EU raids Cargill and Bunge in price-fixing investigation
BRUSSELS: Cargill, the largest U.S. agriculture company, Bunge and grain traders in two countries were raided by European Union authorities in an antitrust investigation into alleged price-fixing.
European and Italian antitrust officials made surprise visits at Cargill offices in Italy, said Francis DeRosa, a spokesman for Cargill in Cobham, England.
The European Commission, the EU's antitrust regulator, carried out inspections in two countries, the agency said in a statement.
"We have provided and will continue to provide full cooperation," DeRosa said Thursday.
Commodity prices have advanced for six consecutive years, with wheat, corn, rice and other foods reaching records this year. World food imports will cost a record $1.04 trillion this year, $215 billion more than last year, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization has said.
Hunger brings anguish for millions of Pakistanis
THARPARKAR, Pakistan: When Pakistani labourer Mangal Ram's children cry from hunger all he has to offer them is empty promises.
"My kids complain and cry for more food but what can I do?," said Ram, 50, a father of seven who lives in the desert village of Tharparkar, in the southern Pakistani province of Sindh.
"We say 'wait, we'll cook more', what else can we do?" he asks with a shrug.
Ram's anguish is becoming increasingly common in Pakistan where inflation is running at about 20 percent, led by fuel and food prices.
Soaring food prices and shortages of staples mean about 77 million people of Pakistan's 160 million population are food insecure, a 28 percent increase over the past year, according to U.N. World Food Program (WFP) estimates.
The term food insecure means people are unable to get sufficient nutritious food to meet dietary needs.
While there have not been serious food protests in Pakistan, analysts say there is a danger anger could explode in a society that has already fallen prey to Islamist militants bent on bringing down the government.
Ram's village is home to a Hindu community of about 100 families and has only one well and no electricity. Villagers grow barley and vegetables but if the rains fail, so do the crops.
To buy food, villagers have to walk several kilometres (miles) to a road where a bus runs once a day to the town of Mithi.
Isar Chand, 60, a teacher in the one-room village primary school says he has long stopped having breakfast.
"There's no concept of breakfast. Some people drink water, some have tea. We have two meals a day," said Chand.
"We eat roti (unleavened bread) with onion and chili. When there's no rain, we can't have vegetables," he said. "We can't afford to take our sick to hospitals. We simply can't pay for it. They die in pain."
At times, villagers said they have nothing to eat but rab, a tasteless gruel of coarsely ground wheat mixed with water.
Chand said many villagers had been forced into debt, even those who leave to work as labourers.
"The biggest problem is rising prices," he said.
"Whatever rations people buy after labouring are not enough for the whole year. Eventually they have to borrow money and then they have to keep paying it off for the rest of their lives."
Deadly U.S. "buzzers" fray nerves in Pakistan
WANA, Pakistan: Pilotless U.S. drones armed with missiles have stepped up patrols over Pashtun villages on the Afghan-Pakistan border, hunting for Taliban and al Qaeda militants and fraying nerves below.
Pashtun villagers living on the frontier call them "buzzers", and the aircraft have increasingly taken to the skies, causing sleepless nights and occasionally raining down death.
"We're sick of these drones, they're driving us crazy," said Sher Shah, a government official in the town of Wana in the South Waziristan region, a hot bed of militancy in northwest Pakistan.
"They fly so low at night we can't sleep!"
The Predators, capable of carrying two anti-tank Hellfire missiles, can remain aloft for up 24 hours -- providing the Central Intelligence Agency with a wealth of intelligence beamed live from its hi-tech cameras.
They have struck several times in northwest Pakistan this year, killing dozens of suspected militants.
Sometimes villagers can spot the drones -- a tiny speck in the sky -- and even fire at them with rifles. At other times the drones are too high to see, but you know they're there from the distinctive and incessant buzz given off by their rear-mounted propeller engines.
The buzzing often gets louder at night as the drones patrol at lower altitudes in the darkness, villagers say.
Residents of Bajaur, another militant-plagued region on the Afghan border, to the northeast of Waziristan, said drones flew overhead all night on Thursday.
"The sky is not safe, the earth is not safe, where should we go?" asked Jabbar Shah, a resident of Inayat Kalay village, about 10 km (6 miles) from the border.
"We don't know when will they strike and who will they hit. It's very worrying," he said.
Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt became a sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban militants fleeing from Afghanistan after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001. Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding on the mountainous border.
Taliban militants fighting Western forces in Afghanistan also take sanctuary there and the Pentagon last month said insurgent havens in Pakistan were the biggest threat to Afghan security.
U.S. ally Pakistan says it is doing all it can to stop attacks into Afghanistan and to rid the region of al Qaeda and many hundreds of Pakistani soldiers have been killed battling the militants.
But despite that, analysts say the Predator activity -- which Pakistan does not officially allow -- is a sign of growing U.S. frustration with Pakistan's inability to tackle the militants.
Some U.S. politicians, including presidential candidate Barack Obama, have even suggested that the United States should attack al Qaeda inside Pakistan without Pakistani approval.
Pakistan, which has been trying to negotiate peace with the militants, has ruled out allowing foreign troops on its soil.
Pakistan's the News newspaper reported on Friday a build-up of U.S forces on the border in eastern Afghanistan.
But Mehmood Shah, a retired senior security official, said it would be illogical for the United States to open a new front by attacking across the border with troops.
For the time being, at least, it looks as if the United States will rely on its drones, and people on the border will continue living in fear.
Malik Khardin, a tribal elder in Wana, said he had stopped letting too many cars park outside his house or allowing guests to stay because that might be spotted by the drones.
"We fear we might be hit on suspicion of being al Qaeda," he said.
U.S. air strike kills 47 Afghan civilians
"I reject the coalition statement saying that all those killed were militants," Burhanullah Shinwari, deputy speaker of the upper house, who is heading an investigation into Sunday's incident told Reuters on Friday. "There aren't any Taliban or Al Qaeda even several kilometres near to where the air strike took place. Forty-seven people were killed; 39 of them were women and children," he said shortly after attending prayer ceremonies for the victims in the provincial capital Jalalabad.
Once upon a time there was capitalism
LONDON: "Granddad Benny, is it true that capitalism committed suicide?" Granddad looked up from the fire he was stoking with bundles of 2006 and 2007 vintage mortgage-backed bonds. "In a way, Joel, yes. In developed countries, people got too greedy, especially bankers, and everyone borrowed too much.
"In less developed countries, people racing to improve their living standards reawakened the slumbering inflation monster."
Joel put down the stick he was using to scratch the dirt.
"Why did the Gigantic Global Bubble Burst of 2008 catch people unawares? Weren't there any warning signs, Granddad?"
"With hindsight, Joel, water should have set alarm bells ringing. Before the Giglobubu, wealthy people paid $15 per liter for Cape Grim bottled water from Tasmania, at a time when the Asian Development Bank estimated that 700 million people in Asia lacked access to clean water.
"Investment banks even started to invent securities betting that water shortages would arise. Even so, when the Water Wars started, the world wasn't prepared.
"Cyprus started buying water from its neighbor, Greece, because its dams were down to 7.5 percent of capacity and its desalination plants couldn't meet demand. Spain drew up plans to build a pipeline to funnel water from the Ebro River to Barcelona, the country's second-largest city, amid the worst drought in half a century."
"Did people collect rainwater for drinking, like we do, Granddad?" Joel asked. "I've noticed how grumpy you get if there's not enough for you to make coffee in the morning."
"Some did, Joel. Rich people, though, bought their coffee from shops, paying stupid money for buckets of flavored water with a dash of milk. It took Starbucks just four years to double in size, so when the company said in 2008 it planned to shut 600 U.S. cafés and chop 12,000 jobs, 7 percent of its global work force, some clever people started to worry.
"Speaking of milk, that was another clue. All across China, millions of people earned enough to buy refrigerators for the first time. Then they rushed to the shops, buying pints of milk to put in their shiny new fridges. So energy prices surged to keep the fridges humming, and milk prices went through the roof along with other foodstuffs. Inflation climbed out of its coffin and started to terrorize the bond market all over again."
"What did the central banks do, Granddad? Weren't they the ones in charge of the economy?"
"Well, the most important parts of the global economy were certainly ruled by independent, inflation-targeting central banks. While their system worked fine in good times, it turned out to be a disaster when the going got tough.
"Governments were quick to grab back the reins of monetary policy from their unelected proxies, but with inflation spiraling higher and growth slumping, they only made things worse."
"Did inflation kill capitalism, Granddad?"
"Capitalism sowed the seeds of its own demise because the benefits of a decade-long boom accrued to capital, with nothing flowing to labor. Telling workers who hadn't had a decent pay raise for years to tighten their belts once the good times ended proved disastrous.
"People started to realize that just because communism had lost, that didn't mean capitalism had won. Cracks started to appear. In New Zealand, the government nationalized the country's rail and ferry services, deciding it could do a better job of running the transport network than private industry.
"Then the euro, one of capitalism's crowning achievements, began to unravel. After Ireland rejected the Lisbon treaty in three consecutive referendums, its fellow single-currency members decided to kick the country out of the project. Once Germany and France realized how easy it was to thin the ranks back to the core gang of euro countries that they'd wanted in the first place, they started finding excuses to ban more nations, starting with Italy.
"With banks and mortgage lenders going bust faster than the government could arrange bailouts, every nut job with an Internet connection started demanding a return to something called the gold standard. When a bunch of academics joined in by denouncing fiat currencies, the general public lost all trust in money."
"Didn't something bad happen to the animals, Granddad?"
"A locust storm forced China to cancel the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The honeybees started to die, followed by the penguins, then dolphins began to commit mass suicide on beaches all around the world. Pine beetles munched their way through the forests of North America. It got harder and harder to deny that the environment had been ruined.
"So when a film came out called 'The Road' about a post-apocalyptic world, people were already scared and angry. They started to form cults worshipping the author of the tale, a reclusive writer called Cormac McCarthy who rarely gave interviews and had won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007. They decided he was some sort of prophet of doom."
By the flickering firelight, Granddad could see Joel's eyelids beginning to droop.
"That's enough storytelling for one night, Master Bernanke. Go and make yourself warm under the blankets. We'll be safe in this cave until morning, then we'll press on toward the coast."
U.S. govt considering takeover of Fannie and Freddie
Rethinking money market funds
A money market fund is usually considered one the safest places to put cash. But lately such funds have become surprisingly dangerous — not for investors, but for the financial companies that run them.
During the last year, big banks and investment companies have committed more than $10 billion to shore up money market funds that were tainted by the mortgage mess.
Experts say fund investors are unlikely to lose money. But the funds have become an unexpected headache for the financial industry, which is limping through one of its toughest periods since the Depression.
Money market funds are billed as being as safe as cash and are supposed to provide dollar-for-dollar returns. The net asset values of money market funds are never supposed to fall below $1 a share, an event known as "breaking the buck."
But given the running turmoil in the credit markets, some financial companies are paying up to ensure money market funds stay on an even keel. Since the credit crisis flared last summer, at least 17 financial companies have moved to bolster funds. Legg Mason, the big money manager, stepped in last week, saying it would spend $2.1 billion to prop up seven funds. Earlier, Credit Suisse bought about $2.2 billion of troubled securities in its funds. Bank of America has earmarked as much as $2.1 billion for several Columbia Management funds.
Regulators say six or seven other investment firms have orchestrated bailouts that have not been made public.
Money market funds have not experienced such turmoil since 1994, when about 50 of them had to be rescued because of gyrations in interest rates. Even so, with other parts of the financial markets on edge, individuals and big companies are turning to money market fund managers in growing numbers. Assets in such funds soared 35 percent during the last year.
"There is still an awful lot of walking wounded investment money out there," said Peter Crane, the president of Crane Data, an industry newsletter. "Money funds should be a big beneficiary of that."
Chaos in U.S. sends Europe and Asia lower
LONDON: Huge drops in the shares of the two largest U.S. mortgage corporations before the opening bell on Wall Street pushed down already-weak European equities on Friday while oil prices hit a new record high.
The dollar was caught in the maelstrom and Wall Street looked set for a poor start. Shares in Freddie Mac were down 35 percent and those in Fannie Mae dropped 27 percent following a New York Times report the U.S. government is mulling a takeover of the two institutions.
Such a move would guarantee the mortgages the government-sponsored entities own, but could leave shareholders with nothing.
RISING FOOD AND OIL PRICES
An environmentalist's nightmare
Paul Kennedy is the J. Richardson Professor of History and the director of International Security Studies at Yale University. He is currently writing a history of World War II. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.
There are many losers in our brave new world of costly gas and pricey foodstuffs - the poor almost everywhere, the lower-middle classes, the airline industry, food-importing societies, etc. And now one further casualty is emerging. It is the environmentalist dream of achieving a more sustainable, balanced and equitable global society. That vision of a harmonious Earth finds itself under threat from all sides.
To some readers, this might seem an odd conclusion to draw. Are not sky-high oil prices curbing our spendthrift ways? Isn't this driving us toward more clever alternative sources of energy, toward solar and thermal power and wind and wave power; in all, toward greater energy-preservation measures?
Well, yes it is. But at the same time it is also driving the public and politicians to adopt policies that the environmentalist movement has opposed, often successfully, for the past 40 years. Desperate to soften the blows inflicted by oil that's hovering around $140 or more a barrel, and to head off social and political discontents, governments are turning to measures that chill most environmentalists' hearts.
This list of reversals is long. While individual families in the north are returning to wood-burning stoves, communities in the tropics are intensifying slash-and-burn forestry, and in India the poorest of the poor remain reliant upon dung-burning and supplies of dubious kerosene. At a larger level, there are congressional pressures in the United States to increase drilling and extraction in environmentally delicate zones offshore, along the North Alaska slopes, and even in a great swathe of upper New York State. Many governments are making a major return to nuclear power, with dozens of new reactors being planned, thus joining the numerous coal-fired plants under construction.
Of course, environmentalists will fight back, but one wonders if their organizing powers will be sufficient in these troubled times - sufficient, that is, to beat back the contrary pressures, arguments and campaigns: the arguments concerning national security and the need to reduce dependence upon insecure foreign energy sources; the pressures for increasing fuel subsidies in developing countries; and the campaigns to reduce oil and diesel taxes by the fishermen, truck drivers and small industries in industrialized countries.
Until fairly recently, there existed a strong argument that a large hike in fuel taxes could help reduce our fondness for gas-guzzling SUVs (as well as enhancing government revenues). Except in the most liberal and affluent constituencies, it would be a foolhardy politician who advanced such a proposal today.
Then there is the highly controversial move to increase that alternative-energy "flavor of the month," ethanol, particularly in its least sensible form, that of producing the fuel from corn. Not only is it far less efficient than the sugarcane-to-ethanol process, and not only does it benefit the agricultural and business special interests backing it to a disproportionate extent, but it also has - at least in the case of the United States - a bad displacement effect.
With farmers in the American Midwest turning virtually into monoculturalists, converting thousands of acres of soybean and wheat crops into corn, the price of the former is correspondingly driven up by the reduced supply. This is no longer - perhaps never has been - a matter of being hurt in the wallet; when the rising cost of soybean imports causes Chinese farmers to slaughter their pig flocks and engage in violent protests, the ripple effects become political as well.
This brings us to the second assault upon environmentalists' assumptions: the hope that we are moving to environmentally nicer (read: "organic") food production, with local farmers being paid decent prices (read: "fair-trade goods") by grateful, healthier consumers.
Not only is the energy crunch driving many of those farmers and fishermen to the wall, but spiraling food costs in general, along with the rising demand from a billion more affluent Asians, are also leading to the revival of calls for measures that environmentalists have always loathed.
There is no doubt that the arguments for genetically modified food production stand a much better chance of acceptance nowadays than, say, 10 years ago. Weighing the undeniable dietary needs of 6.5 billion people (by 2050, perhaps 9 billion people) against the fears and often unproven claims of chiefly middle-class liberals regarding genetically modified food products points to the likely outcome.
It is that the demand for food will outweigh apprehensions about the method of production. The same is likely to be true in response to the calls by certain large agrochemical companies for the greater use of fertilizers and pesticides. Each contender in this debate will claim to have science on its side, and will deploy its own experts. Yet, at the end of the day, political and security considerations could well outweigh health and environmentalist concerns.
Already, and as a further twist to this story, insecurities about food supply have led protectionist agricultural lobbies from France to Japan to argue that their high-tariff policies against foreign foodstuffs have been well justified, because it is only by keeping those barriers that the nation can be assured of having bread and apples on its breakfast tables in times of crisis.
Such self-interested claims can only worry development economists, who have argued that the best way in which, for example, Europe can help Africa to prosper would be to permit the uninterrupted import of foodstuffs and thus boost the livelihoods of millions of African growers of fruit, olive oils, cereals, wine and other produce. Whatever the strength of that contention, the chances of it happening, and of establishing a regime of global agricultural free trade more generally, are slimmer now.
We have not talked in detail about the growing possibilities of political and social turmoil as a consequence of costlier fuel and pricier food - something about which the World Bank and the World Food Organization has been warning and which at last the G-8 nations have placed high on their agendas.
All we have done here is to point out that these two relatively new trends are likely to erode even further many of the gains and assumptions held by the environmentalist movement. Intensified oil drilling, the return to nuclear power, the pressures upon forests, the favoring of corn-based ethanol, the increased possibility of a turn to genetically modified farming, and the boost to First World agricultural protectionism - all of this must make for glum reading among The Friends of the Earth. And they should make glum reading others, too.
Of course, environmentalists will resist, and over the longer term excruciatingly high-energy prices will probably stimulate some wonderful alternative technologies. To readers living in highly educated, environmentally conscious (and well-off) communities from Seattle to Stockholm, and enjoying smart new technologies being introduced every year, this article may seem unduly bleak.
Yet they in turn may fail to recognize how special and privileged their own position is compared with that of the bulk of humanity. Right now the massive increases in fuel and food costs are leading to calls for a lowering of standards on many fronts. Should such calls prevail, our world is probably going further away from the environmentalists' dream of how humankind might order itself.
Perhaps that dream was unrealizable in the face of our continued demographic expansion, the huge surge in demand for more goods and services that accompanies it, and the depletion of key material stocks and reserves. Whether or not that be so, the unpleasant truth nowadays is that things are getting tougher, rather than better, for the advocates of a cleaner, gentler planet.
Court rejects a main component of Bush's clean air policy
WASHINGTON: A federal appeals court unanimously struck down a signature component of President George W. Bush's clean air policies Friday, dealing a blow to environmental groups and most likely delaying further action until the next administration.
Russian oil to Czechs slows after U.S. pact
Russia accuses a British diplomat of espionage
Gloomy skies for the Farnborough world air show
LONDON: This year, at least 24 airlines around the world have fallen into bankruptcy. The price of oil has shot up to as much as $145 a barrel.
And European governments are talking about pushing up the cost of air travel even more by imposing environmental taxes meant to limit the industry's contribution to global warming.
As if that was not enough to worry about, Washington has decided to reopen bidding for a $35 billion air tanker contract, potentially setting off a trans-Atlantic political clash. And the move casts more clouds over the outlook for the two main contenders, Boeing and the parent of Airbus, the European Aeronautic Defense & Space company, which teamed up with Northrop Grumman to win the initial deal.
Welcome to Farnborough. It should be interesting.
As the barons of civil and military aviation converge not far from here for their weeklong world air show, the $60 billion civil aviation industry is looking more troubled than ever.
Toyota to scale back U.S. production of large vehicles
DETROIT: Toyota has acknowledged that, like its rival automakers in Detroit, it misjudged the dramatic swing in the U.S. market away from larger vehicles.
With sales of pickups and big SUVs tumbling, Toyota said Thursday that it would shut down truck production at two U.S. plants for three months and consolidate its pickups at one factory next year.
TNK-BP problems won't be fixed soon
In U.S., high cost of driving ignites online classes boom
SCIENCE/TECHNOLOGY: Construction allows energy saving
While new residential or industrial buildings have an inevitable energy and carbon impact, new and existing construction ventures present significant opportunities to make energy savings through planning and intelligent design.
Sustainability focuses on minimising use of energy/resources and maximising energy/commodity procured. A great deal of current policy focuses on the scope for increased energy efficiency and reduced emissions in power generation. However, reducing loss of energy through domestic and industrial buildings represents an area where huge gains could be made. Such goals could be achieved by implementing green construction technologies with clear, coordinated national and international policy, and augmented through innovative town planning.
Policy measures for new buildings are beginning to be implemented:
· The US Energy Independence and Security Act, which came into force in December 2007, requires all federal buildings to meet specific goals, and introduces tougher energy targets for commercial and residential buildings.
However, the developing world is the most important focus for attention, as growing populations will necessitate significant increases in construction:
· The goal is to make buildings as 'passive' as possible, meaning they can satisfy most of their occupants' heating, cooling and lighting needs from the outside environment.
· More research is needed to develop cheap glazing and insulation materials that can adapt to changes in lighting or heating loads over the course of a day or season in areas where the climate is more extreme.
Economic benefits. Growing public concern over spiralling fuel prices and climate change has meant that house purchasers are increasingly receptive to energy-efficient design because of potential long-term financial benefits. However, psychological and institutional barriers prevent energy-efficient buildings being built as cheaply as their conventional counterparts:
· If engineers have to struggle with unfamiliar green-architecture techniques, they will incur a heavy 'transaction' cost through mistakes and delay.
· If renewable energy technologies are added, projects will have higher capital construction costs.
· Rental sector clients may have little interest in paying, as tenants reap rewards.
Urban design. While controlling the environmental impact of new and existing individual buildings is of great economic and environmental importance, such benefits can be augmented if efforts are coordinated for the planning of entire conurbations.
· Intelligent layout includes organising residential centres so that motorised transport is minimised, green spaces are frequent and energy from power stations is used efficiently.
· Rising populations provide significant resource challenges, but also opportunities to develop new eco-cities, which potentially could be sustainable and carbon neutral.
Developing sustainable cities will be essential in coming decades. Coordinated national and international policy is required that combines financial incentives with pressure to ensure adequate industry research and development, and encourage energy efficient construction.
CYCLING TOUR DE FRANCE
In a daring descent, Sánchez wins a stage
AURILLAC, France: With fog encasing the mountaintops of the Massif Central and rain making slick the newly paved descents, it would have to be a brave soul who attempted to get away from the pack during a downhill stretch of the Friday stage of the Tour de France.
That is just what Luis León Sánchez, a 24-year-old Spaniard riding for the Caisse D'Épargne team, did, as he rode away from the group roughly 5 kilometers, or 3 miles, from the finish to win the seventh stage of the 95th Tour and notch his team's second victory in the first week of the race.
Sánchez took advantage of a short, steep climb that peaked just 9 kilometers from the finish. As many of the sprinters struggled to get over the hill, a Category 3 climb that measured only 1.7 kilometers in length but had a 9.9 percent average grade, Sánchez set out on the attack on the backside and finished six seconds ahead of a group of 23 riders, including most of the race favorites.
Kim Kirchen of Team Columbia remained in the race lead by 6 seconds over Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto, with Stefan Schumacher, who tried but failed to escape on the same descent as Sánchez on Friday, in third place, 16 seconds back.
David Miller of Garmin-Chipotle fell from fifth place to seventh, 1:14 back, as the hilly route that the Tour has traveled over the first week began to take its toll.
Shares of Crédit Agricole plunge on report CEO may quit
PARIS: Shares of Crédit Agricole, the second-largest French bank by assets, dropped the most in almost six years in Paris trading after Le Monde reported that the chief executive, Georges Pauget, may resign.
The stock plunged as much as €1.17, or 9.1 percent, its biggest drop since September 2002. The shares traded 5.1 percent lower at €12.17 at 12:43 p.m. in Paris, making them the biggest loser on the benchmark CAC-40 index. Crédit Agricole's shares have lost 41 percent of their value this year.
"The market is interpreting that if he is leaving it is because there may be more write-downs, which could be massive," said Mamoun Tazi, a London-based analyst at MF Global Securities.
EADS executive charged with insider trading
PARIS: A European Aeronautic Defense and Space executive, Andreas Sperl, was charged with insider trading Friday by judges leading a French criminal probe into share sales at the company, a spokeswoman for prosecutors said.
Sperl, 61, was arraigned on preliminary charges and released on bail of 200,000 euros, or $316,000, said Isabelle Montagne, the spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor's office.
Sperl, chief executive of EADS's
Muslim woman deemed too submissive to be French
PARIS: France has denied citizenship to a veiled Moroccan woman on the grounds that her "radical" practice of Islam is incompatible with basic French values such as equality of the sexes, a legal ruling showed on Friday.
Ark of the Liberties America and the World.
By Ted Widmer. Illustrated. 355 pages. $25. Hill & Wang.
David Oshinsky holds the Jack S. Blanton chair in history at the University of Texas and is a distinguished scholar in residence at New York University.
What do Mohandas Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh and Chinese student protesters have in common? The answer, Ted Widmer says in "Ark of the Liberties," an ambitious, if ultimately familiar, account of America's enduring global reach, is that all looked to the United States for inspiration in their struggles against oppression. The pacifist Gandhi cited the impact of American ideals on the liberation movement in India. The Marxist Ho Chi Minh employed the words of the Declaration of Independence to demand the right of self-determination in Vietnam. And who can forget the stirring -images from Tiananmen Square in 1989, when pro-democracy students marched behind a Styrofoam version of the Statue of Liberty before being brutally dispersed? Widmer, who directs the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, is well aware of the political minefield that awaits any study of American foreign relations in our current climate, where so much has gone wrong for the United States so quickly. Amid growing international criticism, Americans are defensive about their leadership in world affairs. Many view the Iraq war as a misguided effort to share distinctly American values with an indifferent foreign population. Others see the conflict as part of an expansionist tradition that has employed the camouflage of idealism - freedom, liberty, democracy - to impose a "Pax Americana" on the world. Indeed, the phrase "ark of the liberties" comes from Herman Melville, who offered a grand vision of America's global destiny while deploring the chauvinism that framed America's expansionist war against Mexico in 1846.
What made America unique, Widmer says, was the millennial outlook of the Europeans who first settled here. A vast and isolated continent gave them the freedom to save what was precious from the Old World and to seek perfection in the New.
From the top of society to the bottom, these colonists "lavished attention on obscure bits of Scripture that seemed to favor the wilderness, the West and the defeat of large powers by small ones." Their settlements became the fulfillment of a biblical prophecy, guided by divine will.
Widmer is adept at tracing the pull of millennialism over generations, from Puritanism to the Great Awakening to the American Revolution and beyond. And he shows how seamlessly it entered the political realm. Most colonists had welcomed England's authority so long as it remained distant and ineffective. When that changed in the 18th century, big trouble followed. Political resistance now became a religious duty, a sign of obedience to God. As Widmer makes clear, the ensuing struggle for independence took place against the backdrop of African enslavement. Still, the extraordinary changes it produced - the debunking of monarchy, the insistence on representative government, the catalog of rights for white men - gave the world a glimpse of what the future could be.
Book cites secret Red Cross report of CIA torture of Qaeda captives
WASHINGTON: Red Cross investigators concluded last year in a secret report that the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation methods for high-level Qaeda prisoners constituted torture and could make the Bush administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes, according to a new book on counterterrorism efforts since 2001.
The book says that the International Committee for the Red Cross declared in the report, given to the CIA last year, that the methods used on Abu Zubaydah, the first major Qaeda figure the United States captured, were "categorically" torture, which is illegal under both American and international law.
The book says Abu Zubaydah was confined in a box "so small he said he had to double up his limbs in the fetal position" and was one of several prisoners to be "slammed against the walls," according to the Red Cross report. The CIA has admitted that Abu Zubaydah and two other prisoners were waterboarded, a practice in which water is poured on the nose and mouth to create the sensation of suffocation and drowning.
The book, "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals," by Jane Mayer, who writes about counterterrorism for The New Yorker, offers new details of the agency's secret detention program, as well as the bitter debates in the administration over interrogation methods and other tactics in the campaign against Al Qaeda.
The book is scheduled for publication next week by Doubleday. The New York Times obtained an advance copy.
U.S. air strike kills 47 Afghan civilians
JALALABAD, Afghanistan: A U.S. coalition force air strike on Sunday killed 47 civilians, including 39 women and children, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, an Afghan official said on Friday.
The issue of civilian casualties is an emotive one in Afghanistan, feeding a common perception international forces do not take enough care when launching air strikes, and undermining support for their continued presence in the country.
Residents and officials had earlier told reporters that 23 people were killed, when aircraft bombed a convoy bringing a bride to her new husband's village in Nangarhar.
The U.S. military released a statement after the incident saying there were no civilians in the area and that they had been targeting a large group of militants.
"I reject the coalition statement saying that all those killed were militants," Burhanullah Shinwari, deputy speaker of the upper house, who is heading an investigation into Sunday's incident told Reuters on Friday. "There aren't any Taliban or Al Qaeda even several kilometres near to where the air strike took place. Forty-seven people were killed; 39 of them were women and children," he said shortly after attending prayer ceremonies for the victims in the provincial capital Jalalabad.
An investigation has also been launched into another U.S. air strike carried out two days before Sunday's incident in which local officials say 15 civilians were killed. The U.S. military is conducting its own investigation into Sunday's incident.
"We are still investigating it and we haven't completed our investigation so I can't speak about specifics at this time," a spokesman for the U.S. military said on Friday.
"All I can say is that any loss of innocent life is tragic. I can assure you that civilians are never targeted in operations and that our forces go to great lengths in avoiding civilian casualties," he said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Wednesday called on all sides in the conflict to take more care to avoid harming civilians.
Nearly 700 Afghan civilians were killed in the first six months of this year, 255 of them by Afghan government and international troops, the rest by Taliban militants.
Civilian deaths at the hands of foreign troops have in the past sparked violent protests in Afghanistan.
"By carrying out such attacks, the Americans are creating a gap between the (Afghan) government and the people," said Shinwari.
(Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
The Outcast By Sadie Jones.
347 pages. $24.95, Harper Collins Publishers. £12.99, Chatto and Windus.
Louisa Thomas has written for The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and other publications.
Some silences are caused not by the absence of sound but by sound suppressed, forbidden. These two types of muteness can have the same origin: the psyche, as Freud knew, can be more censorious than any tyrant.
In Sadie Jones's first novel, "The Outcast" - set in a constricted London suburb during the late 1940s and the 1950s - the silences barely conceal the tumult. When Lewis Aldridge's father, Gilbert, comes home to Waterford from the war, he instructs his curious 7-year-old son to be quiet: a young child shouldn't be asking so many questions. But Lewis isn't the only one shushed in the interests of propriety. His beloved mother, Elizabeth, is also stifled; unable to adopt an appropriately ladylike, tight-lipped smile, she turns to drink. Even Gilbert finds himself clenching his jaw and submitting when his almost comically cruel boss casually insults him and his family.
Befitting a novel that explores the consequences of hypocrisy and silenced speech, "The Outcast" is written with economy. Jones's prose is plain, if sometimes mannered. And her influences are clear. "The weather made it look as if the broken buildings and people's coats and hats and the gray sky were all joined together in grayness except for the blowing autumn leaves, which were quite bright" sounds like the opening of Hemingway's "Farewell to Arms." Other passages recall Ian McEwan's "Atonement" and the movie "Far From Heaven." The novel even ends in a classic Hollywood cliché a lover running after a departing train, breathlessly vowing, "I'll come and get you." And yet, although "The Outcast" doesn't feel original, it's consistently interesting.
China quiets a voice for quake victims
BEIJING: Three weeks after the earthquake in Sichuan Province, five bereaved fathers whose children died in collapsed schools sought help from a local human rights activist named Huang Qi.
The fathers visited Huang at the Tianwang Human Rights Center, an informal advocacy organization in the provincial capital of Chengdu, where Huang worked and lived. They told him how the four-story Dongqi Middle School had crumbled in an instant, burying their children alive.
Huang soon posted an article on his center's Web site, 64tianwang.com, describing their demands. They wanted compensation, an investigation into the schools' construction and for those responsible for the building's collapse to be held accountable - if there indeed was negligence.
A week later, plainclothes officers intercepted Huang on the street outside his home and stuffed him into a car. The police have informed his wife and mother that they are holding him on suspicion of illegally possessing state secrets.
"They've been using this method for a long time," said Zhang Jianping, a contributor to the Web site who has known Huang since 2005. Nobody knows the grounds for his arrest, but many people have the same idea. Zhang said, "It may be because the schools collapsed, and so many children died."
Austria pulls Aphrodite statue given by Hitler
VIENNA: The Austrian city of Linz has removed a statue of Aphrodite from a park after learning that it was a present from Hitler, officials said on Friday.
Authorities in Austria's third largest city said they checked the origins of the bronze statue after someone left an unsigned note on it stating that the statue of the Greek goddess of love was a gift from the Nazi leader.
Time has not healed Srebrenica's wounds
SREBRENICA, Bosnia: Relatives finally got the chance on Friday to bury 308 Bosnian Muslim men killed when Bosnian Serbs overran Srebrenica thirteen years ago.
The relatives, most of them women, knelt by the coffins and prayed wordlessly, palms turned upwards, according to Bosnian Muslim custom. The coffins, wrapped in green cloth, were neatly lined up on a grassy field under the noon sun.
There is enough room here for all 8,000 victims of the 1995 massacre but more than a third are still missing, their bones lying in undiscovered mass graves, or in bags and boxes in a lab, awaiting identification.
The mass burial of newly identified victims, once a year on the anniversary of Srebrenica's fall in the last months of the 1992-95 war, has become a central part of Bosnian Muslim identity, a chance for remembrance and family reunions.
The air is filled with sobs, greetings and the smell of thyme.
"This day is even more difficult for me because I have found the body of one of my children but I cannot bury him," said Hatidza Mehmedovic, 56, who lost her husband and two sons.
The policeman who dug out the horrors of Srebrenica
PARIS: There are cops who enjoy the limelight on television, and then there are the ones who do the work. Jean-René Ruez is the second kind. He went in with his own shovel to search for evidence - "multiple human remains" - while chief investigator in Srebrenica, where thousands of Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered in July 1995 in the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.
Ruez, a senior French police officer, was the central figure in establishing the facts about those murders. He knows better than anyone how as many as 8,000 men and boys fleeing Srebrenica were rounded up by Bosnian Serb forces, shot, buried and then reburied in mass graves to hide the evidence of what has been officially classified as genocide.
Since leaving the Bosnia investigation in 2001, Ruez has taken cases of videotapes, files and other evidence around the world with him to have proof on hand when called to testify against suspected war criminals. Today, although he has moved into a less harrowing line of police work, he continues to pursue what he sees as an unfinished quest for justice.
"One must not believe that it's an obsession for me," Ruez, 47, said in an interview. Nonetheless, he said, he is prepared to testify at any time against men wanted for war crimes at Srebrenica, especially Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb military and civilian leaders, who are still at large.
"It's totally unacceptable, once the evidence is out and the courts have ruled that the crime must be labeled genocide, that only the henchmen of Mladic and Karadzic are currently in custody and on trial," Ruez said. "I've been cross-examined I think five times. I have no pleasure going to testify. I'm not eager. I'm just eager for justice to be done. Not just for the victims, but for all Europeans - and all humankind."
Ruez was so marked by his experience in Bosnia that even his jaunty smile cannot erase the permanent shadow in his eyes. He asked that his current whereabouts not be disclosed out of concern that certain Srebrenica perpetrators might hold a grudge.
He is soon to emerge from the shadows, however, with the release this autumn of a French feature film about his work, "Resolution 819," directed by Georges Campana and starring Benoît Magimel as Ruez.
Before being named to head what became the biggest criminal investigation in Europe since World War II, Ruez must have seemed an unlikely crusader for justice. He was head of the crime squad in the palm-studded city of Nice, having learned during his police training "the incredible fun of chasing criminals."
Yet in many ways, he said, his early years prepared him for a broader mission. Although his father was French, his mother was German, and while raising him in the leafy Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud, she conveyed the guilt she felt about Nazi atrocities. Later, during military service in Germany, he had a taste of geopolitics when pacifists - "very aggressive pacifists" - beat up the young French troops to oppose the deployment of nuclear missiles on or near German soil.
After the army, Ruez studied law and entered the elite French police commissioners' school. He went to work for the criminal police, in Paris, Marseille and then Nice, where in 1994 he got word that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia wanted to hire police investigators.
"I signed up immediately," Ruez said, "because I had the strong feeling that this war would be investigated and that the war criminals would be punished. In Europe it was so unacceptable - with the experience we had of World War II - that such crimes not be investigated and punished. And I absolutely wanted to be part of that."
Ruez joined the tribunal in The Hague in April 1995 and was sent straight into the field.
"I was part of the group investigating the siege of Sarajevo in July 1995 when Srebrenica fell and the first press rumors came out of a massacre," he said.
In the chaos of the Yugoslav wars, Srebrenica had been designated a United Nations "safe area," but the West stood by as the mainly Muslim-populated town was besieged by Bosnian Serbs. When the town fell on July 11 and 12, panicked refugees sought shelter at a UN compound, but the Dutch UN forces in charge were overwhelmed by the advancing Serbs. Muslim men were separated from the women, tortured and shot. Separately, a column of men and boys headed north, but many were captured and killed by Serbs.
Media reports of the outrages being committed were minimal, with reporters unable to get to the rugged area and few survivors able to reach the outside world. By the time Ruez reached the Bosnian Muslim city of Tuzla on July 20, just one witness had come forward. That was his starting point.
"When the Srebrenica investigation began, the first phase was to reconstruct the events," Ruez said. He relied on witnesses. Photographs taken by U.S. U-2 reconnaissance planes were available, but virtually useless without help from survivors. "A U-2 picture is 30 kilometers square," Ruez said. "You can zoom into that picture, but you need to know what to be looking for."
Ruez and his multinational team of investigators - from the United States, Britain, Sweden, Norway, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand - had to find proof of the reported slaughter: human remains, in other words. As more than 8,000 people were missing, the task was enormous.
The investigators located some burial sites, thanks largely to the accounts of witnesses. But just before the Bosnian peace process got under way in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995, "the Serbs removed the bodies from the mass graves" and reburied them in secret new locations. This at first eluded the investigators.
"We were under the surveillance of Serbian intelligence in 1996," Ruez recalled. "They knew we had found the initial burial places. But they were laughing and drinking slivovitz in the evening because they knew that the evidence of the crime had been erased."
Gradually Ruez's team grasped what had happened. "For example, we would find only 110 bodies clustered at a site where our information indicated that 1,200 people had been murdered. And some of these 110 bodies had been sliced into with bulldozers. So it was obvious they had been moved."
Once the investigators were sure about the deception - "a crime within a crime," Ruez calls it - they used aerial images to try to locate the secondary graves. Experts went in with "pick-and-sniff" probes. When they scented evidence of human remains, Ruez got out his shovel.
The secondary graves "were disseminated in remote places littered with land mines," he recalled. "Every time I went in, I was astounded to come out with two legs."
When Ruez finally left the tribunal in 2001, he was so exhausted that he took a two-year leave of absence, moving to the Caribbean and taking his files with him. When he returned to police work in France, he brought them back.
"I carry my files with me wherever I go," said Ruez, who now works in a sunny, air-conditioned office and has a desk covered in papers - old newspaper articles about Srebrenica, but also a list of local restaurants and bars. He is posted at a French embassy annex, where he helps the local police fight everything from clandestine immigration to forest fires.
In his new incarnation far from the killing fields, Ruez has not given up his quest to remind the public that Mladic is still at large. For Serbia to join the European Union, he contends, it will first have to deliver the general who led the Bosnian Serb assault.
"Integrating Serbia with Mladic out there? I'm sorry. I won't feel European," he said, citing the slogan he used with his team: "No peace without justice."
ICC prosecutor likely to seek arrest for Bashir
DEATH IN THE CLOUDS
For nearly two weeks, a friend of mine had been trying to reach the roof of North America, a place no bigger than a dining room rug, about 200 miles south of the Arctic circle. He's a restless soul, briskly roaming the world in search of thin air before he gets too worn and cautious in late middle-age.
Last I checked, he was pinned at high camp by the kind of storms that keep nearly half of the 1,400 people who attempt to climb Mount McKinley from succeeding. Winds, 60 to 70 miles an hour. Temperatures, even in the first weeks of summer, hovering near zero.
Then came sudden news - a 51-year-old man had died on Denali, as most Alaskans call the mountain. He made it to the top on the Fourth of July, and then collapsed - the first climber ever to die on the mountain's summit. He was buried in a frozen grave at 20,320 feet.
It took a few hours before I confirmed the name of the dead climber. I was relieved, of course, that it was not my friend, but I found no comfort in the details of the death.
The victim, James Nasti from Naperville, Illinois, was an experienced mountaineer, with no history of heart trouble, and had shown no signs of altitude sickness. He belonged to a club whose members try to reach the highest point in all 50 states. For James Nasti, Denali was number 49.
Whenever anyone dies in the mountains, I have the same, inevitable conversation with climbing friends. It happened just a month ago, when a 31-year-old man died in a snowstorm during a day hike on Mount Rainier, a big volcano whose summit I've sworn off after a scary climb a couple of years ago.
We always start with this question: How did they mess up? We look for obvious mistakes and easy answers: a rope not properly attached, a crevasse that should never have been crossed and, most often, a weather forecast that went unheeded.
A wise group of Rainier climbing veterans, including some of the first Americans to make it up Mount Everest, have a saying whenever they tell war stories: There are old climbers and bold climbers, but no old, bold climbers.
With mountaineering fatalities, the cases without apparent human error are the most maddening, and troubling.
So it was on Denali. James Nasti was on a guided climb, led by world-class alpinists. By all accounts, he had been cautious, and was in great shape for his age. The weather was fine. He had done nothing foolish, taken no missteps. Having reached the highest point in North America, one of the premier mountaineering achievements in the world, he simply fell back and died, the 101st death on the mountain since 1932. An autopsy, if his body is ever removed, may yet provide some answers.
Then, on Monday, while people were still puzzling over Nasti's collapse, came word of another sudden and seemingly inexplicable death.
A 20-year-old climber from Indonesia, Pungkas Tri Baruno, died near a 17,200-foot base camp while descending from Denali's summit. He stopped walking, stopped breathing, fell to the snow and died, just like James Nasti.
These men, Baruno and Nasti, will soon join the other names on the granite memorial at Denali's base. It doesn't provide much of a consistent narrative, but it does give you a sense of the odds.
For every death on the mountain, about 500 people will make the summit. An 11-year-old boy and a 76-year-old man - the youngest and oldest summiteers - have looked out from that glorious place in the Alaska Range where you run out of earth.
Death can come from crossing the street, or eating a tomato. My first literary agent, a wonderful woman with a full life ahead of her, was killed by a bus in Manhattan. Why not experience the heightened sense of living that comes from getting closer to the edge - controlled risk, in the mountains or on a wild river? So goes my internal palaver whenever I think of what happened on Denali.
The other side of the argument is about loved ones, the people who are left behind. In his book "Into Thin Air," Jon Krakauer chronicled the deadly 1996 season on Everest, a story of hubris and tragic miscalculations that has since been told from multiple points of view, by various survivors. Climbing Everest, Krakauer wrote, is "an intrinsically irrational act."
One of the dead was Scott Fischer, a guide from Seattle. Fischer was charismatic, with chiseled good looks that seemed to come from the mountain gods, an alpine stud in the eyes of his clients. He also had two young kids, who went to the same elementary school as my children.
When Fischer died I saw a mountaineering death, for the first time, from a different point of view: that of the surviving children.
In reading about Jim Nasti's death on the summit of Denali, then, the thing that stayed with me were the details about his family. The calculus of risk is different for everyone. But on the Fourth of July, atop the nation's highest mountain, one man's personal glory was swiftly transformed.
He was mountaineer, a great one for a moment - and then he was a father of three boys gone, a husband no more.
Timothy Egan worked for 18 years as a writer for The New York Times, first as the Pacific Northwest correspondent, then as a national enterprise reporter.
Act fast to stem the Taliban's rising tide
The swelling forces of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in Pakistan's border region pose a grave threat to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. They also pose a grave threat to Pakistan's people.
Pakistan's Taliban militias, like their Afghan counterparts, are trying to impose their harsh version of Islamic law. More than a thousand Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist attacks in the past year, mostly in the border areas where radical Islamic fighters are strongest.
Pakistan's new military and civilian leaders, caught up in their own power struggles, have been dangerously derelict in confronting the threat. Instead, they have deluded themselves that they can negotiate a separate peace with fanatic Taliban leaders. Experience has proved that will not work.
Sending U.S. troops into Pakistan's border regions to try to clean out Taliban and Al Qaeda forces is also not the answer - and would provoke even fiercer anti-American furies across Pakistan. The poorly paid, ill-trained and uncertainly loyal Frontier Corps in Pakistan is not up to the job.
Pakistan's civilian leaders and the new military commander, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, will need to commit to fighting the extremists - for the sake of their own country's stability - and to sending in elite units trained in counterinsurgency techniques.
Local tribal leaders also need to be weaned away from the Taliban. That will only happen if Islamabad and Washington provide substantial economic assistance. The United States has showered Pakistan with more than $7 billion in military aid over the past six years, with little of it actually being used for counterinsurgency purposes. Over the same period, Washington has provided less than $3 billion in all other forms of assistance.
This month, Senators Joseph Biden and Richard Lugar plan to introduce legislation that would provide up to $15 billion in aid to Pakistan over the next 10 years for economic development, health and education. Congress should move quickly to approve the aid.
The United States also needs to work with Pakistan's new government to establish spending priorities and to ensure that any future aid is channeled in ways that would strengthen the civilian government and allow it to regain control over a military that has too often been a law unto itself and intelligence services that seem far more loyal to the extremists than to their own government.
When Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, visits Washington this month, President George W. Bush should offer him strong support in exchange for a commitment to support Afghanistan's embattled government and fight terrorism in Pakistan.
Washington has made many mistakes - most notably supporting Pervez Musharraf for far too long. It has forfeited most of its credibility with the Pakistani people and reinforced their belief that the fight against extremism is not their own.
Both countries have an increasingly urgent interest in rolling back Al Qaeda and the Taliban and working together to promote democracy and development in Pakistan. Bush needs to persuade Pakistan's leaders of that - and he needs to do it now, before Al Qaeda and the Taliban get any stronger.
Rules of Deception
By Christopher Reich 390 pages. $24.95. Doubleday.
There are rules for writing books like Christopher Reich's "Rules of Deception." And Reich helpfully spells them out. In a brief promotional video clip, an increasingly common feature on Amazon.com book listings, Reich says:
"There's a few things you have to have to make a great page-turner: a likable hero who has to face insurmountable odds and overcome them; betrayal, the question of who can you trust; exotic locales, international settings to really keep you on the edge of your seat." So look to "Rules of Deception" for all of the above.
Here is something Reich doesn't say: The formula for such books is so familiar that it's hard to spot the good ones, at least at first glance. "Rules of Deception" is the rare version that begins in by-the-numbers fashion, promising not much, but furiously picks up steam as it goes.
So there's the obligatory prologue with a portent of danger. A butterfly flits around a high-security compound in an unknown location, oblivious to barbed wire. Then the butterfly is revealed to be a mechanical device carrying a rice-grain-size microwave transmitter. "They have found us," a guard ominously warns.
Next meet the hero. "Jonathan Ransom knocked the ice from his goggles and stared up at the sky," Reich writes, by way of introduction. Jonathan has "wine-black eyes," works for Doctors Without Borders and loves mountain climbing. He's high up an alp with his beautiful wife, Emma, when an avalanche sweeps her away. The likable Jonathan has to face insurmountable odds to determine what happened to her.
Cut to Bern-Belp airport, elsewhere in Switzerland. (Note the exotic locales and international settings.) There "one man stood slightly apart from the others." He is Marcus von Daniken, head of Switzerland's counterterrorism organization, the Service for Analysis and Prevention. The SAP is akin to the FBI and MI5, and a book like this really savors such alphabet soup. In addition to his heavy use of tough-sounding acronyms, Reich (an avowed fan of the Ludlum, Forsythe and le Carré style of espionage thriller) sounds knowledgeable about technology and uses words like flechettes, haboob and batrachotoxin with authoritative ease.
Von Daniken accuses a CIA man named Palumbo of transporting a prisoner in violation of the Geneva Convention. Palumbo denies any wrongdoing. Unbeknownst to von Daniken, however, Palumbo happens to have with him a terrorist's bloody thumbnail. In the hard-boiled context of "Rules of Deception," this does not necessarily make Palumbo an unsympathetic character.
Jonathan goes back to his hotel. He accepts delivery of an envelope addressed to Emma. It contains Swiss Railway baggage-claim tickets.
Those lead him to her secret luggage, which is full of strong suggestions that Emma led a double life.
Along comes Simone Noiret, a woman apparently named by a French film aficionado. Simone was Emma's friend, and she joins Jonathan in the increasingly frantic search. They are attacked by strangers. And Jonathan is forced, despite his Hippocratic oath to do no harm, to kill one of the strangers by driving a car antenna through his ears.
By this point, "Rules of Deception" has come very close to wearing out its welcome. But then the unexpected happens. Reich turns out to have a turbo-charged plot in the offing, and he begins explicating it with more originality and verve than might initially have been expected.
For one thing, Jonathan gets actually appealing, once he has begun engaging in breathless chases and donning disguises. For another, the book's international intrigue proves to be grounded in fact, and it begins zeroing in on a jaw-dropping nuclear weapons scheme.
And instead of grasping desperately for ways to expand on its premise,
"Rules of Deception" develops an entertainingly serpentine complexity. A number of people in this story prove to be working undercover, using fake identities, in an arms-smuggling conspiracy that leads to the Middle East.
Even this fact would be standard operating procedure if the real purposes of their work were discernible. But Reich keeps his secrets for a long time. Meanwhile, items like hidden computer data, plastic explosives, poison-tipped bullets, industrial centrifuges (which might be used in the manufacture of enriched uranium or yogurt) and bunker-buster bombs begin to animate the story.
In "Rules of Deception," Reich sets some dangerous fanatics in motion but keeps their identities and motives mysterious. And his finale lives up to the level of suspense he has created.
Put it all together, and you get exactly the kind of page-turner that Reich promised.
The Size of the World
By Joan Silber 322 pages. $23.95. W. W. Norton Company.
Joan Silber's sixth book, "The Size of the World," proclaims her theme in the title and nails it down in her concluding words: "I was trying to think of the size of the world. More than I could think about, more than I could imagine, necessary to imagine."
Impossible, necessary: Silber's half-dozen linked stories bounce between these poles. Her narrators are all Americans (one a transplant from Sicily but very much an American) who find their provincialism challenged by exposure to another land, or to someone who's been transformed by such exposure. Impossible: "I hadn't imagined such a place, how could I have?" Necessary: "Each separate corner of the world was obsessed with its own set of the familiar, the mass of fine points its residents were sure every human had to know" - so much so that the whole world "was populated by idiots savants, who knew what they knew very well and not all that much else." The "that much else" is what Silber's six narrators find out.
Some of them do more than find out: they fall head over heels, and sometimes hopelessly, for a culture - often in the form of a person. Thus a Florida girl's "lingering crush" on a Malay Muslim she meets in Thailand and can never marry becomes "a lasting metaphor for the attachment she couldn't fix to a whole country." But other crushes do flower, leading to marriage and children.
In the first story, for example, an aerospace-navigation company sends a couple of engineers to Vietnam in the late 1960s to figure out why its guidance systems are sending military aircraft off course. (A defective screw, it turns out.) Before coming home they stop off in Bangkok, where by chance the younger one, Toby, fussing over a leg he's gashed in a stumble a few weeks earlier, meets a Thai nurse, Toon. And before very many pages have passed, the now middle-aged Toby and Toon are watching their son as he prepares for the Buddhist priesthood.
This opening out is a recurring feature of Silber's stories, which begin to feel more like miniature novels. Each one begins with such a specific set of events that you're surprised when the time frame unfolds to trace the arc of an entire life. Free-spirited Kit heads to Mexico with her little daughter on a lark, then comes home to a hard but not a bad life. In the 1920s, a flapper named Corinna travels to Siam to join her brother and discovers a peace she's never known but has to forfeit.
Though none of these characters end up where they expected, their lives are unremarkable, except for their engagement with an elsewhere - and, perhaps, for their shared decency, which isn't unrelated.
Silber's writing also seems unremarkable. Few of her sentences call out to be quoted or even remembered, really. Her first two stories - about Toby, the engineer, and Kit, the young mother - frankly seem a little pallid. But something in them keeps you reading; you may feel lulled but not bored. And as you continue, you perceive what a serious misjudgment "pallid" is. Slowly, almost while your attention is somewhere else, the intensity level rises. And rises.
Notes sounded softly in the early stories deepen and resonate, until Silber's quiet music has turned symphonic.
New cabinet formed in Lebanon
BEIRUT: Lebanese political leaders formed a new cabinet Friday, putting an end to weeks of haggling and formalizing an earlier agreement that handed decisive new powers to Hezbollah and its allies in the opposition.
De : lucie floret
Date : 11 juillet 2008 10:43
Objet : réforme primaire : URGENCE !!
À : georges floret
Bonjour,Qu'on soit parents ou simplement concernés par l'avenir de l'éducation nationale de notre pays et de toutes les jeunes têtes qui vont y passer, c'est intéressant et urgent de se mobiliser...Vous pouvez aller signer une pétition pour le retrait de la réforme primaire sur le site www.cahiers-pedagogiques.comMerci pour votre attention et à plus tard.
"You know, America already has one Dr. Phil," Obama said at a campaign stop in Fairfax, Virginia, referring to a talk show host. "When it comes to the economy, we don't need another."
Serenity Prayer faces challenge on authorship
Now the Serenity Prayer is about to endure a controversy over its authorship that is likely to be anything but serene.
For more than 70 years, the composer was thought to be the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, one of modern Christianity's most towering figures. Niebuhr, who died in 1971, said he was quite sure he had written it, and his wife, Ursula, also a prominent theologian, dated its composition to the early 1940s.
His daughter Elisabeth Sifton, a book editor and publisher, wrote a book about the prayer in 2003 in which she described her father first using it in 1943 in an "ordinary Sunday service" at a church in the Massachusetts town of Heath.
Now, a law librarian at Yale, using new databases of archival documents, has found newspaper clippings and a book from as far back as 1936 that quote close versions of the prayer. The quotes are from civic leaders all over the United States and are always, interestingly, by women.
Three months after a security crackdown in Iraq's oil capital of Basra, there are signs of economic revival. But investment to help secure the peace faces hurdles from bureaucratic inertia, lack of technical skills and foreign businesses' uncertainty about whether the calm will hold.
"If you get security, you get everything," Mizher Salam, a 32-year-old furniture store owner, said while taking a break from putting together bed frames.
With violence in Iraq at four-year lows, Basra is an example of the obstacles the country faces as it edges toward recovery from the turmoil that followed the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
But business owners said decrepit infrastructure, including electricity limited to a few hours a day, was the biggest hindrance, especially during summer heat that hit 43 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) this week.
Creating jobs and improving power and water supplies would be the best way to build on a government offensive in late March and April that broke the grip Shi'ite militias had held on Iraq's second-biggest city, officials say.
"People are now looking forward to the next phase, the next stage of their lives, when Basra will become more prosperous," provincial governor Mohammed al-Waeli told Reuters.
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS COPYRIGHT IAN WALTHEW 2008