Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Monday, 26th May 2008


April and May were given over to leaving The Valley, both to England to promote the paperback of A PLACE IN MY COUNTRY and virtually, to do the same, long hours in my office.

I have hardly picked up the International Herald Tribune in that time, listened to mere snippets of the radio, stumbled accross news of the world in London through Evening Standard kiosk posters, snatches of TV in England - not here - at friends' houses.

The earthquake in China I did not feel, the cyclone in Burma passed me by. The world turned and I did not care to know nor have time to engage.

I admit it, I have felt lightened from the weight of knowing, of thinking of the 6 billion.

But their lives have continued and ended, children have been born, children lost.

I had my own scare these past few days, it doesn't matter what. And I saw more clearly than ever that all I need is here. But ignorance is not bliss.

I could go live in The Valley forever, never look over the Haute Chaume, through the gorge that bottleneck-blocks all of that from my consciousness. It's doable. But there are people out there who I want to know more about, to meet, to see again; news and events, books and films, trends and aburdities so abstract, so distant they may as well not exist. Exist they do. They arrive in the post every day, in my email in-box. It's a tap I can't yet turn off. Maybe one day I will. Maybe that's wishful thinking.
When I signed off in early-April from putting my information Ebru together, I predicted that 2008 would be the year of the global food crisis breaking through into the public consciousness, in the way 2007 was the year of global warming. That wave broke exactly in April and May.



J.R. Simplot, the billionaire founder of the agriculture business based in Boise, Idaho, that bears his name and who helped make French fries a staple of the American diet and waistline, has died at age 99, officials said, Reuters reported in Boise.
After pioneering the first commercial frozen French fry in the late 1940s, Simplot eventually became a major supplier of Idaho potatoes to McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's. His privately held company, where he was chairman emeritus, reported $3.3 billion in sales in 2006.
An official at the Ada County coroner's office said Simplot died at home on Sunday morning of natural causes.
Born John Richard Simplot in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1909, he left school at age 14 to work in the agriculture storage and distribution business. He started his first produce company in 1929, and eventually became a major supplier of dehydrated potatoes to the U.S. military during World War II.
In the late 1940s, Simplot's researchers began experimenting with frozen potato products. His company began producing frozen French fries in Idaho in 1946, and the business thrived with the spread of freezers into U.S. homes.
Simplot's most well-known business venture began with a handshake. In 1967, Simplot and the founder of McDonald's, Ray Kroc, agreed that the Simplot Company would provide frozen French fries to the expanding fast-food chain.



Chavez's mixed blessing for Venezuelan economy

CARACAS: A day's drive west of the Orinoco Belt, where the largest liquid deposit of oil in the Western Hemisphere helped deliver $13.9 billion for Venezuelan social programs last year, a security guard, Efrain Rengifo, waited in line outside a grocery store run by the Venezuelan government.
The line spilled out of the concrete-block store, the Super Mercal in Barinas, capital of a beef-producing region in the home state of President Hugo Chávez. Chávez is trying to redistribute the country's wealth, blunt U.S. influence and rid capitalism of what he calls its "anti-values." Socialism is Christ; capitalism is Judas, Chávez says.

On this day, the Super Mercal is not delivering on that promise. In a country blessed with enough crude to make it OPEC's sixth-largest producer, the store has no milk, no chicken, no cooking oil and no flour.
"You have to show up on the right day if you want to find everything you're looking for," Rengifo, 43, said.



China's push praised and censured in Mauritius

TERRE ROUGE, Mauritius: Sitting under a pair of mango trees and sipping coconut water, Toolsy Poorun, 87, says he thought he would live in Terre Rouge forever. But then Chinese investment came to this part of Mauritius.

Poorun, who lives in the suburbs of the Indian Ocean island's capital Port Louis, now finds himself caught up in China's African push which has seen it pour billions of dollars into the continent, seeking to lock in access to rich resources, including oil and minerals.
The investment rush has sparked tensions with former colonial masters and international donors, Chinese workers have sometimes clashed with locals angered at foreign labour taking jobs, and some Africans have questioned what the flows of money mean for China's role in internal politics.
Some of these tensions are visible in Mauritius, where China plans to open a trade development zone for more than a dozen Chinese firms in Terre Rouge, at a cost of around $730 million (370 million pounds), making it the largest foreign direct investment in the country.
Details of what exactly will be in the Shanxi Tianli Enterprises business park are still sketchy, but Mauritian officials say it will provide a launch pad for Chinese operations in the region.

The farmers who have grown sugar and vegetables on the 211-hectare (521-acre) Terre Rouge site for decades, and who have now been asked to leave, say they have received some compensation but are worried about the future.
"We are too small to fight the government, we do not want to stop the project, but we would like to get better compensation," planter Ravin Bijloll said. He does not expect to get a job.
"Tianli will bring his own people because in China, labour is cheap."
As for Poorun, he has no idea what he will do next. He says the government has given him some land, but on a lease.
"The government took the land and gave us money. But that money is already finished," he said, sitting on a plastic chair next to an enormous field of sugar cane.



EU trade chief claims backing to negotiate world trade deal


France and some other European Union countries said Monday that new proposals for a global trade deal asked too much of the bloc, but Europe's trade chief said he had overwhelming support to press on with the talks.

France, the biggest European food producer and the most vocal critic of the EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, renewed a campaign to counter what it viewed as a bad deal in the making.

Anne-Marie Idrac, France's junior trade minister, said the new WTO proposals were "less ambitious and balanced than ever."

France, Ireland and other states with big farm interests have accused Mandelson of offering too many farming concessions in return for a WTO deal that helps EU service providers and makers of goods like cars, textiles and chemicals.


Green movement spreading on U.S. campuses

OBERLIN, Ohio: Lucas Brown, a junior at Oberlin College, was still wet from the shower as he entered his score on the neon green message board next to the bathroom sink: Three minutes, according to the plastic hourglass timer inside the shower. Two minutes faster than the morning before. One minute faster than two of his housemates.
Brown, a 21-year-old economics major, recalled the marathon runner who had lived in the house in the previous semester, saying: "He came out of the shower one morning and yelled out: 'Two minutes 18 seconds. Beat that, Lucas!"'



Selling rain forests to the greenest bidder

Robert B. Semple Jr. is associate editor of the New York Times editorial board.

Jagdeo caused a stir last year when he offered to cede the management of his country's entire rain forest - 40-plus million acres, covering 80 percent of Guyana's land mass - to a British government agency in return for British economic assistance. Though the British have yet to take him up on the deal, Jagdeo continues to press the case for protecting not only his rain forest, but all of them.
It is a noble and necessary mission. The rain forests form a cooling band around Earth's equator. And their accelerating loss - from logging, farming, mining and burning - is a major cause of climate change, accounting for one-fifth of all carbon-dioxide emissions. That is more than the amount the United States puts into the atmosphere from all sources and more than the emissions generated by all of the world's cars, trucks, buses and airplanes.

Rain forests serve many important purposes. They provide clean water, protection against floods and the basis for many medicines. Yet their most useful function in a warming world is to absorb carbon and store it.

For too long these facts have been undervalued in discussions of climate change. At the Kyoto talks in 1997, for instance, various nations proposed that industrialized countries be allowed to offset some of their own emissions by paying poorer countries not to cut down their forests. European environmental groups fiercely resisted the idea, warning that this would let rich countries off the hook, and engineered the proposal's defeat.
That was a colossal blunder for which the planet has been paying ever since. Rain forests continue to disappear at a rate of 20 million to 30 million acres every year.
Jagdeo is the perfect champion for the rain forests. Guyana, together with Suriname, French Guiana and sections of Venezuela and northern Brazil form the Guayana Shield, an ancient geologic formation that contains 14 percent of the world's carbon. The hope is that his example will inspire bigger countries like Brazil to take a far more aggressive role in protecting their forests from commercial development.
He also speaks with authority about the impact of global warming on poorer countries. He noted the other day that while climate change might require wealthy Americans to drive fewer SUVs, it is a matter of life and death for poor countries that face floods and drought.
Guyana's capital, Georgetown, is right at sea level. If the seas rise substantially, Georgetown goes.




Bioethanol is the main cause of increased food prices.


The main factors of the staggering cost of food are a shift in the Asian diet, causing an elevated demand for cereal, and the current price of oil, which has nearly doubled in the past three years. In fact, it is estimated that the impact of biofuels on cereal prices will only be in the range of 3% to 6% as compared to 2006 prices.


1. Pindali, "Westernization of Asian diets and the transformation of food systems: Implications for research and policy". Food Policy (32), June 2007, 281-298

2. John M. Urbanchuk, "The Relative Impact of Corn and Energy Prices in the Grocery Aisle". LECG 2007:1

3. International Energy Agency, "End-User Petroleum Product Prices and Average Crude Oil Import Costs." March 2008

4. "The impact of minimum10% obligation for biofuel use in the EU-27 in 2020 on agricultural markets." European Commission, Directorate-General for Agricultural and Rural Development. 2007

Biofuels are under attack. The claim "Bioethanol is the main cause of increased food prices" is just one of the many false statements being spread to the general public. We have decided to stand up and contest these falsities with supported evidence. We believe it is the right thing to do.

Abengoa Bioenergy, a business unit of Abengoa, is Europe's largest bioethanol producer and the only global producer with operations in the US and Brazil as well. Abengo is a diversified technology companny, with presence in over 70 countries worldwide, applying innovative solutions for sustainability in the infrastructure, environment, and renewable energy sectors. Abengoa's portfolio of products includes solar energy by means of hydrogen fuel cells, construction of renewable energy facilities, water generation, recycling of industrial waste, and IT consulting and system development.


The Global Ethanol Company



In Brazil's rainforests, a tug-of-war between big business and science

SÃO JOSÉ DOS CAMPOS, Brazil: Gilberto Câmara, a scientist who leads Brazil's national space agency, is more at ease poring over satellite data of the Amazon than being thrust into the spotlight.
But since January, Câmara has been at the center of a political tug-of-war between scientists and powerful business interests in Brazil. It started when he and his fellow engineers released a report showing that deforestation of Brazil's portion of the rain forest had shot up again after two years of decline.

Since then, Câmara, who heads the National Institute for Space Research here, has found himself having to defend his agency's findings against one of Brazil's richest and most powerful men: Blairo Maggi, who is governor of the country's largest agricultural state, Mato Grosso, and a business owner known as the "Soybean King."
Maggi was concerned enough about the report - which led to harsh measures stifling business in his state - that he asked for, and got, a meeting with the president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

"This is not the first time in the larger world where people dispute the numbers because they don't like them," said Thomas Lovejoy, president of The Heinz Center in Washington, an environmental research group. "But this is the first time this has happened in Brazil. The pressures from agricultural economic interests are really making a difference in Brasília," the country's capital.
INPE reported in January that deforestation had risen by an estimated 11,137 square kilometers, or 4,300 square miles, from August to December of last year. That is on pace to exceed the approximately 17,870 square kilometers recorded from August 2006 to August 2007.
The agency's data also showed that 54 percent of the deforestation had occurred in Mato Grosso, Maggi's state, where the scientists said ranchers and loggers pushed farther into the rain forest.



Rockefeller family members press for change at Exxon

HOUSTON: The Rockefeller family built one of the great American fortunes by supplying the United States with oil.
Now history has come full circle: Some family members say it is time to start moving beyond the oil age.
The family members have thrown their support behind a shareholder rebellion that is ruffling feathers at Exxon Mobil, the giant oil company descended from John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil.
Three of the resolutions, to be voted on Wednesday at the company's shareholders' meeting in Dallas, are considered unlikely to pass, even with Rockefeller family support. They would demand that Exxon take the threat of global warming more seriously and look for alternatives to spewing greenhouse gases into the air.
One resolution would urge the company to study the impact of global warming on poor countries, another would encourage Exxon to reduce its emissions and a third would encourage it to do more research on renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines.

"Exxon Mobil needs to reconnect with the forward-looking and entrepreneurial vision of my great-grandfather," Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, a Tufts University economist, said in a statement. "The truth is that Exxon Mobil is profiting in the short term from investments and decisions made many years ago, and by focusing on a narrow path that ignores the rapidly shifting energy landscape around the world."


Burmese villagers had little, and lost it all

Then Khin lost 15 family members when Nargis swept through. For those in the family who survived, life is a litany of woes and the recovery has only just begun.
A 29-year-old grandson of Then Khin has gone insane, wandering day and night through the fields looking for his wife and son, both of them swept away by the furious floodwaters that came with the cyclone.
Her eldest granddaughter, Thit Khine, 31, who lost her husband and both her children, remains haunted by the memory of her 2-year-old daughter, Thwe Tar, who was clinging to her mother's neck when the storm snatched her away.

Still another grandchild of Then Khin, a 14-year-old girl named Myint Myint Kyi, lost her ability to speak for two days after losing all of her immediate family: both her parents and her 7-year-old twin brothers. When she finally came to, she was a different girl, no longer interested in school.
"I am sad," the girl said, with tears streaming down her cheeks, while her grandmother wiped away her own tears. "Come next month, I was supposed to take my twin brothers to school with me."



NASA spacecraft sends first pictures of Mars's arctic plain
PASADENA, California:

NASA's budget for Phoenix is $420 million, which includes testing and retrofitting the spacecraft, outfitting it with new instruments, launching and operating the mission. The Canadian Space Agency contributed $37 million for one instrument, a weather station.


Parents of quake victims to be allowed 2nd children


As the death toll in southwest China rose to more than 65,000, a provincial planning commission issued what it called a clarification Monday of the country's one-child policy, saying that a family whose child dies young can obtain a certificate to have another child.
The clarification came from the Chengdu Population and Family Planning Committee in Sichuan Province, The Associated Press reported.
As many as 10,000 of those killed in the May 12 earthquake were children, adding to the tragedy in a country where most families are allowed to have only one.


Despite sanctions, U.S. consumer goods are prevalent in Sudan and Iran

By Andrew Heavens and Fredrik Dahl Reuters

Driving through the traffic-choked streets of Khartoum and Tehran, you could forget that Sudan and Iran have endured years of U.S. sanctions.
Leaving the airport at Khartoum, one of the first things you see is the ultimate symbol of American capitalism: the classic form of a Coca-Cola bottle printed on multicolored banners, next to a huge billboard for its rival, Pepsi.

Neither Coca-Cola nor Pepsi would disclose their revenues from Sudan and Iran, but in the first three months of this year, Coca-Cola's Africa division recorded net operating revenue of $314 million, just over 4 percent of the company's total revenue in the quarter.
PepsiCo's Middle East, Asia and Africa division accounted for 12 pct of its sales of $39.47 billion last year and 7 pct of its $7.92 billion operating profit, according to its annual report.



New alliances in view in a changing Germany
By John Vinocur

Although the country's economy is performing well for the time being, it is accompanied by a widely perceived sense that the upswing is not for everyone's profit.
This notion has hardened into a now reflexive conviction - "There are deficits in social justice," a Christian Democrat position paper conceded last week - that has altered German politics.Above all, it has turned Die Linke (the Left), a new party founded from the fusion of parties grouping East German Communist loyalists and hard-left West Germans - both pariah organizations a couple of years back - into a single, increasingly respectable political force that is now Germany's third largest.
Die Linke is in the Bundestag, constitutes eastern Germany's biggest party, holds seats in 10 of the 16 regional governments, shares power in the Berlin region with the Social Democrats, and according to a poll last week, would win 11.9 percent of the vote in national elections in the fall of 2009. That's more than either the Greens or Free Democrats, the parties that since the founding of the Federal Republic have made up Germany's traditional governing coalitions with Christian Democrats or Social Democrats.

This Left rejects the European Union (too capitalistic), wants Germany out of NATO and Afghanistan and is (obviously) no fan of America, regardless of who's in power. It wants a government that would spend €50 billion more per year on the theory this could create 500,000 jobs. It believes the German state is underfinanced by about €150 billion annually, which it says could be made up in taxes on the rich and big business.



A long march to an apology

Mindy Kotler is the director of Asia Policy Point, a research center that studies Asian regional security.


Since the war ended, the Japanese government has either ignored or denied efforts by American former prisoners of war to obtain compensation or an apology. Japanese companies have sought to suppress historical documentation of forced POW labor. In 2005, one of Japan's most prominent magazines, Bungei Shunju, published an article arguing not only that the Bataan Death March was less severe than reported but also that the testimony of the survivors was "gathered based upon the assumption that an atrocity of the Death March did take place."
Remarkably, members of Japan's Parliament plan to introduce a bill having to do with prisoners of World War II - but it is meant to provide back pay and pensions for Korean and other non-Japanese camp guards who had been convicted as war criminals for abusing Allied POWs.


Health care fees trouble Eastern Europe


In the Czech Republic, a patient can now see a doctor for about $1.85. This is not cause for celebration.

"So far, I see the negatives and I experience the negatives," said Lenka Vondrackova, a multiple sclerosis patient struggling to get by with her husband and two teenage boys on about $1,200 a month, a combination of his salary and her disability benefits.
They live crammed into a tiny apartment in a Communist-era apartment building in Cerny Most, a neighborhood in the far eastern part of Prague. Her regimen of medications requires five pills in the morning, a nasal spray once a day, three more pills in the evening, along with an injection administered by her husband or one of her sons. Before the changes, they were able to save a little each month.
"Now everything that's left is taken up by the fees," her husband, Pavel, said.
"I believe that in the future it will become evident that there will be more money for better equipment and medication," his wife said, wishing in particular for pills that can take the place of the painful injection she dreads each night. "If it works out," she added, looking away, torn between skepticism and hope.



'The Colfax Massacre' and 'The Day Freedom Died'

The Colfax Massacre The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, and the Death of Reconstruction By LeeAnna Keith Illustrated. 219 pages. $24.95. Oxford University Press. The Day Freedom Died The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction By Charles Lane Illustrated. 326 pages. $27. Henry Holt Company.

In the middle of the Colfax, Louisiana, cemetery stands a 12-foot-high obelisk. It's weathered now. But in its day it must have been a grand sight, towering over the rows of gravestones, its marble glinting in the Southern sun. The monument was built as a tribute to three local white men, "the heroes," according to its inscription, "who fell in the Colfax riot fighting for white supremacy" on April 13, 1873 - Easter Sunday. There is no mention of the estimated 81 black people who were murdered that day.The omission is hardly unusual. Many communities harbor stories of horrific racial violence - lynchings, expulsions, even mass murder - that were so thoroughly suppressed they are only now coming to light. What is more startling is the monument's frankness. The "heroes" of Colfax certainly did go to war on behalf of white supremacy. And in the course of one bloody Sunday, they assured its triumph across the nation.



Dries Van Noten in full bloom at 50

ANTWERP, Belgium:
"People from outside recognize Jesuits easily," he says. "There is a way of thinking and way of talking that is thematic. We try to understand, we don't talk very easily, we are very close. But that is also a protection - being half a public person, I try to show what I want to show."
Restraint is an integral part of Van Noten's work - to a fault if you are looking for the sexuality of a seductive silhouette. But restraint was not in evidence at the 50th birthday bash, with its heaving dance floor and abundant food from 12 different chefs whose Asian and Moroccan cuisine or mini-hamburgers were served until 4 a.m.
"It's not depressing - it's impressive," says Van Noten about reaching half a century - the age when his mother decided to quit the family retail business for a farm in the country. "You have to think of all sorts of things, that you did not when 45," the designer says. "It's about making choices."



Alexei Ratmansky: A choreographer's revolution at the Bolshoi

"The dancers at the New York City Ballet work with hundreds of different choreographers," Ratmansky said. "They know the price of a step. I can't get something by them with just a smile. At the Bolshoi the idea is to do the classics, not something new, and some of the dancers aren't interested in stretching themselves artistically. But I do think we developed a new generation of dancers that are becoming visible now - the middle soloists. And something that was negative in the beginning has become very positive toward the end. I think I planted doubt in the minds of many dancers."
"Doubt about what?"
"Doubt that they were the best dancers in the world."
"And that's a good thing?"
"That's a good thing because it will push them to get better, the smarter ones anyway. It will give them a push."


Opening its files, Britain says strange aircraft are not UFOs

In 1979, the House of Lords debated the matter at the urging of the Earl of Clancarty, who believed that man was descended from aliens who crawled from the earth's core via special tunnels or flew in spaceships 65,000 years ago.
He was not the only noble believer.
"I should like to tell your lords about some of the sightings I have seen," said the Earl of Halsbury, "beginning at the age of 6, when I saw an angel."
Lord Gainford said he had seen a UFO, which he described as "bright white ball with a touch of red followed by a white cone," at a New Year's Eve party in Scotland. Some children saw it, too, he added, and they "had been drinking soft drinks."
None of their accounts were as detailed as that of a 78-year-old ex-soldier in Aldershot. His story, which he told to a UFO investigator, can be found in the newly released files.
Out fishing in 1983, the man had just poured himself a cup of tea, he recalled, when he was approached by two beings about 4 feet, or 1.2 meters, tall, wearing pale green overalls and large helmets. They led him into what turned out to be their ship and, apparently considering whether to subject him to extraterrestrial experiments, suddenly announced: "You can go. You are too old and infirm for our purposes."
"Anxious to avoid causing offense," the report said, the man asked no questions, even obvious ones like, what planet do you come from? Instead, he returned to the riverbank, where he finished his tea (by then cold) and resumed fishing.



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