Friday, 4 April 2008

Thursday, 3rd April 2008

Depending on your point of view, Szczepan Master is either an incorrigible Luddite or a visionary. A small farmer, proud of his pure, high-quality products, he works his land the way Polish farmers have for centuries.
He keeps his livestock in a straw-floored "barn" that is part of his house, entered through a kitchen door. He slaughters his own pigs. His wife milks cows by hand. He rejects genetically modified seeds. Instead of spraying his crops, he turns his fields in winter, preferring a workhorse to a tractor, to let the frost kill off pests residing there.
While traditional farms like his could be dismissed as a nostalgic throwback, they are also increasingly seen as the future - if only they can survive.
Master's way of farming - his way of life - has been badly threatened in the two years since Poland joined the European Union, a victim of sanitary laws and mandates to encourage efficiency and competition that favor mechanized commercial farms, farmers here say.
That conflict obviously matters to Master. But it is also of broader importance, environmental groups and agriculture experts say, as worries over climate change grow and more consumers in both Europe and the United States line up for locally grown, organic produce.
For reasons social, culinary and environmental, small farms like Master's should be promoted, or least protected, they say. Not only do they yield tastier foods but they also produce few of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and put little other pressure on the environment.
In part because Poland has remained one of the last strongholds of small farming in Europe, it is also a rare bastion of biodiversity, with 40,000 pairs of nesting storks and thousands of seed varieties that exist nowhere else in the world.
But European Union laws are designed for another universe of farming, and Polish farmers say they have left them at a steep disadvantage.
If they want to sell their products, for example, EU law requires farms to have cement floors in their barns and special equipment for slaughtering. Milking cows by hand is forbidden. As a result, the milk collection stations and tiny slaughterhouses that until just a few years ago dotted the Polish countryside have closed. Small family farming is all but impossible.
"We need to reward them for being ahead of the game, rather than behind it," said Julian Rose, an organic farmer from Britain who, with his Polish partner, Jadwiga Lopata, founded the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside and has been fighting the regulations.
"The EU has adopted the same efficiency approach to food as it has to autos and microchips," Lopata said. "Those who can produce the most are favored. Everything is happening the reverse of what it should be if care about food and the environment."
The small farmers who have rallied behind the coalition here in southwest Poland have touched a sensitive nerve and gained broad influence.
Lopata received the Goldman Prize for the environment for her quest to preserve traditional farms. Prince Charles visited her farm (by helicopter) with its solar panels and the black sheep (responsible for mowing the grass) in the yard.
All 16 states of Poland have banned genetically modified organisms in defiance of European Union and Word Trade Organization mandates. The Polish Agriculture Ministry announced earlier this year that it planned to ban their import in animal fodder, another refusal to accept EU policy.
In Brussels, officials say they have no desire to undo Polish tradition. "We are not advocating the industrialization of European farming. From our side we think there is a place in Europe for all shapes and sizes of farms," said Michael Mann, spokesman for the European Commission Agriculture Directorate.
But, he added: "There has to be some restructuring to become more competitive and less reliant on subsidies. Farming is a business. They will have to look for market niches."
The EU now pays farmers who meet health and sanitary standards a direct subsidy, to help maintain Europe's farming tradition and as an acknowledgement that it is more expensive to farm in Europe than in other parts of the world.
It also provides matching funds to all EU governments for agricultural development, to upgrade and modernize farms. The national governments decide what types of projects qualify, but the boundaries are loosely defined. In various countries they have included purchasing new equipment and developing organic cultivation, as well as turning nonperforming farms into bed- and-breakfast accommodations.
In a new policy review, the European Commission is planning to encourage that more money be spent to develop organic agriculture. "The whole idea is to empower farmers," Mann said.
"They don't need to change anything if they don't want to," he added. "But they have to survive in business. If you're still milking cows by hand maybe you would want to use the money to put in a new system."
While overall farm income in Poland has gone up since the country joined the EU, it is certainly not the case for the small farmers.
In Poland, 22 percent of the work force is employed in agriculture and the country boasts by far the highest number of farms in Europe. Most of them are tiny.
The average size is 7 hectares, or 17 acres, compared to more than 24 hectares in Spain, France and Germany, the Union's other large agriculture players. There are 1.5 million small farms in Poland. Only Italy, with its proliferation of high-end, niche agricultural products compares with Poland in its abundance of small producers.
But the collapse of communism and, more recently, EU membership has opened this once cloistered swath of land to global forces: international competition, sanitary codes, international trade rules and the like. Sir Julian recalls that at an agricultural conference he attended in 1999 a pamphlet advertised: "Poland up for grabs!" That is what has happened, he says.
In a market newly saturated with huge, efficient players, these small traditional farmers are being simply overwhelmed. The American bacon producer, Smithfield Farms, now operates a dozen vast industrial pig farms in Poland. Importing cheap soy feed from South America, which the company feeds intensively to its tens of thousands of pigs, it has caused the price of pork to drop dramatically in the past couple of years. Since EU membership, the prices of pork and milk have dropped 30 percent.
Hundreds of Polish farmers demonstrated recently outside the office of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, complaining that they were losing money on each hog they reared. Anyway, Master says, rearing pigs for sale is a non-starter. He is forbidden to slaughter his own pigs and the nearest abattoir that meets EU standards is hours away; there are only five in all of Poland.
"It is impossible for me to farm," he lamented over a meal of traditional beet soup. He and his wife know that the European Union offers subsidies and loans to modernize traditional farms, equipping them with tractors and steel milk containers, for example. But, they say, it is not enough money, it is not what they want, and they are not adept at navigating the new bureaucracy. Master said they tried to fill out the paperwork required to get certified as an organic farm, but found it overwhelming.
Poland has a long tradition of small farming that has persisted through the centuries. Unlike farmers in the rest of Eastern Europe, Poland's farmers even resisted collectivization under communism. Now Lopata says they are "organic by default," currently "at the vanguard of an ecological, healthy way of food producing."
In a small barn covered matted with straw, Barbara and Andrzej Wojcik, feel like outcasts. They used to make a decent living selling pork from pigs they raised as well as the milk and butter from their six cows.
But they said with the price of pork so low they could not afford to raise pigs the traditional way. As for milk, their local collection station closed, so they have no way to get their products to market, even if they were to invest in buying the required stainless steel equipment.
Now they have sold all but two of their cows and reverted to subsistence farming. They live off their parents' pensions, barter and a bit of money from selling handicrafts.
Mann, from the European Commission, acknowledged that small farmers in places like Poland and Romania may have to adapt.
"There is a place for the small farmer," he said, "but they have to be smart and not rely on payouts." But deft adaptation seems hard here, a place long set in its ways - and may be bad for the environment anyway. A collective system for selling organic vegetables to the city, devised by Lopata never got off the ground.
"They tend to be very individualistic," she said. "They think they survived communist efforts to collectivize them, so they will survive this. They don't realize the European Union and the global market are even harder."

"If you start having water supply problems in Peru, Chile and, a little further down the road, India and China, what are the global economic implications of that?" said Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Elmaleh, 36, is a restless interviewee who slips in and out of various voices, endlessly curious - "That's enough about me, let's talk about American women: They're really not into seduction are they?" He is a compulsive observer, addicted to listening in on people's conversations.
At a Right Bank café, his ears are tuned into the power breakfast at a neighboring table. "I can't help it," he says. "Wow! I'm sorry. These people are selling something, but I can't make it out. . . This is how I get my material, how I write. I can't make up anything, just the form."
French protesters hurled bottles and stones at riot police who responded with tear gas Thursday during a march by high school students in Paris over teacher job cuts.
Thousands of peaceful demonstrators headed out from the Luxembourg Gardens for a march when a few hundred broke off and tried to attack storefronts along the march route.
Police charged in response, detaining several protesters. Other demonstrators then began throwing sticks, bottles, stones and other projectiles at a line of police throughout the march. Officers responded with tear gas and a series of charges to round up more suspects.
A total of 13 people were detained, police said. No injuries were reported.
The youths involved in the clashes, some wearing hoods or scarves over their faces, made up only a small portion of those who took part.
Ledra Street, a main shopping avenue in the divided capital of Cyprus that had come to symbolize the country's ethnic partition, reopened Thursday for the first time in 44 years, raising hopes for a renewed drive to reunify the island.
But within hours, the crossing was closed, at least temporarily, after an alleged violation of an agreement by the Turkish Cypriot police.
Those who argued that independence for Kosovo set a bad precedent tended to talk about frozen conflicts outside the European Union, like Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, and Transnistria in Moldova. But even in the European Union, borders are often arbitrary. Many ethnic minorities, including the Basques and the Roma, remain stateless, while others, like the Hungarians in Romania, as well as in Slovakia and Serbia, are still stranded from their brethren.
The Hungarian minority here, known as the Szeklers, certainly believe that their time for independence has arrived and that their proposed, semi-autonomous state, Szeklerland, is an impending reality.
"Kosovo is an example, and a very clear one, that if the community wants to live under self-government, we have to declare very loudly our will," said Csaba Ferencz, vice president of the National Council of Szeklers, a local Hungarian group founded in 2003 with autonomy as its stated goal. Szeklers are a distinct ethnic group from the Magyars, who are Hungary's dominant population.
Former Kosovo leader acquitted of war crimes
The United Nations war crimes tribunal in the Hague on Thursday acquitted a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army of all charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in a surprise decision that could inflame anti-Kosovar sentiment in Serbia just weeks after Kosovo unilaterally declared independence.
Evidence presented by the prosecution "did not always allow the chamber to conclude whether a crime was committed or whether the KLA was involved as alleged," the tribunal said in a statement.
The court also ruled that the ill treatment, forcible transfer and killing of Serb and Roma civilians as well as Kosovar Albanian civilians was "not on a scale of frequency that would allow for a conclusion that there was an attack against a civilian population," the statement said.
Haradinaj's supporters said there was never any evidence linking him directly to the crimes, and suggested that the court charged him simply to appear evenhanded.
But prosecutors alleged that the UN administration in Kosovo repeatedly blocked the prosecution of Haradinaj.
The tribunal's top prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, referred to the trial in The Hague as "a prosecution that some did not want to see brought, and that few supported by their cooperation at both the international and local level."
A European Union court on Thursday overturned the bloc's decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the EU terror list.
The Luxembourg-based EU Court of First Instance said that decisions made by EU governments in 2002 and 2004 to blacklist the two groups and freeze their assets violated the bloc's law.
It is the latest of several court decisions overturning similar EU decisions on the grounds that the groups added to the terror list were not properly informed of the decision to blacklist them nor given a right to appeal the decision.
The court said the autonomy-seeking PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, and its political wing, known as KONGRA-GEL, were not in positions "to understand, clearly and unequivocally, the reasoning" that led European Union governments to add them to the terror list.

From American prison to the heights of Al Qaeda

"I call him [militant preacher named Abu Yahya al-Libi] a man for all seasons for AQ," said Jarret Brachman, a former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency who is now research director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and whose provocative studies on Al Qaeda have drawn praise from U.S. counterterrorism officials. "He's a warrior. He's a poet. He's a scholar. He's a pundit. He's a military commander. And he's a very charismatic, young, brash rising star within A.Q., and I think he has become the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden in terms of taking over the entire global jihadist movement."

Abu Yahya al-Libi's most frank discussion of Al Qaeda's information war with the West came in the video released last autumn, "Dots of the Letters," and produced by As Sahab, the clandestine media arm of bin Laden's group.
In assessing the state of Islamic militancy worldwide, Libi dwelled on Islamist "defectors" who have denounced violent jihad, internal spats among militants themselves and fatwas, or Islamic legal pronouncements, from moderate Muslims who seek to criminalize jihadists in the eyes of other Muslims.
He went so far as to specify six ways that the United States and its allies might try to exploit this disharmony through psychological warfare, calling this "the battle of ideas which is one of the fierce fronts of the confrontation between us and our enemies, the Crusaders and their underlings."
Efforts by the Pentagon to undermine Al Qaeda by releasing information that could be harmful to the group's image and ability to recruit new supporters have been intensified in recent months in Iraq, according to military officials in Baghdad.



Mao Zedong announced the tune himself, in 1927, when he wrote: "A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay or painting a picture or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another."

This was a universe of variable geometry, where people were not to reason things out on their own, but to fall in line. Today's hero could be tomorrow's villain, with no clear evidence or explanation. The sole moral compass point was the immoral leader himself, Mao, who to this day remains a sacred cow whose likeness peers out from every bank note.



A Chinese court Thursday sentenced an outspoken human rights advocate to three and a half years in prison after ruling that his critical essays and comments about Communist Party rule amounted to inciting subversion, his lawyer said.

Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, herself a well-known blogger and rights advocate, was distraught in a telephone interview Thursday.

"I feel hopeless and helpless," said Zeng, who is under house arrest with the couple's infant daughter in their suburban Beijing apartment, though she was allowed to visit her husband Thursday.
Asked why Hu was arrested and convicted, Zeng said: "The fundamental reason is to silence him. He had been speaking up and all he said was plain truth. It makes them unhappy. But they can do this to him because they're unhappy?"



Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker first learned of the Iraqi plan on Friday, March 21: Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki would be heading to Basra with Iraqi troops to bring order to the city.
But the Iraqi operation was not what the United States expected. Instead of methodically building up their combat power and gradually stepping up operations against renegade militias, Mr. Maliki’s forces lunged into the city, attacking before all of the Iraqi reinforcements had even arrived. By the following Tuesday, a major fight was on.
“The sense we had was that this would be a long-term effort: increased pressure gradually squeezing the Special Groups,” Mr. Crocker said in an interview, using the American term for Iranian-backed militias. “That is not what kind of emerged.”
“Nothing was in place from our side,” he added. “It all had to be put together.”

The Bush administration has portrayed the Iraqi offensive in Basra as a “defining moment” — a compelling demonstration that an Iraqi government that has long been criticized for inaction has both the will and means to take on renegade militias.



Stories of Brain Injuries and Its Aftermath

By Michael Paul Mason

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

Another, the seemingly normal Julie Meyer, lives in an eternal present imposed by a catastrophic car accident that killed her daughter, whom she cannot remember.

“When she attempts to read, the words vanish from the front of the paragraph; when she watches a movie, every scene is the opening scene,” Mr. Mason writes. Although her procedural memory is fine — she can perform mechanical tasks like cooking or making a telephone call — Ms. Meyer has to be reintroduced to her husband every time he visits the hospital. Like the main character in the film “Memento,” she keeps notes to guide her through the day and studies, with ferocious intensity, facial expressions and behavior to separate friends from strangers. She fakes her way through life.

Popularly known as the Warhol of Japan, Murakami, 46, hasearned an international reputation for merging fine art with popular Japanese anime films and manga cartoons. Intent on exploring how mass-produced entertainment and consumerism are part of art, he teamed up with the fashion house Louis Vuitton in 2003 to create brightly colored versions of the classic LV monogram on Vuitton handbags.
The show - its title, appropriately, is "©Murakami" - includes a fully operational Louis Vuitton shop selling some of Murakami's designs for that luxury brand. A leather strap for a cell phone carries a $220 price tag; handbags range from $1,310 to $2,210. He has designed three new patterned-canvas wall hangings just for this exhibition; printed in editions of 100 each, the first 50 will be offered at the shop for $6,000 apiece, and the rest at $10,000 apiece.
The shop was also part of the retrospective when it appeared in Los Angeles, and some criticized the marriage of art and commerce as crass and inappropriate in a museum setting. But Murakami says his product designs are simply an extension of his art.
"It is the heart of the exhibition," he said of the Vuitton shop.
Arnold Lehman, the Brooklyn Museum's director, does not object to Vuitton's presence. "It would be very different if it was after the fact or a curatorial add-on," he said. " But it was part of Takashi's original idea."
The Vuitton boutique isn't the only shopping experience museum visitors will encounter, of course, as the museum will have its own Murakami gift shop right outside the exhibition. Most of the merchandise, is produced by Murakami's company, Kaikai Kiki (from the Japanese words for bizarre and elegant ), and it will share in the proceeds.

Oman also is becoming something of a model in city planning, not least from an environmental standpoint. Its new developments all tout their green credentials, with wastewater and sewage treatment operations. At The Wave, the recycled water will used on the development's designer golf course.
The country has ambitions to expand tourism and, by extension, real estate demand among foreigners, but there is some hesitancy about copying the globalization, high-rise development and mass tourism that has taken place in neighboring Dubai.
"In Dubai, you can feel a little blown off your feet in among all those tall towers," said Smith of The Wave. "We're not building highways in the sky here. We're trying to build something on a human scale. The idea is that you will get out of your car, and have a walk around by the beach and enjoy yourself."

In testimony before the Senate banking committee, top officials from the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday also strongly defended their actions. The responded to critics who have said the government should have taken more aggressive steps months, or years, earlier to prevent the problems plaguing the financial markets. Critics have also questioned bailing out the creditors of one Wall Street investment firm possibly at taxpayers' expense.
The officials responded that they had no choice but to act for the broader good of the markets and the economy. A failure to save Bear Stearns, said Timothy Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, would have led to "a greater probability of widespread insolvencies, severe and protracted damage to the financial system and, ultimately, to the economy as a whole."

Credit crisis likely to redefine investment banking and cut its profitability

"You'd probably have to go back to the 1930s to get something quite as bad."
The study takes as a base contention that net revenue in investment banking will fall 18 percent this year, but might fall as much as 45 percent in a "bear" scenario.
What is more, it foresees a fundamental change in the way in which banks and investment banks manage the business of making and selling loans.
"We see a shift to emphasis on the underlying assets," Davis said. "Investors will have to build up skills so they can look at the assets themselves."
That is a big change from the "originate and distribute" model we have followed in recent years, in which banks originate deals, get them stamped by a credit ratings agency and then sell them on to investors, many of whom bought on the strength of the credit rating and bank originators' reputations.
Those reputations are now frayed, and it will probably be a lot more expensive if we all do our own credit analysis, just as it would be if we all grew our own food.

Fear of investing in Zimbabwe shifts to optimism

Renaissance, a Russian investment bank aiming to become the market leader in Africa, says it has been pushing Zimbabwe as a good opportunity for about six months, with interest from clients rising in the last six weeks in the run-up to the polls.
Renaissance snapped up a shareholding of an undisclosed size in the South African banking group Absa last year, while the Zimbabwean bank African Banking Corp. says Citigroup will pay $25 million for a 20 percent stake in the bank.
The end of Mugabe's reign would probably lead to a donor conference that could bring in some $1.5 billion of international aid, Segal said, with the situation possibly resembling the one in Serbia after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic.
Over time, he said, up to two million Zimbabweans who left during the economic crisis could return home, potentially bringing with them another $2 billion to $3 billion. An estimated three million people have fled the country in total of a total population of 12 million.
The deputy commerce minister of China, Gao Hucheng, said in February that Beijing had invested $1.6 billion in Zimbabwe in 2007. This included investment in the mining sector and was the first time an official Chinese figure was given for investment in Zimbabwe. Analysts say further investment flows are likely.
Analysts also say that Zimbabwean equities already looked inexpensive, and there is enthusiasm for stocks like the mobile phone operator Econet and the retailer and hotel chain Meikles Africa. Both are listed on the Harare stock exchange.

KAMPALA, Uganda:
From scouting for diamonds in the deserts of Botswana to signing oil deals with Sudan and sending peacekeepers to volatile Congo, India is busy trying to match China's ever-growing clout in mineral-rich Africa and secure energy resources for its booming economy.
Trading on its relative physical proximity to Africa and a history of championing independence struggles, New Delhi will for the first time be host of an India-Africa heads of states meeting next Tuesday and Wednesday.
India may also be hoping for political dividends from strengthened economic ties. Indian media quoted the vice president of Ghana, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, as saying that "Ghana and Africa support India" for a permanent place in the United Nations Security Council.
Some analysts say India's long trade links with Africa give it at least a cultural advantage over China. African countries see India as a valuable partner that could raise their development through public-private partnerships.

A cooling breeze lightens up California's pinot noirs
I have to confess, I don't drink much California pinot noir. The prevailing thick, fruit-and-oak-drenched style, often with a touch of sweetness, does not appeal to me.
I find that these wines are clumsy at the table, overwhelming and fatiguing. In short, many of the leading California pinot noirs today seem to me to be the antithesis of what pinot noirs ought to be: light, elegant, graceful and refreshing.

Thieves peeled long strips of lead from the roof of St. Michael and All Angels, until a barking dog sent them fleeing from this tiny Leicestershire village. But by then, they had left a hole of about 100 square feet in the top of the 800-year-old church.
For centuries, people have stolen religious artifacts in Europe, including chunks of religious buildings, but Britain is in the midst of an accelerating crime wave that some experts call the most concerted assault on churches since the religious conflicts of the Reformation. Only instead of doctrinal differences, the motivation is the near-record price that lead - the stuff many old church roofs are made of - is fetching on commodity markets.
"The local parish church has become a victim of international demand for metals," said Chris Pitt, a spokesman for Ecclesiastical, a company that specializes in insuring religious buildings and other heritage sites in Britain.
The price of lead on global markets has rocketed sevenfold in the past six years, largely because of rising demand from industrializing countries like China and India. Centuries ago, its malleability made it a popular building material; now it is sought after mainly as a source for batteries for vehicles and backup power systems for computer and mobile phone networks. It is also used to make bullets and shot, cables and paints.

At St. Michael and All Angels in Edmondthorpe, Barbara Coulson, a lay minister, went ahead with a Good Friday service even after the theft. Thirty-six people attended as wintry gusts flapped the blue plastic covering the hole in the roof.
Coulson expected the roof to be repaired soon and said new security measures would be put in place.
"We increasingly seem to live in a world where the question, 'Is nothing sacred?' so easily springs to mind," she said.


London is still the top destination for travelers among European cities, despite its being considered the dirtiest and the most expensive, according to a new annual survey by TripAdvisor of more than 1,100 travelers worldwide. Next most expensive cities were Paris and Rome; and the next dirtiest cities, Paris and Rome. The cleanest cities were Zurich, Copenhagen and Stockholm.
But London was voted best in Europe for public parks and nightlife. Paris, Barcelona and Amsterdam ranked high in both catagories. And despite its high prices, London was runner-up to Paris, followed by Rome, for best shopping.


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