Philip Bowring: Farcical, maybe, but serious too
HONG KONG: In Thailand, the prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, is dismissed by a court for accepting some tiny expenses for appearing in a TV cooking show he had long hosted. In Malaysia, the prime minister has to send 40 members of Parliament to learn about agriculture in Taiwan to keep them from defecting to the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who has vowed to gain a majority by Tuesday.
Political farce in two otherwise prospering Southeast Asian states is an outward sign of disturbing trends in both countries that have implications for regional stability.
Scientists hail first photos of okapi in wild
LONDON: The okapi, an elusive animal that scientists say has not previously been photographed roaming in the wild, has been snapped by a camera in Congo.
Officials at the Zoological Society of London, which released the photos, said Thursday that the images were important evidence that the rare species still exists in the wild, despite poaching and civil unrest in Congo.
The doe-eyed animal, which is represented in zoos around the world, is a relative of the giraffe but has zebra-like stripes on its legs and rear.
The photos were taken by cameras set up in the Virunga National Park by the zoological society and conservation authorities in Congo. Scientists had been hoping to capture such images after finding okapi tracks in the park a few years ago.
"We are encouraged by the evidence that okapis have survived in Virunga, despite the years of conflict," Virunga National Park Director Emmanuel de Merode said in an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press. "Park rangers have only recently regained control of this area that was formerly occupied by armed militias. But while it is positive that the okapi population remains, we are aware of their vulnerability to intense levels of poaching."
The okapi is only known to exist in Congo, primarily further north in Ituri province's Okapi Wildlife Reserve. They are difficult to spot because they are shy and usually only move around in couples.
The animal's stripes are sometimes called "come follow me stripes," because their bold pattern is believed to help young ones follow their mothers through the forest. Each animal's stripes are unique, like fingerprints.
The species was unknown to European scientists until a century ago. It is thought to have inspired claims of unicorn sightings by Victorian-era explorers, according to Noelle Kumpel, a Zoological Society conservationist.
The male has two horns on its forehead, but they can look like one horn if glimpsed from the side.
"Stories came back of this mythical creature and the fact that it might be a unicorn," Kumpel said.
The okapi is threatened by poachers who kill it to sell for food, Kumpel said. Poaching, combined with the effect on conservation efforts of the fighting between rebels and government forces could yet make it extinct in the park, she said.
One other photograph of an okapi in the wild that scientists previously knew about showed only the leg of an animal, Kumpel said. The new pictures indicate the animals are more widely distributed in the park than was previously believed.
"We've managed to get pictures of three separate individuals, and we've also got a picture of one roaming around at nighttime and actually foraging, which is the first evidence of this behavior," Kumpel said. Scientists previously believed okapi fed only during the day, she said.
Earlier this year, the Zoological Society photographed another shy mammal, a pygmy hippopotamus, in Liberia. That animal had not previously been photographed there, scientists said.
The next little thing?
IN his 20s, Michael Janzen made pottery and lived in a cabin in rural California that he estimates was "about the size of a two-car garage." After he married, he went into Web design for a bank, and now at 40 has all the trappings of a successful homeowner: in-ground pool, maid service, a yard landscaped with Japanese black pine bonsai trees. His 1,800-square-foot home in Fair Oaks, California, a one-story model by Streng Brothers, midcentury builders in the Eichler mold, is of a kind coveted by fans of modern design.
So why has Janzen spent the summer building an 80-square-foot "tiny house" out of free stuff he found on Craigslist?
There he is on nights and weekends, designing a floor plan whose dimensions are measured not in feet but inches, nailing scavenged wood pallets together for the frame, or fixing up an old trailer to serve as the foundation. The initial reaction from his wife, Julia: "Is this a Unabomber building?"
Not exactly. According to Janzen, he came to the realization that "I don't want this life — the life of someone who's working too hard to pay a large mortgage to live in this house." The catalyst, he said, was watching the value of his home plummet with the rest of the real estate market, while the time and money required to maintain the property only increased. "The energy cost is enormous," he said, "and the bigger your property gets, the more there is to do."
Which is why Janzen has become interested in the small house movement, whose adherents believe in minimizing one's footprint — structural as well as carbon — by living in spaces that are smaller than 1,000 square feet and, in some cases, smaller than 100. Tiny houses have been a fringe curiosity for a decade or more, but devotees believe the concept's time has finally arrived.
"It's a very exciting moment," said Shay Salomon, a green builder in Tucson, Arizona, and the author of "Little House on a Small Planet" (Lyons Press, 2006), "because it feels like a chapter of American history might be ending, the chapter called 'Bigger is Better.' I'm not the Gallup poll, but I hear the same story over and over: We got rid of that big house, and now I have time to see my husband. Before, we used to work all week and then we'd spend the weekend on the house."
Gregory Paul Johnson, a founder of the Small House Society in Iowa City, said that the notion of very small houses becoming popular was "an absurdity" five years ago. "But there are so many powerful forces at work right now," he added, "like rising energy costs and the mortgage crisis. I think people want small homes because they cost less to purchase, maintain, heat."
In July, Johnson, who lives in a 140-square-foot house made by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company of Sebastopol, California, took to the road to promote his vision of living small, along with Jay Shafer, Tumbleweed's founder. The two men drove from Victoria, British Columbia, to San Diego, pulling Shafer's house behind them on a trailer. (Tiny houses, which rarely have foundations, are often built on trailers.)
Along the way they stopped to hold workshops and give (very brief) home tours. Some events drew hundreds of people. "It seems like everybody is fascinated by the idea of living in a tiny house," said Shafer, who started Tumbleweed eight years ago. "But for a long time, I was just selling the dream."
His business is still modest, but in the past year Shafer has sold five houses and 50 sets of plans, up from a yearly average of one house. The houses range in size from about 70 to nearly 800 square feet, cost $20,000 to $90,000 to build, and resemble birdhouses: boxy shape, wood siding and high, pitched roof.
Other builders also report increased demand. Brad Kittel, owner of Tiny Texas Houses in Luling, Texas, said he had built 10 homes this year, up from four in all of 2007.
In recent years, small dwellings have begun to get the high-design treatment, which could attract more people. The London-based designer Nina Tolstrup built the 388-square-foot Tiny Beach Chalet, which has drawn attention on design blogs. One of the stars of the Museum of Modern Art's current exhibit on prefabricated houses is the Micro Compact Home, a 73-square-foot cube by the British architect Richard Horden.
"When you build small you can spend money on higher-quality materials," said Jared Volpe, a Web designer in North Ferrisburgh, Vermont, who runs the blog smallhousestyle.com. Volpe said he is often amazed at how aesthetically pleasing many of the latest small homes are. In the year since he started his blog he has received increasing numbers of e-mail messages from people interested in small homes — a trend he attributes in part to the poor economy. "People will need to heat their 3,000-square-foot house this winter, and it's going to cost double of what it did a few years ago," he said.
For Janzen, a tiny house is not an immediate solution to his frustrations with large-scale living; he has no intention of cramming his wife and young daughter into 80 square feet. Instead, he plans to use the structure as an office, or park it on his in-laws' farm as a weekend retreat, a more traditional use for tiny houses. But he will treat it as an "intellectual exercise," he said, that will allow him to develop "an idea of the other extreme of size."
"I'll have a sense of where the balance is," he added — a sense that he hopes will help his family decide on a reasonable goal for downsizing, something he is eager to do soon. "We bought this house, I think, for prestige," he said, sounding chastened.
But while Janzen is dabbling with tiny living, others are plunging in. Tara Flannery, a 25-year-old college student in Seattle, plans to move within the next few months from the Craftsman-style two-story house she shares with roommates into a Tumbleweed house. The decision was largely financial.
"I wanted to buy my own place by 30, and the way the housing market is going that's not going to happen," she said, referring to the tightening credit market and the fact that home prices remain high in Seattle, despite the mortgage crisis.
In a way, Flannery's tiny house, which will be about 100 square feet with a sleeping loft and will cost roughly $40,000, is a modern twist on the starter homes of the 1950s suburbs; it offers her a way into home ownership, of a sort, without the debilitating costs. "I can spend my money traveling instead," she said.
It's an unencumbered lifestyle that Dee Williams, a hazardous waste inspector an hour away in Olympia, Washington, has embraced. Four years ago, she sold her 1,500-square-foot bungalow in Portland, Oregon, and downsized to an 84-square-foot house made of knotty pine that she built herself for $10,000 and parked in a friend's backyard, where she lives free in exchange for helping her friend with chores. (She bathes in the friend's house because her bathroom doesn't have a shower, though most tiny houses do have both a shower and a toilet.)
Williams, 45, said that before the move, "I was an environmentalist, but not a very dedicated one." She built her house, which she outfitted with solar panels and propane heating, both to "walk the talk" of eco-consciousness and "to unshackle myself from a mortgage and doing repairs." Although last year, like most Americans, she saw a sharp rise in her monthly energy bill, the increase — from $4 to $8 — didn't exactly bankrupt her, she said.
Janzen, meanwhile, worries that an activist like Shafer, the Tumbleweed founder, "would look at someone like me and say I'm only taking a half-step."
Asked if that were the case, Shafer said he doesn't advocate for everyone to live as he does. "I know 100 square feet is too small for most people," he said, including his new bride, who lives next door to Shafer in a 700-square-foot house (although he is planning to build her a 300-square-foot replacement). Instead, he wants to be a living example encouraging people to downsize, even if it's only to a moderately smaller home.
The Janzens plan to do just that, as soon as the housing market bounces back and they can sell their current home without taking a loss. The couple wants to move back to Mendocino County, where early in their marriage they lived in that 450-square-foot cabin. "I think I would have eventually said, do we really need all this?" Janzen said. "But it probably wouldn't have happened until retirement. Now I hope my 40s will be about having free time and doing the things I want to do."
Loggers still advance on Amazon Indians
BRASILIA: Isolated native Indians in the Amazon forest of Brazil and Peru remain threatened by advancing loggers despite growing international attention to their plight, a senior Brazilian official said on Thursday.
"Pressure from Peruvian loggers continues, it's a concern," Marcio Meira, head of the government's Indian affairs agency, Funai, told the foreign press association in Brasilia.
Brazil's Acre state along the border with Peru is one of the world's last refuges for such groups, but increasing activity by wildcat miners and loggers puts them at risk.
Dramatic pictures of pigment-covered Indians from the region threatening the photographer's aircraft with bows and arrows were carried in May by media worldwide.
The Peruvian ambassador to Brazil subsequently told Meira his government was concerned about the issue and preparing measures, without detailing what these were.
Brazil has 26 confirmed native Indian tribes that live with little or no contact with the outside world. There are unconfirmed reports of an additional 35 such groups.
Many of them live in the forest like their forefathers did centuries ago, hunting and gathering.
More than three months after the photographs sparked an international media frenzy, Funai officials continue to witness logging activity in the region. "There is evidence. We see timber floating down the river which originates in Peru," said Meira.
Survival International, a group that campaigns for tribal peoples' rights, said last week that the Peruvian government had not lived up to its promise of publishing an investigation into accusations of illegal logging.
"The Peruvian government must not be allowed to bury this issue, or to turn their backs on the uncontacted tribes," said Survival's director, Stephen Corry.
The issue will be discussed at an international conference on native Indians in Georgetown, Guyana, later this month, Meira said.
Advancing loggers also threaten isolated tribes in Brazil's northern Mato Gross state and along the upper Xingu river in Para state, Meira said.
U.S. carmakers push for government loans
DETROIT: A proposed $25 billion U.S. government loan program to help retool the auto industry could speed the development of electric cars and other alternative-fuel vehicles.
"It's a way for us to accelerate technology so you can get it in the hands of people faster and so they can afford it," Chrysler's vice chairman, James Press, said at an industry event Wednesday.
His comments came as congressional leaders began discussing whether to pay for the loan program, which was created last year as part of legislation requiring a 40 percent increase in fuel economy.
While automakers appear to have backed off from efforts to increase the loans to $50 billion, Detroit executives are becoming more specific in their comments about how the money would be spent.
Press said that Chrysler would probably apply for loans to augment its existing plans for electric vehicles, cleaner engines and new manufacturing systems.
"I think it will allow everybody to bring electric cars, plug-in electric cars and hybrid cars to market sooner," he said.
A spokesman for General Motors said the company's coming Chevrolet Volt electric model would be a prime candidate for federal dollars.
"Certainly a program like the Volt would qualify under the guidelines," Greg Martin of General Motors said.
Detroit automakers have so far been lobbying legislators privately to build support for the loans.
But with only three weeks in the legislative session in which to secure financing for the loan program, the auto companies are preparing for a more public push.
"We need to show that if we have access to this capital, we can and will improve fuel economy faster," said Bruce Andrews, vice president for government affairs at Ford Motor.
The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said Tuesday that the loan plan was a high priority and could be included in any of several bills, like an energy package, an economic stimulus proposal or an overall appropriations bill.
Iraq cancels 6 no-bid oil contracts that drew criticism in the U.S.
An Iraqi plan to award six no-bid contracts to Western oil companies, which drew sharp criticism from several U.S. senators this summer, has been withdrawn, participants in the negotiations said.
The companies confirmed Wednesday that the deals had been canceled. This was one day after the Iraq oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, said at an OPEC meeting in Vienna that the talks had dragged on for so long that the companies could not do the work on schedule. The contracts, with Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, BP and several smaller companies for one-year deals, were announced in June and then delayed.
While not particularly lucrative by industry standards, the contracts were valued for providing a foothold in Iraq at a time when oil companies were being shut out of energy-rich countries around the world. The companies will still be eligible to compete for other contracts in Iraq.
The six no-bid deals were for work to increase Iraqi oil production from existing oil fields by half a million barrels a day - the same amount by which the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to reduce output at its meeting Tuesday. After its cancellation of the deals, Iraq reduced by 200,000 barrels a day its goal of producing 2.9 million barrels a day by the end of the year.
The contracts would have been the first major oil agreements with the central government since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, though the Kurdistan region has separately signed more than 20 contracts.
Recently, however, Iraq's central government has moved on with other energy deals.
The Oil Ministry in August signed its first major post-Saddam-era contract with China National Petroleum. On Sunday, the Iraqi cabinet approved a deal with Shell to process natural gas in southern Iraq.
The ministry informed the oil companies of the cancellation Sept. 3, according to a statement from Shell. In Vienna, Shahristani said the ministry would now invite bids on the contracts.
Shell said the Iraqi side had broken off negotiations.
This summer, a group of Democratic senators led by Charles Schumer of New York appealed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to block the deals, contending that they could undermine the efforts of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites to reach an agreement on a hydrocarbon law and a revenue-sharing deal. This criticism was conveyed to Shahristani by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in June, and the deals were subsequently delayed.
"I'm glad the Iraqis heard our plea that to do this now would be bad for Iraq and bad for Iraqi-American relations," Schumer said by telephone Wednesday. "It's a good first step."
"Now let's make progress on the long-term" goal of passing an oil law, he said.
The State Department had responded that the contracts were an Iraqi affair, though American advisers had helped draft them. Meanwhile, the ministry has said it intends to go forward with new oil deals, whether or not Parliament passes a hydrocarbon law.
Schumer said he would propose an amendment to the military appropriation bill in Congress that would specify that should Iraq sign any petroleum contracts before passing the law, profits from those deals would be used to help defray U.S. reconstruction costs in Iraq.
House bill would loosen coastal drilling restrictions
WASHINGTON: After months of political assault from Republicans over high gasoline prices, House Democrats are preparing legislation that would relax a decades-old ban on oil drilling along much of the nation's coastline.
The legislation, still being assembled Wednesday for a vote as early as Thursday, would also require utility companies to generate more power from renewable sources, provide tax incentives for alternative energy like wind power and institute new conservation programs.
The measure, which would retain current restrictions on drilling off the Gulf Coast of Florida, would repeal some federal subsidies for oil companies and seek to improve the collection of royalty payments.
"Our energy legislation will bring down gas prices, protect taxpayers, invest in clean renewable energy and provide an American-owned energy policy that the Bush-McCain Republicans have failed to deliver for the past eight years," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
The proposal, coming as the Senate develops a similar plan, represents a stark reversal for Pelosi, Democrat of California, who had adamantly opposed a vote on an expansion of offshore drilling after being part of the coalition that has kept the coastal ban in place since the 1980s.
Petrobras estimates offshore oil field has up to 4 billion barrels of crude
SÃO PAULO: Brazil's state-run oil company said Wednesday that an offshore field is expected to yield the equivalent of 3 billion to 4 billion barrels of recoverable light crude and natural gas, adding to recent promising reserves the country has discovered.
The field is part of the same block where Petrobras last year uncovered the ultra-deep Tupi field, which it said could contain 8 billion barrels of recoverable light crude.
Petroleo Brasileiro also announced a blockbuster find of natural gas in February in an Atlantic Ocean field nicknamed Jupiter, but it has yet to give a figure for its reserves in oil equivalent.
Petrobras said the estimate given Wednesday is higher than expected when the deep-water discovery in the Santos Basin was announced in August. The field lies about 230 kilometers, or 140 miles, offshore from Rio de Janeiro in pre-salt reservoirs about 2.2 kilometers below sea level.
Petrobras said in its statement that the project is known as Iara and is part of a consortium with BG Group of Britain, which holds a 25 percent stake, and Galp Energia of Lisbon, which holds 10 percent.
Palin's pipeline is years from being a reality
ANCHORAGE, Alaska: When Governor Sarah Palin took center stage at the Republican convention last week, she sought to burnish her executive credentials by telling how she had engineered the deal that jump-started a long-delayed gas pipeline project.
Stretching more than 1,700 miles, or 2,720 kilometers, it would deliver natural gas from the North Slope of Alaska to the lower 48 states and be the largest private-sector infrastructure project on the continent.
"And when that deal was struck, we began a nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline to help lead America to energy independence," said Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee. "That pipeline, when the last section is laid and its valves are opened, will lead America one step farther away from dependence on dangerous foreign powers that do not have our interests at heart."
The reality, however, is far more ambiguous than the impression Palin has left on the campaign trail.
She was effective in attracting developers to a project that had eluded Alaska governors for three decades. But an examination of the pipeline project also found that Palin has overstated both the progress that has been made and the certainty of success.
The pipeline exists only on paper. The first section has yet to be laid, U.S. government approvals are years away, and the pipeline will not be completed for at least a decade. In fact, although it is the centerpiece of Palin's relatively brief record as governor, the pipeline might never be built, and, under a worst-case scenario, the state could lose up to $500 million that it committed to defray regulatory and other costs.
Contributing to the project's uncertainty is Palin's antagonistic relationship with the major oil companies that control Alaska's untapped gas reserves.
Palin won the governor's office in part by capitalizing on populist distaste for the political establishment's coziness with Big Oil, and her pipeline strategy was intended to blunt its power over the process. Her willingness to take on the oil companies has allowed the McCain campaign to portray her as a scourge of special interests.
Now, though, she will need the industry's cooperation if her plan is to succeed, and just this week, her office said she intended to reach out to the North Slope oil companies.
As Palin takes to the road to campaign with McCain, invoking the pipeline as a major victory, some Alaska lawmakers who initially endorsed her plan now believe it was a mistake. State Senator Bert Stedman, a Republican who is co-chairman of the finance committee, said that in its contract with the chosen developer, TransCanada, the state bargained away too much leverage with little guarantee of success.
"There is no requirement to lift one shovel of dirt or lay down one inch of steel," he said.
A spokesman for Palin, Bill McAllister, denied that her recent statements about the pipeline were misleading. He said they should be viewed within the context of the project's long and frustrating history, dating back to the Carter administration.
"When the governor signed the legislation giving her administration the authority to grant the gas line license to TransCanada, Alaska came closer than it has ever been to seeing the project actually happen," McAllister said. "There is no denying that a major milestone in the project has been reached."
Palin's pipeline plan has its roots in longstanding efforts to access the natural gas under the North Slope, where some of the world's major oil companies, including BP, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips, have exploration and development rights. Congress has prodded all parties involved to develop a plan to tap the gas since at least the 1970s, but the private sector has been unwilling to assume the huge cost of building a pipeline without considerable government tax breaks and other concessions.
Palin's push for a pipeline is central to her view that Alaska is key to helping the United States develop an energy policy that embraces increased domestic production of gas and oil and the development of renewable and alternative energy sources.
Her predecessor, Frank Murkowski, had negotiated an exclusive pipeline deal with the major oil producers that proved unpopular with lawmakers and was never acted on. In the 2006 Republican primary, Palin wielded Murkowski's pipeline proposal against him, calling it a sweetheart deal for Big Oil, which treated Alaska like a colony and faced little resistance from past governors.
Once elected, Palin set about fashioning an alternative that was essentially a 180-degree turn, intended to open up the bidding process to other companies. It also did away with incentives that a consultant for the Legislature estimated would have saved the oil companies an estimated $10 billion over 30 to 40 years.
Amid growing unrest, Bolivia orders U.S. ambassador to leave
CARACAS, Venezuela: The Bolivian president, Evo Morales, ordered the American ambassador, Philip Goldberg, to leave the country on Wednesday, accusing him of supporting rebellious groups in eastern regions that have been rocked by intensifying protests this week.
The expulsion order signals a low point between Bolivia and the United States. Their dealings of late have reflected a heightening tension over American antinarcotics policies and the granting of asylum in the United States to Bolivian officials who fled the country earlier in this decade.
"We do not want people here who conspire against democracy," Morales said in Bolivia's capital, La Paz, announcing the decision to expel Goldberg. Morales, a leftist whose top ally is President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, repeated contentions that Goldberg was helping groups seeking greater political autonomy in eastern Bolivia.
Officials at the American Embassy in Bolivia, which has repeatedly denied Morales's assertions, did not return calls seeking comment. But the State Department said Wednesday evening that it had received no official notification of Morales's order expelling Goldberg, who served as chief of mission to Kosovo before his nomination as ambassador to Bolivia in 2006.
"We are therefore trying to establish the intent of the president's remarks," said Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman. He dismissed Morales's charges against Goldberg as "baseless." The ambassador, Vasquez said, was still at his post.
If the expulsion does occur, it could affect a variety of issues between Bolivia and the United States. Despite a recent deterioration of political relations, Washington remains one of the largest providers of development and antinarcotics aid to Bolivia and grants duty-free access to American markets for Bolivian textiles and other products.
Morales's order came as antigovernment demonstrations were spreading in eastern Bolivia. They took a violent turn on Wednesday in the southern gas-rich department of Tarija, where Bolivia's state energy company accused protesters of causing a pipeline explosion that cut 10 percent of the country's natural gas exports to neighboring Brazil.
Bolivian officials said the pipeline disruption could cost the country about $8 million a day in lost revenue and about $100 million to repair, significant amounts in one of South America's poorest countries.
The protests in Tarija and neighboring departments, or provinces, have intensified since a referendum last month in which more than 67 percent of voters approved of Morales's presidency. Buoyed by those results, Morales, an Aymara Indian who is Bolivia's first president to identify explicitly with his indigenous ancestry, vowed to press ahead with efforts to redistribute land and petroleum royalties from the moneyed elite in eastern lowlands to the country's indigenous majority.
In Santa Cruz, Bolivia's richest city, protesters this week stormed the offices of the tax agency, state television company and state telecommunications company. The protests have disrupted telephone service out of the eastern lowlands and, of more pressing immediate concern, caused shortages of diesel and other fuels in the region.
Oil's curse holds true for World Bank pipeline in Chad
Oil's curse holds true for World Bank pipeline in Chad
By Lydia Polgreen
Thursday, September 11, 2008
DAKAR, Senegal: When the World Bank agreed in 2000 to help finance a $4.2 billion pipeline to tap the undeveloped oil wealth of Chad, one of the world's poorest and most unstable nations, the agreement was a novel response to a persistent African quandary: how to make the continent's rich natural resources pay off for its people, not only for its powerful.
The strategy was to use the World Bank's money and credibility to persuade Chad to dedicate its earnings from oil to attacking its poverty by building schools, roads and hospitals. That experiment expired this week. Chad repaid the $65.7 million it owed the World Bank out of national coffers swollen by more than $1 billion a year in oil revenues, but it had not honored its bargain, the bank said.
"Chad failed to comply with the key requirements of this agreement," the World Bank said Tuesday. "The government did not allocate adequate resources critical for poverty reduction."
Thus concluded one of the most ambitious efforts to escape Africa's "resource curse," wherein the wealth of mineral-rich nations gets siphoned off by corrupt officials.
Under the plan, the World Bank helped finance a 1,065-kilometer, or 665-mile, pipeline for an oil consortium led by Exxon Mobil, linking oil fields in southern Chad with Atlantic Ocean terminals in Cameroon. In exchange, the government of Chad agreed to channel most of its royalties into fighting poverty. An independent oversight board was to approve or deny spending projects based on their prospects for reducing poverty.
But it never really worked that way. In May 2005, the board, in a damning investigation, found that much of the money was being wasted on abuses like shoddy school desks made of buckled wood, computers and printers purchased at inflated prices, and wells, schools and hospitals that were paid for but not completed.
Life has gone from bad to worse for most people in this landlocked country. According to Unicef, child mortality rose from 1990 to 2006. Only one adult in four is literate.
Civic groups and opposition political parties had opposed the pipeline, saying Chad was too corrupt and poorly governed to manage the oil money.
"We knew from the very beginning how this would end," said Antoine Berilengar, a Roman Catholic priest and anti-corruption activist in Chad who served on the oversight panel. "Chad is a corrupt country with no real democracy. The government has simply enriched itself."
Ian Gary, an Oxfam America specialist in managing mineral resources, said it was no surprise that the experiment had failed.
"The World Bank made a gamble," he said. "It knew the situation in Chad going in, but it argued it could build the capacity of the Chadian government and the governance situation would improve alongside the oil boom. But what we have seen in Chad and in so many other places it is that boom and that flow of revenue that undermines governance rather than improving it."
Chad's government repeatedly tried to change the World Bank arrangement. It argued that the threats it faced from a rebellion and from the humanitarian crisis that spilled over from the neighboring Darfur region of Sudan required it to spend oil money on security. In 2006, a compromise was reached that gave the government a freer hand, but the terms were never fully respected.
The World Bank agreement was conceived in the late 1990s, when oil sold for about $20 a barrel, making the prospect of building a pipeline through deepest Africa a money-losing proposition. That has changed - Chad produces 170,000 barrels a day and expects to collect $1.4 billion in oil revenues this year.
Michel Wormser, the bank's director of operations for Africa, said by telephone that the World Bank would continue to help Chad invest its oil windfall in fighting poverty. But he said the demise of the pipeline deal showed that a nation's mineral resources could benefit its people only if "the government is truly committed to sharing these resources in an inclusive manner."
Le Pen to stand down as head of French far-right party
PARIS: France turned a page Thursday when Jean-Marie Le Pen, 80, France's far-right leader and a five-time presidential candidate, announced that he would not run again for the presidency.
The retirement of the man who once dismissed the Nazi gas chambers as a "detail of history" marks the end of a career that has influenced mainstream politicians in France for a quarter century and made headlines across Europe.
Le Pen, who reached the final round of the presidential election in 2002, said Thursday that he was ready to step down from the leadership of his National Front party in 2010 or early 2011 and let his successor contest the next presidential poll in 2012. He made no secret of his preference for his daughter Marine, 40, to take over.
"I am a vigorous octogenarian, but I am also a realist," Le Pen said in a telephone interview Thursday. "Election campaigns require the highest degree of physical and mental capacity so I think it's reasonable to put the next generation in charge."
He added: "Barring exceptional circumstances" - like an unexpected early election before he steps down - "I will not stand again."
Fears of a repeat of Le Pen's performance resurfaced in the election campaign last year. But Sarkozy, who as interior minister preached zero tolerance on crime and passed several laws restricting immigration, openly courted National Front voters and won over enough of them to drop Le Pen's score back to 10 percent and that of his party to below the 5 percent threshold required to get reimbursed by the state for an election campaign.
As a result the National Front is €8 million, or $11.2 million, in debt and was forced to sell its historic party headquarters in the Paris suburbs - to a Chinese university that plans to open a language school there. According to press reports, Le Pen himself has sold his trademark bullet-proof car on eBay to help raise funds.
His crushing defeat has left no doubt in Le Pen's mind who is the Front's No. 1 enemy in the elections to come. "The man who represents the biggest risk to the National Front," Le Pen said Thursday, "is definitely Nicolas Sarkozy."
But he still proudly refers to a term that has crept into French vocabulary: the "LePen-ization" of politics.
"If Sarkozy was successful," he said, "it's because he talked like me."
Marine Le Pen is backed not only by her father but by 76 percent of National Front voters as the next leader of the movement, a recent poll showed. Her style differs markedly from that of her father. She has spent the last five years reaching out to women, younger voters and even voters of immigrant origin. The aim: to soften the front's extremist, xenophobic image and remake itself into a party that could govern.
"French people of immigrant origin are the first ones to demand order in their neighborhoods," Marine Le Pen said this year. "They love the values of France. They are like adopted children; they are often more attached to the family than the others because they chose their family. You would be surprised how many of them like us."
Islamic vase mistaken for claret jug to be sold
LONDON: A rare Islamic crystal jug mistaken earlier this year for a cheap French claret pitcher is expected to sell for millions of dollars at auction.
The 1,000-year-old rock crystal ewer — one of only seven of its kind known to exist — is the highlight of Christie's Oct. 7 sale of Islamic and Indian art, with an estimated price of at least US$5.3 million.
But in January Lawrences auction house in southwest England identified it as a 19th-century French claret jug and offered it for sale for US$175 to US$350.
Some collectors sensed it was more special than that. After a bidding war, the jug sold for US$385,000, more than 1,000 times the list price.
Christie's said it has now been identified as "one of the rarest and most desirable works of art from the Islamic world."
Train fire injures 6 and closes Channel tunnel
PARIS: A fire broke out Thursday on a train shuttling trucks under the English Channel between England and France, injuring six people and suspending traffic in the undersea tunnel, officials said.
Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze after it broke out about 11 kilometers, or seven miles, from the French side, said a representative of Eurotunnel, the company that operates the tunnel.
The shuttle train was carrying 32 people when the fire broke out just before 4 p.m., Eurotunnel said. Most were drivers accompanying their trucks, and all were evacuated safely, he said.
The fire erupted on a single truck carried by the train, and traffic in the 50-kilometer tunnel will remain suspended until Friday, according to SNCF, France's rail operator. The cause of the fire had not been determined as of Thursday evening.
The train was in an undersea section of the tunnel on the French side, about 11 kilometers from Calais, said Mady Chabrier, a spokeswoman for Eurotunnel.
The French Interior Ministry said the fire started on a truck carrying phenol, a toxic, flammable product used in various industries. Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said the truck exploded.
Eurostar, which provides passenger service between London's St. Pancras Station and Paris and Brussels, said that none of its trains were in the tunnel and that its services had been canceled for the rest of Thursday.
The regional administration office in Calais, which is overseeing the response to the fire, said six people were injured. Several people were sent to nearby hospitals for treatment, an office spokesman said. Their conditions were not immediately available.
The Eurotunnel and regional administration officials were not authorized to be publicly named.
The French interior minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, was traveling to the scene, her office said.
Fires have rarely broken out in the tunnel, which opened for commercial traffic in 1994.
In August 2006, the tunnel was closed for several hours after a fire broke out on a truck loaded onto a freight train. No one was hurt.
A larger fire broke out on a train carrying heavy-goods vehicles through the tunnel on Nov. 18, 1996. No one was killed, but several people were hurt. A large stretch of the tunnel, which closed for two weeks, was damaged. The fire led to new safety precautions for trains using the tunnel.
Stendhal at his best: A 'worthless' historian
A 'worthless' historian
I didn't follow Julien Sorel into the military or the seminary but I have stayed with his creator, Henri Beyle - better known by his nom de plume, Stendhal - throughout my life. I have just rediscovered his novel "The Red and the Black" in a pungent new translation.
"R&B," as it is known to fans, has been regarded as a classic for 150 years and still crosses cultural boundaries with ease. I first read it in church, holding it concealed in the dust jacket of a Bible, arguably a gambit worthy of the adventurous rascal Julien himself.
It does not bother me that Stendhal is highly unreliable as a chronicler of 19th century Europe, even though his stories take place amid much of that period's chaos. Nor did it bother him. "I make no claim to veracity except in matters that touched my feelings," he once wrote. He had no patience with place names or dates.
The Austrian novelist and critic Stefan Zweig is more direct. "Few writers have lied as much or taken such pleasure in mystifying the world as Stendhal," he asserted in an essay on the French author. Paradoxically, he added, "few writers have spoken the truth better and more profoundly than he."
What mattered to Stendhal were the private thoughts and telling details of his colorful characters, such as a woman's furtive gesture or tone of voice. His lovers' hand-squeezes and withdrawals go on for paragraphs.
All of Stendhal's big novels make use of inner monologue to get inside the heads of the protagonists. Out of this technique emerged the psychological novel as we know it, winning the praise of Balzac and Zola, and influencing such masters as Dostoevsky. It was Zola who called Stendhal "the father of us all."
Now "The Red and the Black" is getting a new lease on life with an updated English-language version by the renowned translator Burton Raffel. His version has all but replaced the decorous text produced in the 1920s by the Scottish-born writer-translator C.K. Scott-Moncrieff.
In the new R&B, every sentence is retooled. "A thousand leagues" as a metaphor becomes "a million miles," "open-work stockings" becomes "fishnet stockings," "fondling" of children and pets is replaced with "caressing." And at the climax of the story, "His head would fall" becomes, "His head was going to be cut off."
I spoke with Raffel, emeritus professor of humanities and arts at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, to see what he was hoping to accomplish with his painstaking update. "Stendhal wrote with fevered intensity, and that is what I wanted to capture," Raffel said. The new R&B brings this sense to the surface. Raffel says he got so involved in his characters that at the end of his translation work, as Julien is guillotined, he burst into tears.
"Some people translate words," he said. "I translate what the word means." This required a line-by-line tracking of the French original to find the true meaning of the language suited to the modern reader.
To critics who have objected to Stendhal's historical errors, Raffel is frankly dismissive: "As a historian, he was worthless - but he was not a historian." This book survives, he believes, because the story sweeps the reader into another era, yet still seems current.
R&B moves along at such a frantic pace, however, that one British critic, Christopher Booker, calls Julien a cardboard character caught in an implausible swirl of events. Author of "The Seven Basic Plots," Booker classifies Julien's story as a standard "rags to riches" yarn topped off by tragedy - his decapitation. Most Stendhal fans would find that assessment harsh.
Stendhal, born in 1783 in provincial Grenoble, never adapted to Paris society. He traveled much, responding to new venues like a finely tuned musical instrument. Bordeaux was "the most beautiful city in France"; Florence was so beautiful he felt he would faint in the street. He marched with Napoleon to Russia but stayed in the rear. As Moscow burned, he was in Vilnius where a brass plaque marks his visit.
And yet with all his literary milestones, none of his works were in print when he died in 1842. His end was pitiful. He was taking a toxic cure to treat syphilis, resulting in swollen armpits, difficulty swallowing, sleeplessness, giddiness, roaring in the ears, a racing pulse and tremors so bad he could scarcely hold a pen. Indeed, he dictated "Charterhouse of Parma" in this sorry state while serving as French consul in the south of Italy.
Henri Beyle had a seizure in Paris, collapsed and died a few hours later. That nearly made me want to burst into tears.
Israeli police think they have found missing French girl
JERUSALEM — Israeli police divers dredging a Tel Aviv river on Thursday pulled up a red wheeled duffel bag they said holds the body of a 4-year-old French girl believed killed by her mother's lover — a man who happens to be the child's grandfather.
The search for Rose Pizem and the tangled tale of her short life have riveted the nation for weeks — and given rise to much public soul searching over how a child could disappear for months without anyone's noticing.
Autopsy results were pending, but police clearly believed the body inside the bag was the blue-eyed, auburn-haired Rose, who disappeared in May.
"We found the girl's body, but it needs to undergo tests so we can be completely sure it's her," Police Commissioner David Cohen told reporters. Avi Nauman, police commander in the Tel Aviv area, told reporters that there was "a terrible stench coming from the suitcase."
Rose's 45-year-old grandfather, Roni Ron, initially told police he had struck and killed the little girl in a fit of rage and threw a suitcase containing her body into the Yarkon River. But recently, he said he confessed under duress. Both he and the girl's mother, 23-year-old Marie-Charlotte Renault, have been in police custody for weeks.
The girl's father, Benjamin Pizem, told Associated Press Television News from his home in suburban Paris that Israeli police informed him about the discovery of the body.
"I was shocked when I saw the images on television of the suitcase," he said, adding he had nothing further to say until the body was identified.
The autopsy, which police had said would be completed Thursday, was delayed after Ron and Renault's lawyer petitioned to have a representative present.
Much remains a mystery about Rose's life and death, but investigators, neighbors and social workers have painted a harrowing picture of a maltreated child surrounded by generations of dysfunctional adults.
Central characters in the dark drama are a young French mother and her estranged husband's father, who usurped his son's place in the woman's life and fathered two more daughters with her, becoming Rose's de facto stepfather as well as her grandfather.
Renault met Pizem, Ron's estranged son, in Paris when they were both still in their teens. After Rose was born in 2003, the couple traveled to Israel with their child so Pizem could reconcile with his father.
But Renault became smitten with the young grandfather, and the scorned Pizem went back to France, taking the girl with him. Renault suspected he abused her — a charge he denies — and brought her back to Israel.
Police investigators said Rose suffered a range of emotional and developmental problems. They said she had difficulty speaking, wasn't toilet trained and often banged her head against the wall.
For two months, Rose's disappearance went unnoticed by authorities, until Ron's mother notified social workers that the child had vanished in May and she feared for her well-being. Ron was arrested three weeks later.
He first told investigators he killed Rose by accident and dumped her body in the river. He later changed his story several times, saying he had trafficked her to Palestinians, sent her to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish boarding school and arranged for her to go abroad.
Putin seeks understanding for Russia's actions
MOSCOW: For three and a half hours on Thursday, in tones that were alternately pugilistic and needy, Vladimir Putin tried to explain himself.
More than a month has passed since Russia sent columns of armor into Georgia, asserting its sphere of influence with a confidence not seen since the days of the Soviet Union. But since the first hours of this crisis, Russian leaders have been asking the same question with mounting frustration: Why is everyone blaming us for this?
Putin, Russia's prime minister, made his case Thursday before the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, a collection of Russia experts from around the world. Comments aimed at the West were, at times, rueful - he said he liked President George W. Bush far more than many Americans do - and even respectful, as when he asked for a moment of silence in honor of the victims of Sept. 11.
As for the criticism that has cascaded down on his government, Putin expressed only bafflement that the West does not believe Russia was acting in self-defense.
How did Georgia expect Russia to respond to the shelling of its peacekeepers in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, he asked - with "children's catapults?" Did they expect him to "brandish a pen knife?"
"What else could we do?" he said, according to the Interfax news agency. "Do you think we should have wiped the bloody snot from our nose and bowed down?"
But while Russia has been an unbending partner across the negotiating table, what its leaders seem to want more than anything is to be understood.
To that end, Putin gave a detailed timeline of the events that led up to Russia's thrust into Georgia, characterizing its actions as restrained. The 58th Army, he said, moved through the Roki Tunnel into South Ossetia on Aug. 8 with the sole purpose of securing it, and did not move into Tskhinvali until early morning on Aug. 10.
The action, he explained, was partly aimed at quelling growing instability in the Russian part of the north Caucasus. There, he asserted, "certain nongovernmental organizations in certain republics" had "raised the question of separation from Russia under the pretext of nonprotection of South Ossetia."
"They claim it was bad that we protected South Ossetia," he said, according to Interfax. "Yet we would have had a new problem if we had not done that."
Putin seemed particularly stung by language used by the European Union, which condemned the Russian invasion as "disproportionate." He said Georgian control posts, arms depots and radar stations were distributed across a wide area.
The Russians, he said, had no option but to proceed beyond the conflict zone and into Georgian-held territory - not unlike the Soviet Army in World War II, which kept fighting abroad even after it had driven Nazi forces back across their borders.
"By the way, it was not only Soviet forces that entered Berlin," he said. "There were Americans, the French, the British there. Why did you go there? You could have done some shooting along the borders and called it a day."
Putin issued a great number of reassurances on Thursday: He said Russia had "no ideological conflict" with the West; he said he would be willing to eliminate stockpiles of nuclear weapons; he said he expected Georgians to oust their president, Mikheil Saakashvili, without any help from Russia. Russia, he said, was "not against anybody."
Well, almost anybody; he spoke of the Western media with undisguised contempt.
"I am surprised at how powerful the propaganda machine of the so-called West is," he said. "This is awesome! Amazing!" Watching electronic media from Beijing, where he was for the opening of the Olympic Games, during the first days of the crisis, he said, he saw "absolute silence, as if nothing was happening. As if this was commanded. I congratulate you. I congratulate those who were involved in this."
For the better part of the conversation, the prime minister, formerly the two-term president of Russia, gave measured answers, occasionally jousting with his questioners. He actually seemed to be enjoying himself.
Putin said it was "a shame" that the crisis had fallen to his handpicked successor, Medvedev, whom he described as "an intelligent, contemporary man of liberal views."
Not a single tank, Putin said, would have moved without direct orders from Medvedev. The decision to invade was the president's. Putin continued: "I never impose my advice on him."
There has been much speculation among Western analysts and Russians themselves about the division of power and labor between Putin and his younger protégé. Traditionally in the Russian system, the president takes care of foreign and security policy, and the prime minister is more of a manager of the economy.
Yet it was Putin who appeared on the Caucasus battlefield, flying back from Beijing to meet with Russian generals and visit Russian wounded.
"As for your humble servant," Putin said Thursday. "Earlier, the problems of economic development consumed 80 percent of my time. Now I spend much more on it."
Earlier Thursday, the leader of South Ossetia offered conflicting versions of its relations with Moscow, first saying that he wanted to join Russia but then insisting that he favored independence.
For its part, Moscow moved quickly to dampen any speculation about its designs on South Ossetia, saying the impoverished region did not wish to join Russia.
"South Ossetia doesn't wish to join up with anyone," Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said during a visit to Warsaw, The Associated Press reported.
Russia recognized the independence of both South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, on Aug. 26.
At the Valdai meeting on Thursday, the leader of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, was quoted as saying that his region wanted to be part of Russia after a phase of independence followed by union with North Ossetia, which is part of the Russian Federation.
"Yes, we will seek union with North Ossetia within the Russian Federation," Kokoity was quoted as saying.
In a later statement, however, Kokoity declared: "I have probably been misunderstood. We are not going to relinquish our independence, which we won at the cost of colossal sacrifices, and South Ossetia is not going to become part of Russia."
"Yes, many in South Ossetia are talking about reunification with North Ossetia within Russia, and nobody can ban expressing such ideas," Kokoity was quoted by Interfax as saying. "But South Ossetia is not going to become part of Russia."
South Ossetia, which broke with Georgia in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and has been heavily dependent on Moscow, had spoken in the past of joining Russia.
But Lavrov's remarks made clear that, at least for the moment, Russia has other plans.
Participants at the Sochi meeting said Kokoity's remarks Thursday underscored the region's unpredictability and its potential for complexity.
Killing the messengers in Putin's Russia
The journalist Magomed Yevloyev annoyed the authorities in Ingushetia, a predominantly Muslim region of the Caucasus in the Russian Federation. Yevloyev operated a Web site, ingushetia.ru, critical of corruption among the region's bosses and their violent repression of political opponents. The authorities repeatedly tried to shut down Yevloyev's Web site. When they finally succeeded in silencing him, their method exposed a vein of gangsterism that runs from the periphery of Russia to the pinnacle of the Kremlin.
On Aug. 31, Yevloyev flew into the region's capital on the same plane as Ingushetia's governor, Murat Zyazikov, a former KGB general and collaborator of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Web site gadfly reportedly had an argument with the governor during the flight. When he debarked, he was shoved into a police car and driven off. He was found soon after at the roadside, with a bullet in his head. The authorities put out a story about an "incident," a far-fetched tale of an accidental shooting after Yevloyev allegedly grabbed for the gun of one of his police captors.
The Russian human rights organization Memorial, originally founded to preserve the memory of Stalin's victims, pulled no punches. It called the assassination of Yevloyev an "act of state terror." Reporters Without Borders, the international organization for the protection of journalists, expressed shock and called on the European Union to demand "an explanation of what really happened."
Reporters Without Borders is properly defending the public's right to know by casting light on a government's use of violence to intimidate or silence journalists. In Russia, there is a great need for such light to be cast. Since 1990, at least 291 journalists have been killed or disappeared in Russia, and only a few cases have resulted in convictions.
The statement from Memorial evoked memories of a not-so-distant past, when a ruler in the Kremlin was the ultimate terrorist. In this way, the Russian human rights group was warning that the murder of one Web site proprietor in Ingushetia may reflect the character of the regime that rules the Kremlin today.
The next U.S. president will need to comprehend what Memorial is suggesting about the power system Putin and his old KGB cronies have created. The American leader will have to deal with the Kremlin on the basis of converging national interests, but there should be no illusions either about Putin's soul or the regime's respect for the rule of law.
In search of Governor Palin
It is well past time for Sarah Palin, Republican running mate, governor of Alaska and self-proclaimed reformer, to fill in for the voting public the gaping blanks about her record and her qualifications to be vice president.
The best way to do that would be exactly what the campaign of John McCain is avoiding - an honest news conference. Instead, she has been the bell-jar candidate, barnstorming safe crowds with socko punch lines and plans for a single interview on ABC News built around a visit to Fairbanks, Alaska and her hometown of Wasilla.
Just in time for that appearance, Palin, who was proclaiming her family's privacy a week ago, will make a political event out of her son's deployment to Iraq. But as for talking to reporters in general, the McCain campaign sniffishly says they must first show "some level of respect and deference."
That is a peculiar response for someone who is campaigning as one tough, transparent politician who can take the heat. Why not some detailed questioning? With deference, we believe many questions will arise about this largely unknown politician as reporters properly search beyond the wholesome anecdotes.
Palin is positioning herself as the kind of politician who knows how to manage the people's money. She got a big cheer from the Republican convention when McCain said she had put the Alaska governor's private plane on eBay.
The running mates both failed to mention that it did not sell on eBay and that she unloaded it later to a businessman for a $600,000 loss. The Chicago Tribune reported that the majority of the plane's time was used to transport prisoners from Alaska's crowded jails to Arizona, a job now done by federal marshals.
All of which made it vexing to read the disclosure by The Washington Post that Palin billed Alaska taxpayers for more than 300 nights that she spent at home in her first 18 months in office. The campaign claims the $60-a-day allowance is proper, and various states do have differing per-diem approaches. But voters ought to hear the candidate answering such questions, not for purposes of petty quibbling, but to help fill out their skimpy sense of who Palin actually is.
She could explain, as well, why she was for the Bridge to Nowhere when it was first proposed and reversed field once it became a symbol of legislative abuse. Even then, the governor helped recycle the $223 million in federal pork to other state needs.
Voters have a right to hear Palin explain in detail her qualifications to be standby president with no national or foreign policy experience. More is required of any serious candidate for such a high office than one interview with questions put by one selected source.
Biden living up to his gaffe-prone reputation
Senator Joseph Biden Jr., the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, is an experienced, serious and smart man. But he does say some curious things. A day on the campaign trail without some cringe-inducing gaffe is a rare blessing. He has not been too blessed lately.
Just this week, he mused that Senator Barack Obama might have been better off with Hillary Rodham Clinton as his running mate.
"Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America," Biden said Wednesday in Nashua, New Hampshire. "Quite frankly it might have been a better pick than me."
Earlier in the week, in Columbia, Missouri, Biden urged a paraplegic state official to stand up to be recognized.
"Chuck, stand up, let the people see you," Biden shouted to State Senator Chuck Graham, before realizing, to his horror, that Graham uses a wheelchair. "Oh, God love ya," Biden said. "What am I talking about?"
Facebook for the kindergarten set
IT would be easy to assume that the first month of Cameron Chase's life followed the monotonous cycle of eat-sleep-poop familiar to any new parent. But anyone who has read his oft-updated profile on Totspot, a site billed as Facebook for children, knows better. Cameron, of Winter Garden, Florida, has lounged poolside in a bouncy seat with his grandparents, noted that Tropical Storm Fay passed by his hometown, and proclaimed that he finds the abstract Kandinsky print above his parents' bed "very stimulating!"
Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Dominic Miguel Alexander Carrasco, 7 months old, uses his Totspot page to share his obsessions with his entourage. His fave nickname? Buddy or Big Boy. His fave book? "Green Eggs and Ham." His fave food? Unsurprisingly, "mom's milk."
Of course, these busy social networkers don't actually post journal entries or befriend playground acquaintances themselves. Their sleep-deprived parents are behind the curtain, shaping their children's online identities even before they are diaper-free.
"It does feel a little funny to personalize it in his voice and be connecting to other babies as him," said Kristin Chase, 29, Cameron's mother, who updates his page at least every other day.
But considering that relatives clamor for updates, she enjoys being able to catalogue 10-week-old Cameron's doings in one Web-accessible place. "Knowing his daddy, it won't be long before he's blogging about himself anyway," she said, referring to her husband, Nathan, 29. He joined Odadeo, a site still in beta that allows dads to blog on behalf of baby as well as meet other fathers.
Call it convenient. Call it baby overshare. But a host of new sites, including Totspot, Odadeo, Lil'Grams and Kidmondo, now offer parents a chance to forgo the e-mail blasts of, say, their newborn's first trip home and instead invite friends and family to join and contribute to a network geared to connecting them to the baby in their lives.
"It's an interesting model," said Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist for the Pew Internet & American Life Project. "Everyone can decide how much or little they want to know about a baby, which avoids the situation of receiving a few too many e-mails about someone's wonderful child, and parents can decide how much they want to share — in minimal or maximal ways."
But does the world really need online social networking for babies?
A few entrepreneurs and many Web-forward parents think so. As of this month, Totspot has accumulated 15,000 users. Kidmondo and Lil'Grams, both started last year, each have thousands of users worldwide.
"We're seeing a rising tide of parenting interest on social networks," said Adam Ostrow, the editor of Mashable, a news blog about social networking sites. "Recently, I've noticed a lot of Facebook users are adding their children to their profiles."
Ostrow sees parents' posting on behalf of their children as a "natural evolution" of say, Twittering about oneself.
"We are at a very pro-parenting moment in time," said Pamela Paul, the author of the book "Parenting, Inc." "It's reflected in our offline culture and on the Web. We are all screaming about it at the top of our lungs."
So much so that some early adopters have become ventriloquists for their children, even those too young to speak for themselves. With a quick glance at a cheerful profile, parents can also handpick their offspring's playmates much like online daters choose companions.
While pregnant, Erin Carrasco, 25, mother of Dominic, friended other moms-to-be online, whose newborns became part of Dominic's network on Totspot. And now on Thursdays, a few of those baby friends (and their moms) join Carrasco and Dominic offline in a group focusing on babies' health.
Julie Ward, 38, is less adventurous about whom she friends online for her son Dixon. She keeps Dixon's network restricted to people she already knows offline and uses his Totspot page to capture fleeting moments in his development.
One milestone: He gobbled up his first Oreo two weeks ago. "Even collecting the smallest details helps me remember the overall picture of this time of his life," she said, "though my biggest concern apart from whether we can print all this out for Dixon in hard copy is about privacy, which so far seems O.K."
Founders of this new breed of baby sites, for all their networking aspirations, allow parents to choose whom they want to invite to view and share information about their child. Totspot even has a feature that allows users to track who has visited their child's Web page and when.
TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL
In Toronto, sampling realism's resurgence
In an article this month my colleague Manohla Dargis took note of this development, citing Lance Hammer's "Ballast" and Kelly Reichardt's "Wendy and Lucy" as examples of the kind of socially engaged, unsentimental American realism that has crept into view, and into some measure of critical acceptance, in recent years. Reichardt's film, which is making a stop in Toronto en route from Cannes to the New York Film Festival, is both exemplary and somewhat exceptional.
It is exemplary because of its strong sense of place and its commitment to exploring the hard facts of American life without sentimentality or message-mongering, in a way that is rare in American movies. But "Wendy and Lucy" stands a bit apart from other movies like it because of the participation of Michelle Williams. She can't help being a movie star, even if her portrayal of a young woman adrift in the Pacific Northwest is marked by an authenticity that challenges conventional notions of film acting.
More commonly, like their counterparts elsewhere, the new American realists — or neo-neo-realists, or cosmopolitan regionalists, or whatever name we settle on once the wave has crested — employ nonprofessional actors.
The new realism, as I've been suggesting, is a global phenomenon, less a style than an impulse that surfaces, with local variations, from Romania to Kazakhstan, from Argentina to Belgium. It even shows up, somewhat unexpectedly, in "The Wrestler," the latest film from Darren Aronofsky, whose "Pi" established him as an indie wunderkind 10 years ago.
"The Wrestler," which just won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival and was snatched up by Fox Searchlight, tells the story of an aging, down-on-his luck professional wrestler played by Mickey Rourke. The plot leans a bit too heavily on some familiar, sentimental characters and situations (an estranged child, a stripper with a heart of gold, a predictable stumble on the way to redemption), but it is impossible to argue with Rourke's performance. He doesn't look like a movie star playing a battered wreck, but like the genuine article.
There is such subtlety and coherence in his performance that you never doubt it for a minute, even when the script invites you to. But the feeling of immediacy that is the best feature of "The Wrestler" doesn't arise only from Rourke's performance. The way Aronofsky frequently films the actor — in long tracking shots, with a handheld camera following behind him — also draws the viewer into the character's world and his perception of it even as the character himself, his face glimpsed from the side or not at all, remains elusive.
How much Girl Talk is too much?
Most teenage girls love to talk to their friends. And talk. And talk.
As Debra Lee, the Brooklyn mother of a 13-year-old, observes about her daughter Tessa and Tessa's teenage friends: "They just keep talking. All day. On the phone all night. Sometimes I think they just like to hear each other breathe."
Virginia Woolf said, "Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends."
Female friendship, in all its lovely layers and potentially dark complexities, is inexhaustible grist for film, television and literature from "Heathers" and "Mean Girls" to "Thelma and Louise," "Sex and the City," "Gossip Girl" and "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants."
And who has time to keep up with all the falling ins and falling outs of celebrity BFF's and Frenemies?
But recently female friendship and girl talk, particularly among adolescents, has drawn growing interest from psychologists and researchers examining the question of how much talking is too much talking. Some studies have found that excessive talking about problems can contribute to emotional difficulties, including anxiety and depression.
The term researchers use is "co-rumination" to describe frequently or obsessively discussing the same problem. The behavior is typical among teens Why didn't he call? Should I break up with him? And, psychologists say, it has intensified significantly with e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging and Facebook. And in certain cases it can spin into a potentially contagious and unhealthy emotional angst, experts say.
The research distinguishes between sharing or "self-disclosure," which is associated with positive friendships and positive feelings, and dwelling on problems, concerns and frustrations. Dwelling and rehashing issues can keep girls, who are more prone to depression and anxiety than boys, stuck in negative thinking patterns, psychologists say. But they also say it is a mixed picture: friends who co-ruminate tend to be close, and those intimate relationships can build self-esteem.
For boys, such intense emotional conversations, which tend to occur less often, did not contribute to heightened anxiety or depressive moods, according to research by Amanda J. Rose, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
"When girls are talking about these problems, it probably feels good to get that level of support and validation," said Rose, whose latest study on co-rumination was published in the journal Developmental Psychology last year. "But they are not putting two and two together, that actually this excessive talking can make them feel worse."
Teenage girls are particularly vulnerable to co-ruminating and depression and anxiety because "there are so many stressors in adolescence and a lot are ambiguous," Rose added. "So things like starting dating or starting serious relationships with boys, concerns about cliques, being popular these very social stressors, they can be really hard to control and they really lend themselves to rumination."
Rose first published a paper on co-rumination in 2002, in the journal Child Development, and has, along with other psychologists, continued to study it. In her study published last year, she followed 813 third-, fifth-, seventh- and ninth-grade girls and boys over six months. Researchers at the State University at Stony Brook will soon publish another paper on co-rumination. Both studies confirm Rose's earlier findings.
The relationships the experts looked at will certainly be familiar to many teenagers and parents.
Lee's daughter Tessa Lee-Thomas said she sometimes felt worse after talking to friends about problems. "Sometimes we get into disagreements," said Tessa, who lives in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. "And we have to settle them. My friends think that my other friend did something wrong, but she didn't do something wrong. Sometimes it makes the situation worse than where we were when we began. It spiraled into something bigger than it was."
Patricia Letayf, a sophomore at Tufts University, said she tended to overanalyze situations and ask many different friends for advice about the same problem, which at times made her feel more anxious.
"It's like you want to solve a problem whatever it may be, but the advice of one person never satisfies you and you're constantly on the hunt for more advice," she said. "I think a lot of times you are looking for empathy and you want someone to feel the way you do. You want your feelings to be justified. In the end, I hope to feel better. You want them to say, 'It's O.K. he dumped you, you failed the test.' You're seeking reassurance."
Letayf, 19, spent the summer as a camp counselor and said she noticed that the nine-year-old girls at the camp were already starting to obsess about their problems talking about the boys at the camp and about conflicts between two groups of girls.
"I could see it starting already," she said, adding that she has made a concerted effort recently not to dwell on her own problems with friends and to try to stop negative thoughts. "From sixth grade, it's boys are stupid, boys have cooties," she said. "And then it progresses to boys have cooties but 20-year-old cooties. So you might as well change it when you can."
Trish Gilbert, a Brooklyn mother of 11-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, and a 16-year-old daughter, said she worried sometimes about "kids giving kids advice."
But she said she was pleased when her younger daughter, after feeling mistreated by a fifth-grade classmate last year, decided with some other friends to do something about it, rather than just ruminating. They consulted the American Girl series book "Friends: Making Them and Keeping Them," which offers suggestions, for example, on how many chances to give a friend. The girls talked about forgiveness and even did some role-playing.
THE research into co-rumination has looked only at symptoms of depression and anxiety over short periods and has not established a basis for predicting long-term negative effects.
But a related mental hazard is what psychologists call "emotion contagion" or "contagious anxiety," in which one person's negative thoughts or anxiety can affect another's mood, sometimes over a long period. Research has shown that people who live with others suffering from depression tend to become depressed themselves. Teenage girls who intentionally cut themselves are said to draw friends into the behavior.
A great deal of research, including the work on co-rumination, has shown the emotional benefits of friendship, particularly in instances of physical bullying among boys or "relational aggression," which is more common among girls and typically characterized by teasing, rejection or even emotional torture.
With co-rumination, psychologists studying it say, one way for parents, and friends, to avoid the negative consequences is to focus on problem-solving, rather than on problem-dwelling, much as Gilbert's daughter and her friends did in consulting the American Girl book.
"It's a fine line," said Joanne Davila, associate professor of psychology at the State University at Stony Brook, whose paper on co-rumination is being published by the Journal of Adolescence. "We want to encourage young girls to have friends and to use their friends for support, but we may want to help them learn how to use more active techniques. So if there is a problem, how do you solve it?"
Toby Sitnick, a Brooklyn psychologist who works with adolescent girls, said therapists had also tried to move away from focusing on problems to focusing on good experiences and solutions.
"There are quite a few adolescent girls who have high levels of obsessive thinking to begin with," Sitnick said. "They often do this with their mothers as well. It certainly does seem to be a female behavior, and grown women do it, too, ruminating about certain issues and experiences. It can become a mutual complaint society."
Afghans say life no better after invasion
SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan: Seven years after the attacks on New York and Washington, the event that sparked off the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, many Afghans say life is no better and some say its worse.
Following the overthrow of the hardline Islamist Taliban in late 2001 by U.S.-led and Afghan forces, Afghans hoped their country, ravaged by decades of war, would finally see peace.
But with al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden still on the loose, a worsening security situation and the slow pace of development, Afghans have become disillusioned and frustrated.
A recent spate of civilian deaths caused by U.S.-led air strikes has added salt to their wounds.
"After the 9/11 attacks, when the U.S. and her allies overthrew the Taliban government, the U.S. promised the Afghan nation stability, safety and jobs," Haji Allah Dad, a 60-year-old trader in the southern town of Spin Boldak, said.
"But they have done nothing for us. They drop bombs on the civilian population and have killed thousands of Afghans in the last seven years, while the Taliban get stronger day by day."
Spin Boldak is a bustling town in the southern province of Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban and where the militant group still draws much of its support.
In February, a suicide bomber in Spin Boldak killed 37 civilians and wounded 30 more. The attack came just one day after another bomber killed more than 100 people in Kandahar city.
"We feel no change in our lives," said Mohammad Usman, a 40-year-old shopkeeper from Spin Boldak.
"They (foreign forces) are not the enemy of the Taliban, they are the enemy of the Afghan people. The U.S. army calls us al Qaeda and kills us but we don't know what al-Qaeda is."
Violence has surged in Afghanistan over the last three years with more than 2,500 people killed, including 1,000 civilians, in the first six months of this year alone, aid agencies say.
While most civilians are killed in insurgent attacks, usually bystanders in suicide blasts, it is the killing of ordinary Afghans by foreign forces that evokes the greatest emotions.
The issue has caused a rift between the Afghan government and its Western backers, and undermines public opinion for the continued presence of foreign forces in the country.
Ali Jan, a 30-year-old bearded man from Spin Boldak, wants the Taliban back because under them life was safer, he says.
"In those times there were no security problems. Now U.S. forces began killing Afghan civilians and destroying our country," said Ali Jan, adding that he had paid the Taliban money during this holy month of Ramadan.
"We are forced to help the Taliban against the occupying forces because the Taliban are Muslims and Afghans. They are fighting for the freedom of Afghanistan," he said.
Frustration at the country's deteriorating security is not confined to the volatile south. Taliban insurgents have been able to launch increasingly daring and deadly attacks inside the relative safety of Kabul.
"Life did change in the first years after the invasion," said Azim, a money-changer on one of Kabul's streets.
"But now security has become worse and people are escaping Afghanistan. If the insecurity continues, people will turn against the U.S. like they did against the Taliban."
Afghan leader embraces new Pakistani president
KABUL, Afghanistan: President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said Thursday that he had found a better working environment in Pakistan with the election of the new president, Asif Ali Zardari, welcoming what he described as the "serious and fundamental change" in Pakistan's attitude to Afghanistan and the region.
Karzai, who was the only foreign leader to attend Zardari's inauguration in Islamabad on Tuesday, had an often testy relationship with Zardari's predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, one that despite public professions of brotherhood frequently descended into mutual recriminations.
Karzai has also repeatedly criticized Pakistan's military and its intelligence service, accusing them of encouraging terrorism and supporting militant attacks against Afghanistan.
But speaking at a news conference in Kabul, the Afghan capital, he said that he was met with "good will" during his visit to Pakistan this week and that he saw in Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, someone who wanted peace for the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan and the entire region.
"I hope we can use a great deal from this for the good of both countries and the good of peace and security in the region, to expel the murderous elements, the terrorists, the enemies of people and Islam," Karzai said.
He said Afghanistan would meet every step Pakistan took toward improving relations and fighting terrorism with several steps from its own side.
Karzai had a good relationship with Bhutto, and met with her in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, on the morning of her assassination last December, after she had returned to the country to run in parliamentary elections. He had praised her as someone who understood the dangers of terrorism and the need to move against the militant sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Karzai's government warned her that there was a threat to her life before her return from self-exile to Pakistan in October 2007. Her procession through the city of Karachi on her arrival in Pakistan was attacked by a double suicide bombing, which she survived. She was assassinated three months later, on Dec. 27, in an attack by another suicide bomber in Rawalpindi, the garrison town adjacent to Islamabad.
A challenge for Washington
Ashley Tellis is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
About the only thing civilian and military leaders in Pakistan agree on is that they don't want to fight the American war on terror - at least, not as Washington would have them fight it. On Sept. 6, the Pakistani legislature elected Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the slain Benazir Bhutto, as the country's new president. Zardari promptly promised to fight terrorism more resolutely and to deal with his country's deepening maladies, which include an entrenched Taliban presence in Pakistan's tribal regions, a massive inflation of food and fuel prices, and a worsening fiscal deficit.
Zardari will not likely be able to remedy these problems anytime soon, so the next president of the United States will inherit the challenge of persuading the Pakistani leadership that it needs to continue prosecuting an unpopular, but necessary, war. The fact remains that if the United States wants to wipe out Al Qaeda, it will need Islamabad's help, and if it wants to consolidate a stable democratic government in Afghanistan, it will need Islamabad to go after senior Afghan Taliban leaders and their Pakistani associates like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani.
If Pakistan is to undertake these tasks, the next administration will need to make fundamental changes in its approach: It will have to strengthen the civilian government in Islamabad, while still maintaining a cooperative relationship with the Pakistani military.
These two objectives may frequently be at odds, and they embody genuine dilemmas for Washington. The war on terror necessitates continued U.S. engagement of the Pakistani military but, if not conducted appropriately, such a partnership could weaken civil authority in Islamabad and strengthen the national security state in Pakistan, which has historically been the chief cause of Pakistan's problems.
The alternative strategy of emphasizing Pakistani civilian supremacy, on the other hand, could - if not managed carefully - undermine the Pakistani military cooperation necessary for the success of counterterrorism operations and could in fact become a double whammy if the Zardari regime fails to govern responsibly.
Unfortunately, Washington can neither escape this dilemma nor resolve it by seizing only one of its horns. After all, the United States has as much of an interest in defeating terrorism as it does in helping Pakistanis build a lasting democratic government. The next U.S. administration, therefore, will have to juggle the twin tasks of supporting democratic consolidation in Pakistan while simultaneously remaining engaged with its military, however contradictory in principle and difficult in practice this may be.
This will of necessity require broad and patient engagement with Pakistan. It will require working with Pakistan's civilian leaders to overcome the pressing food and energy shortages through targeted assistance, while aiding them to repair their weakened democratic institutions. It will require increased U.S. assistance for education, particularly public education, which remains the best weapon against Pakistan's atavistic feudal structures and its religious radicalization. The Biden-Lugar bill, which aims to expand civilian over military aid, is a worthwhile initiative that deserves the support of the incoming administration (even if Biden isn't part of it), but it will necessitate enlarged U.S. monitoring capacity to succeed. It will require encouraging India and Pakistan to complete the reconciliation process they began several years ago. And it requires pressing Pakistan to increase its trading links with India so that the latter's dynamic economy can help raise Pakistan's economic growth as well.
Even as these efforts are underway, Washington must continue to assist Pakistan to fight the war on terror despite the fact that the Pakistan Army is tired, overextended and ill-equipped to fight terrorism and insurgency. The first objective here must be to get the army and its intelligence organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence, out of the terrorism business altogether. The second objective must be to assist the army with equipment and training to do something it has never done before: recognize that Pakistan's real enemies are to be found within the country and not across its eastern border in India.
Helping the army make this conceptual leap will be a great achievement. But neither Pakistan nor the United States can afford to wait for a full transformation in the army's mind-set. Both countries are confronted by a pressing threat of terrorism now, and success requires that the Pakistan Army get back into the fight as early as possible.
This will require responsible conduct by the military and intelligence services and the development of an appropriate civil-military relationship. Whereas most countries have an army, in Pakistan the army has a country. Pakistan's military consumes the single largest share of its gross domestic product, and defense expenditure crowds out investments in social spending and economic development, producing the popular resentment that feeds instability and terrorism.
The United States not only has an interest in defeating these dangers, it also has the influence to shape Pakistan's choices in helpful ways. Washington should press for substantial political reform that gradually changes the incentive structures in Pakistan. By strengthening civilian rule and encouraging private sector economic growth and development that benefits the Pakistani people more directly, it can help senior military officials conclude that their own interests are better served by a prosperous state that is at peace within and with its neighbors.
A shift of this sort will take many years to materialize, but the next American president could do much to encourage it by showing the Pakistanis that the United States will not neglect them if they are willing to do their part.
Bush said to give orders allowing raids in Pakistan
WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.
The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and after months of high-level stalemate about how to challenge the militants' increasingly secure base in Pakistan's tribal areas.
American officials say that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last Wednesday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but that they will not ask for its permission.
"The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable," said a senior American official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the missions. "We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued."
The new orders reflect concern about safe havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, as well as an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants. They also illustrate lingering distrust of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and a belief that some American operations had been compromised once Pakistanis were advised of the details.
The Central Intelligence Agency has for several years fired missiles at militants inside Pakistan from remotely piloted Predator aircraft. But the new orders for the military's Special Operations forces relax firm restrictions on conducting raids on the soil of an important ally without its permission.
Pakistan's top army officer said Wednesday that his forces would not tolerate American incursions like the one that took place last week and that the army would defend the country's sovereignty "at all costs."
It was unclear precisely what legal authorities the United States has invoked to conduct even limited ground raids in a friendly country. A second senior American official said that the Pakistani government had privately assented to the general concept of limited ground assaults by Special Operations forces against significant militant targets, but that it did not approve each mission.
The official did not say which members of the government gave their approval.
Any new ground operations in Pakistan raise the prospect of American forces being killed or captured in the restive tribal areas — and a propaganda coup for Al Qaeda. Last week's raid also presents a major test for Pakistan's new president, Asif Ali Zardari, who supports more aggressive action by his army against the militants but cannot risk being viewed as an American lap dog, as was his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf.
The new orders were issued after months of debate inside the Bush administration about whether to authorize a ground campaign inside Pakistan. The debate, first reported by The New York Times in late June, at times pitted some officials at the State Department against parts of the Pentagon that advocated aggressive action against Qaeda and Taliban targets inside the tribal areas.
Details about last week's commando operation have emerged that indicate the mission was more intrusive than what had previously been known.
According to two American officials briefed on the raid, it involved more than two dozen members of the Navy Seals who spent several hours on the ground and killed about two dozen suspected Qaeda fighters in what now appears to have been a planned attack against militants who had been conducting attacks against an American forward operating base across the border in Afghanistan.
Supported by an AC-130 gunship, the Special Operations forces were whisked away by helicopters after completing the mission.
Although the senior American official who provided the most detailed description of the new presidential order would discuss it only on condition of anonymity, his account was corroborated by three other senior American officials from several government agencies, all of whom made clear that they support the more aggressive approach.
Pakistan's government has asserted that last week's raid achieved little except killing civilians and stoking anti-Americanism in the tribal areas.
"Unilateral action by the American forces does not help the war against terror because it only enrages public opinion," said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, during a speech on Friday. "In this particular incident, nothing was gained by the action of the troops."
As an alternative to American ground operations, some Pakistani officials have made clear that they prefer the CIA's Predator aircraft, operating from the skies, as a method of killing Qaeda operatives. The CIA for the most part has coordinated with Pakistan's government before and after it launches missiles from the drone. On Monday, a Predator strike in North Waziristan killed several Arab Qaeda operatives.
A new American command structure was put in place this year to better coordinate missions by the CIA and members of the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command, made up of the Army's Delta Force and the Navy Seals.
The move was intended to address frustration on the ground about different agencies operating under different marching orders. Under the arrangement, a senior CIA official based at Bagram air base in Afghanistan was put in charge of coordinating CIA and military activities in the border region.
Spokesmen for the White House, Defense Department and CIA declined to comment on Wednesday about the new orders. Some senior congressional officials have received briefings on the new authorities. A spokeswoman for Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who leads the Armed Services Committee, declined to comment.
American commanders in Afghanistan have complained bitterly that militants use sanctuaries in Pakistan to attack American troops in Afghanistan.
"I'm not convinced we're winning it in Afghanistan," Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. "I am convinced we can."
Toward that goal, Mullen said he had ordered a comprehensive military strategy to address the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The commando raid last week and an increasing number of recent missile strikes are part of a more aggressive overall American campaign in the border region aimed at intensifying attacks on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the waning months of the Bush administration, with less than two months to go before November elections.
State Department officials, as well as some within the National Security Council, have expressed concern about any Special Operations missions that could be carried out without the approval of the American ambassador in Islamabad.
The months-long delay in approving ground missions created intense frustration inside the military's Special Operations community, which believed that the Bush administration was holding back as the Qaeda safe haven inside Pakistan became more secure for militants.
The stepped-up campaign inside Pakistan comes at a time when American-Pakistani relations have been fraying, and when anger is increasing within American intelligence agencies about ties between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, known as the ISI, and militants in the tribal areas.
Analysts at the CIA and other American spy and security agencies believe not only that the bombing of India's embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July by militants was aided by ISI operatives, but also that the highest levels of Pakistan's security apparatus — including the army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — had knowledge of the plot.
"It's very difficult to imagine he was not aware," a senior American official said of Kayani.
American intelligence agencies have said that senior Pakistani national security officials favor the use of militant groups to preserve Pakistan's influence in the region, as a hedge against India and Afghanistan.
In fact, some American intelligence analysts believe that ISI operatives did not mind when their role in the July bombing in Kabul became known. "They didn't cover their tracks very well," a senior Defense Department official said, "and I think the embassy bombing was the ISI drawing a line in the sand."
Karzai backs U.S. on Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Afghan President Hamid Karzai backed a proposed U.S. strategy on Thursday to hit al Qaeda and Taliban militants in neighbouring Pakistan, but NATO said it would not join any cross-border U.S. raids.
Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Kayani has said his country would not allow foreign troops to conduct operations on its soil, warning that Pakistan's sovereignty would be defended "at all cost".
U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday that he was "looking at a new, more comprehensive strategy" that would cover both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Karzai faces an intensified insurgency in Afghanistan and has advocated hot-pursuit missions into Pakistan before. At a news conference in Kabul on Thursday he backed Mullen's shift.
"Change of strategy is essential," Karzai said. "It means that we go to those areas which are the training bases and havens of (terrorists) and we jointly go there and remove and destroy them."
In the latest fighting in Pakistan's northwestern Bajaur region, close to the Afghan border, Pakistani security forces killed up to 100 al Qaeda-linked militants in fierce clashes, a security official said.
"Eighty to 100 militants were killed in Bajaur today. Most of them are foreigners," the official said on condition of anonymity.
Troops have killed more than 600 militants in Bajaur since August, the government says.
Militants in Bajaur, where some analysts believe top al Qaeda leaders have been hiding, regularly cross into Afghanistan to attack Western troops and government forces there.
NATO, which leads a force of some 53,000 troops in Afghanistan alongside a separate U.S. force, said it would not take part in raids into Pakistan.
"The NATO policy, that is our mandate, ends at the border," spokesman James Appathurai said. "There are no ground or air incursions by NATO forces into Pakistani territory."
NATO states would discuss the issue, Appathurai said, but he added: "Let me stress, it is not NATO that will be sending its forces across the border."
Some Pakistani analysts say a frustrated U.S. administration wants to score points before a November election but it risks sparking an uprising among ethnic Pashtuns on the border.
"We will convince the U.S. that it can get nothing through unilateral action in tribal areas except opposition of the masses," Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Hussain Haqqani, was reported telling the BBC.
Spanish town still haunted by its brush with Armageddon
PALOMARES, Spain: The rest of the world has mostly forgotten, but the brush with nuclear Armageddon is seared on the minds of locals here and still niggles, 42 years later.
On the morning of Jan. 17, 1966, a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber returning from a routine Cold War alert mission exploded during airborne refueling, sending its cargo of B28 hydrogen bombs plummeting toward earth. One went into the azure waters of the Mediterranean and three others fell around this poor farming village, about 200 kilometers, or 125 miles, east of Granada.
Seven crew members on the air force planes perished in the fireball, while four parachuted to safety. No one on the ground was killed. The nuclear warheads, many times more powerful than those that fell on Hiroshima, did not go off - exactly.
Parachutes failed to deploy on two of the bombs, resulting in high-explosive detonations that, although non-nuclear, spread radioactive material across a wide area of steep and rugged terrain.
A massive retrieval and cleanup operation ensued, with hundreds of U.S. military and Spanish civil guards swarming the area for months.
Tens of millions of dollars were spent. Eventually, the job done, they went home and attention drifted elsewhere.
The roughly 1,200 residents of Palomares would like to put the accident behind them as well. Livelihoods these days have moved beyond farming and depend more and more on attracting sun-starved northerners to vast stretches of beachfront apartments and manicured golf oases.
But the past has resurfaced literally with recent findings of unusually radioactive snails and the confiscation of fresh tracts of land for additional testing and cleanup. Not exactly a selling point for the melons and tomatoes still grown in large-scale, plastic-covered greenhouses nearby, much less a carefree life by the sea.
"This is damaging the village," said a retired farmer, 74-year-old Antonio, smoking outside the Palomares senior center/library/café one recent afternoon. "It's been going on for 40 years. We want this to be over forever." His friends used more unprintable language, their patience with the never-ending questions worn thin.
Much of the uncertainty today goes back to the secrecy imposed at the time, the height of the Cold War, by the repressive Franco regime and the U.S. military.
It started just after 10 a.m. on a clear winter's day.
"There was a big explosion," Antonio, who declined to give his last name, grudgingly recounted. "There was a big explosion. Things were flying all over. Everybody rushed outside." No one knew what had happened, but the first U.S. soldiers from joint bases in Spain arrived within hours. Only after the Soviets accused Washington of violating a nuclear test ban treaty did the United States concede, more than a month later, that the detonators on two of the bombs had gone off on impact.
The bomb that hit land more or less intact was quickly recovered. The one that landed in the Mediterranean took months to find. An estimated 1,400 tons of contaminated soil and vegetation was scooped up, and shipped to South Carolina for disposal.
Attempts were made to calm public fears. Most famously, the Spanish information and tourism minister, Manuel Fraga Iribarne, joined the U.S. ambassador, Angier Biddle Duke, on March 8 that year for a "swimming party" in the sea to demonstrate that the waters were safe. The photos were published around the world (including on the front page of The New York Times).
In Palomares today, there is no memorial or museum, just a short side street named "January 17, 1966," no explanation provided. At the library, a modest, plastic-bound folder contains photocopied press clippings in Spanish, French, German and English. Maybe once a month someone asks to see it, according to the librarian, but nothing has been added since 1985.
"They don't actually tell you about it before you get here," laughed Barbara Newman, 65, as she sipped a drink at La Dulce Casa, one of a handful of businesses in town catering to new arrivals, sun-seeking northern Europeans. She and her husband, Larry, 73, moved to Palomares last year from Stoke-on-Trent in northern England.
"You get a lot of jibes and jokes when people find out you live in Palomares," said Denise Angus, formerly of Wales, who opened the Pampered beauty salon four years ago. "Things like, 'You're going to glow in the dark."' Most new residents shrug off any health concerns, though, taking their lead from the locals and their reputed longevity.
In fact, decades of U.S.-financed health monitoring have found nothing out of the ordinary.
"The good thing is they find cases of diabetes or high cholesterol" that might have gone undetected, said Antonia Navarro, who owns the hardware store. At 37, she was born after the bombs fell, but has made three trips to Madrid for checkups with her grandmother.
The U.S. Department of Energy's cost-sharing arrangement with Spain, which began in 1966, was scheduled to end in 2008. But in October 2006, officials at the Spanish energy research agency Ciemat reported the discovery of the radioactive snails, necessitating more work.
A year ago, the United States agreed to pay $2 million for two more years of "technical assistance," according to the Spanish newspaper El País. In April, Ciemat identified two trenches containing about 1,000 cubic meters, or about 35,000 cubic feet, each of radioactive material that the U.S. Army left behind, Teresa Mendizabel, the Ciemat director, told the newspaper.
"They came and they cleaned and now 42 years later, they are cleaning again," scoffed Maria, 48, who owns the Bar Tomas on Constitution Square, and also declined to give her last name. "The national nuclear agency needs justification to keep working." New fences, marked with warning signs, have gone up around the land, near the town cemetery. Close by are the agricultural companies. Just beyond are the apartments for the sun-seekers, and the glittering sea.
"There are already holes in the fences and goats slip in to graze," Maria noted dismissively.
She was six when the bombs fell, and has fond memories of U.S. servicemen bringing cookies and candy. "We thought it was like chocolate that came from the sky." She believes the town should have some kind of memorial, for posterity's sake. But no more headlines. "We would like this to be over and to resume normal life," she said.
India nuclear deal puts world at risk
Former President Jimmy Carter is founder of The Carter Center, which works to advance world peace and health.
Knowing since 1974 of India's nuclear ambitions, other American presidents and I have maintained a consistent global policy: no sales of nuclear technology or uncontrolled fuel to any country that refuses to sign the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT. To imbed this concept as official national policy, I worked closely with bipartisan leaders in the U.S. Congress to pass the Non-Proliferation Act of 1978.
More recently, in 2006, the Hyde Act was passed and signed by President George W. Bush to define appropriate terms of the proposed U.S.-India nuclear agreement. Both laws were designed to encourage universal compliance with basic terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has been accepted by more than 180 nations. Only Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are not participating, the first three having nuclear arsenals that are advanced, and the fourth's being embryonic. Today, these global restraints are in the process of being abandoned.
In recent years the U.S. government has not set a good example, having abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty; binding limitations on testing nuclear weapons and development of new ones; and a long-standing policy of foregoing threats of "first use" of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states. These decisions have encouraged China, Russia and other nuclear powers to respond with similar retrogressive actions.
This has sent mixed signals to North Korea, Iran and other nations with the technical knowledge to create nuclear weapons. The currently proposed agreement with India compounds this challenge and further undermines the global pact for restraint represented by the nuclear nonproliferation regime. If India's unique demands are acceptable, why should other technologically advanced NPT signatories, such as Brazil, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Japan - to say nothing of less responsible nations - continue to restrain themselves?
I have no doubt that India's political leaders are just as responsible in handling their country's arsenal as leaders of the five original nuclear powers. But there is a significant difference: the original five have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and strive to stop producing fissile material for weapons.
The Nuclear Suppliers Group is a 45-nation body that - until now - has barred nuclear trade with any nation that refuses to accept international nuclear standards. Tremendous political pressure from the United States and India has recently induced the group's members to reverse their historic position; they even declined to clarify penalties in the event of a resumption of nuclear testing by India. No one knows what secret deals were made to gain the necessary votes. Specific information about all facets of the agreement needs to be shared with the U.S. Congress to assure full conformance of the U.S.-Indian agreement with the Hyde Act and other laws.
There is a farcical disparity between public and private claims being made to the U.S. Congress about imposed nuclear safeguards and those being made, at the same time to the Indian parliament that no such restraints will be acceptable. When Congress passed the Hyde Act endorsing the exception to Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines for India, there were specific conditions, including clear penalties in the event of a resumption of Indian nuclear testing, constraints against selling equipment used to make bomb-grade material and limits on the refueling of Indian nuclear power plants. A key condition under the law is immediate termination of all nuclear commerce by the group's member states if India detonates a nuclear explosive device.
Indian officials publicly deny that they will accept these restraints. I have discussed these conflicting claims with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his response, with a smile, was that U.S. and Indian politics are different.
India's leaders' accepting the NPT and joining other nuclear powers in signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would greatly strengthen the global effort to control proliferation. Instead, India insists on unrestricted access to international assistance in producing fissile material for as many as 50 weapons a year, perhaps doubling what is believed to be India's current capacity. Meanwhile, other major nuclear powers, including the United States, Russia, France and Britain, are moving to limit their production.
It would be advantageous to have improved diplomatic relations between the United States and India that could result from a clearly understood nuclear agreement, and I would fully support such a move. However, different interpretations of the same pact can lead only to harsh confrontations if future decisions are made in New Delhi that contravene what has been understood in our country. The time for the U.S. Congress to clarify these issues is now, before a tragic mistake is made.
HIGH & LOW FINANCE
A sad thing watching Lehman struggle to survive
NEW YORK: It has been a sad thing to watch Lehman, one of the grand old names of Wall Street and before that a cotton and coffee merchant from Alabama, struggling to persuade everyone that it will survive.
The latest installment of this long-running soap opera found Richard Fuld Jr., Lehman's chief executive, saying that his latest strategy "will accomplish a significant de-risking of our balance sheet," in part by putting risky assets into a new company it will spin off to shareholders.
But when you cut through the forecasts, it turns out they expect that the company's leverage ratio will, if anything, rise a little. As a rule of thumb, more leverage does not equal less risk.
One part of Lehman's problem was that Fuld, in charge of the company since 1993, might have worn out his welcome with investors.
After this week's conference call was over, I went back and read transcripts of some Lehman conference calls from the past 12 months. That effort did not provide reassurance that the company has a good ability to forecast its capital needs, or the markets on which it offers advice to customers. But it did show that Fuld was the only constant at the top of Lehman. When the going got tough, others took the fall.
Or, as Harry Truman did not say, "The buck stops there."
"Our liquidity position is stronger than ever," Christopher O'Meara, then the chief financial officer, said just a year ago. "Looking forward, our outlook is cautiously optimistic and our stance is constructive and opportunistic. Looking at past credit corrections, the capital markets have proven to be resilient, with previous dislocations lasting three months, on average."
Lehman shares traded for about $64 then. In the next six months, the company spent $1.1 billion repurchasing shares, at an average price of about $60 per share.
By December the share price was down to around $55 and Erin Callan, then the new chief financial officer, was proud. "We have come through the current downturn very well positioned on a competitive basis," she said. "We believe we can capitalize on this opportunity for 2008. The consistency of Lehman's senior management team, the strength of our brand and reputation are reassuring to our clients."
"Conservatively," Callan added, "our view right now is that the asset prices in the fixed-income market will begin to stabilize over the next six months, which will serve as an inflection point for improvement in fixed-income later in the 2008 calendar year."
Lehman was so confident that in January it stepped up its share repurchases, spending half a billion dollars in one month.
In April, it discovered it could use some capital. It raised $4 billion selling preferred stock. In June, it raised another $2 billion in preferred, at much harsher terms, and $4 billion by selling common shares at $28.
Not, you understand, that the company really needed the money. "To be clear," Callan said in June, "we do not expect to use proceeds of this equity offering to further decrease leverage, but rather to take advantage of future market opportunities, which are abundant.
"And over all, we stand extremely well-capitalized to take advantage of these new opportunities. From a risk management perspective, we continued to operate in our disciplined manner we're known for."
Investors were not buying. The share price fell, and just 10 days later, with the shares around $24, there was a new call and a new chief financial officer, Ian Lowitt.
Fuld, who had stayed away from calls before, took part. "Our capital and liquidity positions have never been stronger," he said.
This week, Lehman announced plans to reduce its exposure to commercial real estate - by spinning off the assets to shareholders.
"We have materially reduced our residential mortgage exposure and marked our remaining holdings to levels that make future write-downs unlikely," said Lowitt, arguing that current market values of such securities are ridiculously cheap: "We have made significant progress in cleansing our balance sheet."
If all you knew about Lehman was what you had heard on previous calls, you might be confused about why the balance sheet needed to be cleansed. But with the share price under $8, it is obvious that there is not a lot of trust left.
During recent years, Wall Street went on a borrowing binge, confident that there was a lot of money to be made. That left it very vulnerable to falling asset values, and now the order of the day is to dump assets into a market with few buyers. Lehman's gross leverage ratio - the value of its assets divided by shareholders' equity - went from 24 in 2005 to 31 in 2007. Now it is down to 21.
To put that in perspective, last November, Lehman had 3.3 cents in equity to back each dollar of assets. Now, after a lot of capital raising and asset selling, it has 4.7 cents.
Lehman prefers to focus on a different leverage ratio, which conveniently excludes some "safe" assets that to me don't look quite so safe these days. By that measure, it has almost 10 cents of equity to back up each dollar of assets, up from a low of just over 6 cents. After the latest gyrations are through, Lowitt thinks that figure will be in the range of 8 to 10 cents.
But those numbers may be better than reality would call for. One factor that has raised shareholder equity this year - and lowered the leverage ratios - is that Lehman was able to report $2.4 billion in pretax "profits" because the market value of its debt had fallen.
That is perfectly legal under the accounting rules, and it is reasonable to an accountant. But it takes some mental gymnastics to conclude that shareholders are richer because bondholders fear they will not be paid. In any case, that "profit" will be offset by future "losses" if Lehman's credit standing recovers. It still owes the money.
It may not be complete coincidence that Lehman's latest plunge came two days after the Treasury Department took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those who lent money to Fannie and Freddie were bailed out, but those who owned stock lost nearly everything they had invested.
Lehman may or may not be too big to fail. But it is now clear that expectation of a rescue is no reason to buy shares. To buy Lehman, you have to believe that, this time, Fuld's optimism is well-founded.
LETTER FROM INDIA
In India, the paradox of 'choice' in a globalized culture
MUMBAI: A decade ago, the world hurtled toward a calendrical crisis, and India seized an opportunity.
An affliction called the Y2K bug impended. Thousands of Indian techies were marshaled to repair the software glitch. The rest is outsourcing history.
The outsourcing boom craved English speakers. Hole-in-the-wall "academies" from Kerala to Punjab began to sell English classes for a few dollars a week. A colonizer's language was recast in the minds of many young lower-income Indians as a language of liberation, independence and mobility.
A decade hence, Indians who have achieved that mobility may struggle to understand the newspaper headlines in Mumbai in recent days. They tell of brigades of young men shattering the windows of shops and restaurants whose signs declare their names only in English, not in the regional language Marathi.
The men are cadres of a political party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, that has electrified a section of lower middle-class youth in this city. Many of them view English as a language of exclusion: a secret code that, having become success's prerequisite, traps millions of non-English speakers in failure.
How can the same language refract so differently through different eyes? The answer here, as on school playgrounds everywhere, depends on who got there first.
Societies are not monolithic blocks that go global all at once. Social change has early and late adopters, and the choices of the timely alter the options among which the tardy must subsequently choose. And so a defining fact about globalization may be that it has freed untold millions from inherited destinies, even as it makes others feel as though their control over fate is slipping away.
It is a universal feeling, connecting the late-adopter Alaskan governor who resents having to be worldly to be respected in her own country with the late-adopter Indian villager who resents having to speak English to be respected in his own country.
In India, early adopters of globalism made certain choices freely and enthusiastically. They studied English. They honed their skills at software. They learned to be chummy rather than deferential around superiors, to guzzle wine rather than beer, to dress and eat and talk in manners alien to them.
By making these choices, Indians were commandeering their own fates.
But the more people who make such choices, the more the society is remade in their image - and the more late adopters can feel like strangers in their own land.
"Hi my name is Akash and I am from India. I dream of working in a Call Center, but I've MTI (Mother Tongue Influence). How am I suppose to get rid of it? Please help," read the posting on an Internet bulletin board.
When Akash's predecessors learned English and found decent jobs some years ago, they were not motivated by insecurity. Global industries like call centers were a new thing here, and having English was simply a nice plus. It would not have felt like a survival skill.
But the choices of the millions who adopted English now act to constrain the choices of Akash. English has become something more in India than a pathway out of poverty. It has become, as it is not in Brazil or China, the language of respect. An Indian who speaks only Indian languages will face inferior treatment in her own society.
To understand the recent window-smashing here, ask yourself: How does it feel to be told that your mother tongue is something to be purged? Is the "choice" to learn a language really a choice when choices made earlier by others have determined the correct answer?
The political scientist David Singh Grewal examines this paradox of choice and choicelessness in a trenchant new book, "Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization."
"The pressures of cultural convergence generated by today's globalization trickle down to the local level," he said in an e-mail message. "Where the process is most disruptive, millions - perhaps even billions - of people feel required to undertake an ambivalent and half-hearted assimilation. Yes, they choose to assimilate, but they may also feel that they have no other real option to choose."
Globalization is often cast as a process of wealthy countries swamping developing nations with alien customs and ideas. But it might also be seen as a competition among the citizens of developing nations themselves. Globalization has created a new kind of status anxiety: not to be richer than your neighbors, but more world-ready.
If you grew up eating with your hands and savoring the taste of food off your fingers, you might resent that upper-crust fashions dictate now that you switch to forks and knives to eat your own cuisine.
"Is it considered uncivilized to eat without a knife and fork?" an Indian questioner asked on a Yahoo! Internet message board. "Burgers and sandwiches aside. Eating rice and other 'dinner' foods; Knife + Fork or hands? I love roti and butter chicken and i just cannot see how to eat it besides with my hands."
Many Indians have grown up cleaning themselves on the toilet with a mug of water and a hand. Mug-and-hand types often view paper users as skeptically as paper users view them. But India's early adopters tend to be of the paper school. And thus today, when mug-and-hand veterans stay in nice hotels or work in big companies, they often find that the cleaning method comfortable to them is unavailable in their own society.
In recent days, a battle over land swelled in eastern India. In a sea of farms in Bengal, an Indian carmaker was getting ready to make the world's least expensive car, the $2,250 Nano. Farmers had sold land to make way for the project, with varying degrees of consent. Then some began to want it back, and the resulting protests halted Tata's operations.
In the prosperous cities, they sneered: Don't they get it? They want land, not money? But the urban sneerers were early adopters. They may not realize it, but they live on a grid of advantages. They have bank accounts. They know how to invest. They have the ethic of thrift and saving that moneyed families pass down the generations.
The late adopters live in an economy of land, a universe where barter still operates, where status and prestige and security still come from the earth, and where the choice to join an urban, moneyed existence feels ever less like a meaningful choice.
"Somewhere I sense that even the most generous monetary compensation will fail to offset my feelings of loss," said Sudhir Kakar, an Indian writer and psychoanalyst, adopting a farmer's perspective.
"What looms instead is the specter of a future which is not only opaque, but represents a threat to any sense of purpose."
Top Bollywood stars swept up in nativist politics
NEW DELHI: A surge of nativism in India's most cosmopolitan city, Mumbai, is leading to an uneasy relationship with one of its best-known institutions -- Bollywood.
Some of its top stars have been caught up in the anti-immigrant rhetoric of two regional parties, whose politics is based on nativist pride for the people of the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has a powerful influence over Mumbai, much like its larger political rival Shiv Sena, drawing sustenance from a politics of resisting immigration into Mumbai by Indians from states other than Maharashtra.
Bollywood had not been a target even though many of its stars could be considered outsiders who arrived in Mumbai with nothing but a dream of making it big.
But this week, the family of Bollywood's biggest star, Amitabh Bachchan, became embroiled in the nativist issue after his wife, Jaya, apparently promoted Hindi over Marathi, the local language in Mumbai.
The right-wing MNS party interpreted Jaya's remarks as an insult to the Marathi-speaking population and urged a boycott of films starring the Bachchans, who hail from a Hindi-speaking northern Indian state, and all products endorsed by the family.
Soon, posters of Bachchan's new film "The Last Lear" were torn down and a theatre screening the film vandalised, forcing its producers to call off the premiere on Wednesday.
"It's (the film) a piece of art and should not be brought in between politics," the film's producer, Arindam Chaudhuri, told reporters with Bachchan by his side.
The MNS has accused the Bachchans in the past as well of being ungrateful and not doing enough for Maharashtra, where they had found fame and fortune.
Not to be outdone at nativist rabble-rousing, the Shiv Sena, too, has spotted insult in top star Shah Rukh Khan's fond reminiscences of his native town New Delhi.
"If he loves Delhi, then why did he come to Mumbai?" an article in "Saamna", the party's mouthpiece, said. "These people come here, fill up their bellies and then burp in the name of their own states."
The Bachchans said they were sorry if Jaya's off-the-cuff remark hurt any sentiment.
"Mumbai and Maharashtra have given us glory and recognition," Bachchan wrote in his blog. "I am 66 years old and 40 of those years have been spent living in Mumbai. Is it ever possible that we will dishonour it? Never!"
For generations, waves of migrants have tried to escape rural poverty by coming to Mumbai, gradually elbowing out the local Maharashtrians, who now form less than 50 percent of the city's more than 17 million people.
Until recently, Shiv Sena had drifted away from its pro-Marathi posture as it tried to appeal to voters in other states, while also reaching out to non-Marathi communities to widen its base.
But in 2006, Raj Thackeray, the nephew of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, deserted the party to form the MNS. Once again, news channels ran pictures of non-Marathis being beaten in Mumbai's streets, this time by MNS workers.
Bollywood, too, has occasionally been at the receiving end of nativist anger. Screenings of art house movies about lesbians and other perceived threats to Indian culture have been attacked by right-wing parties.
Some analysts see Shiv Sena returning to its roots as it tries to hang on to its Marathi votebank ahead of local and national elections due next year.
24 feared dead after boat capsizes in India
PATNA, India: At least 24 people, mostly women and children, were feared dead after their boat capsized in a river in northern India on Thursday, a government official said.
Rescuers have pulled out one body from the Harohar River in Sheikhpura district, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Patna, the capital of Bihar state, said state disaster management official Prataya Amrit.
Six people swam to safety and local fishermen were helping authorities in locating the 24 feared drowned, Amrit told The Associated Press.
The area is unaffected by massive floods in the northeastern parts of the state, triggered by the bursting of a monsoon-swollen river.
Sudhansu Shekhar, a local official, said the boat sank after it became entangled in a fishing net.
Shekhar had earlier said that 40 people were in the boat, which was taking them to a village across the river to participate in a Hindu religious festival.
South Asia flood camps overflow
DHAKA: Thousands of villagers in South Asia complained of fever and diarrhoea on Thursday as flood waters started receding, exposing victims to threats of water-borne diseases, officials and aid agencies said.
At least 700 diarrhoea patients are turning up every day at Bangladesh's biggest hospital in the capital, Dhaka.
Authorities said they were forced to erect camps in the parking lot of the hospital to cope with the overflow of patients arriving from flood-hit villages.
The tents, which can hold up to 750 patients, had doctors, nurses and other health workers ready to treat patients, said a doctor at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research.
"But at the moment, there is no possibility of an epidemic," he said.
Army personnel and medical workers were also asked to distribute medicines as water-borne diseases broke out in many areas of the country.
One elderly man died in Bogra district while waiting in a queue for help. A young boy drowned in Faridpur in central Bangladesh on Wednesday, raising the death toll from monsoon flooding to almost 50, officials said.
The deluge swept more than 20 of Bangladesh's 64 districts and affected nearly four million people, with nearly 200,000 of them forced from their homes.
Across South Asia, about 1,000 people have drowned or died from house collapses and snake bites since heavy monsoon rains began causing flooding in June.
DRINKING FLOOD WATERS
In neighbouring India, at least four people have died from diarrhoea in the eastern state of Bihar, raising the flood-related death toll in the state to 108, officials said.
Authorities estimate about 40,000 flood victims have been treated for various diseases in medical camps after they were displaced by floods unleashed by the Kosi river, which burst a dam in Nepal last month and swamped their homes.
More than 3 million people have been forces from their homes and flood waters have destroyed 100,000 ha (250,000 acres) of farmlands.
The conditions in relief camps were still very poor.
"The availability of drinking water is too little as compared to the large population displaced by floods," said Sushil Kumar, a doctor in one of the relief camps.
"People have been relieving themselves not very far from the ... camps, since the entire area is flooded. It's hell," he said.
Television pictures showed an old man putting his tattered,
dirty turban over flowing flood waters and trying to drink the water seeping through it.
"There is only one hand pump at the relief camp and we have to drink, clean and wash from the same water," said Shakun Devi of Madhepura in Bihar. "Do we have a choice ?"
Non-government organisations working in the camps said abysmal living conditions could have devastating health implications.
Australia hunts kangaroo fighter
SYDNEY: Australian animal welfare authorities launched a nationwide hunt on Thursday for a man filmed punching and kicking a kangaroo unconscious.
The video, which shows the man using kickboxing-style attacks on the kangaroo as his friend laughs while filming, was sent to the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in Western Australia state.
In one scene the man pulls the kangaroo towards him and uses his knee to hit the animal's chest and the man punches the kangaroo's face as the animal struggles to remain standing.
A final punch knocks the kangaroo to the ground where it appears to lay unconscious. It is unclear whether the attack resulted in the death of the animal, which authorities believe was injured, possibly in a car accident.
The RSPCA said it had launched a nationwide appeal to catch the men responsible for the attack and video.
TOKYO: An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.0 struck off the coast of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido on Thursday, the Japanese meteorological agency said, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
A tsunami warning was issued for the area after the tremor struck at 1:21 a.m. British time (09:21 JST) but only a 10 cm (4 inch) tsunami was observed on the Japanese coast, broadcaster NHK said.
"I felt a shake from side to side," Hiroshi Sasahara, an town official at Hiro on the southeast coast of Hokkaido told broadcaster NHK. "Nothing fell off from bookshelves but we found a crack running 5-6 cm (2-2.4 inches) along the wall of the town office."
The focus of the tremor was 20 km (12 miles) below the surface of the earth, off the coast of Tokachi on the sparsely populated island of Hokkaido, about 800 km (500 miles) north of Tokyo, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. It was followed by less powerful aftershocks.
The runway at Shin Chitose Airport on Hokkaido was closed for safety checks, as were some roads, domestic media said. Ten thousand people were advised to evacuate
Hokkaido Electric Power said its Tomari nuclear plant was operating normally after the quake, and Nippon Oil said its Muroran refinery was also operating as normally.
Perhaps, in part, because of the enormous popularity of Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture," in which the 46-year-old college professor revealed that he was dying of cancer, there's a lot of talk these days about saying goodbye to loved ones. What's in the news doesn't necessarily have much bearing on how one reads a novel, but it brings an added dimension to Alice Mattison's "Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn," in which the sudden, unexpected death of a mother propels the narrative. That this woman's daughter never got a chance to say goodbye - hadn't even considered there might soon be a time or a reason to do so - has cast a troublesome shadow over her life, over her sense of who she is and how she should live.
Headlines from 1989 and 2003 unfurl throughout the novel as the action moves back and forth between these two years. Mattison's heroine, Constance Tepper, pays dutiful attention to what's going on in the world. The news in 2003 is particularly oppressive. How could anything be more important than our soldiers dying in Iraq?
The thing Con is most passionate about - aside from her daughter, Joanna - is the Bill of Rights. And yet, although she's a lawyer who specializes in discrimination against women in the workplace, she's a timid, tentative person, never able to locate the "perfect client," even when that client turns out to be her own child.
Con also seems unable to consider the headlines of her own life: "Mother Dies Mysteriously"; "Mother's Best Friend, Wartime Crook." "As she'd grown older," we are told, Con had "become more adept at not thinking about painful subjects. This is not a story about memory." This is, in fact, a story about forgetting and denial. For the reader, that's like being around someone who refuses to acknowledge the obvious - it's both irritating and fascinating. How blind can anyone be? At what cost?
In 2003, Con is nearing 60. Twice divorced, she hasn't been in a good mood for a long time, possibly for years. As it turns out, she's a lot like her deceased mother - an ordinary person who is at times wary, hapless and annoying. Con's first husband, Jerry, is the most appealing character in the novel, providing a gust of fresh air and charm in the book's most dramatic scene, a search through Brooklyn for the ruins of an elevated train track from the 1920s.
Con's best friend, a woman she met back in 1989 around the time her mother died, describes herself as "the kind of woman with a married boyfriend" and jokingly prefers to skip the trouble of marriage herself: "First husbands just drive you crazy. Second husbands are better. . . . What I want is a third husband. . . . My friends who have third husbands - it's all cherishing and forgiving, day and night."
Con's idol since childhood is her mother's friend Marlene Silverman. She's sophisticated, worldly, caustic, imperious and enigmatic, someone "whose company is a delight and who can hurt by withholding it." She fills the role of the chosen mother for Con, in that way people have of finding surrogate parents to compensate for the shortcomings of their own. In the 1989 sections of the narrative, Con discovers a bundle of letters written by Marlene to her mother during World War II, glimpsing a manipulative, criminal Marlene ' and quickly burying that awareness.
Marlene is at the center of the novel, but she's oddly disembodied. We know her primarily through phone calls and old letters, and she doesn't make an appearance until the end of the book. What's important is how she is seen by other people.
It's left to Con's daughter to assemble the jigsaw puzzle of love, trust, betrayal and culpability that is the relationship between these women, and she does so in a scene of quiet, controlled confrontation that should be the novel's climax. But the reader has long seen this coming, a flaw in the narrative structure that undercuts dramatic tension.
Because the novel swerves between events that take place so far apart, the reader is given a clumsy hand in navigating the jumps - "Con (in 1989)"; "Con in her Brooklyn apartment in 2003"; and so on. "I want to tell it this way," Mattison writes at the outset, as if arguing with the reader, "shifting back and forth in time - for reasons that will become obvious, but also because what interests me most about Con is not exactly that she could remember and learn - who can do that? - but that when she discovered, in middle age, that more than 14 years earlier she'd failed to pay attention, she tried to find out what she needed to know, even though she didn't want to."
But that isn't quite what happens. Con doesn't try to find out what she needs to know - her daughter forces it on her. And this, finally, gets us to the heart of the story, to what makes it succeed: the poetry of Mattison's detailed evocation of love and affection, withdrawal and confusion, peace and forgiveness, being a mother and being a daughter. Looking at her mother's tablecloth, whose stripes are, she thinks, the color of "unhurried time," Con recalls that period "when she was so small that her mother seemed infallibly interesting and trustworthy." She also remembers, years later, meeting her mother in the lobby of a theater: "The moment Gert caught sight of her, the transformation in her face. It was not just relief, it was joy - extravagant, embarrassing - at the sight of her daughter." Her mother may have been dull, but she was also kind and good.
Finally, Con grasps one profound truth: she was greatly loved. And with this knowledge, she is able to wrap her own daughter in her arms with the same radiant adoration. Con may not have been able to say a last goodbye, but in realizing how much her mother loved her she determines to live so that final farewells no longer matter. It is worth the journey to get to such an understanding.
In the study, being published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, 86 patients who had the operation fared no better over two years than 86 who had physical therapy and took medications to dampen inflammation.
The results of the study are in line with those from a study published in 2002. But experts are divided about what effects the two studies will have.
Some say the new study just confirms what they already knew. Others say they hope that doctors who did not believe the 2002 study will be persuaded by this one to stop doing the operations.
The 2002 study, by the Department of Veterans Affairs, had a different design: instead of assigning patients to surgery or medical treatment, it assigned them to real surgery or a sham operation. The real surgery was found to be no better than the sham one.
S.Africa rugby president and coach to discuss "racist plot"
JOHANNESBURG: South African Rugby Union (SARU) president Oregan Hoskins will meet Peter de Villiers on Friday to discuss what the national team coach called a "racist plot" to oust him via the alleged existence of a sex tape.
The future of De Villiers, the Springboks' first black coach, has been under the spotlight since allegations reported by local media last weekend that he had been videotaped having sex with a woman in a car.
The person who initially told De Villiers about the tape, Springbok media officer Chris Hewitt, has been suspended by SARU, which is conducting an investigation into allegations of blackmail surrounding the video.
De Villiers threatened to resign from his post, saying the blackmail rumour was part of a "racist plot" and that he would "give the Springbok coaching job back to the whites".
Hoskins, speaking to Reuters in Johannesburg on Thursday, confirmed Hewitt's suspension and said he would meet De Villiers to discuss the issue, which comes hard on the heels of the world champion Springboks finishing last in the Tri-Nations.
Australia and New Zealand meet in Brisbane on Saturday to decide the winner of the tournament.
"We will talk at length about that statement, but he was probably under a lot of pressure when he said that and the comments should be taken in that context," Hoskins said.
Weekend newspaper reports alleged De Villiers was being blackmailed to choose a certain player for the Springboks because of the video, which SARU has denied.
"Peter de Villiers and the South African Rugby Union categorically deny that there have ever been any attempts to blackmail or coerce him over the selection of any player to the national squad," said a statement issued earlier this week.
"However, SARU can confirm that a company employee did approach De Villiers on August 15 in Cape Town. The employee made certain extraordinary claims which SARU has since looked into but has been unable to find any basis to support in fact."
The sex tape scandal is one of three racist controversies SARU is currently dealing with.
A black female spectator, Ziningi Shibambo, was the victim of a racist attack at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg during the Springboks' final Tri-Nations test against Australia on August 30.
All the players in this weekend's round of domestic Currie Cup matches will wear special jerseys with a "No To Racism" message on them. Her attackers have yet to be identified.
On Thursday, the Soweto Rugby Club, based in South Africa's largest black township, just outside Johannesburg, and a key site in SARU's efforts to transform the game, withdrew their affiliation from the Gauteng Lions Rugby Union due to continued racist abuse.
The prince, Liechtenstein's head of state, made the comments in a letter to the Jewish Museum in Berlin explaining why he would not make a painting available to an exhibition of artworks stolen by the Nazis.
"I would really have liked to support the exhibition, as our collection was itself a victim of art theft during World War II and afterwards, if only it wasn't in Germany," he said in the letter published Thursday by the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger.
He added: "As far as German-Liechtenstein relations are concerned, we are waiting for better times, which I am hopeful for, as we have already survived three German Reichs in the past 200 years and I hope we will also survive a fourth one."
The Jewish Museum received the letter in June. In it, the prince told the museum's director, Michael Blumenthal, that he would not loan the museum "Portrait of a Man," a painting by the 17th-century Dutch artist Frans Hals, because Germany had shown itself to be "less and less inclined to abide by basic principles of international law."
Salomon Korn, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said he expected Hans-Adam to apologize to Blumenthal, a former U.S. Treasury secretary whose family fled Nazi Germany in 1939. "The prince's comments are completely absurd," Korn told the Tages-Anzeiger.
The prince's office said in a statement that he had in no way intended "to belittle the atrocious events of the Third Reich" in what was meant to be a private and personal letter.
Hans-Adam, 82, handed over day-to-day running of Liechtenstein to his son Alois in 2004 but remains head of state. Hans-Adam's father became the first monarch to take up permanent residence in Liechtenstein in 1938 when the Nazis annexed Austria, which had been their home.
Living to bomb another day
Ronen Bergman, a correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli daily, is the author of "The Secret War With Iran."
'Among all the bombs, explosives and guns, the number of martyred dead is rising. Though this is the will of Allah, it is nevertheless possible to cause the enemy greater damage without exposing the Muslims to danger. How is it to be done?"
This question, which appeared as a post in May on the Web site al7orya, one of the most important of Al Qaeda's closed Internet forums, is only one example of the evidence that has been accumulated by American and Israeli intelligence in recent months of a significant ideological change under way within Osama bin Laden's organization.
Seven years after 9/11, it may well be that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of suicide terrorism and a shift toward advanced technologies that will enable jihadist bombers to carry out attacks and live to fight another day.
Although Islamic suicide terrorism dates back to the anti-Crusader "assassins" of the 11th century, its modern history begins with statements made by Sheik Mohamed Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual compass of Hezbollah, in an interview published in 1983. "We believe that the future has surprises in store," he said. "The jihad is bitter and harsh, it will spring from inside, through effort, patience and sacrifice, and the spirit of readiness for martyrdom."
A short time later, Sheik Fadlallah's bodyguard, Imad Mughniyah, organized a series of murderous suicide attacks - first against Israeli military targets, then against the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and finally, of course, against the barracks of the American-led multinational force in Lebanon, causing nearly 300 deaths. From there, it was a short march to 9/11.
Despite countless attempts by Western intelligence agencies, and the many projects by psychologists trying to draw the profile of the average suicide terrorist, we have failed miserably in finding a solution to the "poor man's smart bomb." Now, however, attrition may achieve what the experts have not: After years of battle in two main arenas - Iraq and Afghanistan - Al Qaeda's suicide-recruitment mechanisms are beginning to wear out.
While the terrorist group has been careful not to mention it in its official statements, it is no longer uncommon to find jihadists in their chat rooms and, according to Western intelligence sources, in interrogations, stating that young men are reluctant or simply too scared to take part in suicide attacks. At the same time, military blows against Al Qaeda's training structure since 2001 have meant that the number of extremists with combat experience is decreasing, and that new recruits are harder to train.
The startling cost in lives of its operatives in Iraq and Afghanistan has motivated Al Qaeda's technical experts to start seeking technical solutions, primarily on the Internet, that would render suicide unnecessary. These solutions mostly revolve around remote controls - vehicles, robots and model airplanes loaded with explosives and directed toward their targets from a safe distance.
This turn to technology, however, is not devoid of religious aspects: Although dying in battle is undisputedly holy, many scholars claim that any intentional taking of one's own life is forbidden, thus outlawing suicide attacks altogether. Even religious rulers who endorse suicide attacks consider them to be a last resort, to be used only when all other means are exhausted.
"Martyrdom operations are legitimate, and they are among the greatest acts of combat for Allah's cause," said Bashir bin Fahd al-Bashir, a Saudi preacher and one of Al Qaeda's most popular religious authorities, in a recent sermon. "But they should not be allowed excessively. They should be allowed strictly on two conditions: 1. The commander is convinced they can definitely inflict serious losses on the enemy. 2. This cannot be achieved otherwise."
The meaning of such dictates is clear: Carrying out suicide attacks when alternatives could allow the bomber to survive should be considered "intihar," the ultimate sin of taking one's own life without religious justification.
Avoiding suicide has become the major topic on Al Qaeda's two main Web platforms for discussing the technological aspects of jihad, the forums Ekhlaas and Firdaws. "Those overpowering Satan's seduction are few, and we sacrifice those few since they may win us Paradise," read a posting on both sites this summer on the subject of "vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices." It continued: "Yet, keeping them alive is beneficial for us, since every one of them is tantamount to an entire people. So we must find a way to save those lives and harness that zeal."
The post led to a vast and heated online discussion among extremists, illustrating the new complexity of the topic. As the jihadists on these sites move from discussing ideology to the practical aspects, it becomes clear that their biggest technological challenge will be moving on from the radio-wave technology that has proved highly successful in remotely setting off homemade bombs against military convoys in Iraq to the more delicate task of getting the explosive to its target and then detonating it without being exposed.
Unfortunately, Al Qaeda seems well on its way to gaining such an ability. Chatter on these sites has tended toward discussions of the various types of remote-piloted aircraft able to carry the necessary weights, as well as specific robot designs, including models that police forces use to dispose of explosive devices. One extremist pointed out the ease with which such robots can be acquired commercially.
Also, in a document posted last month at Maarek, the most sophisticated jihadist forum for discussing explosives manufacturing, a prolific technical expert calling himself Abu Abdullah al-Qurashi suggested training dogs to recognize American troops' uniforms, then releasing other dogs carrying improvised explosive devices toward American soldiers so the bombs can be detonated from a safe distance.
To get a feeling for how Western militaries and security services plan to counter this next wave of terrorism, I talked to Gadi Aviran, the founder of Terrogence, a company made up of former members of Israel's intelligence community and special military units that gathers information on global jihad as a subcontractor for intelligence agencies in Israel, the United States and Europe. "All of these secretive discourses in the password-protected cyber forums are of the same spirit," he told me. "Mujahidin's lives are fast becoming too valuable to waste and although this seems like good news, the alternatives may prove to be just as difficult to deal with."
So, while an end of suicide terrorism might seem like a good thing for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bad news is that the extremists seem to be well on their way to mastering all sorts of new technology, much of which, such as using dogs and remote detonators, is simple and cheap.
Most counterterrorism experts estimate that for military forces to devise and deploy measures to counter a new insurgent strategy usually takes two to five years. And a new emphasis on remote execution would significantly change the profiles of the terrorists. The uneducated, enthusiastic youths from weak economic backgrounds who have formed the bulk of Al Qaeda's followers will give way to electricians and robotics experts joining the chemists who make the explosives in order to carry out nonsuicide attacks.
The good news is that suicide bombing seems to be on the wane. The bad news is that Western forces will almost certainly face a new breed of highly educated Qaeda terrorists.
The Crown Prosecution Service said it would ask for a second trial after a London jury did not agree on charges specifically tied to accusations involving a plan to bomb commercial airplanes in 2006.
Three of the men were convicted on separate charges of conspiracy to murder.
Police and sources at the Paris prosecutor's office told Reuters the arrests were made after a man informed police late last week of a suspicious conversation he said he overheard between his son and others.
Authorities launched an investigation and arrested the man's two sons and three of their friends.
But an anti-terrorist unit found no arms or explosives after conducting a house search, and those taken into custody did not appear on any list of suspected terrorists, the police source said.
The source at the prosecutor's office said so far no charges had been brought and nothing indicated the group had planned to launch an Islamist-motivated attack.
"The day will come," Bush said, "when most Americans have no living memory of the events of September the 11th. When they visit this memorial, they will learn that the 21st century began with a great struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror. They will learn that this generation of Americans met its duty — we did not tire, we did not falter, and we did not fail."
Weeks later, when the smoke had cleared and the dust settled, there, out the living room window, was the View, that most coveted of New York City apartment amenities, shattered forever.
All across the city, for days, months, maybe years after 9/11, it hurt to look out the window.
In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Marissa Gonzalez, a corporate recruiter and writer, could not adjust. She had designed her whole fourth-floor apartment on 40th Street around the postcard-worthy outline of the Lower Manhattan skyline rising above the slope of Green-Wood Cemetery and the flats of northwest Brooklyn beyond.
"Looking out those windows was a ritual for me," she said. "They were part of my sanctuary, my place of inspiration. It was impossible for me to go there and not tie into the day and the days after and the pain and the grief."
A few months after 9/11, she moved out.
The question of how New Yorkers view their view may seem abstract, trivial, remote, compared with the pain of thousands upon thousands who lost loved ones, friends or colleagues when the World Trade Center towers fell. But for a broad swath of New Yorkers for whom the two towers were primarily the crowning jewel of a cherished vista, the amputated skyline was a daily reminder of loss. The way they have reached accommodation, or not, with the transformed view provides yet another window into the city's infinitely long process of recovery.
Conversations with dozens of New Yorkers this week, when the end-of-summer light is just so and passing planes induce a wince, found them poised somewhere between Never Forget and Enough Already. Some confessed to occasional pangs of survivor guilt when they catch themselves enjoying the cityscape, diminished but still quite impressive, that gleams in their windows and draws them to park benches.
"I still think it's the most beautiful city view there is," said Christine Sugrue, 31, resting with her infant twins on the Brooklyn Heights promenade on Monday. Even so, she said, "Whenever I look over there, I'm always conscious that's something missing."
On Withers Street in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the towers once loomed above the Williamsburg Bridge on the western horizon, Theresa Cianciotta, an assistant to a state assemblyman, said she never left her house now without casting a rueful glance at the skyline.
"There's a lot of emptiness there," said Cianciotta, who is in her 70s and keeps a photo she took the day after 9/11 of her husband pointing down the street at a column of smoke. She also showed off an earlier photo of the same view, the towers intact. "I will always feel very sad and angry that something like that could happen in this country."
Just down the block, Ben Moccio, a retired security director, said he had stopped consciously noticing the towers' absence after a year or so, as more immediate concerns asserted themselves. "There're so many things involved in life that keep creeping up on you," he said.
Not noticing was not possible, of course, in Battery Park City. Michelle Lord, a stay-at-home mother, moved into an apartment not long after 9/11 that looked directly onto the wound of ground zero. "I always kept my blinds down," said Lord, 32. (She has since moved to a nearby apartment facing the Hudson; the blinds are up.)
High above Upper New York Bay in a complex called the Towers of Bay Ridge, though, Joe Metzger, a retired doorman, said the view that made his studio apartment worth having still moved him. "I had the view, that's the important thing," he said. "Now it's a new view. That's the way it is."
In a high-rise building in Williamsburg, Theobald Wilson, a retired photographer, said that now he looked up from his computer at the space the north tower once occupied and thought, "Now I see the beautiful blue sky."
Even Gonzalez, 51, who eventually moved much closer to the financial district, to an apartment in Chinatown that looks into the heart of Lower Manhattan, has made her peace. "The function of the view in my current apartment," she said, "it's not a place to go for inspiration. It's just a normal view and needing skylight. Just a normal view."
Some people, like Gonzalez's former next-door neighbor on 40th Street in Sunset Park, Paula Stamatis, were able to trace the way the view out their windows had evolved, even though the skyline itself has not changed much since 9/11.
"You adjust to whatever the reality is it's a gradual process, like anything else," said Stamatis, 42, a sculptor and painter. "If you have a melancholy disposition and you're looking for something to remind you of loss, that's going to be there."
Her son, Zach Donovan, 21, said the difference no longer had much of an emotional effect on him.
Donovan, a college student, said, "It was more of a grief and tragedy for other people, and I didn't want to sully the sincerity of their grief by grieving for something that for me was impersonal, tragic but impersonal."
Few businesses in the city were prouder of their skyline view, distant though it was, than Douglaston Manor, a catering hall in Queens about 15 miles east of Manhattan. The manor's Glass Room commands a panoramic westward view against the twinkling backdrop of the big city.
"Typically, what people say is, 'What a beautiful view,' " said the general manager, Thomas DeMartino. From time to time, he said, guests are brought up a little short. "They say, 'You must have had a terrific view of the World Trade Center.' "
West Bank settlers take over more land
By Ori LewisReuters
Thursday, September 11, 2008
JERUSALEM: Israeli authorities and settlers have seized large tracts of land in the occupied West Bank for security zones around Jewish settlements beyond an Israeli-built barrier, a human rights group said on Thursday.
In a new report, the Israeli B'Tselem group said some 12 settlements east of the barrier had been fenced off under an official "Special Security Area" (SSA) plan, blocking Palestinian farmers from reaching their fields.
B'Tselem, which opposes Israeli settlement on territory occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, estimated that the overall area of some settlements in the plan had more than doubled.
Some 70,000 settlers live beyond the barrier of barbed wire-tipped fences and cement walls Israel is constructing in the West Bank, and security authorities view their settlements as particularly vulnerable to attack.
Asked about the B'Tselem report, the Israeli army said it had established security zones around settlements after they had been attacked repeatedly by Palestinians and dozens of Israeli civilians had been killed.
"The use of these zones has been approved a number of times by the Israeli Supreme Court. Any building in these zones is illegal," the army said.
B'Tselem said it could give only a rough estimate of the total territory closed to Palestinians but that at least 1,126 acres (456 hectares) had been "unofficially annexed" outside the 12 settlements.
It said half of the closed-off land was privately owned by Palestinians.
Control of the land, the report said, was achieved by fencing it off or through attacks by settlers and sometimes soldiers against Palestinians who ventured near it.
A spokesman for the Yesha settler's council, an umbrella group for Israelis living in the West Bank, said taking control of the areas was a necessary security measure.
"It must be clear to B'Tselem that if their demands are heeded, it will be easier to murder Jews," Yishai Hollander said.
Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon has proposed offering compensation to settlers living beyond the West Bank barrier who agree to move to Israel or to major settlement enclaves it intends to keep in any peace deal with the Palestinians.
Israel says the barrier, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice because it is being built on occupied territory, keeps Palestinian suicide bombers out of its cities.
The Palestinians call the project a land grab and say settlement expansion could deny them a viable and contiguous state in the West Bank.
I have a tendency to miss out on Golden Ages - even when I'm in the thick of them. From the '60s on through the '80s, I wrote stories and articles for magazines like Harper's and Esquire, only to be told, much later, that I had lived through and been part of a Golden Age of Magazine Publishing. If only I'd been tipped off, I might have asked for more money.
Now Al Silverman has come along with an amiable and doggedly researched history, "The Time of Their Lives," in which he makes a strong case for a Golden Age of Publishers and Editors (with writers trailing along behind them), stretching from 1946 into the early 1980s. Once again, there I was, scribbling away, unaware that anything special was going on. I'd had a long and bitter struggle in my 20s, during which I'd tried to get the hang of writing a novel. And then, suddenly, I had broken through and my books were being published, first by the scrappy anything-goes Simon & Schuster and then by the august Alfred A. Knopf. My editor throughout was Robert Gottlieb, one of the best - and not even arguably. Gottlieb's editing style, at least in my case, was to wave at an occasional passage and say, "Do a little something here." Yet the waves were brilliant, and once I'd addressed the "little somethings" the books were enriched. Everything I tried, or so it seemed, was snapped up, not only by publishers, but by the films and theater as well. It couldn't last - and it didn't - but looking back, perhaps there was something a little golden about the period.
Silverman has staked out as his territory a time when "books were most beloved by a reading public." Soon afterward, the great "bookmen" stepped aside and the bottom-liners of business took over.
To make his case, Silverman, for years the president of the Book of the Month Club (and later, at Viking, the editor of Saul Bellow, T. C. Boyle and William Kennedy), sought out survivors of "the good old days" and found 120 of them. Many were cleareyed and bouncing around in their 80s and 90s. (Take heart, McCain doubters.) The publishers seemed to have outlived their authors. Perhaps it was because they knew when to quit. Writers never do, or can't afford to. Curtis Benjamin, once chairman of McGraw-Hill, is clear on this subject: "There's no such thing as a poor publisher."
Silverman, with the help of his sprightly crew of old-timers, has sketched out a profile of the great houses and the bookmen who gave each one a distinctive character. Some, like Grove Press's Barney Rosset, were risk-taking buccaneers. A man with a "whim of steel" (as one of his editors put it), he faced down the courts and bulled through first "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and then "Tropic of Cancer." Others were less bold. The cautious George Braziller (still "trim as a quartermaster" in his late 80s) had an ability to "sniff out books." Some started with money. Charles Scribner V has an advisory for aspiring publishers: "Marry a girl who's the daughter of the richest man in America," the way his great-great-grandfather did. Ian Ballantine started with $500 and a dream. (The money was a gift from his wife's father.)
Alfred A. Knopf, who favored purple shirts and green ties, put as much emphasis on the appearance of a book as on its contents. Even today, the borzoi colyphon seems to give Knopf titles a leg up on their competitors. Little, Brown, then in Boston, was "WASPy to the core," cultivating "an aura of Henry James respectability." Henry Kissinger could not resist this quality and chose the publisher for the first volume of "White House Years." Harper was defined by Cass Canfield ("a 'working stiff' with style," one editor called him), who believed that any one of his friends "had a book in him." It helped that his circle included Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy. He carried a blank contract with him, the name and the title not yet filled in. "You never could tell," Silverman writes.
Doubleday, a proudly "middlebrow" company, was founded by Frank N. Doubleday, who suffered from flatulence. As a result, none of the characters in the books he published were allowed to pass wind.
Silverman's golden age wasn't all that golden for women. Jane Friedman, who became president of HarperCollins, began as an assistant at Random House in 1967. "Bennett Cerf . . . would come over and pull my ponytail," she recalled. As a board member at Harper, Ursula Nordstrom, a noted children's book editor, was asked at an all-male meeting to make coffee and said she didn't know how. Despite the roadblocks, women made their mark. Judith Jones, a secretary at Doubleday's Paris bureau, was asked to write rejection letters for a pile of manuscripts. One caught her attention. In tears, she mailed it off to Doubleday in Manhattan. "The Diary of Anne Frank" was published in 1952.
Despite a small female presence, publishing at the time, undeniably, was a boys' club, with gifted and often quirky editors in key positions. A major figure at Viking was the "loved" Cork Smith, a stubborn champion of Thomas Pynchon, though he ran into resistance from his superior George Stevens, who predicted, "This guy will be selling used Chevrolets within a year." At Little, Brown, Alfred McIntyre's judgment of a manuscript was governed by sentiment. "If, after a second highball, it brought tears to his eyes, he would recommend publication." Was there anyone more inventive (and some might say courageous) than Little, Brown's Stan Hart, who plucked Lillian Hellman away from Random? "We'd take a taxi back to her place, where we'd fall into bed."
My personal favorite in the book is Jim Silberman (James Baldwin's and Hunter Thompson's editor), who keeps being "wooed away" from one publisher to another. No sooner does he settle in at his desk than a new courtship begins. I've met this genial man and confess I felt an urge to woo him away from a publisher, too.
Silverman showers praise on publishers, editors, salesmen and, yes, even switchboard operators. (Is there a Golden Age of Bookkeepers in the works?) Still, it's the writers, bless them, who keep finding the spotlight. Manuscript in hand, W. H. Auden showed up at Random House in carpet slippers and said, "I'd like to have my money right now." Samuel Beckett, a tall, gaunt figure, knocked on the door of Grove's Richard Seaver in Paris, handed him an envelope and said, "Here's 'Watt.' " Seaver answered, "What?" thinking he'd become part of an Abbott and Costello routine. At a dinner party, Blanche Knopf, the full-figured wife of Alfred Jr., descended the "Hollywood-type staircase" of their apartment, a sight at which Joseph Conrad was heard to exclaim, "Quelle belge!" Before he became the celebrated author of "Ragtime," E. L. Doctorow said of his editorial position at New American Library that he occupied "the 'Jewish seat.' "
In a glittering moment for writers, Thomas Harris refused to make a single change to "The Silence of the Lambs" ' of the seven or eight that were suggested (demanded?) by St. Martin's Press.
There's a degree of schadenfreude in learning of The Ones That Got Away. In turning down "The Godfather," all three editors at Atheneum concurred: "The Mafia is coming out of our ears." What was Mike Bessie of Harper thinking when he found his interest "flagging" and rejected "Lolita"? Still, one feels some sympathy for New American Library's Victor Weybright when he learns that he might lose the reprint rights to "The Catcher in the Rye" and "breaks into a cold sweat."
There are some wearying passages in Silverman's book. Yet, who knows, an aspiring young M.B.A. student might experience a frisson upon learning that after World War II, "Macmillan's No. 1 ranking" fell quickly, and "Doubleday, McGraw-Hill and Prentice-Hall had all pulled ahead" (like Seabiscuit?). But over all, this is a wonderful book, filled with anecdotal treasures. It could have been written only by a "bookman," someone with printer's ink in his blood and bones. We're often told that books are on their way out. Don't say this to Silverman. Fittingly, he prefaces his monumental work with a poem by Czeslaw Milosz. The last lines:
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it's still a strange pageant,
Women's dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.
LONDON: Vernon Handley, who championed British music in his long career as an orchestra conductor, has died at age 77.
Handley died Wednesday at his home in Wales, said Nicholas Curry of the Clarion Seven Muses agency. The cause of death was not announced, but Handley had been ill for some time, Curry said Thursday.
Of the 150 recordings Handley made with various orchestras, more than 90 were of British music from the likes of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold, Robert Simpson, Granville Bantock and Arnold Bax.
Handley was a protege of Sir Adrian Boult, whose restrained gestures on the podium influenced Handley's own style.
During his career he was chief guest conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, chief conductor of the Malmo (Sweden) Symphony Orchestra, chief conductor and artistic director of the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland, chief guest conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, chief guest conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, chief conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and chief guest Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Handley never was principal conductor of a London orchestra, but in 1983 the London Philharmonic appointed him associate conductor.
His reputation as a proponent of British music sometimes chafed.
"I do love championing British music because I believe in it," he said last year in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"But in fact the problem for me is that I've got pigeonholed for it much too early. I would prefer to have come to it from an established position rather than as a freak, as it were, doing nothing but British music.
"When I'm abroad I'm asked to do Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Brahms, Beethoven, Berlioz, all sorts of things. And I always say to the British public and those who have pigeonholed me, don't worry, whenever I play any of these composers, after the first few bars I can make them all sound like Vaughan Williams."
Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.
Paris / Montmartre/ Abbesses holiday / Vacation apartment