Caribbean countries.
Monday's ruling is the latest in a series of WTO decisions against the EU's banana regime stretching back over 10 years.
It confirms a 1998 decision that found against the EU and notes that Brussels has still not implemented the recommendations made at the time.




China and New Zealand signed a sweeping free trade agreement Monday, China's first such pact with a developed country.
The deal, signed by Commerce Minister Chen Deming and his New Zealand counterpart Phil Goff at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, will give New Zealand improved access to one of the world's fastest-growing economies.
It was signed in front of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Prime Minister Helen Clark, one of the first Western leaders to visit Beijing since anti-government rioting broke out last month in Tibet.
"This is an historic day for China-New Zealand relations," said Wen in remarks ahead of the signing. "The agreement not only means we met goals we set two years ago for our negotiations, but it also makes New Zealand the first developed country to reach a free trade agreement with China.
Wen said he believes the deal will bring "our friendly relationship even closer and deliver tangible benefits to both our countries."

Clark called the pact - between the country with the largest population in the world with 1.3 billion people, and a country with just 4.1 million people - "a very significant achievement for New Zealand."
"It opens up new opportunities for businesses looking to engage with, or grow their existing links with, China," she said in a statement.
The deal came after 15 rounds of negotiations over three years, Clark said.
Two-way trade between China and New Zealand currently is worth more than $6.1 billion a year, with Chinese exports making up about 75 percent, according to Statistics New Zealand.
When the deal goes into effect Oct. 1, tariffs on New Zealand's exports to China that are currently set at 5 percent or less will be cut to zero.
For New Zealand exports that face larger tariffs, there will be a staggered timeframe for cuts, with 31 percent of New Zealand's exports to China slated for tariff-free status by 2013.
Tariffs on dairy products, a primary New Zealand export, will be phased out over a longer time frame, taking until 2019 when almost all of the country's current exports to China will be tariff free.
"The FTA provides for elimination over time of tariffs on 96 percent of New Zealand's current exports to China," a New Zealand government statement said.
Beyond trade in goods, the agreement covers the services sector, from insurance and banking to education and labor supply.
The agreement also calls for up to 1,800 Chinese to enter New Zealand each year to work in areas such as traditional Chinese medicine, language teaching and food service.
New Zealand, which still must be formally ratified by its Parliament, said the agreement would make it a long-term trading partner with China.
"The upfront commitments on goods, services and investment and the mechanisms which provide for further development of the agreement over time should help keep New Zealand at the fore front of the evolution of trade and investment relationships with China," the government statement said.




When he took office in 1985, President Alan García of Peru ordered controls on the price of rice, sugar and other goods to try to keep those staples within reach of his country's poor.
But when shortages and a black market arose, Peruvians had to stand in line for hours for basic foods, and five years later García's presidency dissolved in a spiral of hyperinflation.
As Peru again faces rising food prices - this time along with the rest of the world - a re-elected García has drawn on past experience and rejected price controls.
Other countries would do well to follow Peru's example, according to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other international agencies.
From Argentina and Venezuela to Russia, China and Thailand, governments are addressing the challenge of rising food prices by imposing price controls. By fixing prices below market levels, they hope to ease the burden on their citizens and avoid social unrest.

But evidence from past crises shows that such measures do not reverse price trends and may end up having the opposite effect, say international economists, who advocate aid for the poor instead.
"Governments need to take focused action, with direct subsidies for the poor rather than the whole country," a World Bank economist, Don Mitchell, said. "Income transfers or food assistance for poor people will work more efficiently and sustainably than more general steps at the national level."
Although food prices have been on the rise since 2001, the situation collided last year with sharply higher oil prices, leaving many governments grappling for quick fixes and turning to old devices. Many have found that the quickest, easiest and most popular response is price controls.
In China, where inflation is at an 11-year high, the authorities introduced controls on a range of goods from instant noodles to milk, calling the action a temporary intervention to battle soaring inflation. It was the first time in more than a decade that Beijing decided to adjust prices in the food market.
In Thailand, the government is taking similar steps on instant noodles and cooking oil, and in Russia, the authorities are trying to cap prices of bread, eggs and milk.
In Mexico, the government is trying to control the price of tortillas after protests there, and Venezuela is putting price caps on staples including milk and sugar.
Others include Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Cameroon, Yemen, Jamaica, Egypt, Tunisia, Maldives, Pakistan and Panama, according to the World Bank, which lists 21 countries that have controls on strategic staples.
International economists warn that price controls and other interventions lead to market distortions like reduced supplies because they discourage domestic production, processing and trade. By dampening the underlying causes of inflation, price controls prevent market solutions, these experts say.
Already, some countries are finding this to be true.
Argentina, which imposed an export tax on grains in addition to controls on domestic food prices, has been shaken by nationwide protests by farmers in response, leading to meat and dairy shortages and paralyzed grain exports.
Meanwhile, Malaysia's government has said it is reviewing controls on 21 food items including milk, salt, wheat flour and rice because they have led to severe shortages and smuggling.
According to experts, the controls are only likely to work where staple foods are a small share of total household spending, or when the controls are implemented for a very short time, like in Morocco during the holy month of Ramadan. If price controls are kept too long, the odds increase for a precipitous and destabilizing jump in prices.
In poor countries, where food makes up a large share of what people buy, a global increase in food prices has a bigger impact, making it all the more important to formulate the best policy response.
Yemen, which imports about two million tons of wheat a year, has seen a doubling of wheat and wheat product prices that has pushed more people into poverty.
"If no action is taken, this could fully reverse the gains in poverty reduction seen in the country between 1998 and 2005," said Thirumalai Srinivasan, a World Bank economist in Yemen.
While price controls may be seen as a tempting quick fix, there is little proof that they have worked to dampen inflation.
"For a developing country food importer, it becomes very fiscally expensive to the government," said David Orden, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. In response, countries with limited fiscal resources often resort to printing money, which in turn increases inflation.


SUNNYVALE, California

Call it an eco-parable: one Prius-driving couple take pride in their eight redwoods, the first of them planted over a decade ago. Their electric-car-driving neighbors take pride in their rooftop solar panels, installed five years after the first trees were planted.
Trees - redwoods, live oaks or blossoming fruit trees - are usually considered sturdy citizens of the sun-swept peninsula south of San Francisco, not criminal elements. But under a 1978 state law protecting homeowners' investment in rooftop solar panels, trees that impede solar panels' access to the sun can be deemed a nuisance and their owners fined up to $1,000 a day. The Solar Shade Act was an obscure curiosity until late last year, when a dispute over the eight redwoods (a k a Tree No. 1, Tree No. 2, Tree No. 3, etc.) ended up in Santa Clara County criminal court.
The couple who planted the trees, Carolynn Bissett and Richard Treanor, were convicted of violating the law, based on the complaint of their neighbor, Mark Vargas, and were ordered to make sure that no more than 10 percent of the solar panels are shaded.
A few weeks after The San Jose Mercury News wrote about the situation, the first act ended with the couple pruning 10 feet to 15 feet, or 3 meters to 4.5 meters, of Tree No. 6's upper branches. The event drew more cameras than an episode of "Extreme Home Makeover."




The issue of climate change is now in a sad state of suspension, awaiting an election, a new president and a new Congress.
The first anniversary of the Supreme Court's historic decision ordering the regulation of greenhouse gases came and went last week without any action by the administration, forcing state governors and other plaintiffs in the case to return to court to compel a response.
In the Senate, Joseph Lieberman continued to speak hopefully of getting a veto-proof majority for a bill he is co-sponsoring with John Warner to start capping emissions across the entire economy. Yet time is running short to get such a program right, and in any case, there is no movement in the House.
America's inertia remains in sharp contrast to the work by Europe, which took an early lead in efforts to curb global warming by establishing the world's most comprehensive carbon management system. Recently, Europeans pledged to cut emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. More important, they proposed to tighten the rules for allocating pollution allowances to make emitters pay the government for these allowances instead of getting them for free. This would eliminate windfall profits while raising large sums of money to invest in new and cleaner ways of producing energy.
The Lieberman-Warner bill would also set ambitious targets, establish a system of tradeable allowances and require investments in new technologies. The difference is that Europe's program is in business, whereas America's best ideas are still on paper.

Therein lies the motivation for Al Gore's latest climate change initiative. Last week he announced a three-year, $300 million campaign to build awareness and light a fire under Washington.
Gore's ambition is not just to change individual behavior by getting people to buy energy-saving light bulbs: It is to change policy. Whether he can compete with the public's preoccupations with war and the economy is unclear, but it is certainly worth the effort.


Revamping the oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, is perhaps the greatest challenge facing the administration of President Felipe Calderón, a conservative economist who won the disputed 2006 election by a hairbreadth.
At stake in the debate is not only the future of the Mexican economy but also the supply of oil to the United States. Last year, Mexico was the third largest supplier of crude imports to the American market, after Canada and Saudi Arabia.
The government has neglected the public company for 20 years, siphoning off its profits. Now production is dropping, reserves are dwindling, and Pemex lacks the technology to go after undersea oil, the administration says.

The lack of investment in exploration and refineries has left Mexico in dire straits. Oil production has been falling since 2005. Last year alone, it dropped 5.3 percent, to about 3.1 billion barrels a day.

At the same time, Pemex has begun to exhaust Mexico's giant offshore Cantarell Field, one of the world's largest. Reserves are disappearing, too, as Pemex pumps oil faster than it can find new deposits. Even exports of crude are falling.
To make matters worse, the company has failed to build a new refinery since the 1970s. Mexico now imports about 40 percent of its gasoline, mostly from the United States.




Carlos Danel and Carlos Labarthe turned a nonprofit that lent money to Mexico's poor into one of the country's most profitable banks.
But rather than inspiring the admiration of colleagues in the world of microlending — so named for the tiny loans it grants — the co-executives of Compartamos are being villified as "pawnbrokers" and "money lenders."
They are the center of a fractious debate: must microfinance become big business?
On one side stand traditional microlenders, like the economist Muhammad Yunus, founder of the most famous microlender, the Grameen Bank, and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. On the other side are the Two Carloses, as they are widely known in this tight-knit world that gave them their start as starry-eyed idealists.
Microlenders, the original and still the most common type of microfinance organization, help the poor start or grow businesses in places most banks shun, like the slums of Calcutta or these impoverished hills in Mexico's sugar cane country, three hours south of Mexico City. Their efforts are widely considered successful in transforming the lives of developing-world entrepreneurs, particularly women, and their families.

Many microlending advocates, including Yunus, say that success is threatened by Danel and Labarthe's market-oriented model, with its focus on investor returns.
"Microfinance started in the 1970s with a focus on using this breakthrough to help end poverty," said Sam Daley-Harris, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, a nonprofit endeavor that promotes microfinance for families earning less than $1 a day. "Now it is in great danger of being how well the investors and the microfinance institutions are doing and not about ending poverty."
He said the situation posed the danger of "mission drift."
Danel and Labarthe say microfinance will help more poor people by tapping the boundless pool of investor capital rather than the limited pool of donor money.
"It's marvelous to have one creditor but it's marvelous to have one million creditors," Labarthe said, "and that's where we really start to change the face of opportunity."
Compartamos, which means "let's share" in Spanish, expects to reach one million borrowers this year. Its profits are healthy, some $80 million last year, and its portfolio has grown to almost $400 million. Since it went public nearly a year ago, return on equity has been more than 40 percent.



About 3,000 police officers - on foot, horseback, Rollerblades, motorbikes and boats in the Seine - were deployed in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the scenes played out in London on Sunday, when the relay turned into a tumult of scuffles and dozens of people were arrested.
Paris, too, was a scene of disarray. At least one activist got within a meter of the police contingent and Chinese Olympic officials crowded around the torchbearer. On several occasions officers tackled protesters. The police said about 20 people were arrested.
A man identified by the police as a Green Party activist was grabbed by security officers as he headed for Stéphane Diagana, president of France's athletics league and a former world champion in the 400-meter hurdles, who was carrying the torch from the first floor of the Eiffel Tower.

Again and again protesters interrupted the Paris procession. On a street along the Seine demonstrators forced the security forces to put the torch on a bus, the police said. Around that time, the flame went out for a first time.
The police were forced to take the torch to the safety of the bus several times and it went out more than four times, the French Olympic Committee said, including on the final stretch between City Hall and the stadium that houses the offices of the French Olympic committee.
When the relay reached the Arc de Triomphe and started down the Champs-Elysées, the torch was being carried by another athlete, but he was barely visible from the heavily guarded pavement amid a dense escort of police officers and vans.
A helicopter circled above as tourists, cheering supporters waving Chinese flags and protesters chanting "freedom" for Tibet crowded behind metal barriers lined by paramilitary police officers.




Now, as members of the cell are awaiting a verdict in their case, French and other European intelligence and law enforcement officials are adjusting their analysis. They say their fears of young would-be fighters from Europe traveling to Iraq and returning more radicalized and better trained were overblown.
The logistical challenges and expense of reaching Iraq have been one deterrent, they said, particularly since Syria has made episodic efforts to halt the use of its territory as a transit route. Compared with the thousands of European Muslims who joined the fight in Afghanistan in the 1990s through networks in Britain , the numbers of fighters going to Iraq has been extremely small, according to senior French intelligence officials.

Another factor, the officials say, is that European Muslims lacking military training and good Arabic-language skills are neither needed nor welcomed by Iraqi insurgents - unless they are willing to be involved in suicide missions.

"At the moment, the major threat to Europe is coming from elsewhere - Pakistan, Afghanistan and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb," the North-African-based terrorist organization - said Bruguière, who now investigates terror financing for the European Union.




Nine people convicted in cases linked to 2003 terrorist attacks in Casablanca have escaped from prison, Morocco's state news agency reported Monday.
The Moroccan Justice Ministry said in a statement that officials discovered Monday morning that the nine had escaped from a prison in Kenitra, some 25 miles northwest of the capital, Rabat, the MAP news agency reported.
The ministry said all measures have been taken to find the escapees.




A Dutch lawmaker who sparked protests across the Muslim world with a film criticizing the Quran is entitled to express his anti-Islamic views, a court ruled Monday, rejecting a request to muzzle him.
The court ruled that the views expressed by right-wing legislator Geert Wilders do not exceed the legal boundaries against inciting hatred or violence.
The Netherlands Islamic Federation withdrew its petition to ban Wilders' film "Fitna" after it appeared on the Internet March 27, the day before the case was heard in a heavily guarded courtroom.

In a written judgment published Monday, the court said Wilders' right to free speech and role as a politician allow him to voice his criticisms of radical Islam and the Quran.
As a lawmaker, Wilders "must be able to — sometimes in sharp terms — express his opinions," the ruling said. "In this context, it cannot be said that (Wilders') statements — even though provocative — are an incitement to hate or violence against Muslims."




The trial of a man accused of plotting to bomb U.S. military installations abroad and tourist resorts in Europe popular with Americans has been delayed six months.
Christopher Paul's trial was supposed to start in January 2009 in Ohio. However, The Columbus Dispatch reported in its Monday editions that it has been delayed until July 2009 to give his lawyers time to have evidence translated into English.
Paul was charged last year. He is accused of providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.
Two other men who authorities say Paul worked with have pleaded guilty in terrorism-related investigations.


BAT TRANG, Vietnam

Developing countries have had bouts of inflation before - indeed, some are famous for them, like Brazil, which saw triple-digit inflation in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
But two things make this time different, especially in the United States, where the possibility of recession looms.
First, developing countries now produce nearly half of all American imports. Second, inflation in these countries is coming at the same time that many of their currencies are rising against the dollar.
That puts American consumers in a double bind, paying at least some of producers' higher costs for making their goods, and higher prices on top of that because the dollar buys less in those countries.
Asian businessmen say they do not have a choice. "This is a tough time to do business," said Le Hoai Vu, the sales manager for the Quang Vinh Ceramic Co. in Bat Trang in northern Vietnam.
The company just increased the prices it charges Pier 1 Imports in the United States for hand-painted vases because labor costs are rising 30 percent a year.

Are NATO promises backed by anything?


Russia had woofed, Germany and France got nervous, the Americans went limp, and in effect the applicants from the old Soviet zone were being told - in the manner of a slippery director of human resources addressing a job-seeker from the wrong area code - hey, you're great, we love ya, and give us a ring if you ever get back in town.


Ikea, the home furnishings retailer, was fined €450,000 last week for staying open on Sundays in a Paris suburb. A big French home improvement chain, Castorama, was sued for nearly as much - also for violating a 102-year-old requirement that French companies close on Sunday.Both cases show that the stakes are mounting in a long-running battle between French labor unions and retailers over Sunday shopping.The government of President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to shed the old restriction as part of a broader plan to stimulate the French economy.Advocates of the 1906 law, determined to prevent its demise, are digging in and demanding ever-higher fines against violators of a rule that they say supports a particular French way of life, one that is not obsessed with spending."Working on Sundays calls into question the very foundation of society," said lawyer Vincent Lecourt, who represents the Force Ouvrière union.
"It is a day when we try to consume less," he said, "when we try to have values that are a little different."Lecourt, who will take another home improvement chain to court April 18 in a similar case, has helped organize a policing campaign in the Val d'Oise region just north of Paris in recent months



If George Orwell had lived in the Internet age, he could have painted a grim picture of how Web monitoring could be used to promote authoritarianism. There is no need for neighborhood informants and paper dossiers if the government can see citizens' every Web site visit, e-mail and text message.
The public has been slow to express outrage - not, as tech companies like to claim, because they don't care about privacy, but simply because few people know all that is going on.


With Italians increasingly shunning sweaty and underpaid kitchen work, it can be hard now to find a restaurant where at least one foreigner does not wash dishes, help in the kitchen or, as is often the case, actually cook. Egyptians have done well as pizza makers, but restaurant kitchens are now a snapshot of Italy's relatively recent immigrant experience, with Moroccans, Tunisians, Romanians and Bangladeshis all doing the work.

"If he is an Egyptian cook, nothing changes - nothing," said Francesco Sabatini, 75, co-owner of Sabatini in Trastevere, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Rome. His restaurant is considered one of the city's most conservative, serving classic Roman dishes like oxtail, yet 7 of his 10 cooks are not Italian.
For Sabatini, the issue is not who cooks but the training - his chefs apprentice for five years - and keeping alive Italy's culinary traditions, which he defines as "the flavors of your mother's kitchen."

"That's why I'm here," he said. "If not, I'd just go to the beach."

Despite this success [Abu Markhyyeh, a young Jordanian, finished an apprenticeship with a Neapolitan pizza maker, borrowed money from his Italian mother-in-law, then opened his own pizzeria in Milan] - and thousands of loyal Italian customers - he said he never felt fully accepted. "Italians say they aren't racist, but then they say to me that in Milan I have found America," he said, referring to a slightly insulting expression for finding success without really working for it. "It makes me feel lousy."




A court in Spain says a boat skipper has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for the death of 10 Africans who drowned while trying to reach Spain.
The Provincial Court in the Canary Islands says the Moroccan skipper ordered people in the crowded boat to jump into the water 50 meters (yards) off the island of Gran Canaria and swim ashore, without checking how deep the water was.
Monday's ruling says those who drowned in the September 2007 incident did not know how to swim and were not provided life jackets.
The court identifies the skipper as 27-year-old Said Farchas. He made it ashore but was arrested two days later.
Around 20 Africans were traveling on the 6-meter (20-foot) boat.




By Richard Sennett

326 pages $27.50 Yale University Press

In the late 1920s, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein designed and built a house in Vienna for his sister. Wittgenstein’s family was extremely wealthy (there were gold-plated faucets in the bathrooms at home), and the building proceeded without the usual financial constraint. In one famous instance, to better satisfy his sense of proportion Wittgenstein had the drawing room ceiling torn out and rebuilt three centimeters higher.

As a novice architect, Wittgenstein obviously had large ambitions. “I am not interested in erecting a building,” he once wrote, “but in ... presenting to myself the foundations of all possible buildings.” Whether or not his sister’s house approached this high ideal, Wittgenstein himself judged the finished building to be austere and sterile. It has “good manners,” he later wrote, but no “primordial life,” no “health.”
Richard Sennett’s “guiding intuition” in “The Craftsman” is that “making is thinking,” and Wittgenstein’s experience as a builder speaks to the point, even in its combination of obsession and disappointment. As Sennett notes, it “came at the end of a period in Wittgenstein’s life when he had sought the philosophical equivalent of ‘the foundation of all possible buildings.’” There is a strong link, Sennett argues, between what Wittgenstein learned by building a house and the turn that his philosophy subsequently took, away from rigorous logic and toward a playful engagement with common speech, paradox and parable.

This is a large claim in regard to a career in philosophy, but it becomes plausible in context, for Sennett’s book gathers case after case in which we see how the work of the hand can inform the work of the mind. Moreover, it is through his insistence that thought arises in relation to craft that Sennett comes to one of his more intriguing interventions, a reimagining of the Enlightenment in terms not of ideas but of how craftsmen learned to work.

“The hand is the window on to the mind,” Immanuel Kant wrote, and Sennett asks that we not pass through that window until we have adequately studied the hand. For Sennett the emblematic Enlightenment publication was Diderot’s “Encyclopedia, or Dictionary of Arts and Crafts.” In 35 volumes, this great work told its readers how to keep bees, make cider or wooden shoes, cure tobacco, prepare hemp, build a windmill, grind wheat, or — in the case that Sennett expands upon — make paper as it was then produced at the great L’Anglée factory south of Paris. The Enlightenment as pictured by Diderot arose from the conversation between craftsmen and all the stuff — the wood, the gold, the papermaking rags — that met their hands. The material world speaks back to us constantly, by its resistance, by its ambiguity, by the way it changes as circumstances change, and the enlightened are those able to enter into this dialogue and, by so doing, come to develop an “intelligent hand.”
Using craftsmen as symbols of the Enlightenment turns out to be part of an argument that Sennett is conducting with one of his teachers, Hannah Arendt. In her own portrait of the human condition, Arendt distinguished between the world of animal needs and a “higher” world of art, politics and philosophy. This division is, for Sennett, a serious philosophical mistake with serious ethical and political consequences. It isn’t only that it demeans those who labor with their hands, but that it fails to recognize one of the foundations of good citizenship and cannot then imagine the kind of democracy in which governance is widely diffused, not given over to expert elites.

And what is it that such persons know? They know how to negotiate between autonomy and authority (as one must in any workshop); how to work not against resistant forces but with them (as did the engineers who first drilled tunnels beneath the Thames); how to complete their tasks using “minimum force” (as do all chefs who must chop vegetables); how to meet people and things with sympathetic imagination (as does the glassblower whose “corporeal anticipation” lets her stay one step ahead of the molten glass); and above all they know how to play, for it is in play that we find “the origin of the dialogue the craftsman conducts with materials like clay and glass.”

The assumption that craft abilities are widely diffused leads Sennett into a meditation on our love of those intelligence tests by which we supposedly single out the very smart and the very stupid so that some will go to college and others go to bagging groceries. Sennett points out that such sorting ignores the “densely populated middle ground” where most of the population is actually found. Rather than celebrating a “common ground of talents,” we tend to inflate “small differences in degree into large differences in kind” and so legitimate existing systems of privilege. Thinking of the median as the mediocre creates an excuse for neglect. This is one reason, Sennett argues, that “it proves so hard to find charitable contributions to vocational schools” while currently the wealth of the Ivy League schools is compounding at an astounding rate.
Sennett builds his argument slowly and allows himself many seeming digressions, a method that sometimes makes for frustrating reading. It wasn’t until the final pages of “The Craftsman” that its organizing ideas crystallized for me, and at 300 pages that’s a long time to wait. It may be that Sennett knows the foundations of his own approach so well that he forgets that others do not. Near the end, for example, he remarks that “an eagle-eyed reader” will have noticed that he almost never uses the word “creativity.” Those familiar with Sennett’s earlier work, especially “The Fall of Public Man,” may well remember the impatience with which he treats the inflated importance given to Romantic genius, but newcomers may wonder why his working assumptions can’t simply be revealed for the eyes of lesser birds.
All this said, rather than demanding a spine of overt ideas it may be better to read a book like this for the companionship of its inquiring intelligence. There is much to learn here — about the quilted titanium fabricated for
Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, for example, or about how Antonio Stradivari ran his violin workshop, or how the inventor of a mechanical flute player designed the first automated machines for weaving silk.
My favorite of such lessons involves four different recipes by four different chefs, each trying to explain how to prepare a famous French dish — a boned chicken, stuffed and glazed — known as poulet à la d’Albufera. One chef simply lists each step in the flattest of language (“force the flesh loose”), a style Sennett calls “dead denotation.” Another —
Julia Child — writes the narrative with empathy for a timid beginner; a third says very little about the actual preparations, describing instead how a French cook might approach the barnyard to choose a hen.
Finally we come to one Madame Benshaw, from whom Sennett once took a cooking class. An Iranian refugee, Madame Benshaw had poor English (stuffing the bird, she would hold up an ingredient she had found in the market, neither she nor her pupils knowing its name). Prevailed upon to write out a recipe for poulet à la d’Albufera, she took a month to produce the following:
“Your dead child. Prepare him for new life. Fill him with the earth. Be careful! He should not overeat. Put on his golden coat. You bathe him. Warm him but be careful! A child dies from too much sun. Put on his jewels. This is my recipe.”
Those who wish to know how to decode these instructions will have to read Sennett’s book. After that, those wishing to actually prepare this dish will need to seek out a teacher with the kind of intelligent hands that can turn cooking into craftsmanship.



From: The Cat

Date: 07 April 2008 09:48

Subject: IHT.com Article: Top Clinton aide steps down under pressure

This IHT.com article has been sent to you by: thecat@thecatandassociates.

Polling firm, Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, will continue to provide polling and advice to the campaign, the statement said. Geoff Garin, who has been conducting polling for the campaign and will continue to provide data, and Howard Wolfson, Clinton's longtime communications director, will coordinate the campaign's strategic message from now on, the statement added.



Five teenagers who rampaged through a Sydney high school with baseball bats and machetes will appear in court Tuesday to face more than 100 charges, police said.
The five, between the ages of 14 and 16, were arrested after storming into suburban Merrylands High School on Monday, smashing windows, terrorizing students and hitting a teacher over the head. Eighteen students were also slightly hurt.
The teenagers have been charged with offenses including assault and malicious damage.
The offenses carry penalties up to seven years in prison.
A 43-year-old teacher was treated at a hospital after being hit on the head with a bat when he tried to stop the attackers, and 18 students were treated for cuts from broken glass and other minor injuries, Police Detective Inspector Jim Stewart said Monday.




An Israeli cabinet minister warned Iran on Monday that any attack on the Jewish state would result in the "destruction of the Iranian nation," his office said, according to The Associated Press in Jerusalem.
The comments by the Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister, came as Israel held a weeklong countrywide civil defense exercise to practice government and military responses to a national emergency, like an attack by militant groups or enemy state.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has often said Israel should be "wiped off the map" and backs Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas who fought a monthlong war with Israel in 2006.
"An Iranian attack would result in a harsh Israeli reaction that would cause the destruction of the Iranian nation," Ben-Eliezer said during the exercise, according to a statement from his office. "They are definitely aware of our power."





Switzerland just announced a €20 billion energy deal with Iran - the world's leading sponsor of terrorism.

Just last year, Swiss Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey declared that her nation's "fight agaisnt terrorism ramins a priority," But Madam Foreign Minister:




Mosley, undaunted, tried to turn the tables on BMW and Daimler Benz, which manufactures Mercedes-Benz cars, with a statement that raised the specter of the two companies' own role during the Nazi era. In addition to building engines for German fighters, bombers and tanks, they were accused of using slave labor in some of their plants, and, in Daimler Benz's case, providing Hitler and the German high command with staff cars. The statement held to his insistence that fault lay with the way in which his actions had been reported by The News of The World, and not with the actions themselves.

If he recognized the irony in the son of the man who led Britain's "blackshirts" in reproving German companies for their wartime past, Mosley did not show it.
"Given the history of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, particularly before and during the Second World War, I fully understand why they would strongly distance themselves from what they rightly describe as the disgraceful content of these publications," he said. "Unfortunately, they did not contact me before putting out their statement to ask whether the content was in fact true."



'What went wrong at UBS" (April 5) is no different from what went wrong at Citigroup, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch and so many other banks. The fault lies in the system: Chief executives and high-ranking officers get huge salaries and bonuses when their institutions make a profit, but don't pay a penalty when shareholders get fleeced because of their poor decisions. The system encourages risk-taking at the expense of prudence.
Did any of the chief executives at Citi, Merril or UBS end up in the doghouse? When things go well, the chief executives are rewarded. When things go awry, it's the market's fault.
Thomas Unger, São Paulo



Japanese cell phone users will test a new service that allows them to download fragrances, major telecommunications company NTT Communications Corp. said Monday.
Twenty participants using "Mobile Fragrance Communications" can download files of specific scents accompanied by music or video clips, the company said in a statement.
Scent playlists can be downloaded from "i-mode" mobile Web site run by the company's affiliate, NTT DoCoMo.
The service uses a handset's infrared port to transfer the "fragrance data" to a dedicated device similar to a plug-in air freshener that is loaded with a cartridge of base fragrances. The device then mixes them to create the chosen smell, which it then wafts out.
The service is a cell phone version of an existing fragrance download service for scent users' homes and offices. Trials will run for 10 days beginning Thursday.


ABU DHABI: The United Arab Emirates backed its Gulf Arab neighbors Monday in a plan to get a single currency on track, saying it would not adjust the peg linking its dirham to the dollar as the region prepared for a monetary union.




In February, investors sent only $8.4 billion to hedge funds after adding nearly three times that amount in November, according to data from research firm TrimTabs.
"Hedge funds are going to become the kind of hotels where you can check in, but you can't check out," Alford of Alpha Capital said, explaining that managers are desperately adding restrictions to keep all the money from leaving at once.



To: info@ianwalthew.com

Date: 07 April 2008 20:34

Subject: Me again

I went to your website.

Tu ne peux pas savoir mais j' ai fait des etudes de Geographie et d Histoire avec une specialite de Geographie Rurale; il me reste peu de choses de cette epoque de ma vie , mais je reste tres interessée.Je viens de retrouver dans ma bibliothèque les Memoires d un Village Anglais de Ronald Blythe edité en 1969 en GB. Cela concerne si ma memoire est bonne l East Anglia.
Je l ai en français bien sur edite par Plon dans la Collection Terre Humaine traduit par Jacques B Hess; Je n ai pas retrouve le titre en anglais. Si tu as envie de le lire en francais , je peux t' offrir le mien. Je suis sure qu 'il ira dans des mains et deav,nt des yeux interessés.

En France , il y a une excellente serie de romans qui explique le developpement et la chute d'une marge du Massif Central; la Corrèze; Peut -etre un peu facile, peut-etre un peu grand public, la saga de Claude Michelet montre bien ce qui s est passe dans les campagnes francaises entre 1900 et 1960 depuis l electrification en passant par la SNCF et la politique agricole europeenne. Claude Michelet est un des fils d' un ministre de de Gaulle qui a refuse de quitter la terre.

Les Bienveillantes???? Je suis furieuse ; Robert Merle avait fait bien mieux avec " LA GUERRE EST MON METIER", il y a longtemps maintenant

Sur les camps allemands , a part Primo Levi, il faut lire:

La BD de Speigelman. Maus (2 volumes)

David Rousset/ Les jours de notre mort
l univers concentrationnaire

Une fois que l on a lu Primo Levi/Rousset/et Speigelman, on a tout lu sur les camps.

Ma specialite , ces 20 dernieres années, reste la Russie. une histoire personnelle compliquée , pas politique du tout. Si un jour , tu veux lire des livres parmi les plus beaux dis le moi.



After six months of hearings and testimony by 278 witnesses, a jury at a British inquest found Monday that Princess Diana and her lover, Dodi al-Fayed, were unlawfully killed by the negligent driving of their chauffeur and photographers who pursued the couple's speeding Mercedes into a Paris underpass more than a decade ago.

The 9-2 majority verdict said the crash "was caused, or contributed to, by the speed and manner of the driver of the Mercedes and the speed and manner of the following vehicles."



No comments: