Why tough times can be good for innovation
One clear "big opportunity" lies in changing the relationship between food and energy. Fertilizer lets farmers raise production but is energy-intensive to make. Transporting food great distances also requires large amounts of energy. So does processing. Finally, some foods are now being valued in relation to oil because of their potential use as fuel.
For some years now, innovators have trained their attention on alternative energy; they are now likely to concentrate on food production as well.
For Americans, that would be going back to the future. Seventy years ago, farming was the technological frontier.
In the 1930s, after the Depression wiped out so many small farmers, the U.S. government introduced "price supports," which lifted the return to farmers on basic crops. Higher prices got the attention of innovators in farm equipment, seeds and other so-called inputs.
Sally Clarke, a historian at the University of Texas, has found in a study that higher prices enabled Midwest farmers, then reliant chiefly on animal-drawn plows, to justify investment in tractors, raising efficiency. A study in the 1950s by the economist Zvi Griliches of American farmers' adoption of more productive varieties of corn showed how higher prices reduced the cost of adopting new technologies.
For the new agricultural innovators, these are early days. It will take time for the pipeline to fill with ambitious projects. Monsanto and BASF are among the relatively few big companies that remain active in agricultural innovation. And the most creative researchers cannot immediately drop their other projects in response to price signals.
But given time, priorities change. Tomorrow's most intense technological battles will involve a range of agricultural topics, including these:
Using water and fertilizer more efficiently, so farmers can grow more with less.
Finding new ways to suppress weeds, whose growing resistance to traditional herbicides is raising the cost of farming.
Designing better seeds, either through conventional means or genetic modification.
Finding ways to meet the needs of the eat-local movement, promoted by the food writer Michael Pollan, among others, which requires innovative "small batch" processing techniques as well as a shift in values.
"We need to pull out all the stops and do everything we can to improve farm productivity," said William Dyer, a plant biologist at Montana State University.
Engineering a new "green revolution" that will yield, say, more affordable wheat and rice - all while meeting the concerns of various special-interest groups - will be much harder than designing a better music player. After all, you can't eat an iPod.
And in agriculture, safety requirements can trump the need for productivity gains. A new herbicide can cost $100 million to develop - less than the amount needed for a new drug, but more than for a new cellphone. Government regulations, however, only raise the cost of innovation, not halt it.
The European Commission
said it would make deeper-than-usual cuts in fishing quotas in 2009 to tackle dwindling reserves, saying that 88 percent of EU fish stocks were overexploited compared to 80 percent this time last year. (Reuters)
IHT. Saturday-Sunday, May 31 -June 1, 2008
Fishermen in Europe protest fuel costs
The number of species that are over-fished in Europe has risen to nearly 90 percent, European Union officials warned on Friday. Because of higher fuel costs, fleets are likely to try to catch more in coming months to make up for fuel-related losses, intensifying the problem.
Low-cost airfares, big-time carbon footprint
"Low-cost carriers are growing at 9 percent a year and from an environmental point of view that is a problem," said Christian Brand, a researcher at Oxford University who studies transportation emissions. "Their cheap prices encourage more travel."
There is a staggering environmental cost for this flying around: Two people flying round-trip from Leeds to Murcia generate about 1,400,000 grams of CO2, according to Brand's calculations.
If they took a traditional driving vacation to the Lake District, instead, emissions would be less than 20,000 grams.
The number of passengers on European low-cost carriers more than doubled from 2004 to 2007, to 120 million a year, according to the European Low Fares Airline Association.
Silverjet grounded as funding falls through
Silverjet on Friday became the third business-class-only airline in just six months to cease operations, unable to cope with rising fuel costs or attract new financing.
Standoff grows over Russia-BP venture
Tensions between Russian and foreign shareholders in the company, the largest foreign oil producer in Russia, boiled over this week after the billionaires' consortium sought the resignation of Robert Dudley, TNK-BP's chief executive Thursday evening.
Mikhail Fridman, Viktor Veskselberg and Len Blavatnik, a Soviet-born U.S. citizen, cited disagreements over investments and asset sales, and expressed concern that Dudley was managing the venture solely in BP's interests.
On Friday, BP said Dudley was not stepping down. "We're standing very firmly behind him," said Roddy Kennedy, a spokesman for BP in London.
States grapple with fuel costs for school buses
RALEIGH, N.C.: The reality of rising fuel prices cost students in a Tennessee school district their bus ride to school this week on the last day of the year.
That's a minor inconvenience compared with what might happen this fall in Minnesota, where a district west of Minneapolis plans to eliminate classes every Monday to come up with the extra $65,000 it needs to fill its buses' tanks.
Brooks: The reality situation
We don't understand the Iranians because the Iranians don't understand themselves. The regime isn't sure whether it is an ideological movement championing global jihad or whether it is merely regional power seeking Middle East hegemony. Until the Iranians resolve this internal ambiguity, you [U.S. Presidential candidates] can talk to them all you want, but they won't be able to make a strategic shift or follow a more amenable path.
For amid all the doleful news, there is a hopeful tide. Opinion is turning slowly against extremism. The uber-analyst Dennis Ross says that he has noted it among the Palestinians. Michael Young writes that opinion is shifting against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Peter Bergen, Paul Cruickshank and Lawrence Wright have in their different ways written about the intellectual crisis afflicting Al Qaeda. It may not happen over the next four years, but as Ross has noted, where Islamists rule, they wear out their welcome.
Your job may be to wage rear-guard political battles until the ideological tide can turn. It's not glamorous work, but governing isn't campaigning. You volunteered for this.
EU approves spending for 'greener' cars
European Union governments agreed Friday to spend €470 millio, or $730 million, for developing fuel cellls and hydrogen technology for cars and the EU says could radically reduce oil consumption and carbon dioxide emissions within decades.
Several car and energy companies, including Daimler and Royal Dutch Shell, are expected to match or exceed the EU-financing for the six-year project that should speed up research and result in commercially viable cars from 2010 to 2020.
Meanwhile, Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of Renault of France and Nissan of Japan, projected that the number of cars in use in the world could more than quadruple by 2050 to 2.9 billion and they would need to have clean engines. (AP, Reuters)
IHT. Saturday-Sunday, May 31 -June 1, 2008
Finally, two incomes during the years abroad
France last year was the latest government to allow family members of multinational employees and skilled workers to take a job without obtaining a separate permit. Other countries - the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Argentina, Singapore and the United States - have also loosened restrictions.
Paris ahoy! Commuter boats ready for sail
Savvy Paris commuters are constantly on the look-out for alternative forms of transportation when train strikes loom and Metro lines rumble to a halt because of mysterious unexplained “incidents.”
The latest alternative will set sail in late June when the city of Paris launches Voguéo, a new fleet of bright blue and green commuter catamarans on the Seine river.
The floating shuttles are the latest brainstorm of Paris City Hall, which has already introduced another modestly priced transportation alternative - Vélib rental bikes - which immediately turned into a popular cultural phenomenon. Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris and a longtime green campaigner, has set a target for the city to reduce car traffic by 40 percent by 2020.
The Voguéo fleet will sail along the southeast side of the city connecting Gare d’Austerlitz to Maisons Alfort with stops at Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand-Tolbiac, Bercy and Port d’Ivry. Over the next two years, the city will evaluate the results with the ambition of extending the commuter fleet to the west of the city and eventually all along the Seine.
Regular commuters can use their Navigo transporation passes to sail on the Voguéo. For visiting tourists, the cost is 3 euros - a dollar-stretching bargain compared to the tourist boats that troll the Seine in the center of Paris.
"When I see those people, I want to cry," said Sitagu Sayadaw, 71, one of Myanmar's most respected senior monks.
Mbeki should blame himself for South Africa's troubles
Not only that, the attacks coaxed forth some of the most painful - and, for Mbeki, most embarrassing - echoes of the apartheid era: people burned to death in township protests; troops on standby to put down unrest.
But the intertwining of destinies between South Africa and Zimbabwe should have surprised no one after centuries of shared history.
In the early decades of the 19th century, convulsions of internecine warfare among Nguni peoples, known as the Mfecane, or crushing, sent thousands of people fleeing northward from what would become South Africa, some of them to create the ethnic fief of Matabeleland in western Zimbabwe.
It was from South Africa that Cecil John Rhodes, the British colonialist, sent a group of armed settlers - the Pioneer Column - to name a country for him as Rhodesia in 1890. Five years later, Rhodes's supporters launched a disastrous foray from Rhodesia, the Jameson Raid, against the Afrikaner rulers of the Transvaal.
Those bonds tightened throughout the 20th century. Rhodesia provided apartheid South Africa with a firewall against the conflagration of majority rule blown south by the winds of change. South Africa offered landlocked Rhodesia vital trade and supply lines in the face of international economic sanctions.
Just as South Africa's white leaders built complex bonds with their counterparts in Salisbury, as Harare was known before independence in 1980, so the guerrilla leaders seeking the end of minority rule across southern Africa struck up relationships that long outlived their battlefield victories.
Susan Wilson, Washington
Hollow patriotism, eh? Garrison Keillor never mentions whether he took the time to talk to any of those "hollow" patriots on motorcycles.
Randy O'Boyle, Berlin
At least five of the victims were tortured, including an 84-year-old blind woman sprayed with bullets on her porch and a 31-year-old man dragged behind a car before being set on fire, the prosecutor said. About 300 Serb homes were robbed and burned.
"It was his duty to prevent" the crimes, the judge said of Norac.
"By not taking legal actions against the soldiers after learning that they committed war crimes, a commander (Norac) in fact provided a pattern on how soldiers should behave," Mrcela said in the ruling.
He said Norac received less than the maximum 20-year sentence because he was not convicted of ordering the atrocities.
Who are the good guys?
What was once an accolade has turned poisonous in American public life over the past 40 years, as both the left and the right have twisted it into a code word meaning "not one of us." But the newest and most ominous wrinkle in the denigration of all things elite is that the slur is being applied to knowledge itself.
Senator Hillary Clinton's use of the phrase "elite opinion" to dismiss the near unanimous opposition of economists to her proposal for a gas tax holiday was a landmark in the use of elite to attack expertise supposedly beyond the comprehension of average Americans.
One might as well say that there is no point in consulting musicians about music or ichthyologists about fish.
"Artist" can't make even the briefest public appearance without extensive baggage. The next time you're at a party and someone asks what you do for a living, boldly say artist, then sit back and watch the jolting effect that little word has upon a conversation. In the more upscale parts of Manhattan, you'll be offered money, food, some tips on where to find free lodging. In others, the person will smirk, dutifully ask "What kind?" or appear to start swallowing an egg, which is a disguised yawn. You'll get a hug in the Midwest. In Southern California, you'll get "sweet" and an invitation to go Rollerblading. In certain parts of the United States, you'll get tied up and thrown into the back of a pickup truck, and no one will ever hear from you again.
But every now and then, the word perfectly explains a certain person. In Bob Dylan's extraordinary collection of paintings, "Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank Series," we are given insight into the expressive, unvarnished way this artist approaches the world and reminded he is that rare person who can move effortlessly between music, word, ink, paint, as if he's just futzing around with a few different instruments in the studio. Yet again and again, he reflects life back to us with a truth and simplicity that defy words. He shows us views from his hotel and backstage dressing room, a playground slide that caught his eye, a fat curtain in his room, an inquisitive young man named Nick Leblanc. He riffs with color across the same simple black-and-white sketches the way he plays songs in concert, sometimes making subtle changes, other times brutally overhauling them. His brush strokes are like his voice: straightforward, rough, occasionally fragile, but always intent on illustrating the treads of human experience.
Seemingly unworried about how something looks, he's not after artistic perfection but something larger, a moment, a feeling. The effect is enthralling.
"Maybe there are great works that have not been discovered, but from what I see, many artists are repeating themselves and the market for younger artists' works is overpriced," she [senior global specialist and vice president for Chinese contemporary art at Sotheby's in New York, Zhang Xiaoming] said by telephone from Taiwan last week.
"The most important artists coming out of China, those who have been celebrated by international collectors, are artists who created works at very difficult times, and while artists were inspired by their tradition, history and culture."
"These works are really deeply connected to their own culture, their own traditions," Zhang said. "But what is happening right now is a lot of younger artists coming to the market that have a lack of spirituality. For me it's hard to read what their artwork is about.
Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere of Norway said Friday that Britain's decision to support a ban on cluster munitions had been a critical factor in obtaining agreement from the 111 countries this week, The Associated Press reported from Oslo.
"The U.K. came around in the end, shifted the balance at the conference and now we have the outline of a convention to ban cluster bombs," Stoere said after meeting with his British counterpart, David Miliband, in Oslo.
Miliband said the negotiations in Dublin had addressed many of Britain's concerns, making it possible for the country to join a ban that addresses "a matter of life and death" for civilians killed or maimed by the weapons long after conflicts have ended.