Kurds skip Erdogan speech
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the Kurdish-dominated southeast, to present details of plans he unveiled in March for economic and cultural initiatives for the region.
He proposed spending the equivalent of $14.5 billion over five years to improve agriculture in the arid region, with most of the money earmarked for building hydroelectric dams and irrigation projects, as well as clearing land mines along the border with Syria.
South Koreans protest against U.S. beef deal
Thousands of protesters marched through Seoul against a U.S. beef import pact that has renewed fears of mad cow disease. Police said Tuesday that 30 demonstrators were arrested after scuffling erupted.
South Korea suspended U.S. beef imports after the first American case of mad cow disease appeared in December 2003 in a Canadian-born cow in Washington state. A total of three cases of the disease have been discovered in the United States.
After protracted negotiations, restricted imports of U.S. beef reached South Korean supermarkets last year, but further shipments were canceled in October after banned parts, such as bones, were found.
The new beef agreement scrapped nearly all the quarantine restrictions imposed by the previous government to guard against mad cow disease.
Rain eases Barcelona drought
MADRID: The Catalonia environment department said recent heavy rains had eased drought conditions in Barcelona and might help end water restrictions and other emergency measures.
The department said reservoirs for the Barcelona area were at 44 percent of capacity. They were at 20 percent at the end of March.
The regional department said Tuesday that the rains might lead to easing restrictions affecting Barcelona's fountains, swimming pools and lawns.
Barcelona has been shipping in drinking water this month because of the drought. It also plans a €180 million, or $284 million, pipeline to carry water from the Ebro River while a desalination plant is being built.
EU to focus on energy security and climate change over next 18 months
PRAGUE, Czech Republic: France, Sweden and the Czech Republic, the countries scheduled to lead the European Union over the next 18-months, agreed Tuesday to concentrate on energy security and climate change.
The three countries agreed Tuesday on a 75-page document that would coordinate their policies as each leads the EU for six months under the union's system of a rotating presidency.
Sarkozy proposes EU cut in fuel tax
"If the barrel continues to rise, must we maintain a VAT rate that is proportional to the price in the same conditions?" Sarkozy said in an interview on RTL radio.
In Brussels, EU officials said such proposals often cropped up when oil prices spiked, and pledged to study Sarkozy's proposal - while cautioning that it might require unanimous approval from the bloc's 27 member states.
An EU energy spokesman, Ferran Terradellas, said that in the past, the European Commission had said that "changing taxation on fuels in order to combat increasing prices would send a wrong message to producing countries. This would show them that they could increase prices and that the citizens would have to pay for this."
Lagarde [Finance Minister Christine Lagarde] said consumer nations must ask oil producers to do something about rising prices, and said she had asked counterparts within the Group of Seven richest nations to "discuss this issue among consumer nations" so it can be presented to producing countries.
"We cannot eternally be in a market mode where the price climbs endlessly to the benefit of producers," she said on France-2 television.
BUSINESS OF GREEN
Sweden turning sewage into a gasoline substitute
Goran Varmby, an official at Business Region Goteborg, a nonprofit company that promotes trade and industry in the region, said he hoped that Volvo would resume production of biogas cars.
"But there are a lot of big economic interests behind ethanol," Varmby said. He was alluding to the generous subsidies farmers and biofuels producers in Europe and the United States earn for growing and processing crop fuels.
Chemically, biogas is the same as natural gas from fossil fuels, but its manufacture relies on a process where bacteria feed on fecal waste for about three weeks in an oxygen-free chamber. The result is two-thirds methane and one-third carbon dioxide, as well as a nutrient-rich residue that can be used as soil or construction material.
Once the methane is purified, it is pumped through Goteborg's network of gas pipelines to specialized filling stations, where it is pressurized for delivery. Any car with an engine and tank configured for compressed natural gas can use biogas.
Ramberg, formerly an executive at Volvo, said he left the company about a decade ago to start FordonsGas when he spotted an opportunity to promote the infrastructure needed to deliver biogas to drivers.
"We're looking to certify the emissions from the entire life cycle of biogas production and use," Ramberg said.
"But we already strongly believe that biogas is the best fuel for lower emissions - no discussion about it," he said.
Ethanol boom brings change to Brazil cane growers
SERTAOZINHO, Brazil: At the start of this year's cane harvest at the Sao Francisco ethanol mill, workers gathered to ask God for protection and a good crop.
It was a traditional Roman Catholic mass, held inside the mill's main building amid the sweet smell of sugar cane.
Around 150 employees and their relatives surrounded an imposing altar. The offerings included a bottle filled with ethanol, a wooden toy truck and a cane cutter's machete.
"It's a long tradition. Our industry has a family roots, we are Catholics as are many of our employees," said the mill's executive officer, Jairo Menesis Balbo. "We thank God for our production and ask Him help to start another one."
Nearby stood giant machines that are set to crush more cane than ever in the coming months to meet national and global demand for ethanol to fuel cars. Brazil is heading for a record sugar cane crop, with an expected cane output of up to 580 million tonnes.
LETTER FROM EUROPE
French illegal workers' strike puts their value to test
"What I wanted is exactly what is happening," says Lefebvre, 44 [Lefebvre, a former Sarkozy aide and a member of Parliament from the president's party, changed the law to allow illegal foreign employees to apply for work permits if their employers can show they're important to the economy] . Immigration "should be married to the reality of the economy."
His amendment created a breach in Sarkozy's tough policy, which uses job skills rather than family reunification as the primary criterion for determining who is accepted into the country, and which sets quotas - 26,000 in 2008 - for the expulsion of illegal immigrants like Gaye. Lefebvre extended the skills criterion to these employees - a move that some within Sarkozy's government opposed.
"Rather than allow more foreigners to come to France, let's look at those who are already here," Lefebvre says.
According to official estimates, there are between 200,000 and 400,000 undocumented workers in France, 60,000 to 80,000 in Paris alone. Most are employed, according to the Confédération Générale du Travail, the second-largest French union.
These workers do jobs the French don't want to do. The hotel and restaurant industries have 35,000 to 40,000 vacancies, employers say, even though the French jobless rate is 7.8 percent, one of the highest in Europe, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Jobs at construction, security and cleaning companies are also often filled by such illegal workers, known in France as the "sans-papiers." Typically, they're paid in cash or get paychecks on the basis of falsified documents. Those who pay taxes and charges for social services, including health insurance, often can't collect the benefits.
New skyscraper by Jean Nouvel to rise on Paris skyline
PARIS: A 71-story skyscraper designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel will be built on the edge of Paris, officials said Tuesday.
The building, called the Signal Tower, is expected to be completed in 2015 and will be 301 meters, or 988 feet, tall. It will stand in the La Défense district.
The rectangular tower will be divided into four stacked levels to house stores, a luxury hotel, offices and apartments on the top - crowned with green from the atrium.
The skyscraper, totaling 140,000 square meters, or about 459,000 square feet, features straight lines and 90-degree angles.
The structure will be 23 meters shorter than the Eiffel Tower, making it the second-tallest building in the Paris metropolitan area.
Angry shareholders say Société Générale ran like a casino
"I say you are twice guilty," said the representative of one small shareholder association who did not give his name.
"You're putting the employee into prison when it was the bosses who should have left," he said to bursts of applause. "And your second failure was to turn our bank into a casino."
Next was a private shareholder, Jean Richard, who emphasized that he had been a client at the same Société Générale branch for 36 years. "Mr. Chairman, who do you take us for?" Richard said. "Have responsibilities been established at all levels of management?"
A third did not let up. "We have lost a lot without saying very much," he said, "Today we are going for it."
After the 10th question - this one asking Bouton personally how he, the author of a 2002 report on corporate governance, could remain chairman after the scandal - a nervous-looking Bouton said amid boos and heckles that he would only take one more question on the fraud.
Main witness describes handing cash to Olmert
In sometimes emotional testimony, the witness, Morris Talansky, an American businessman, told the court that he had turned over about $150,000 to Olmert, directly and through political aides, at meetings in New York and Jerusalem over a 15-year period.
He said he believed that most of the money was for political campaigns, but that Olmert had also sought money for vacations and unidentified personal expenses.
Talansky, 75, said there were no records of how the money had been spent.
"I only know that he loved expensive cigars. I know he loved pens, watches. I found it strange," he said.
In one case, he said, he walked to a bank to withdraw thousands of dollars in cash as Olmert waited in a luxury hotel.
Belgian woman wages war for Al Qaeda on the Web
Belgian's online jihad reflects rise of female extremists
BRUSSELS: On the street, Malika El Aroud is anonymous in an Islamic black veil covering all but her eyes.
In her living room, El Aroud, a 48-year-old Belgian, wears the ordinary look of middle age: a plain black T-shirt and pants and curly brown hair. The only adornment is a pair of powder-blue slippers monogrammed in gold with the letters SEXY.
But it is on the Internet that El Aroud has distinguished herself. Writing in French under the name Oum Obeyda, she has transformed herself into one of the most prominent Internet jihadists in Europe.
She calls herself a female holy warrior for Al Qaeda. She insists that she does not disseminate instructions on bomb-making and has no intention of taking up arms herself. Rather, she browbeats Muslim men to go and fight, and rallies women to join the cause.
"It's not my role to set off bombs - that's ridiculous," she said in a rare interview. "I have a weapon. It's to write. It's to speak out. That's my jihad. You can do many things with words. Writing is also a bomb."
IN OUR PAGES: 50 YEARS AGO
TIZI OUZOU: Moslems, rounded up by French units in Algeria to demonstrate in favor of the army's insurgent movement, stood stolidly silent today, [May 27] as armed paratroopers shouted: "Sing the 'Marseillaise! Sing the 'Marseillaise!' " The incident followed the explosion earlier today of a hand grenade in the midst of 20,000 Moslems in the midst of Tizi Ouzo City Hall to hear leaders of the Algerian Committee of Public safety. There was no panic as the grenade exploded, injuring at least three, but French paratroopers stationed along the stairs leading to the City Hall immediately shouted for the crowd to sing the French national anthem. Those who sang were mostly Europeans. Moslems in the crowd, many of them bought in from the surrounding villages in French army trucks, stood silent and impassive.
McCain breaks with Bush on nuclear disarmament
"Russia and the United States are no longer mortal enemies," McCain said in a speech that was interrupted at least four times by hecklers opposed to the Iraq war. "As our two countries possess the overwhelming majority of the world's nuclear weapons, we have a special responsibility to reduce their number. I believe we should reduce our nuclear forces to the lowest level we judge necessary, and we should be prepared to enter into a new arms control agreement with Russia reflecting the nuclear reductions I will seek."
Merkel calls for closer NATO-Russia ties
"If we don't talk to each other, it is no wonder there are prejudices," Merkel said in a speech late Monday to NATO's parliamentary group in Berlin.
Ties warm as Poland and Germany find common causes
"After all the animosity and the venom and the bitterness that had characterized the relationship for such a long time, that Sikorski would invite Steinmeier to his home was a pretty big deal," said Constanze Stelzenmüller, director of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund.
"There is no honeymoon. There was a choice made, based on the hard-nosed evaluation of the situation, that we need Germany on our side to face our problems," said Eugeniusz Smolar, Director of the Center for International Relations, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization in Warsaw
EU and Turkey blame each other for slow pace of membership talks
The Turkish foreign minister, Ali Babacan, in an oblique reference to France, said questions about whether his country should join at all dampened enthusiasm in Turkey for far-reaching changes in politics and other matters related to membership.
He spoke after a session with EU officials that came close to being canceled after France objected to the talks being labeled "accession" negotiations. France relented at the last minute.
Babacan did not name France but stressed that the European Union had agreed in 2004 to "accession" talks and that efforts to retreat on that promise "wear down the enthusiasm to carry forward reforms."
Harsh report on Iranian nuclear program raises alarm
"Open questions remain, where we have to push for an answer with more time pressure," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany told members of NATO's parliamentary assembly meeting Tuesday in Berlin, referring to the report by the UN agency.
"The ball is in the Iranians' court," he said. "Either it is picked up there, and we're getting reasonable answers to our questions, or the entry into talks with the aim of a diplomatic solution to the conflict is further delayed."
"The alternative would then be an increase of international pressure, also through the UN Security Council," he said.
"There are certain parts of their nuclear program where the military seems to have played a role," said a senior official close to the agency who spoke on the condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic constraints. He added, "We want to understand why."
"The Iranians are certainly being confronted with some pretty strong evidence of a nuclear weapons program, and they are being petulant and defensive," said David Albright, a former weapons inspector who now runs the Institute for Science and International Security. "The report lays out what the agency knows, and it is very damning. I've never seen it laid out quite like this."
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian ambassador to the atomic energy agency, however, said that the report had vindicated Iran's nuclear activities. It "is another document that shows Iran's entire nuclear activities are peaceful," the semiofficial Fars News Agency quoted him as saying.
Germany unveils memorial to gay victims of Holocaust
BERLIN: Germany unveiled a memorial Tuesday to the long-ignored gay victims of the Nazi regime, a monument that also aims to address discrimination today by confronting visitors with an image of a same-sex couple kissing.
The memorial - a sloping gray concrete slab on the edge of the Tiergarten district in Berlin - is a deliberate echo of the vast field of smaller slabs that make up Germany's memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, opened three years ago just across the road.
The Berlin mayor, Klaus Wowereit, who is gay, said at the opening Tuesday that "another part of our work of commemoration is becoming reality."
The designers of the monument included in the pavilion-sized slab a small window that lets visitors see a film of two men kissing.
"This memorial is important from two points of view - to commemorate the victims, but also to make clear that even today, after we have achieved so much in terms of equal treatment, discrimination still exists daily," Wowereit said, inaugurating the memorial with the federal commissioner for cultural affairs, Bernd Neumann.
Nazi Germany declared homosexuality an aberration that threatened the German race, and convicted some 50,000 homosexuals as criminals. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 gay men were deported to concentration camps, where few survived.
"This is a story that many people don't know about, said Ingar Dragset, a Norwegian who designed the memorial with Michael Elmgreen of Denmark. He said it was "fantastic" that the German state "finally decided to make a memorial to honor these victims as well."
Günter Dworek, of the German Lesbian and Gay Association, said that the commemoration "unfortunately comes too late for those who were persecuted and survived in 1945 - that is very bitter."
He said the last ex-prisoner that his group knew of had died in 2005.
The designers' original plan, which was to feature only a video with two men kissing, then ran into criticism that lesbians were left out. Last year, a compromise was reached under which the film will be changed every two years, allowing for lesbian couples also to be shown in future.
Parents' grief turns to fury in China
DUJIANGYAN, China: They came hugging framed photographs and dog-eared achievement awards, placing them on the spot where their sons and daughters died under heaps of broken concrete. The men set off fireworks to chase away evil spirits as wads of paper money smoldered amid the rubble.
Then the loudspeaker began playing a funereal dirge and all at once the women doubled over in agony, a chorus of 100 mothers wailing over the loss of an only child. The husbands wept in silence, paralyzed by the storm of emotion.
"We worked so hard to raise you and then you left us so suddenly," a woman screamed, pounding the ruins of the Juyuan Middle School with her fists. "How could you leave us to grow old alone?"
"The people responsible for this should be brought here and have a bullet put in their head," said Luo Guanmin, a farmer who was cradling a photo of her 16-year-old daughter, Luo Dan.
Vote was something to endure for cyclone victims
MEE LAUNG KWIN, Myanmar:
"We are not interested in voting; we are starving for food," said a villager at Zee Phyu Chaung, a delta hamlet where those interviewed were aware that Saturday was referendum day. "Our village leader voted for us two days in advance, and we don't know how he voted."
Such stories did not surprise the Yangon government official, who compared living in Myanmar to "living in a prison with a very big border."
The man spoke in English during an interview arranged on condition that his name and personal details not be disclosed for fear of government retribution for criticizing the junta to outside journalists.
"You saw what happened in 1988 and last September," the official said, referring to the junta's bloody crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrators. "In other countries, if you stand up against the government, you may get tear gas. Here you get the bullet. I have a wife and a child to support. I can't risk my life."
When asked about his future, the official pulled on his cigarette and mentioned what other young, relatively well-educated Burmese call "voting by foot."
"If you can't fight it, if you can't reform it, it leaves you with just one option: leaving this country and going abroad to find a decent job and give your child a better future," he said.
That is not easy. As is the case with other officials, his passport is held by the government. If he wants to travel abroad, he must apply to have his passport returned - a process he said takes two months, assuming it is successful, and requires a fair amount of bribes.
"Otherwise, all government officials would emigrate," he said. "We Burmese are born oppressed."
"This is our life. I don't have special plans for my life," said Kwe Hwe, 30, a villager at Zee Phyu Chaung who lost a 6-year-old daughter during the cyclone.
Myint Hlaing, the fisherman in the village of Mee Laung Kwin, said he was more worried about his damaged nets than about the Constitution, which Myanmar's military leaders have billed as a "road map to democracy."
"In my life, I haven't received a single kyat from the government," he said, referring to the country's currency. "And I don't expect anything this time either."
He has seven children and three grandchildren. Formal education for his children stopped at middle school.
Gazing across the river, where village children said they were no longer frightened by dead bodies floating by, Myint Hlaing foresaw no changes in his destitute life and said it was hard to know whether conditions would improve for his children.
"Perhaps I can hope that my children and grandchildren will be a little better off, owning a boat or some land," he said. "For me, I have given up on my life. My main concern is just being able to eat each day."
Sydney Pollack, American film director, is dead at 73
Pollack's career defined an era in which big stars (Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty) and the filmmakers who knew how to wrangle them (Barry Levinson, Mike Nichols) retooled the Hollywood system. Savvy operators, they played studio against studio, staking their fortunes on pictures that served commerce without wholly abandoning art.
Sydney Irwin Pollack was born on July 1, 1934, in Lafayette, Indiana, and reared in South Bend. By Pollack's own account, in the book "World Film Directors," his father, David, a pharmacist, and his mother, the former Rebecca Miller, were first-generation Russian-Americans who had met at Purdue University.
Pollack developed a love of drama at South Bend High School and, instead of going to college, went to New York and enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater. He studied there for two years under Sanford Meisner, who was in charge of its acting department, and remained for five more as Meisner's assistant, teaching acting but also appearing onstage and in television.
Thousands of Poland's schoolteachers are staging a one-day strike for better wages and to preserve retirement rights.
The teachers' union says roughly half of Poland's schools and kindergartens were affected Tuesday.
Teachers want their monthly wages of between 900 zlotys (US$450; €240) and 2,000 zlotys (US$1,000; €580) doubled over the next two years. They are also seeking more funds for the education system and continuation of their right to retire at age 50.
They say raises earlier this year of between 150 and 350 zlotys (US$70; €44 and US$170; €100) are inadequate.
DRUGS FOR THE DEVELOPING WORLD
Patents are the wrong target
Benedetto Della Vedova is a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and a former member of the European Parliament.
Rather than attacking the patent system, these NGOs should focus on the real obstacles to getting patients the medicine they need.
Poverty is, of course, the greatest threat to world health. In poor countries about 45 percent of the cause of disease is related to poor nutrition, indoor air pollution, and lack of proper sanitation. Poverty also impedes access to pharmaceuticals, but not just because of price.
"It is very obvious that the elephant in the room is not the current price of drugs," according to Kevin De Cock, the director of WHO's HIV division, in 2006. "The real obstacle is the fragility of health systems. You have health infrastructure that is dilapidated, and supply chains that don't exist."
Poor nations lack the infrastructure needed to distribute drugs. Good doctors, nurses, and hospitals to administer the drugs properly are also lacking. In fact, according to one World Bank study, education, distance, culture, and other factors that affect the demand for medicine may be more important determinants of access than price.
Without correcting these basic problems, reducing the price of pharmaceuticals will have a negligible impact on the availability of drugs worldwide.
New York gallery owner arrested for serving drinks
Wine, cheese — and police?
An East Hampton art gallery owner was led away in handcuffs Saturday after she refused to stop serving drinks at an opening bash for a celebrity photo exhibit. As about 200 startled guests looked on, Ruth Kalb — generally known as Ruth Vered, after her gallery's name — was arrested on a charge of selling alcohol without a liquor license.
"I told them I've been doing this since before they were born," said Vered, 67, whose gallery has been a fixture of the Hamptons art scene for more than 30 years. "They have some nerve."
She said the wine and Champagne were free.
Mayor Paul Rickenbach said police were just doing their job.
"It's not something that's new and out of the blue at all," he said.
Vered was throwing the party — during the traditional Memorial Day weekend start of the resort's summer season — to celebrate an exhibit of photographs of Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Angelina Jolie and other stars.
Vered is due to be arraigned June 25 in East Hampton Town Court.
'Spherified' juice? Controversy among Spain's top chefs
MADRID: With inventions like Parmesan snow, chilled sauces that "boil" with dry ice and olive-shaped capsules of "spherified" juice, the avant-garde chefs of Spain have conquered the highest peaks of international culinary acclaim.
Delicate foams and gels have replaced gazpacho and paella as culinary hallmarks, and dozens of restaurants around the country boast stars from the revered Michelin guide. Glossy gourmet magazines routinely feature Spanish chefs, who many critics believe have replaced their French counterparts at the vanguard of culinary innovation.
But after several years in the spotlight, Spain's normally collegial star cooks have turned their knives on one another. Santi Santamaria, one of the country's most prominent chefs, this month launched a bruising public attack on his cutting-edge counterparts, accusing them of producing pretentious food they would not eat themselves - and potentially poisoning diners with chemicals that he said had no place in the kitchen.
"We have to decide, as chefs, if we want to continue to use the fresh products of our Mediterranean diet or opt for using additives," he said Monday in Madrid.
Santamaria, who currently boasts six Michelin stars among his various restaurants, fired his first salvo two weeks ago, when he called on Spanish authorities to investigate the use of substances like liquid nitrogen and methyl cellulose in restaurant kitchens.
Salman Rushdie's new novel may quiet the gossip
The subterranean existence was then followed by a paparazzi-filled one, during which he left his third wife and a son for Padma Lakshmi, an Indian-born model 23 years his junior.
"I was quite hurt and shocked by the assaults on me," Rushdie said. "I do not understand the animus."
Then, a few weeks later, he announced that Lakshmi was leaving him (she informed him via e-mail).
As Rushdie himself acknowledges, he enjoys going out and socializing. "I find it helpful to get out of myself" after a day spent working, he said, as long as "I don't get so wasted that I can't work the next day."
Not being able to work was one of the terrible byproducts of his breakup with Lakshmi, Rushdie said. He has described the split as a "nuclear bomb dropped in your living room when you're trying to work."
In the end, he said, "a lifetime of discipline got me back to work."
Beauty and betrayal are both elements of "Enchantress." "That a woman so beautiful should not be tender, this I did not expect," says the lover of the mysterious Qara Koz when she leaves him. "I did not expect her to turn away from me so casually, as if she were changing a shoe."
"I did not expect her to break my heart."
Rushdie now lives in Manhattan but regularly commutes to London to see his family, and keeps a punishing lecture and touring schedule in North America and Europe. A theme that repeatedly surfaces in "Enchantress" is the illusion that one can come home after a long journey and find peace.
Rushdie, who like Eco has studied history, did an enormous amount of research for "Enchantress," and there is the odd inclusion, for a novel, of an 83-book bibliography. The purpose, he said, was to acknowledge the work he built upon as well as to ward off any accusations that he copied other sources - something that has dogged McEwan's "Atonement."
"I certainly thought I don't want some smart aleck to go find a fact in a book and to say, 'He stole it from him.' Obviously I've taken stuff from all over the place," Rushdie said. The only existing record of the Ottoman campaign against Dracula, for instance, is a journal written by a young Serbian janissary named Konstantine, who describes arriving at a town finding 20,000 people impaled on stakes.
"The image that particularly haunted me was of a mother with a baby, and he uses this description of 'crows nesting in her hollowed breasts.' That's his, not mine," said Rushdie, who used it in "Enchantress." "But who can beat that for a description?"
Rushdie said he finds writing both scary ("Are you going to be able to sustain it all the way to the end?") and exhilarating.
"There's a writing self which is not quite your ordinary social self and which you don't really have access to except at the moment when you're writing, and certainly in my view, I think of that as my best self," he said. "To be able to be that person feels good; it feels better than anything else."
U.S. home prices plunge and consumer confidence slides
"It's like eating beyond your stomach's capacity," Peltier said during a recent interview. "We have huge indigestion." Sellers confront a sobering reality: There are more than 4.5 million homes on the market nationwide. The way houses are selling now, it would take nearly 11 months to clear the market. The last time so many homes were for sale was in the early 1980s, when the U.S. economy was in a deep recession and interest rates were two to four times as high as they are today.
The summer job, a teenage ritual in the U.S., looks endangered
Employment among American teenagers has been sliding continuously for the past decade and, with a few ups and downs, dropping steadily since the late 1970s, when nearly half of all 16- to 19-year-olds had summer jobs.
Economists debate the cause of this precipitous decline in teenage employment. Many contend that the drop is largely a favorable trend, reflecting a rising percentage of teenagers completing high school and going on to college, with some enrolling in summer academic programs, leaving less time for work.
"The key factor is the attraction of attending college and enjoying the increasing wage premium that accompanies this," said John Pencavel, a labor economist at Stanford University.
In wealthier households, many have come to see summer work as a waste of time that could be spent gaining an edge in the competition for entry to elite colleges.
"Kids from higher-income households just aren't going into the labor market," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com. "They're looking for things to put on resumes," he added, and working at a fast-food restaurant "just isn't going to help you get into Wake Forest or Stanford. And they just don't need the cash."
But others, like Sum, contend that plenty of teenagers want to work but face increasing difficulties landing jobs.
The ranks of consumers with passive and predictable habits are thinning. And platoons of noisy, Internet-savvy activists are emerging to lob feedback, challenge established business approaches and clamor for a voice in the goods and services they are being sold.
'A Place Called Canterbury' and 'Leisureville'
In these places, old age becomes a team sport
A Place Called Canterbury Tales of the New Old Age in America By Dudley Clendinen. 371 pages. $24.95. Viking.
Leisureville Adventures in America's Retirement Utopias By Andrew D. Blechman 244 pages. $25. Atlantic Monthly Press.
For their new books, Dudley Clendinen and Andrew Blechman had different versions of the same idea: infiltrate the world of the not-young and study the native customs. But they took on similar projects for very different reasons. Clendinen cared deeply about his mother and wanted to understand the last years of her life. Blechman apparently liked the prospect of shooting geriatric fish in a barrel.
Clendinen made a smart decision in structuring his book as something other than a story of decline. His mother's health did fail at Canterbury, and he conveys his own worry and grief at seeing this happen. But he finds graceful, subtle ways to slip between the past and present, so that his mother remains a wonderfully imposing figure even at her weakest moments. And he populates the book with brightly drawn characters who give the place its reigning mood, "a slow, good-humored dottiness and dignity." His book has only one small but annoying flaw: a tin ear for dialect, but an insistence on using it. It's easy to trip over sentences like "He duzzen understayand why no one asks us foah drinks and dinnah anymoah."
Blechman nominally went to the Villages (and, later, to other such communities) to find out why his former Massachusetts neighbors were now so happy there. And for a while he stuck to a simple agenda: zeroing in on the freakiest, most fatuous available specimens. This goes on so long that he is well into the book — cataloguing golf courses, craft classes, garish clothes and Stepford-style prettified architecture — before he truly tips his hand. Blechman's real purpose is to rip the Hawaiian-shirted veneer off these leisurevilles and show them for what he thinks they really are: bigoted, restricted, secessionist, cute-Orwellian atrocities.
As the book slowly documents, these communities are entirely controlled by their developers, scornful of their civic duty, shielded from news of the outside world, steeped in selfishness and predicated on a full-time party ethos. They lure residents with the promise of "amenities," even though the word, in Blechman's recollection, was at best "a euphemism for a collection of public toilets." They separate people from art, culture, politics and any sense of responsibility. And in his opinion, that's a formula that may come back to bite them. What happens to age-restricted places, like the pioneering Sun City in Arizona, when the residents get too old for their golf carts — and old enough for medical facilities and walkers?
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS COPYRIGHT IAN WALTHEW 2008