Thursday, 24 July 2008

Wednesday, 24th July 2008


McDonald's posts $1.1 billion in profit on European sales
McDonald's, the world's largest restaurant company, posted a $1.19 billion profit in the second quarter, spurred by European sales of hamburgers and chicken sandwiches.

Sales at European outlets open at least a year advanced as the company sold higher-priced hamburgers in the Britain and snack-sized chicken sandwiches in France.

Japan recycling more leftovers for animal feed
SAKURA, Japan: With prices for animal feed and fertilizer at record highs, Japan's food-recycling industry is seeing greater demand than ever before for pellets for pigs and poultry made from recycled leftovers.
Japan disposes of about 20 million tons of food waste a year, five times as much as world food aid to the poor in 2007. The leftovers used to be dumped in landfills where they decomposed and produced methane, a greenhouse gas.
But government legislation since 2001 has helped stimulate a recycling industry that turns food scraps into animal feed and fertilizer or ships leftovers to facilities where the methane gas produced by rotting food is harnessed to power industrial plants.

Slow food savors its big moment
At the end of the summer, the gastronomic organization called Slow Food USA will host a little party for more than 50,000 people in San Francisco.
To get things ready, the mayor let the group dig up the lawn in front of City Hall and plant a quarter-acre garden. It will be the centerpiece of the festival, ambitiously named Slow Food Nation.
Events will pop up all around the city over Labor Day weekend. Fifteen architects have volunteered to build elaborate pavilions dedicated to things like pickles, coffee and salami. Lecture halls have been booked, politicians invited and dinner parties planned. Nearly $2 million has been raised.
And for the first time in its 10-year history, the notoriously finicky organization has embraced corporate partners like Whole Foods, Anolon cookware and the Food Network.
The Slow Food faithful say they want the festival to be the Woodstock of food, a profound event where a broad band of people will see that delicious, sustainably produced food can be a prism for social, ecological and political change.
They also realize that it may be their best chance to prove that Slow Food, as a movement, is not just one big wine tasting with really hard to find cheeses that you weren't invited to.
The American wing of the Slow Food movement, which began in Italy in 1986, has a tendency to polarize people. When it first took root here in 1998, some people were drawn to its philosophy, while others were put off by what they saw as elitism and an inflated sense of importance.
Slow Food's leaders, the chef Alice Waters chief among them, bristle at the criticism. But most acknowledge that the organization did not translate well to an American audience. As a result, it has never had as much cultural or political impact as its parent group in Europe.
Now, they say, the organization is getting a makeover. And the festival in San Francisco will be the perfect place to show off a more inclusive and more politically attuned Slow Food USA.
"I don't know if it's going to be the youthful, happening Woodstock they want it to be, but it certainly has the potential," said Corby Kummer, a food columnist, book author and Slow Food board member. "It will be a failure if it is only well-dressed people over 35 from the Bay Area treating it as if it's another Ferry Plaza Farmers Market" — a reference to the place where well-fed San Franciscans and celebrity farmers chat over perfect peaches and soft, ripe cheese.

Q & A
Q & A: Should you avoid food with mold on it?

Q. I've been told not to eat food that has a little mold on it because the mold has permeated throughout. Is this true?
A. Yes, mold that is visible on the surface of food is only the tip of the iceberg, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Molds are fungi that have three parts: the root threads, which invade deeply into the food; a stalk, which rises above the food; and spores that form at the end of the stalk.
By the time the stalks are visible, the root threads, called hyphae, are embedded, so it is best to avoid food with any sign of mold.
Some molds can cause strong allergic reactions, including respiratory problems, in susceptible people. And in some varieties, the threads produce toxic substances called mycotoxins, which can make people very sick.
Molds may appear as "gray fur on forgotten bologna, fuzzy green dots on bread, white dust on Cheddar, coin-size velvety circles on fruits and furry growth on the surface of jellies," as a fact sheet from the USDA says. But molds have their good side; beneficial molds make blue cheese blue, and a common bread mold famously gave rise to the lifesaving drug penicillin. Also, molds play a big role in the decomposition of organic waste.

It is rare for me to add comment to the stories I post, but this one was just too much to ignore.
I live in the Auvergne, some of my best friends are cheese makers, and if I were to advise my neighbours at the Thursday market to avoid any food with mold on it (it's called the 'croute', the process of the 'affinage' of the cheese in their 'cave'; the 'bleu' inside their fourme fermiere) they would laugh me out of the market.

And below I've also posted a story about the terrible influence of Robert Parker on French wines. 'We don't make ink cher Bob', one producer says to Parker in his quest for deeply colored Bordeaux, and the slavish following this American has.
If this type of thinking is reflected in the American 'Slow Food' movement, heaven help us.

Argentine agricultural secretary quits
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: President Cristina Fernandez replaced her top aide and agriculture minister Wednesday following the surprise defeat of a government-backed farm tax bill that generated months of crippling protests.
Cabinet chief Alberto Fernandez, one of the president's closest confidants and her spokesman during the standoff with farmers, wrote in his resignation letter that he was stepping down to give the center-left government a fresh start and let Fernandez choose a "new team."

Direct mail tries to go green. No, really.

The group calls itself the Green Marketing Coalition, and it includes Microsoft, Washington Mutual and OptimaHealth. Not all the companies involved are big mailers, but they share the sentiment that there should be best-practices guidelines for the direct mail business, which has been vilified even before global warming became a hot topic.

So far, the coalition's guidelines are long on earnestness and short on truly new ideas. They include using chlorine-free recycled paper, proofreading marketing materials using Adobe PDF files rather than hard copies, and taking advantages of tax benefits that come from certain green initiatives.
The guidelines suggest adhering to higher waste disposal standards and choosing vendors that are committed to recycling. There is also support for "list hygiene" — that is, cleaning out direct-mail lists to remove the names of dead people and others unlikely to respond.
"Just by improving list hygiene and data management, companies can target better and drastically cut down on advertising waste," the coalition advises.


EU executive moves to limit cruelty of seal hunts

BRUSSELS: The European Commission adopted proposals on Wednesday to ban the import of pelts from seals that have endured excessive suffering while being killed, risking possible trade conflicts with hunting nations.
While stopping short of calling for a total ban, the EU's executive body said products from the 900,000 seals hunted each year should be accepted in the EU only with guarantees that the seal has been killed as humanely as possible.
None of the 15 seal species that are currently hunted is endangered, but European environmentalists and politicians have demanded action after finding evidence that seals are often skinned while still conscious.
Typically, they are first shot or bludgeoned over the head with a spiked club known as a hakapik.
"European citizens find these practices repugnant," Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told reporters. "Seal products coming from countries which practise hunting methods that involve unnecessary pain and suffering must not be allowed to enter the EU."

Expelled by Kremlin, an investor fights back


Militants say they will destroy Nigerian oil pipelines within 30 days
LAGOS, Nigeria: Nigeria's main militant group threatened Wednesday to destroy the nation's major oil pipelines within 30 days to counter allegations it had struck a $12 million deal with the government to protect them.
The state-run oil company, however, denied the existence of such a deal and said local media had misquoted company officials.
A spokesman for the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta alleged the director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had claimed his state-run organization paid militants millions of dollars to protect pipelines instead of attacking them.
To prove "we are not a part of this deal, the Chanomi Creek pipeline and other major pipelines will be destroyed within the next 30 days," the militant statement said.
The Chanomi Creek pipeline is owned by Nigeria's state oil company and is strategic line that supplies crude from western Delta to two major refineries.

Czechs show how to avoid being dependent on Russia for energy

Back then [when the Czech Republic peacefully separated from Slovakia in 1993], Havel and Klaus concluded two things about Russia. It was not investing enough in the energy sector, a shortcoming energy analysts today agree on. And, because the landlocked Czech Republic was at the end of the Druzba pipeline, it would be particularly vulnerable to cuts, whether for political reasons or, as is increasingly common, disputes between the oil traders inside Russia.
To reduce such risks, Havel, Klaus and the trade minister, Vladimir Dlouhy, decided to build - at great expense - a separate pipeline that would link the country to Germany. "It was a very prescient decision," said Libor Lukasek, director of the state-owned Czech Mero trading company that built the IKL pipeline in the early 1990s. "Not everyone was convinced about the need to have such a pipeline. But now we see its value."


Gazprom to supply airline with fuel to help with price increases

Moscow: OAO Gazprom Neft signed an accord to supply jet fuel to OAO Transaero, one of the largest airlines in Russia, to help bring down record prices by removing middlemen.
The oil arm of Russian natural-gas producer OAO Gazprom will supply fuel at a fixed price to be adjusted quarterly, the chief executive of Transaero, Olga Pleshakova, said after a signing ceremony in St. Petersburg Wednesday.


Speculators aren't driving up oil prices, report finds

As Congress debates how to curtail the role of speculators and rein in rising oil prices, a U.S. government task force said Tuesday that it had so far found no evidence that those investors are systematically pushing up the cost of energy.
Instead, in an interim report made public on Tuesday, the task force said that its research "does not support the hypothesis that the activity of these groups is driving prices higher."


Nissan says electric cars will be quickly profitable

FRANKLIN, Tennessee: The electric cars that Nissan Motor plans to start selling by 2010 will have varying capabilities depending on a given country's driving patterns, but all will be priced competitively and will generate profits, company executives said Tuesday.
Nissan's chief executive, Carlos Ghosn, said that any electric car the company sold in the United States would need a range of at least 100 miles between charges to be practical, but that European drivers could make do with about half that range. Tolerance for the time it takes to recharge such a car may vary widely as well, he said.
One aspect that Ghosn said would remain constant, however, is that the cars would produce zero tailpipe emissions, unlike some vehicles being developed by rivals that have range-extending gasoline engines to power the car after its battery is depleted. Building cars powered by alternative fuels but that still use oil is "unsustainable," he said.
"I want a pure electric car. I don't want a range extender. I don't want another hybrid," Ghosn told reporters after a ceremony to dedicate Nissan's new North American headquarters in Franklin, an affluent suburb in the hills south of Nashville. "It's not going to be zero emissions in certain conditions. It's going to be zero emissions."



Harvest the sun - from space

O. Glenn Smith is a former manager of science and applications experiments for the International Space Station at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

As America faces $4.50 a gallon gas, we also know that alternative energy sources - coal, oil shale, ethanol, wind and ground-based solar - are either of limited potential, very expensive, require huge energy storage systems or harm the environment. There is, however, one potential future energy source that is environmentally friendly, has essentially unlimited potential and can be cost competitive with any renewable source: space solar power.
Science fiction? Actually, no - the technology already exists. A space solar power system would involve building large solar energy collectors in orbit around the Earth. These panels would collect far more energy than land-based units, which are hampered by weather, low angles of the sun in northern climes and, of course, the darkness of night.
Once collected, the solar energy would be safely beamed to Earth via wireless radio transmission, where it would be received by antennas near cities and other places where large amounts of power are used. The received energy would then be converted to electric power for distribution over the existing grid. Government scientists have projected that the cost of electric power generation from such a system could be as low as 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is within the range of what consumers pay now.


New contamination incident at French nuclear site

PARIS: Around 100 staff at a nuclear power plant in southern France were contaminated with a low dose of radiation on Wednesday, power firm EDF said, the latest incident there after a case of uranium spillage two weeks ago.
EDF said in a statement that sensors detected a rise in the level of radiation while maintenance work was being carried out at the Tricastin site's reactor number four, which had been shut since July 12.


Iran won't relent on nuclear program

PARIS: As world powers await Iran's reply to proposals concerning its nuclear program, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted on Wednesday that Tehran would not "retreat one iota" from its atomic work, which includes the enrichment of uranium.
Ahmadinejad was speaking in a televised address during a visit to the western town of Yasouj, according to news agency reports from Tehran that also quoted him as sending more conciliatory messages alongside his familiar, firebrand oratory.


Ahmadinejad says U.S. envoy showed Iran respect

TEHRAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday praised U.S. participation in last week's talks with Tehran on its disputed nuclear programme as "a positive step" and said its arch foe had shown respect.
"I advise you not to spoil this positive step ... by using the language of colonial times and by bullying," Ahmadinejad said in a speech broadcast live on state television.
But Ahmadinejad, who was unusually complimentary in his comments about a representative of a country Iran's clerical leaders see as "the Great Satan", made clear Tehran would not halt atomic work the West suspects is aimed at making bombs.
At Saturday's meeting with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator in Geneva, six world powers gave Iran two weeks to answer calls to rein in its nuclear activities or face more sanctions.
"If you imagine that by some threats, sanctions and pressure you can make the Iranian nation retreat, you are again making a mistake," Ahmadinejad said in the southern city of Yasuj.


China eyes nuclear plant for quake-hit province

BEIJING: China's earthquake-hit Sichuan province hopes to build its first nuclear power plant within as little as five years, but has chosen a site it says is geologically sound, state media said on Wednesday.
A feasibility study for the 25 billion yuan (1.8 billion pound) project, which would be located at Sanba village, will soon be submitted to the central government's top economic planner for approval, the official China Daily cited a top official saying.
"Construction of the station will begin once we have received approval, and will take about five years to complete," said Zhao Hua, head of the Nuclear Power Institute of China.
The chosen site is to the east of the capital Chengdu, while the zone devastated by the May earthquake, which killed nearly 70,000 and left thousands more missing, lies to its west.


Last Three Gorges Dam migrants evacuate as water rises

BEIJING: China has finished evacuating the last town to be submerged by the giant Three Gorges Dam, making way for water levels in the reservoir to rise to their final height of 175 metres above sea level, state media said.
The final residents of Gaoyang in central Hubei province left on Tuesday, the end of an exodus that began four years ago, the official Xinhua agency reported.
In total, some 1.4 million people have been moved to make way for the waters behind a 2,309-metre-long dam, the world's largest hydroelectric feat. It aims to tame the Yangtze River and provide clean, cheap energy for China's rapid development.
Critics of the dam say that pollution and geological threats are piling up. Scientists have said that rising waters in the 660-km (400-mile) long reservoir have strained already brittle slopes, triggering landslides, which may worsen when waters reach a maximum height.
A big mudslide hit a village in the Gaoyang area in April, sweeping into the local school's playground and part of the village. And a landslide nearby killed 35 people late last year.


Scrap thieves target manhole covers, making city streets unsafe

PHILADELPHIA: Francis McConnell is a field supervisor for the Philadelphia Water Department, but lately he is acting more like an undercover police officer.
Several hours a day, five days a week, he stakes out junkyards. Pretending to read a newspaper, McConnell sits near the entrances and writes down descriptions of passing pickup trucks and shirtless men pushing shopping carts.
His mission is to figure out who is stealing the city's manhole covers and its storm drain and street grates, increasingly valuable commodities on the scrap market. More than 2,500 covers and grates have disappeared in the past year, up from an annual average of about 100.
Thieves have so thoroughly stripped some neighborhoods on the city's north and southwest sides that some blocks look like slalom courses, dotted with orange cones to warn drivers and pedestrians of gaping holes, some nearly 30 feet deep.
Two adolescents were injured in recent months after falling into uncovered holes, motorists and cyclists are increasingly anxious about damaging tires, and the city is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars — $300,000 at last count — to replace the missing covers.

French wine makers in an uproar over naming
SAINT-ÉMILION, France: For François Despagne, it was the challenge of a lifetime.
His family has owned the same property in Saint-Émilion for seven generations. But in 1996, in the classification of St. Émilion wines that takes place roughly every 10 years, Château Grand Corbin-Despagne was downgraded from Grand Cru Classé.
"When you're declassified, you're the ugly little duckling," Despagne said. "People lose faith in you." Worse, it becomes harder to sell the wine at the best price. One Bordeaux broker called him then and said: "You're in trouble, you're declassified. I'll buy your stock for half-price," Despagne said, still disgusted. "It was hard, morally."

Manoncourt has made numerous innovations in Saint-Émilion, including opening his wine-making to public view and installing glass doors throughout. But he rejects some of the slavish following of the preferences of wine raters like Robert Parker, whose influence over the U.S. market remains extraordinary.
Parker, for instance, likes deeply colored Bordeaux, so many here alter the temperature of their first maceration to extract the most color, even if it slightly affects the taste. Manoncourt, offering a glass of a 2001 Château-Figeac, which Parker didn't like at a first tasting, said that he told him: "Cher Bob, I don't manufacture ink."

Conquering key mountain, Carlos Sastre climbs in Tour de France lead

L'ALPE-D'HUEZ, France: Carlos Sastre, who at one point during the stage Wednesday was fetching water bottles for Frank Schleck, his teammate and the race leader, ended the day taking the yellow jersey off his teammate's shoulders and taking a giant step toward his first grand tour victory.
On the toughest stage of the 95th Tour de France, Sastre, who rides for CSC-Saxo Bank, attacked in the second kilometer of the final climb of the day, a torrid 13.8-kilometer route, or 8.5 miles, up to this Alpine resort. He gained time on every kilometer thereafter, winning the stage by more than two minutes over all the other major contenders and riding into the race lead.
Long considered a top contender in cycling's biggest events but yet to win a big multi-day race, Sastre started this Tour de France as the team's designated leader. But when Schleck moved within one second of the lead with a strong ride in the Pyrenees, Sastre vowed to work for Schleck, which he did, even for much of the 17th stage on Wednesday.
In the end, however, the team came first, which meant that when Sastre decided to attack the group of top contenders on the climb to L'Alpe-d'Huez, Schleck, knowing that Cadel Evans would follow any move he made, had to let Sastre go, along with the hope of his own Tour victory.
"That's the philosophy of the team, to sacrifice yourself," Sastre said. "At the beginning of the climb I decided on my own to attack. I told Frank that I felt extremely well and that I would give it a go. Frank said, 'Well, O.K."'

Former trader of Société Générale faces ex-boss in hearing
Jérðme Kerviel, the 31-year-old securities trader whose bets cost his bank nearly €5 billion euros, faced one of his former bosses at a joint hearing Wednesday.

"What would seem to be interesting in this type of case is to determine whether Jérôme Kerviel benefited from complicity by getting funds and instructions from his superiors," he [Kerviel's new head lawyer, Bernard Benaïem] added. "If this was the case, placing certain people in Jérôme Kerviel's hierarchy under investigation would of course be inevitable."
"One can't see how the facts could have escaped everyone," he added. "Jérôme Kerviel refuses to be the scapegoat and sacrificial victim of a permissive system."

France's unsolved mystery of the poisoned bread
By Mary Blume
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
PARIS: As a kid in Brooklyn Steven L. Kaplan ate pale sliced Wonder Bread like everyone else but had an epiphany in Paris as a Princeton student in 1962 when he happened on a small bakery on the Rue du Cherche-Midi called Poilâne and bought a bâtard which he filled with cheese and ate in the Luxembourg gardens. "I can still taste that first bite," he says.
Kaplan went on to become a professor of history at Cornell University, always fascinated by bread as one of the principal actors in French life: it is bread, he says, that seals the social contract in France, the link between the government and the governed.
When in the United States Kaplan, from what he views as necessity, bakes his own bread. In France he is recognized as the bread authority, compared recently in Le Monde with Robert O. Paxton, the American historian who forced French eyes to open on the subject of Vichy. The occasion of the comparison was Kaplan's new book, "Le Pain Maudit" (Cursed Bread), a study of an unsolved mystery dating back more than half a century but which lingers even in the memories of those not then born: the affair of the poisoned bread.
What became a national disaster began on Aug. 16, 1951, when the inhabitants of the small town of Pont-Saint-Esprit in the Gard region of southern France were suddenly stricken by frightful hallucinations of being consumed by fire or giant plants or horrid beasts.
A worker tried to drown himself because his belly was being eaten by snakes. A 60-year-old grandmother threw herself against the wall and broke three ribs. A man saw his heart escaping through his feet and beseeched a doctor to put it back in place. Many were taken to the local asylum in strait jackets. There was no treatment, no cure and only one possible explanation: something in the bread baked the night of Aug. 15-16 had caused the calamity.
"This made it worse," Kaplan says. "Bread cannot be the vector of madness and death, bread is the body of Christ." Local bakeries were briefly shut down and the national press followed the grisly story anxiously. "The baker whom we visit every day, the grocer we go to regularly, are they not, after all, maniacs or potential killers of whom we must beware ?" asked Paris-Presse.
The local baker most, if not solely, responsible was declared to be Roch Briand, who had unwittingly used contaminated flour. In what Kaplan calls a Soviet-style distribution system the government rigidly controlled everything from farmer to miller to where bakers were allowed to buy flour. Bakers of the time had to accept what they were allotted even when adulterated.
France's controls of bread production and price would be dismantled over the decades but in 1951 the harm was done: more than 300 people afflicted, 7 to 10 dead, 46 detained in asylums, and many unable ever to hold jobs or lead normal lives. Kaplan gave a talk at Pont-Saint-Esprit a few months ago, expecting 30 people to attend. Some 400 came:
"The atmosphere was electric with anxiety, uncertainty, people who wanted to know how it happened. The mayor for 35 years, whose mother was slightly poisoned by the episode, has spent his entire life trying to disassociate Pont-Saint-Esprit from this stigma."
Was the Church implicated (the local priest had not eaten Briand's bread)? Was there a political explanation (the mayor was Socialist, Briand was described, improbably, as a close friend of General De Gaulle)? Was the fact that the arm of a statue of the Virgin had been torn off during a storm the previous May an omen of divine retribution? No answer was ever found.
The government did its best to smooth over the incident and after many inquiries and court cases the affair was finally dropped in 1978. Explanations abound, none of which Kaplan finds satisfying. The most popular one, poisoning by a form of ergot fungus, he finds unconvincing. Mercury poisoning caused by Panogen, a cleansing agent used in wheat containers, was disproved although Kaplan says the government used it as a cover-up.
"It focused away from flour, away from grain, away from the distribution system and moved the argument into the realm of safety in transport," he says. Another explanation, contaminated water, he finds just silly because everyone would have been hurt.
Kaplan suggests that the question of harmful bleaching agents should have been more closely investigated. Briand was proud of the whiteness of his bread and his closest friend was a pharmacist who could supply the necessary powders. After all, at the end of World War II when the French were asked what they most wanted, the answer was liberty and white bread.
This brings Kaplan to his major interest as indicated in the subtitle of his book, "A Return to the France of the Forgotten Years, 1945-58." The period 1945-75 has long been nicknamed "Les Trente Glorieuses," the three decades in which France moved seamlessly into reconstruction and unprecedented economic growth.
To Kaplan the immediate postwar period was toxic, poisoned by divisions between classes, between resistance and collaboration, between dirigisme and liberalism, all compounded by poverty and Cold War fears. It was a time of vengeance and distrust.
"What I have tried to do," Kaplan says, "is talk about this postwar period as being traumatic for most of the population, using Pont-Saint-Esprit as a metaphor."
Indeed, he only reaches the Pont-Saint-Esprit affair on page 349 of his 1,090-page book, which he wrote in French. Despite its footnotes and unleavened prose, the book found a mainstream publisher, Fayard, and has been the subject of long articles in the Le Figaro, Libération and of two pieces in Le Monde, even though in one of them the author, who had made the Paxton comparison, admitted he had not reached the book's end.
This unusual interest Kaplan attributes to his dissection of a murky period of history and to what he calls the particular relationship the French have with bread.
"There is still a mystique of bread. We don't need bread - we have so many calories and so many proteins that we get elsewhere - but you can have a French table laden with the most sumptuous meal imaginable and without bread you don't have a meal."
In the book he goes back to the ancien régime's bread laws and discusses the French obsession, sacred and profane, with white bread. "It is not a trivial matter because historically white bread is so identified with upward mobility, with well-being. The bread of the Eucharist was a piece of white wheaten bread until the Church sold out and went for those horrible wafers."
The unfortunate baker Briand was giving his customers what they wanted. These days it is so much easier: every supermarket sells denture-white sliced bread. The French equivalent of the Wonder Bread that Kaplan so detests.

China presses grieving parents to take hush money on quake
HANWANG, China: The official came for Yu Tingyun in his village one evening last week. While clutching a contract and a pen, he asked Yu to get into his car.
Yu's daughter had died in a cascade of concrete and bricks, one of at least 240 students at a high school in Hanwang who lost their lives in the May 12 earthquake. He became a leader of grieving parents demanding to know if that school, like so many others, had crumbled because of poor construction.
The contract had been thrust in Yu's face during a long interrogation by the police the previous day. In exchange for his silence, and for acknowledging that the ruling Communist Party had "mobilized society to help us," he would get a cash payment and a pension.
Yu had resisted then, but this time, he took the pen.
"When I saw that most of the parents had signed it, I signed it myself," Yu, 42, said softly. He carries a framed portrait of his daughter, Yang, in his shoulder bag.

The campaign to buy off the parents follows other efforts to quash questions over school construction: The riot police have broken up protests by parents; officials have ordered Chinese news media to stop reporting on the collapses; local governments have begun to bulldoze the remains of some of the schools, closing the door on any chance of a proper investigation; and a human rights advocate trying to help some parents, Huang Qi, has been jailed.

The New York Times obtained a copy of the compensation contract being given to parents from Hanwang. "We hereby hope that the government can coordinate all aspects of society and help us with social benefits and special aid," the contract says. "From now on, under the leadership of the Party and the government, we will obey the law and maintain the social order for the post-earthquake reconstruction. We firmly will not take part in any activity that disturbs the post-earthquake reconstruction."

Lost in the new Beijing: The old neighborhood
BEIJING: Historical cycles that took a century to unfold in the West can be compressed into less than a decade in today's China. And that's as true of Beijing's preservation movement as it is of the nation's ferocious building boom.
The explosion of construction activity that has transformed Beijing into a modern metropolis over the past decade also turned many of its historical neighborhoods — known for their narrow alleyways, or hutongs — into rubble. As grass-roots preservationists began sounding the alarm, the aging wood frames and tile roofs of the ancient courtyard houses that give these neighborhoods their identity were being supplanted so quickly by mighty towers that it was hard to pinpoint where they once stood.
Now, as they labor to protect what remains, Chinese preservationists are facing a new, equally insidious threat: gentrification. The few ancient courtyard houses that survived destruction have become coveted status symbols for the country's growing upper class and for wealthy foreign investors. As more and more money is poured into elaborate renovations, the phenomenon is not only draining these neighborhoods of their character but also threatening to erase an entire way of life.

So ingrained is the bias against hutong living among middle-class people that Yan Weng, a forward-looking architect who once lived in the Qianmen neighborhood, told me that he had recently moved into a high-rise. "For those of us who grew up in Mao's China, the government complexes were always the ideal," he said. "And that has not changed much."
What is more, he said, the widening gap between rich and poor in the frenzied economy of the new China has brought a rise in crime and a growing sense of insecurity in Beijing. "I wouldn't feel very safe today in a community without gates," Yan said.
And among residents whose neighborhoods face demolition, the chief objections are a lack of compensation from the government or developers and having to move far from the city center to find an affordable place to live. Few see the hutong areas as treasured historical landmarks.

Today a well-off couple may live with a single well-behaved child in a courtyard home that once housed more than a dozen people. Instead of cooking outdoors or walking to the corner to use a toilet, the nuclear family installs a state-of-the-art kitchen and bathroom with sauna and spa and parks a car in a new underground garage. One Chinese magnate recently added an underground pool. Streets that once teemed with life are as silent as churchyards — and as banal as some American subdivisions.
The results are striking in places like Nanluogu Xiang, a narrow hutong neighborhood in the Dongcheng district northeast of the Forbidden City. Once a thriving neighborhood of mismatched courtyard houses and shopfronts, it was purchased by a local developer who renovated its most decrepit dwellings and rented its storefronts out to tourist shops. Today it looks eerily like a Chinese version of Prince Street in SoHo: an open-air mall dressed up in historical facades. The street is lined with T-shirt shops, coffee shops and cafes catering to tourists. Foreigners walk aimlessly up and down the street, guidebooks in hand, soaking up the phony cultural atmosphere.

Karadzic makes light of war crimes charges
Bosnian Serb leader says he will face court alone

THE HAGUE: Making light of the charges of genocide and the horrendous destruction in Bosnia attributed to him, Radovan Karadzic said Wednesday that he would face his judges and prosecutors alone if he is handed over to the United Nations tribunal in The Hague.

Details about Karadzic's life as a fugitive continued to emerge Wednesday, with Serbia media saying he had a mistress called Mila, made visits to his local pub and invented an imaginary family in the United States.
Blic, a Serbian newspaper, reported Wednesday that Karadzic had been smitten by an attractive, middle-age woman named Mila, with whom he went everywhere, even to his lectures. Colleagues of Karadzic, who worked with him at the magazine Healthy Life, told Blic that he introduced Mila as his wife and the great love of his life.



Cohen: Karadzic and war's lessons

CHERENCE, France: After covering a war, a friend said, buy yourself a house. I did. I came to this French village where church bells chime the rhythm of the days, married here, raised children and parked Bosnia somewhere in a corner of my mind.
I had to forget. I had to write a book, so the horror would never be forgotten, in order to forget just enough to go on. There is always a measure of guilt in survival when so many have died. There are faces, in death and bereavement, that can never be eclipsed.
It's peaceful here. I'd been out watching crows in the stubble when I returned to discover Radovan Karadzic had been arrested in Belgrade, 13 years after the end of the war, to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The years fell away, fear resurfaced, and I've been unable to sleep. I find myself back in Pale with you, Dr. Karadzic, back in that two-bit ski resort you parlayed into the Bosnian Serb capital and bestrode with your killer hairdo, back asking you questions you never could answer.
Objectivity and neutrality are not synonymous. The head is useless without the heart. War teaches that better than journalism school. The unseeing eyes of young Sarajevan women penetrated by shrapnel had taught me the rights and wrongs of the war long before I met you. Still I wanted to look you in the eye.

Unhinged would be a kind description. You talked of your "love" for Sarajevo, the ethnically mixed city your boozy forces kept shelling. You told me, 32 months into the fighting, that you were ready "to declare a state of war." I stared in disbelief and asked about Ruzdija Sestovic.
Names dispel a numbing when the death toll rises toward 100,000. Sestovic had been seized from his home in eastern Bosnia on June 20, 1992, by masked Serbian forces and had disappeared.

He was one of thousands of Bosnian Muslims to meet this fate in the sharp burst of Serbian violence that opened the war and "cleansed" wide swathes of the country of non-Serbs, many processed through murderous concentration camps. Pits of bones form the bitter harvest of this genocidal Serbian season.
"Ethnic cleansing was not our policy," Karadzic responded with nonchalance. "It happened because of fear. Fear and chaos. I was not informed on a daily basis of what was happening in the first months of the war, although we got some information from our troops and police. But the fate of men like Sestovic was beyond our control."
An international court in The Hague will now examine that contention of the former Bosnian Serb leader. I don't doubt the outcome. Justice is important - for Bosnia and for amnesia-afflicted Serbia with its everyone-was-guilty evasiveness. But justice won't change the faces brought back to me now across the years.
Nermin Tulic, an actor, his legs blown off by a Serbian shell on June 10, 1992, telling me how he wanted to die until his wife gave birth to their second daughter and his dad told him a child needs his father even if he just sits in the corner.
I took that away from the war: the stubbornness of love.
Amra Dzaferovic, beautiful Amra, telling me in the desperate Sarajevo summer of 1995 that: "Here things are black and white, they are, there is evil and there is good, and the evil is up in the hills, so when you say you are just a journalist, an observer, I understand you but I still hate you. Yes I hate you."
I took that away from the war: the fierceness of moral clarity.
Pale Faruk Sabanovic watching a video of the moment he was shot in Sarajevo and saying: "If I remain a paraplegic, I will be better, anyhow, than the Serb who shot me. I will be clean in my mind, clean with respect to others, and clean with respect to this dirty world."
I took that away from the war: the quietness of courage.
Ron Neitzke, noblest of American diplomats, handing me his excoriation of the U.S. government and State Department for "repeatedly and gratuitously dishonoring the Bosnians in the very hour of their genocide" and urging future Foreign Service officers to be "guided by the belief that a policy fundamentally at odds with our national conscience cannot endure indefinitely - if that conscience is well and truthfully informed."
I took that away from the war: the indivisibility of integrity and the importance of a single dissenting voice.
Nobody labored with fiercer lucidity to inform America's conscience about Karadzic's crimes than Kurt Schork, the Reuters correspondent killed in Sierra Leone in 2000. I wish he were here.

Schork would be smiling - and chiding me for being careless with my Bosnian lessons in the onward rush of life. The precious is no less important for being unbearable.


The double life of an infamous Serbian fugitive

BELGRADE, Serbia: The infamous fugitive, long charged with war crimes, was not in a distant monastery or a dark cave when caught at last, but living in Serbia's capital. Nor was Radovan Karadzic lurking inconspicuously, but instead giving public lectures on alternative medicine before audiences of hundreds.
He was hiding behind an enormous beard, white ponytailed hair topped with an odd black tuft, and a new life so at odds with his myth as to deflect suspicion.

"For an older person, he had very many interests," said Maja Djelic, 28, a Belgrade resident who, like Karadzic, wrote for the magazine Healthy Life. She said they also met for coffee and conversations, about acupuncture and the Internet, at a café called Biblioteka in central Belgrade. Karadzic, she recalled, was very interested in improving his Web site.
"He said, when being introduced, 'My name is Dr. Dabic, but call me David,' " she said, adding that the two met last November. During an interview Tuesday, Djelic referred to him as Dr. David, not Karadzic.
"He was really friendly and really open and had a way of speaking with people," Djelic said.
She said that he did not speak with a Bosnian accent, and that he seemed like a valuable member of the small alternative-medicine community here, not someone who could have been the force behind the notorious Srebrenica massacre and the deadly siege of Sarajevo.
"I still don't believe it's the same person," she said, though the editor in chief of the magazine confirmed in interviews with numerous news outlets that Karadzic, under his assumed identity, had written for Healthy Life.

A wartime friend of Karadzic's who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid the attention of prosecutors, said the change in Karadzic was so complete, "you could only recognize him if you know him by the sound of his voice." Yet, in the end, it was not enough to keep Karadzic out of the authorities' grasp.
The friend said that he believed the arrest was the result of a tip-off, but also that recently Karadzic had "made a mistake in communication," though he declined to elaborate further.

EU cuts back funding to Bulgaria
BRUSSELS: The European Commission froze hundreds of millions of euros in aid to Bulgaria on Wednesday, citing poor administration, corruption and organized crime and casting a cloud over the future expansion of the European Union.
The commission increased to €486 million, or $765 million, the sum of €121 million suspended earlier this year, said Mark Gray, a European Commission spokesman.
The move was accompanied by a scathing report on Bulgaria.
The commission also issued a critical report on Romania, where, it said, 70 cases of suspected fraud involving EU funds had been opened between June 2007 and March 2008.

Critics expressing disappointment with new U.S. attorney general

Rules protecting civilians hamper airstrikes in Afghanistan, military says
Dawn was breaking over Afghanistan one day this month as U.S. Air Force surveillance planes locked in on a top-ranking insurgent commander as he traveled in secret around Kandahar, the spiritual capital of the Taliban.
But as attack aircraft were summoned overhead to strike, according to a recounting of the mission by air force commanders, the Taliban leader entered a building. Intelligence specialists scrambled to determine whether civilians were inside. Weapons experts calculated what bomb could destroy the structure with the least damage.
It had taken the U.S. military many days to identify, track and target the Taliban officer. But the risk of civilian deaths was deemed too high. Air force commanders, working with military lawyers, aborted the mission. The Taliban leader escaped.
"We miss the opportunity, but the beauty of what we do is, we will get them eventually," said Lieutenant General Gary North, commander of the U.S. and allied air forces in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
"We will continue to track them," he added. "Eventually, we will get to the point where we can achieve - within the constraints of which we operate, which by the way the enemy does not operate under - and we will get them."
In interviews at the air operations headquarters in Southwest Asia, U.S. and allied commanders said that even as orders for air attacks in Afghanistan had increased significantly this year, their ability to strike top insurgent leaders from the air had been severely restricted by rules intended to minimize civilian casualties.
The rules that govern dropping bombs and firing missiles are far more restrictive now in Afghanistan than in Iraq, senior Pentagon and military officials say.
After a spate of civilian casualties in 2007, the rules of engagement were reviewed and tightened under General Dan McNeill, then the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, and reviewed and revised again in April, officials said.
U.S. commanders acknowledge that civilian casualties undermine support for the NATO-led stability mission exactly at a time when the Taliban is experiencing a potent resurgence across the country. They say that in meetings with Americans, Afghan officials, including President Hamid Karzai, routinely complain about civilian deaths.
Military officers also acknowledge that their control over airstrikes is reduced when crews scramble to help NATO contingents under attack.
But air commanders say they have a commitment to support ground forces in trouble. Only last weekend, nine Afghan police officers were killed in western Afghanistan when Afghan and U.S. forces called in airstrikes on the officers, thinking they were militants.
According to the United Nations, 698 civilians were killed in the first six months this year, compared with 430 in the same period last year. The UN report said nearly two-thirds of the deaths this year resulted from actions by the Taliban and other insurgents. The remainder were attributed to actions by Afghan government, U.S. or allied forces.
But in interviews at the air base, U.S. and allied commanders expressed frustration about the obstacles they faced. They described what they said were missed opportunities and told how Taliban leaders, who live and operate among the population, have learned to exploit the restrictions.
"There are frustrations, without a doubt," said a British officer, Air Commodore Simon Dobb, director of the combined air operations center. "But we understand what Clausewitz said, that war is an extension of policy. We are acutely aware of the sensitivities toward collateral damage," the military term for civilians killed or injured.
A reporter for The New York Times was given access to the Combined Air and Space Operations Center under a written agreement that the location of the base not be published, in deference to the host nation's concerns.
Over recent weeks, a wave of deadly Taliban attacks illustrated just how thinly U.S. and NATO troops were stretched across Afghanistan, prompting Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to pledge to find additional forces for the mission.
In the meantime, orders for airstrikes in Afghanistan have increased in recent months, as U.S. and allied warplanes attack Taliban hide-outs and assist allied and Afghan forces under fire.
According to statistics compiled by the air operations center, during the first six months of this year, 1,853 munitions were dropped by air over Afghanistan - more than twice the 754 dropped in Iraq during the same period.
In June alone, 646 bombs and missiles were used in Afghanistan, the second highest monthly total since the end of major combat operations in 2002.
Air force lawyers vet all of the airstrikes approved by the operational air commanders. Senior Pentagon officials said the more stringent rules of engagement now in effect for Afghanistan specified the acceptable levels of risk to civilians for a priority attack. They said these more stringent rules required a significantly lower risk of civilian casualties than was acceptable in Iraq.
Afghan missions that are judged vital but highly risky to civilians may now require approval by the overall regional commander and, in some instances, even by the defense secretary, according to Pentagon and military officials.
"In their deliberate targeting, the air force has all but eliminated civilian casualties in Afghanistan," said Marc Garlasco, an analyst with Human Rights Watch. "They have very effective collateral damage mitigation procedures."
The greater risk of civilian casualties, Garlasco said, comes in unplanned targeting, when troops come under attack suddenly and call for airstrikes for help.
"When this immediate targeting needs to be done, an aircraft may not have the correct weapon for that target," Garlasco said. "The aircraft may be rerouted to assist troops in a hard fight, and there is not time to do the collateral damage modeling they would want to do. In an attempt to help troops on the ground caught up in the fight, there have been situations where they have killed civilians." At the air operations center, targeting specialists spend hours before each mission measuring distances from the potential strike zone to the nearest house, building, mosque, school or hospital.Vast numbers of public, religious and historic sites make up a computer database of no-strike zones. Special goggles are worn while reviewing digital images compiled from surveillance aircraft and satellites to give a detailed, three-dimensional view of the target area. The bombs themselves are chosen carefully and sometimes modified.
Some designed for air burst are instead programmed with a delayed fuse to bury themselves before exploding, thus reducing the blast range.
One sort of bomb has even been loaded with less explosive material, filled instead with concrete, to cause great damage where it hits but no farther.
"We explicitly guarantee extra benefits to civilians," said Colonel Gary Brown, the top military lawyer at the air operations center.
Lawyers like Brown check that proposed operations conform to a complex body of military law, including the Geneva Conventions, acts of Congress and court decisions.Although air force officials acknowledge that unintended civilian casualties have been inflicted, Brown also said the Taliban and Al Qaeda regularly fabricate reports of civilian deaths. He and other officers at the operations center say every mission has two dimensions: the fight itself and the information fight after that fight.
"The Taliban have a very efficient and very effective political machine," Brown said.
Though target planners were frustrated by the inability to carry out the mission against the Taliban leader who took refuge in the building, another mission just days before, overnight on July 8, was carried out with the goal of eliminating another Taliban commander on the list of "high-value targets" - even though a last-minute change was ordered to prevent the loss of civilian life.An array of surveillance vehicles, some remotely piloted, had tracked the Taliban leader around the clock for days, establishing what intelligence circles call "a pattern of life."
When the Taliban leader and his followers camped for the night on the northwest outskirts of Kandahar, a team of targeting and weapons specialists at the combined air operations center went to work, scanning aerial photographs to gauge the distance to nearby structures and analyzing the blast radius of bombs and missiles aboard aircraft overhead. It turned out that houses and other buildings were inside the blast range of those munitions, so the air force deployed an A-10 Thunderbolt. Its armor-piercing shells were designed for destroying Soviet tanks - but the aircraft can also strike with great accuracy without a large blast area. The A-10 strafed the sleeping Taliban camp with cannon fire.According to later reports, buildings nearby went undamaged.

A private, blunter Bush declares, 'Wall Street got drunk'
WASHINGTON: When he talks about why the economy is ailing, President George W. Bush often turns to euphemism, citing "challenges in the housing and financial markets." But Bush offered a far blunter assessment last week at a closed Republican fund-raiser in Houston: "Wall Street got drunk."
Despite the president's request that those present turn their cameras off, his comments were captured on videotape that made its way into the hands of Miya Shay, a reporter at the Houston television affiliate of ABC.
"Wall Street got drunk — that's one reason I asked you to turn off your TV cameras," the president said at the fund-raiser, held at a private home on Friday to benefit Pete Olson, the Republican who is challenging Representative Nick Lampson. "It got drunk, and now it's got a hangover. The question is, How long will it sober up and not try to do all these fancy financial instruments?"

World's most economically powerful cities

What's the world's most economically powerful city?

If you picked New York or Tokyo, you'd be wrong.

While Tokyo and New York are far and away the largest economies of today and tomorrow, they are growing much slower than many. Thus it's fast-growing London that tops our list, according to data from MasterCard.
MasterCard has created an annual "centers of commerce" index, which ranks cities on a host of factors, including legal and political framework, economic stability, the ease of doing business, the financial flow, convenience as a business center, information flow and livability.
The overarching lesson: Keep looking east. The world's fastest-growing economies, such as Shanghai, China; Beijing, Jakarta, Indonesia; and Mumbai, India, are growing at twice the pace of the Western world.
Britain plans pullout of most of its Iraq force
LONDON: Only days before he is to meet in London with Senator Barack Obama, Prime Minister Gordon Brown outlined a tentative plan on Tuesday for withdrawing most of Britain's remaining troops from Iraq early in 2009.
Brown told Parliament that Britain planned a "fundamental change of mission" at the turn of the year for the 4,100 troops it has in its Iraq contingent, the second largest group of foreign troops serving in Iraq. About 140,000 Americans will be deployed there after current American troop withdrawals are completed.
The prime minister gave no fixed timetable for British withdrawals, and left open the number of troops who would be returning home. He also said troop reductions would depend on the "advice of our military commanders on the ground" when detailed decisions are made. A spokesman at 10 Downing Street said the British leader was reluctant to give details because of a recognition that security conditions could deteriorate in southern Iraq, where most of the British soldiers are based.


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