Thursday, 10 April 2008

Tuesday, 8th April 2008

Hungry Haitians stormed the presidential palace Tuesday to demand the resignation of President Rene Preval over soaring food prices and U.N. peacekeepers battled rioters with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Rioters were chased away from the presidential palace but by late afternoon had left trails of destruction across Port-au-Prince. Concrete barricades and burned-out cars blocked streets, while windows were smashed and buildings set on fire from the capital's center up through its densely populated hills.
Outnumbered U.N. peacekeepers watched as people looted businesses near the presidential palace, not budging from the building's perimeter. Nearby, but out of sight of authorities, another group swarmed a slow-moving car and tried to drag its female driver out the window.
"We are hungry! He must go!" protesters shouted as they tried to break into the presidential palace by charging its chained gates with a rolling dumpster. Moments later, Brazilian soldiers in blue U.N. helmets arrived on jeeps and assault vehicles, firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters and forcing protesters away from the gates.
Food prices, which have risen 40 percent on average since mid-2007, are causing unrest around the world. But nowhere do they pose a greater threat to democracy than in Haiti, one of the world's poorest countries where in the best of times most people struggle to fill their bellies.
Short on food
Kudos to Paul Krugman ("Grains gone wild," Views, April 8) for succinctly explaining the major reasons for the world's food shortage: rise in demand for meat, rising price of oil, climate change and the rush to produce biofuels.
I'm a rice eater living in import dependent Singapore. The impact of major grain producers like India halting exports has already hit us hard. Prices have skyrocketed and supplies have vanished. I must admit, rather shamefully, to having hoarded up a little stockpile of rice at home.
And that's because I can afford it. The main sufferers in this saga are going to be the large number of people who would spend almost all their earnings on food and will now be pushed over the brink into needing food assistance.
Madhuri Pai, Singapore
(IW: Sorry to quote you in full Dan, but you're too good; all agriculture and food related stories can always be found under the first photo of the day on this blog.)
They say money can't buy happiness, but the question facing the world's poor countries is slightly different: Can money buy economic development?
The sharp upturn in prices for commodities has presented some of the poorest countries with an enormous opportunity. Many of the beneficiaries, in Asia, Africa and Latin America, export mainly crops and raw materials. During this decade, the value of those commodities rose about 75 percent compared with the value of other goods, according to the International Monetary Fund's latest economic outlook.
Commodity prices are holding steady, despite the current economic downturn. More money will flow into the pockets of exporters in poor countries and into the treasuries of their governments. So, will they use it to improve their economic future - and indeed, can they?
Pranab Bardhan, a professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, said the answer varies from country to country, depending in large part on a country's political economy.
As an example, Bardhan suggested the contrast between Indonesia and Nigeria after the oil price boom of the 1970s.
If you take the next 20 years, Indonesia went one way and Nigeria went the other way, even though they were both authoritarian countries," he said. "Indonesia is an example of a very poor country using this opportunity to invest in rural infrastructure, building lots of schools and - what I think is extremely important - encouraging economic diversification." Meanwhile, in Nigeria, "apart from simple stealing by the military dictators, they were distributing short-run patronage to keep some ethnic groups happy."
These days, Indonesia has become a net importer of oil, and natural gas accounts for less than 10 percent of its exports. It now ships electrical appliances and textiles abroad in addition to its commodities. Meanwhile, petroleum products still make up about 95 percent of Nigeria's exports. The gap in per capita income between the countries has grown steadily over the past couple of decades.
"In the future, when the prices of these commodities go down, the economy is not left high and dry, but there are other industries to produce," Bardhan said.
Of course, oil and natural gas are not the only commodities whose prices have shot up in the past several years. Soybeans, corn, gold, copper - if it comes straight from the earth, it is probably a lot more expensive now than it was in 2000. As a result, you don't have to be selling oil or natural gas to receive a 1970s-style windfall.
For example, a doubling of rice prices in the past year will eventually flood some Southeast Asian countries with money, despite a few short-term hiccups with the weather and speculative contracts.
Thailand and Vietnam are the biggest producers, but they have very different political-economic situations. In Thailand, a huge amount of the crop is controlled by a small number of companies, while Vietnam still has a largely peasant-based economy with lower overall inequality.
Because Vietnam's rice farmers are a numerous bunch, Bardhan said, it is less likely that the nation's elites will capture their profits and use them to buy foreign-made luxury goods that contribute virtually nothing to the local economy. Diffused ownership also sets agricultural booms apart from booms in minerals and fossil fuels, he added.
"Ownership of metals or ownership of oil is much too concentrated, and often foreign-owned," Bardhan said. "Gains are often concentrated in people who have undue influence on the economy." By contrast, "when the gains are diffused among a large population, and they spend the money on a large variety of goods, that gives a stimulus to the diversification process."
Vietnam's government has also been using its share of the rice profits to safeguard the economy's future. "The way Vietnam has been using the gains from the rice price rise is very much similar to the Indonesian case," Bardhan said. "They are encouraging labor-intensive industries." That is essential in a country where a million people join the work force every year.
Climate change in coming decades will put the squeeze on beer supplies by impeding the production of a key grain needed for the brew — especially in Australia, a climate scientist warned Tuesday.
Jim Salinger, a climate scientist at New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, said climate change likely will cause a decline in the production of malting barley in parts of New Zealand and Australia. Malting barley is a key ingedient of beer.
"It will mean either there will be pubs without beer or the cost of beer will go up," Salinger told the Institute of Brewing and Distilling convention.
Similar effects could be expected worldwide, but Salinger spoke only of the effects on Australia and New Zealand. He said climate change could cause a drop in beer production within 30 years, especially in parts of Australia, as dry areas become drier and water shortages worsen.
Barley growing parts of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales would likely be harder hit than growing areas in New Zealand's South Island.
Most areas in Australia where malting barley is cropped are likely to experience producing declines," he said.
"It will provide a lot of challenges for the brewing industry," even forcing breweries to look at new varieties of malt barley as a direct result of climate change, Salinger said.
New Zealand and Australian brewer Lion Nathan's corporate affairs director Liz Read said climate change already was forcing the price of malted barley, sugar, aluminium and sugar up.
Read said as well as climate change, barley growers were competing with other forms of land use.
In the past two years pressure on cropping land in New Zealand had increased with the expansion of the dairy industry, fueled by major international dairy commodity prices rises.


Sixteen nautical miles from the Indian River Inlet and about 80 feet underwater, a building boom is under way at the Red Bird Reef.
One by one, a backhoe operator has been shoving hundreds of retired New York subway cars off a barge, continuing the transformation of a barren stretch of ocean floor into a bountiful oasis, carpeted in sea grasses, walled thick with blue mussels and sponges, and teeming with black sea bass and tautog.
"They're basically luxury condominiums for fish," Jeff Tinsman, the artificial reef program manager for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said as one of 48 of the 19-ton retirees from New York sank toward the 666 already on the ocean floor.
But now, Delaware is struggling with the misfortune of its own success.
Having planted a thriving community in what was once an underwater desert, state marine officials are faced with the sort of overcrowding, crime and traffic problems more common to terrestrial cities.

The summer flounder and bass have snuggled so tightly on top and in the nooks of the subway cars that Tinsman is trying to expand the housing capacity. He is having trouble, however, because other states, seeing Delaware's successes, have started competing for the subway cars, which New York provides free.
Crisscrossing over the reef, commercial pot fishermen keep getting their lines tangled with those of smaller hook-and-reel anglers, and the rising tension has led the state to ask federal marine officials to declare the area off limits to large commercial fishermen.
As the reef has become more popular, theft and sabotage of fishing traps and pots has more than doubled in the last several years, said Captain David Lewis of the Delaware Bay Launch Service. "People now don't just steal the fish inside the pots out here, they've started stealing the pots, too," he said.
The reef, named after the famous Redbird subway cars of New York, supports more than 10,000 angler trips annually, up from fewer than 300 in 1997. It has seen a 400-fold increase in the amount of marine food per square foot in the last seven years, according to state data.



Immerse Yourself in an Expanse of Water Solutions


Seven people are charged in a probe of illegal trading at the New York Mercantile Exchange — including a former board member who has pleaded guilty in exchange for five months in jail, authorities said Tuesday.
Steven J. Karvellas pleaded guilty to violating New York's general business law and tampering with physical evidence. Besides the jail time, he will receive five years of probation and must pay $850,000 in fines and legal costs.
Three other people already have pleaded guilty for participating in fraudulent commodities trading; another three have been arrested and their cases are pending.
Karvellas, who could have gotten up to four years in prison on either of the charges, was scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 9.
From 1990 until this year, Karvellas was a floor broker who traded at the exchange. Authorities said he owned two Manhattan-based companies: Steven J. Karvellas and Co., a natural gas trading company, and Commercial Brokerage Corp.
You name it, Dubai has it. Or if it doesn't have it, it's building it. Or if it's not building it, it's dredging up an island to put it on. The busiest of the seven United Arab Emirates is growing so fast that its newest developments can only be measured in hummingbird flaps. Blink and you'll miss the latest superlative. This way to the world's tallest building. That way to the world's largest aluminum plant. Coming soon, the world's longest bridge. Over here to the world's biggest mall — which, incidentally, is about to be usurped any day now by a bigger one.
Why diners need to be escorted by white-gloved attendants from the lobby of the new pyramid-shaped Raffles Hotel to the elevator bank remains unclear. But when you arrive at the Fire & Ice Restaurant (Sheikh Rashid Road, Wafi; 971-4-324-8888;, the place can only be described as warm and inviting: exposed brick walls, leather chairs and flattering lighting. But it's not without its gimmicks. The open-air kitchen is ringed by fire, and the "ice tartar" dishes are injected with liquid nitrogen so they emit a milky white vapor. The menu is vast (it calls itself "trans-ethnic"), so make it easy on yourself and order the tasting menu. Mine started with crab cakes and apple salad, followed by seared sea bass, and ended with chocolate tart. Dinner, including wine pairings, is about 700 dirhams.
BOGOTA, Colombia
France called off a humanitarian mission Tuesday to treat and possibly free ailing hostage Ingrid Betancourt after Colombian rebels said they wouldn't unilaterally release any more captives.
The rebel statement seemed intended to force Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, to make the next move. It also leaves Betancourt and dozens of other high-profile hostages languishing in jungle prisons, and makes the prospect of peace talks ever more remote.
France's Foreign Ministry said late Tuesday that there was no longer any reason to keep the mission by France, Spain and Switzerland in Colombia. A French government plane has been waiting on a Bogota airstrip for days with doctors hoping to reach Betancourt, who was said to be depressed and suffering from hepatitis C.
In a four-paragraph statement released Tuesday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia repeated what they have insisted on since 2005: that the government demilitarize two counties as the first step toward a broad hostage-prisoner swap. Only as part of such an exchange, they said, would Betancourt go free.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said he is "deeply disappointed."
NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania
Security forces in Mauritania found a bomb-making facility in a house they stormed after exchanging fire with gunmen believed to have been involved in the killing of four French tourists in December, officials said Tuesday.
The gunmen, suspected of having links to the al-Qaida terrorist network, fled after a shootout late Monday that left two dead on the outskirts of the capital, Nouakchott.



Police sprayed tear gas Tuesday at high-school students lobbing bottles and stones during a protest over teacher job cuts.
Thousands of students marched from Paris' Luxembourg Gardens in a rally that descended into violence for the second time in a week.
Police rounded up some of the several hundred protesters Tuesday. The exact number was not immediately clear. Many wore hoods or scarves to hide their faces from police.
Police put the number of demonstrators at 8,500, while organizers said 20,000 people took part.
While most demonstrators marched peacefully, dancing to music and carrying signs like "Teachers, an endangered species," a small group clashed with police. Police were seen tackling unruly demonstrators and striking them with batons.

The students are marching in solidarity with their teachers and in anger at a government cost-saving reform that will cut thousands of teacher jobs in the next school year, part of a broader attempt by President Nicolas Sarkozy to cut costs and bureaucracy.
Demonstrators also fear that Sarkozy's overall reforms will erode the social and labor protections that underpin French society.
Students have called for new demonstrations Thursday.


They wear bright blue tracksuits and Beijing Olympic organizers call them "flame attendants." But a military bearing hints at their true pedigree: paramilitary police sent by Beijing to guard the Olympic flame during its journey around the world.Torchbearers have criticized the security detail for aggressive behavior, and a top London Olympics official simply called them "thugs.""They were barking orders at me, like 'Run! Stop! This! That!' and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, who are these people?'" former television host Konnie Huq told British Broadcasting Corp. radio about her encounter with the men in blue during London's leg of the relay Sunday.So far, the "29th Olympic Games Torch Relay Flame Protection Unit" — as the squad is officially known — has kept the flame from being seized during chaotic, protest-filled runs through Paris and London.Its mettle is likely to be further tested Wednesday in San Francisco, where activists protesting China's crackdown in Tibet and its human rights record have promised widespread demonstrations.
Officially, Beijing has said only that the unit's mission was to guard the flame, in keeping with practices of past Olympic games.Members were picked from special police units of the People's Armed Police, China's internal security force. The requirements for the job: to be "tall, handsome, mighty, in exceptional physical condition similar to that of professional athletes," the state-run China News Service said.Special police units are the top tier of the paramilitary corps, chosen for skills in martial arts, marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat, according to, a British-based Web site specializing in Chinese military affairs.The training for the Olympic flame detail included daily mountain runs of at least six miles and lessons in protocol. They also learned basic commands such as "go," "step back," "speed up" and "slow down" in English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese, the China News Service said.But as the torch made a stormy procession through London and Paris, the military training rather than the protocol seemed to come to the fore.At least one torchbearer said she clashed with the squad, and others have criticized their heavy-handed tactics.Yolaine De La Bigne, a French environmental journalist who was a torchbearer in Paris, told The Associated Press she tried to wear a headband with a Tibetan flag, but the Chinese agents ripped it away from her."It was seen and then, after four seconds, all the Chinese security pounced on me. There were at least five or six (of them). They started to get angry" and shouted "No! No! No!" in English, she said.De La Bigne tried to push several agents away as they grabbed her arm. She said two French athletes who are martial arts experts tried to help her and clashed briefly with the security detail.The chairman of the London 2012 Games, Sebastian Coe, was even more blunt."They tried to push me out of the way three times. They are horrible. They did not speak English. They were thugs," Coe, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was quoted as saying in British media. A spokeswoman for the London 2012 Olympics committee confirmed that Coe was quoted accurately, but added that he thought he was making private comments.



A warm-hearted comedy by the comedian Danny Boon, set in the chilly, rain-swept north of France has become the most successful French film ever, breaking a 41-year-old record, its producer Pathé said. "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis" has been seen by more than 17.4 million cinemagoers since its release on Feb. 27, against a total of nearly 17.3 million who went to see the 1966 comedy "La Grande Vadrouille" (Don't Look Now), Pathé said. The film, about a postal worker from the hot south who is transferred to a remote village in the north, is now on course to beat France's all-time box-office record, held by "Titanic" with more than 20 million viewers. The film pokes fun at stereotypes about the north, a region blighted by industrial decline whose inhabitants are often stigmatized as backward, uncouth beer drinkers.

The young men who loitered at the west end of the Qasr El-Nil Bridge in Cairo spied the blue pickup truck, a sign they should scatter.
"They're police," said Ahmed A., making a two-finger gesture on his shoulder to indicate epaulets. "They park and the pigs come out and grab everyone they can."
For three months, the Egyptian police have embarked on periodic sweeps of streets in central Cairo to clear them of presumed homosexuals. The raids, independent observers and human rights activists say, reflect not simply official disgust. They're part of an effort by governments throughout the Middle East to out-moralize Islamic parties that have denounced the perceived depravity of Arab societies under autocratic rule.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, though it is a convenient target, said Hani Shukrallah, executive director of the Heikal Foundation for Arab Journalism in Cairo.

"Meaningless crackdowns have become a regular thing," Shukrullah said. "If not gays, devil worshippers. If not devil worshippers, apostates. The government needs to outbid Islamic opponents as guardian of morals."
Germany's Roman Catholic Church exploited nearly 6,000 forced laborers in the Nazi era, it said in a report Tuesday, detailing a dark chapter in its history.
The church in 2000 acknowledged its use of forced labor under Hitler, and it has paid €1.5 million, of $2.4 million, in compensation to foreign workers. But the report, "Forced Labor and the Catholic Church 1939-1945," is the most thorough look at the issue so far.
The 703-page report documents the fate of 1,075 prisoners of war and 4,829 civilians who were forced to work for the Nazis in nearly 800 Catholic institutions - mainly hospitals, homes and monastery gardens - as part of the war effort.
The church, which has financed over 200 "reconciliation" projects, said exact numbers would never be known.
"It should not be concealed that the Catholic Church was blind for too long to the fate and suffering of men, women and children from the whole of Europe who were carted off to Germany as forced laborers," Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the country's leading Roman Catholic prelate until he stepped down from his post as chairman of the Congregation of German Bishops in February, said at the presentation of the report.
Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute on Monday to Catholics and other Christians who died for their faith in Nazi camps and Soviet gulags or who were killed in hate crimes, Reuters reported Tuesday from Rome.
Benedict presided at a prayer service in a basilica on Tiber Island in Rome where the Sant' Egidio Catholic community has established six memorials to "new martyrs."
"Stopping at these six altars, we recall Christians felled by the totalitarian violence of communism, of Nazism, those killed in America, in Asia and Oceania, in Spain and Mexico, in Africa. We are ideally retracing the many painful events of the past century," he said during the service.
Perhaps the best-known person whose memory is honored at the shrine is Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who was shot and killed by a rightist death squad while he was saying Mass in San Salvador in 1980.
They also include a German Protestant priest who opposed the Nazis and died in Buchenwald, priests killed by Islamic extremists in Algeria and Turkey, and Orthodox Christians killed during Communist rule in Eastern Europe.
The McCain campaign sought Hagee's support, Hagee said in a recent interview. But soon after they announced the endorsement on Feb. 27 in San Antonio, Hagee's hometown, the campaign stopped talking about it.
Immediately after the endorsement, the Catholic League condemned Hagee as being anti-Catholic. The group accused him of branding the Roman Catholic Church as anti-Semitic and of referring to it in his apocalyptic theology as "the great whore of Babylon," the symbol of a false church.
Seven employees of a pro-peace radio station were released from jail Tuesday, a day after Israeli police raided the station's Jerusalem office and seized its transmission equipment.
The English-language station, RAM-FM, plays Western music and tries to bring Israelis and Palestinians together through its broadcasts. It is headquartered in the West Bank city of Ramallah, but has an office in Jerusalem and a local transmitter on another frequency.
On Monday, Israeli police shut down the transmitter and closed the studio, saying the station was broadcasting without a permit. There are numerous pirate radio stations broadcasting throughout Israel, which are often blamed for dangerous disruptions in airport air traffic communications and interference in regular radio broadcasts.

In a dramatic courtroom twist, Moshe Katsav, the former president of Israel, backed out of a plea agreement that required him to admit to having committed sexual offenses against female employees.The decision could lead to the spectacle of a long, sordid trial and possibly the reinstatement of rape charges that had been dropped in the plea bargain.The court session Tuesday was supposed to start proceedings on the deal that had been reached with the state prosecutor nine months ago. But Katsav told the court he had decided to go to trial to clear his name instead."I wish to fight for my innocence," Katsav told a three-judge panel at the Jerusalem Magistrates Court, as his wife, Gila, and other family members sat on the bench by his side. "I want to put an end to this persecution."

There had been fierce public criticism of the deal, in which the possibility of rape charges against the former president was dropped in exchange for an admission of guilt in lesser offenses, including committing an indecent act, sexual harassment of two employees and harassing a witness.


BONGHA, South Korea

Since Roh Moo Hyun left office on Feb. 25 and returned to the village in the country's southeast where he was born, he has become something South Koreans have never seen before: a former president as tourist attraction.
"Today, people were yelling outside from 9 a.m.," Roh, 61, told a group of tourists gathered outside his home on a recent day. "Whether in office or retired, a president needs some privacy. All of you coming all the way to see me puts a big burden on me.

"I feel grateful. But I also feel sorry that I can't shake hands with each one of you or invite you all in for tea," he said.
Cameras flashed. People cheered, jostling to get closer.
"Hey, president! Where is the first lady? Can we see her too?" blurted an old man.
Roh's wife, Kwon Yang Sook, sometimes joins Roh to greet the crowds. Otherwise, he fends off the common request with a joke. "She is washing dishes," he says, or, "She is putting on cosmetics and doesn't want you to wait around because, you know, it takes a while."

Roh was unpopular in office; toward the end of his term, his approval rating fell below 30 percent, according to surveys. But in the weeks since Lee Myung Bak succeeded him, he has been establishing himself as a new kind of retired president.
In the past, if South Koreans marched on a former leader's home and shouted outside his gate, they were demonstrators, not tourists. Of Roh's predecessors, one was ousted in a popular uprising, one was assassinated and two were imprisoned for sedition and corruption. Roh's two immediate predecessors saw their names tarnished in the public eye by way of their children; a son of Kim Young Sam went to prison for bribery, and all three of Kim Dae Jung's sons were convicted of corruption.
And while past presidents have, like Roh, hailed from rural areas, they chose to make their homes in Seoul upon leaving office. The other four surviving ex-presidents now live under heavy police guard in the capital, where some meddle in domestic politics but none mingle with ordinary people.
Roh, in contrast, rides his bicycle through Bongha. He plants trees and cleans ditches with farmers. He keeps a blog. And he has visitors, thousands of them, every day.

Securing the nation's borders is so important, Congress says, that Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, must have the power to ignore any laws that stand in the way of building a border fence. Any laws at all.
Last week, Chertoff issued waivers suspending more than 30 laws he said could interfere with "the expeditious construction of barriers" in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.
The list included laws protecting the environment, endangered species, migratory birds, the bald eagle, antiquities, farms, deserts, forests, American Indian graves and religious freedom.


Air raid sirens sent Israeli schoolchildren into bomb shelters on Tuesday as part of a five-day nationwide exercise to prepare for any future conflict that would include rocket attacks on Israel's major cities.



Syria's deputy foreign minister denied his country has a nuclear program in comments published Tuesday and dismissed reports that U.S. and Israeli officials may soon release details on an Israeli air raid in northern Syria last year.
Faysal Mekdad's comments came days after the Israeli daily Haaretz said Israel and the U.S. are coordinating the release of details on the mysterious Sept. 6 Israeli strike in Syria.
Foreign reports have claimed that Israel targeted a nuclear installation Syria was building with North Korean assistance. Damascus denies having an undeclared atomic program, and North Korea says it was not involved in any such project.
Israel has maintained almost total silence since the attack, which Syria said hit an unused military installation.



Iran announced Tuesday that it would significantly expand its program to enrich uranium despite the UN Security Council's demand that it halt the program.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a visit to Iran's main enrichment complex at Natanz that it had started installing 6,000 centrifuges at the facility, in addition to the 3,000 centrifuges already operating there.
Western experts cautioned that Tehran's nuclear claims often exceed reality and they have greeted similar pronouncements by Iran with skepticism.



North Korea and the United States made significant progress on Tuesday toward ending an impasse in talks aimed at revealing the full scale of the North's nuclear weapons programs and dismantling them, top negotiators from both countries said.
"Depending on what we hear back from capitals by tomorrow, I think there will be some further announcements very soon," the U.S. assistant secretary of state, Christopher Hill, told reporters after his meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Singapore.
"We did as much as we could do," Hill said. "We addressed all the issues we needed to address."
Before entering talks with Kim Kye Gwan, the North Korean negotiator, Hill had warned that time and patience were running out for Washington and its allies waiting for North Korea to clarify whether it would submit what Hill called a "complete and correct" accounting of its nuclear weapons activities.

PROVIDENE, Rhode Island

But now, after playing supporting roles for the better part of three decades, [Richard Jenkins] is finally getting his shot at being the leading man.
In "The Visitor," a new film by Thomas McCarthy that opens in the United States this month and in Britain and France in July and September, respectively, Jenkins plays Walter Vale, a lonely, bored and widowed economics professor who finds his orderly life shaken and then transformed by two illegal immigrants he discovers in his Manhattan pied-à-terre.

Vale is in many ways a reflection and creation of Jenkins himself.
Both are contemplative and earnest men, making it difficult to tell where Jenkins ends and Vale begins.

That is because Jenkins worked directly with McCarthy, who wrote the script with the actor in mind, to shape Vale's character development. The actor and director collaborated on the character's every trait, from the lines he speaks to the glasses he wears.
"I understood this man," Jenkins, a slender-framed man of 60, said in an interview here at a café just a few blocks from Trinity Repertory Company, the theater where he spent almost 20 years as an actor and, eventually, artistic director. "I understood his reluctance to reach out, to become part of things."
By his own admission Jenkins sometimes requires a jump-start to get into first gear. He's perfectly content in his comfort zone. He often needs a little motivation from his wife, he said, even for the littlest things, like trying a new restaurant or taking a vacation someplace they have never visited.


Is there a cost to updating an eternal moral code?
It's hard to erect rules to last forever. The recent suggestion by a bishop from the Vatican's office of sin and penance that globalization and modernity gave rise to sins different from those dating from medieval times seemed to many like an acknowledgment that the world is, indeed, changing.
Norms encoded hundreds of years ago to guide human behavior in a small-scale agrarian society could not account for a globalized postindustrial information economy. Polluting the environment, drug trafficking, performing genetic manipulations or causing social inequities, new sinful behaviors mentioned by Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, regent of the Vatican Penitentiary, are arguably more relevant to many contemporary Roman Catholics than contraception.
"If yesterday sin had a rather individualistic dimension, today it has a value and resonance that is above all social, because of the great phenomenon of globalization," Girotti told the newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.



My questions: Andrew J. Bacevich
1. General Petraeus, in the spring of 2003, on your first tour of duty in Iraq, you remarked to a reporter, "Tell me how this ends." You are now on your third tour and the war is in its sixth year. Please tell us how this war ends.
2. In addition, please provide an approximation of when it will end. With the war costing the United States $3 billion per week and 30 to 40 American lives per month, how many more years (or decades) will elapse before one of your successors is able to report that the mission in Iraq has been accomplished?
3. Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have openly expressed their concern that the Army and Marine Corps are badly overstretched. How much longer can our ground forces sustain these demands and what actions would you propose to alleviate the pressure?


My questions: Douglas J. Feith

1. Has the recent crackdown by the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government on Shiite militias contributed to consolidating and building on this success? Is it likely to promote further Sunni-Shiite cooperation within the country's new political system?
2. Assuming that strengthening the political process is crucial to draining the energy out of the insurgency, what key actions should the American government take (and avoid taking) to support the Iraqis in that work? And would a formal American-Iraqi agreement on the status of U. S. forces in Iraq be helpful?


My questions: Max Hastings

1. Do we now acknowledge that the best hope of progress in Iraq lies through a network of "bottom-up" local deals and truces, rather than with the national government in Baghdad?
2. Why are the services provided to Iraqis by national utilities, especially electricity, still so poor after five years of occupation?
3. Can Iraq be stabilized without active assistance, or at least acquiescence, from Iran and Syria?
4. What is the message from the apparent failure of the recent offensive by the Iraqi security forces in Basra?


Some European banks may have exacerbated financial market turmoil resulting from a global credit crunch by failing to come clean about their exposure to risky assets, a top European Union banking supervisor said on Tuesday.
The Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS) has analysed 20 big cross-border banks in Europe and is concerned by some of its findings, particularly how the banks value and disclose investments whose markets have dried up due to the credit squeeze.
"Our preliminary findings show there are differences in terms of content of disclosure and presentations banks make in statements," Kerstin af Jochnick, chair of the CEBS told the European Parliament's economic affairs committee.
"Lack of consistency in banks' valuations, uncertainty about their accuracy and inadequate transparency may have contributed to the lack of confidence of market participants and exacerbated the market turbulence," said Jochnick, who is also an official with the Swedish banking supervisory body.

Book review: Martin Amis's 'The Second Plane'
In one of these chuckleheaded essays about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Martin Amis complains about the use of the shorthand 9/11: "My principal objection to the numbers is that they are numbers," he writes in "The Second Plane." "The solecism, that is to say, is not grammatical but moral-aesthetic — an offense against decorum; and decorum means 'seemliness,' which comes from soemr, 'fitting,' and soema, 'to honor.' 9/11, 7/7: who or what decided that particular acts of slaughter, particular whirlwinds of plasma and body parts, in which a random sample of the innocent is killed, maimed, or otherwise crippled in body and mind, deserve a numerical shorthand? Whom does this 'honor'? What makes this 'fitting'?"
This pretentious, formalistic argument underscores Amis's efforts to deal with a vast historic tragedy with preening, self-consciously literary musings — the same sort of musings that made parts of his 2002 book on Stalin, "Koba the Dread," so enraging to read. Instead of grappling with the event itself — or its political, cultural and existential fallout — Amis, ever the littérateur, prattles on about the appropriateness of the abbreviation "9/11" and how this formulation makes little sense in Britain, where the habit of noting the day first and the month second would make this "11/9." He narcissistically complains about how the events of that day threw him and other fiction writers off stride.
And for all his talk about "seemliness" and "honor," he repeatedly draws a nonsensical analogy between terrorism and boredom, trying in vain to argue that they are flip sides of the same coin. Boredom? Try telling the families who lost loved ones at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon or on United Flight 93 that their relatives and friends died in the opening chapter of the "age of boredom" or "the global confrontation with the dependent mind."
Equally offensive are the eruptions of anti-Islamic vituperation in "The Second Plane," remarks that, while somewhat less explicit, remind the reader of the incendiary interview Amis gave in 2006 (shortly after British authorities had thwarted an alleged terrorist plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners) to The Times of London in which he said: "There's a definite urge — don't you have it? — to say, 'The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.' What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation — further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they're from the Middle East or from Pakistan. ... Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community, and they start getting tough with their children."
In this book Amis says that, going through airport security with his daughters, he wants to say something like: "Even Islamists have not yet started to blow up their own families on airplanes. So please desist until they do. Oh yeah: and stick, for now, to young men who look like they're from the Middle East."
Reviewing Mark Steyn's controversial book, "America Alone" — which forecasts a dark future in which Old Europe falls under the influence of Islamic fundamentalism — Amis writes that "not a single West European country is procreating at the 'replacement rate' of 2.1 births per woman," adding: "A depopulated and simplified Europe might be tenable in a world without enmity and predation. And that is not our world. The birth rate is 6.76 in Somalia, 6.69 in Afghanistan and 6.58 in Yemen."
Amis writes of an Islamist "death-hunger," comparable "outside Africa" only to what existed in Nazi Germany and Stalinite Kampuchea. He suggests that the Islamist war on the West is "a kind of thwarted narcissism," rooted in sexual frustration and anger at Islam's impotence on the world stage (completely ignoring the experts like Michael Scheuer, the former CIA officer and Qaeda specialist, who argue that Osama bin Laden's declaration of war is a reaction to specific United States foreign policies like support for Israel and an American presence in Muslim lands). And while he writes that "we respect Muhammad" (just not "Muhammad Atta"), he makes gross generalizations about the "extreme incuriosity of Islamic culture" and the differences between Sunnis and Shias ("The Sunni are more legalistic. The Shia are dreamier and more poetic and emotional.")
As for civil war between the Shia and the Sunni, Amis glibly declares: "We can say, with the facetiousness of despair, that it's just as well to get this out of the way; and let us hope it is merely a Thirty Years' War, and not a Hundred Years' War."
A similarly cavalier attitude infects Amis's efforts to write 9/11-inspired fiction. "The Last Days of Muhammad Atta" describes that hijacker as being horribly constipated, having "not moved his bowels since May." "In the Palace of the End" describes in blackly comic terms the travails of doubles hired to impersonate one of Saddam Hussein's murderous sons. And an abandoned novella (not included in this volume, but described at length in one of the essays) imagines "a diminutive Islamist terrorist" named Ayed, who comes up with the idea of scouring "all the prisons and madhouses for every compulsive rapist in the country" and unleashing them on the town of Greeley, Colorado, where, in real life, Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual father of the Islamist movement, once briefly lived.
Many of the arguments in this book are deeply indebted to other writers. On Islam, Amis leans heavily on the works of Bernard Lewis, the Middle East scholar who influenced the thinking of some members of the Bush administration. And on the irrationality of religion, he leans heavily on the work of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Amis adds nothing illuminating to these writers' thinking, while blindly accepting some of their more debatable assertions.
And his own reasoning in these pages tends to be specious or skewed. He sets up ridiculous paper tigers to knock down easily: For instance, he suggests that Western liberals acted as if "suicide-mass murder" committed by Islamic terrorists was "reasonable, indeed logical and even admirable." And he makes sweeping statements without supplying any facts to back them up: "With Iran, too, we have a population that is strongly if ambivalently pro-American. To the youth of Iran (a large majority), America is the Mahdi — the redeemer, the Lord of Time."
Indeed "The Second Plane" is such a weak, risible and often objectionable volume that the reader finishes it convinced that Amis should stick to writing fiction and literary criticism, as he's thoroughly discredited himself with these essays as any sort of political or social commentator.

Militants killed 17 road workers in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, part of a spike in violence that has left 40 people dead in two days.
Sixteen other construction workers were wounded in the attack in the Shinkay district of Zabul Province, said an Interior Ministry spokesman, Zemeri Bashary. Afghan and international security forces responding to the ambush killed 7 militants and wounded 12, he added.
Building roads is a key part of development in Afghanistan, but many projects are in remote areas plagued by insurgency. Militants have targeted work crews in roadside bomb attacks, ambushes and kidnappings. In January, militants in eastern Nuristan Province beheaded four road construction workers.


House prices in Britain fell sharply in March, new figures showed Tuesday, prompting unusually blunt remarks on interest rate policy from Prime Minister Gordon Brown, just days before an expected cut.
Britain's largest mortgage lender, Halifax, reported that house prices fell 2.5 percent in March, more than six times as much as analysts had forecast and the largest monthly decline since 1992, when the British economy was in recession.

The unexpectedly severe drop in house prices reinforced opinions that the housing market faced a bleak year as mortgage lenders grow more cautious and the credit crunch feeds through to households.
The annual three-month rate of house price inflation stood at 1.1 percent. Six months ago, that rate was in double figures. "There is a clear risk that this housing market correction will be sharper and deeper than we currently expect," said Seema Shah, a property economist at the research firm Capital Economics.


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