It should be happy times in the radiant green rice paddies that Pomchan Luanguanna has spent more than three decades tilling: The price of his crop is soaring faster and higher than anyone can remember, and local newspapers are comparing rice, once a relatively inexpensive and neglected commodity, to gold sprouting from the black soil.
But Pomchan, like many small farmers across Asia, is not rejoicing. His extended family eats more or less all the rice he harvests from his small plot.
His neighbors are worse off: They put down their tools when the prices of gasoline, fertilizer and pesticides soared. "Their fields are empty," Pomchan said.
In the sprawling, high-tech farms of the United States, the oil fields of Saudi Arabia and the coal mines of Australia, farmers, drillers and miners are rubbing their hands in anticipation of a continued windfall from the boom in commodity prices.
But for many rice farmers in Asia, the commodity they produce ends up as food in their stomachs, not cash in their bank accounts.
"The assumption is that all farmers are better off when prices go up," said Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. "The problem is that a large proportion of rice producers in the world are actually net rice buyers - they produce less than their actual needs."
Rice prices have been creeping upward since the beginning of this decade, but it was not until February that they spiked sharply. The price of Thai B grade rice, a widely traded variety, reached $795 per ton last week, an increase of 147 percent from a year earlier.
"Nobody has ever seen such a jump in the price of rice," said Kwanchai Gomez, the executive director of the Thai Rice Foundation, a research center. "Certainly not in my lifetime, and that's a long time."
She is 68 years old.
Thai farmers harvest an average of 2.63 tons per hectare, or about a ton per acre, compared with 6.22 tons per hectare in China, 4.22 in Indonesia, 3.03 in India and 7.55 in the United States. These yields are not only a measure of efficiency but also reflect the strains of rice produced.
Yields for jasmine rice in Thailand, for example, are much lower than those for plain white rice, but the fragrant jasmine rice fetches twice or three times as much on world markets.
Zeigler, of the International Rice Research Institute, said the focus on rice could speed up the adoption of some genetically modified strains that require less water or are flood resistant. It may also encourage governments to improve their irrigation systems.
"We should have taken action years ago," Zeigler said. "We've been looking at reduced investment in research and infrastructure maintenance and that sort of thing for 15 years now. The chickens are coming home to roost."
The president of Argentina, the first lady of France and several senior French officials joined thousands of protesters in Paris on Sunday to call on Colombian guerrillas to release an ailing hostage Ingrid Betancourt.
Elegant , nice and intelligent, but not yet a great first lady. That was the verdic of a CSA opinion poll on Carla Sarkozy published on Sunday by Le Parisien newspaper.
Ninety two percent describing her as elegant, 89 percent as modern, 73 percent as nice and 69 percent as intelligent. However, when asked which first lady of the modern era had respresented France well, she came in sixth out of seven, receiving an approval rating of 43 percent against 81 percent for Bernadette Chirac, wife of the previous president.
Vandals desecrated 148 graves in the Muslim section of a military cemetery in northern France, hanging a pig's head on one of the headstones, the police said Sunday.
President Nicolas Sarkozy called the attack "a hateful act" and about 100 police officers were sent to the Notre-Dame de Lorette cemetery near Arras to hunt for clues.
Jean-Pierre Valensi, a prosecutor, said the vandals had struck overnight Saturday, marking insults on the graves. "They directly referred to Islam and there were also insults directed at the justice minister," Valensi said, referring to Rachida Dati, who was born in France to parents from North Africa.
Notre-Dame de Lorette is one of the biggest World War I French military cemeteries and was built on the site of a battlefield where many French and German soldiers died from October 1914 to October 1915.
In accordance with custom, the graves of Muslim soldiers are turned toward Mecca.
During World War I, France mobilized about 600,000 colonial troops, including many Muslims from Algeria and Tunisia, of whom 78,000 were killed. About 1.2 million French soldiers were killed in the war.
France's estimated five million Muslims makes them Europe's largest Muslim community, making up about 8 percent of the population.
In Cairo, riot police officers massed in Tahrir Square, the center of the city. They stood in formation outside the lawyers', doctors' and journalists' syndicates. State security agents had visited government workers in advance and ordered them to attend work on Sunday, some workers said. At the lawyers' syndicate, a few hundred protesters stood on the roof and on a balcony chanting "Down, down Hosni Mubarak."
Hundreds of students demonstrated at three universities in Cairo.
In Mahalla al-Kobra, the center of Egypt's textile industry north of Cairo, a melee broke out late in the day as the riot police fired tear gas and workers threw stones. Officials said there were more than 200 arrests around the country, including at least seven people arrested for their efforts to use the Internet to promote the call for a day of unrest.
"I am not about to claim that the Egyptian people are finally rebelling," said Abdel Ahab El Meseery, an organizer with Kifaya, an opposition movement, who once served as the Arab League's cultural attaché to the United Nations. "The element of fear is there. The people are afraid of the government, but the government is as afraid of the people."
Remember how we had to learn about the Shia, the Sunnis, the Kurds and all the smaller agents of Iraqi fragmentation? Over the next four months, until the Beijing Olympics open, the world is going to get a crash course in China's various ethnic and religious minority groups and their resentments.
Violent stirrings in Tibet are just the beginning. With the world as stage, the Uighur Muslims of the northwestern Xinjiang region, the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement, Mongols and Kazakhs and whoever else wants his moment in the sun will have a dream opportunity to rail.
I hope violence is contained, and the Chinese authorities show flexibility, but I'm not optimistic.
Date: 06 April 2008 11:17
Subject: Salut Ian ; anglais ou francais??
I am reading your book right now . My friend [A.B] gave it to me . Even if I do not like reading in english - I do not read as quickly as to do in french and that makes me mad... - I can recognize a good book and a wondeful way of writing.
So congratulations ... a bit late.
I even do not know if you remember me. I still work in Paris and I have kept your personal farewell memo: I have met quite a lot of people in that newspaper , I forgot more than 90% of them. You are for many reasons in the remaining 10% .
Je pense souvent à vous sur le chemin qui me mène en Lozère un endroit ou peu d'etrangers se sont installés en France; je sais que vous vous "cachez" dans l'Auvernge.
Je pourrais vous écrire des lignes et des lignes - c 'est plutôt facile pour moi, mais un seul mot: sincèrement, je souhaite que ce livre, un jour, soit traduit.
Bonne chance , Ian
Je penserai de nouveau à vous dans deux mois sur le chemin de cette région toujours sauvage et surprenante qu' est le nord de la Lozére.
"When we argue that a woman owns the uterus, and it's her right to decide whether to deliver the baby or not, people won't buy it," said Yuan Xin, director of psychology at the Consulting Center of Nankai University. "If you are a woman, your personal choice is monitored and supervised by a lot of others, and they expect you to do what everyone else does."
Official statistics on the number of single mothers are unavailable in China. But with premarital sex now commonplace and women's earning power growing, particularly in the wealthy cities of the east, experts believe their numbers are rising fast, albeit from a small base.
"This is of great significance," said Li Ling, a professor of arts and sciences at Beijing Language and Culture University. "It's hard for me to judge other people's choices, good or bad, but it means a lot that women are making such decisions on their own, as a matter of choice. In Chinese tradition, women don't have such rights. We are only the bearers of offspring for our husbands' families."
The BBC reported on Sunday that Chinese state television eliminated any references to protests in its coverage of the London relay. But, according to Reuters, China's state media on Monday condemned the "vile misdeeds" of the London protesters.
One protester who broke through the police cordon, David Allen, said his anger flared at the sight of British sports stars being guarded in the streets of London by Chinese security men.
"What really got my goat was our sporting heroes being surrounded by the Chinese security heavies guarding the torch," he said. "It makes us complicit in the regime's repression. You have to ask: Where were these security men last week? Beating up people in the villages of China, no doubt."
One of the protesters who sparred verbally with pro-China groups in Trafalgar Square was David Phillips, a 25-year-old American from Austin, Texas, who said he had worked for six months at the American Embassy in Beijing.
Now working at a travel agency in London, Phillips said he had witnessed human rights abuses in China. "There are serious human rights violations going on, and you can't ignore that," he said. "And this is an appropriate place for us to voice our feelings."
China's fear of instability
Your editorial "Speaking out against repression in Tibet" (March 25) called for the West to put pressure on the Chinese government to improve its human rights record.
From a human rights perspective, the Chinese state is excessively strong. Put differently, individual citizens have very limited political freedom. China's political system is aimed at preventing political instability at all costs, and is founded on a national consciousness in which political instability is the worst possible disaster.
In order to understand why today the state is overly strong we should look to the period before 1949, when the current political system came into being. In the century before 1949 China suffered severely from political instability. The weakness of the central government led to widespread violence and famine. After 1916, when it collapsed altogether, the disasters to which the population was exposed became even greater. The lack of an effective central government resulted in many millions of deaths.
The erosion and collapse of the Chinese state was the result of internal conditions, but also from interventions by the leading Western powers. From the second part of the nineteenth century, these countries - joined by Japan and Russia - disregarded Chinese sovereignty in order to attain economic and strategic benefits. Consequently, the Chinese central government lost what it needed most for its survival: political legitimacy among its own population. Thus the political instability that produced China's current political system was itself partly caused by the West.
The lesson from history for China's leaders is that foreign interference leads to political instability. There are two ways to prevent this: having influence in foreign affairs and making sure there is no domestic opposition.
The leading Western governments openly pressuring Beijing would not only be futile but counterproductive. It would sooner cause the Chinese government to further limit political freedom, than grant more of it.
Frans-Paul van der Putten The Hague
On Sunday morning, scores of runners and onlookers gathered at the starting line of the marathon in Weliweriya, about 20 kilometers, or 12 miles, from Colombo, part of the national celebration of the upcoming Sinhalese New Year.
Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, the minister of highways and the ruling party's chief whip, approached the starting line with a flag to wave to start the race when the bomb exploded, witnesses said.
"There was a sound of huge explosion and I saw a fireball," said Nishan Priyantha, a local journalist who was near the blast but escaped unhurt.
Television footage showed images of screaming people running through the bloodied streets.
"I saw severed heads, hands and legs," said a witness, Nalin Warnasooriya. "Blood and body parts were everywhere. It was a horrible scene."
Fernandopulle, an acid-tongued politician who acted as the government's chief political enforcer and was considered a top rebel target, died at the scene, said a government spokesman, Lakshman Hulugalle.
Eleven others were killed - including the former Olympic marathoner K.A. Karunaratne and the national athletics coach, Lakshman de Alwis - and more than 90 were wounded, he said.
Karunaratne competed in the 1992 Olympic marathon and the 1993 World Championships. He won gold in the marathon and 10,000 meters at the 1991 South Asian Games, defending his marathon title in 1993.
Executive Pay: A Special Report
A Brighter Spotlight, Yet the Pay Rises
This year, governance experts say, they are livid. “They are furious about the dichotomy of experiences — their shares fall, yet C.E.O. pay still rises,” said Paul Hodgson, a senior research associate at the Corporate Library, a governance research group.
The compensation research firm Equilar recently compiled data about chief executive pay at 200 companies that filed their proxies by March 28 and had revenues of at least $6.5 billion. And the data illustrates Mr. Hodgson’s point. It shows that average compensation for chief executives who had held the job at least two years rose 5 percent in 2007, to $11.2 million (If new C.E.O.’s are counted, that number is $11.7 million). Even though performance-based bonuses were down last year, the value and prevalence of discretionary bonuses — ones not linked to performance — were up. A result is that C.E.O.’s who have held their jobs for two years received an average total bonus payout of $2.8 million, up 1.1 percent from 2006.
“We’re not against pay,” said Dennis Johnson, a senior portfolio manager who is responsible for corporate governance for Calpers, the California pension fund. “But we are certainly against pay for failure, or for just showing up.”
From: Kate Walthew
Date: 06 April 2008 20:44
Subject: thought you'd be interested in this article from today's Observer