Saturday, December 6, 2008
By Inal Ersan
More than two million Muslims began the haj pilgrimage Saturday, heading to a tent camp outside the holy city of Mecca to follow the route Prophet Mohammad took 14 centuries ago.
Over the past week, a sea of worshipers swept into Mecca, where authorities have mounted a vast security operation to avert any militant attacks, deadly stampedes or political activities that could embarrass Saudi Arabia.
"It's a bit like drinking from the sea -- no matter how much you drink your thirst is never quenched. That's why I come over and over again," said Hassan al-Sayed, an Egyptian pilgrim.
Some pilgrims walked, carrying their bags, while others took buses moving slowly through the crowds to the Mina area east of Mecca. Men were dressed in simple white robes, marking a state of ihram, or ritual purity.
"It's a beautiful feeling, very beautiful, especially when you see the Kaaba," said a Moroccan woman called Sanna after visiting the ancient cubic shrine at the centre of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. "I hope I can return again, with God's help."
Late Saturday pilgrims on foot, in buses and some in wheelchairs head to Mount Arafat, about 15 km (10 miles) outside the city, for the climax of haj Sunday. When they arrive they will spend hours in prayer and asking for forgiveness.
"I pray to God to plant mercy in people's hearts," said 55-year-old carpenter Muhammad Hassan as he walked with a carpet rolled up over his shoulder, trying to find a place to sleep.
The Eid al-Adha, or feast of the sacrifice, begins on Monday, when pilgrims begin three days of casting stones at walls in a symbolic renunciation of the devil.
Authorities have made renovations over the past year to ease the flow of pilgrims inside the Grand Mosque and on the disaster-prone Jamarat Bridge. In January 2006, 362 people were crushed to death on the bridge, the worst haj tragedy since 1990.
"I came here because I have always wished to come," said Umm Hassan from Egypt. "I hope God gives me the health and fortune to come a second and third and even more times."
The flow of traffic was notably smoother than last year, as more pilgrims were transported on buses and authorities imposed stringent checks on entry points to the Mecca area to keep out people without haj permits hoping to join the rites.
The government says it will stop Saudis and foreign residents from taking part without official permits, a main cause of overcrowding. Over 1.75 million haj visas have been granted to Muslims abroad, and at least 500,000 locals receive authorisation.
"The objective of this work is to account for all pilgrims, whether they are Saudis or non-Saudis," said organiser Ahmed al-Sulaimi as security forces stopped cars at a checkpoint.
The government warned pilgrims not to politicise the haj.
"Saudi Arabia is above any party or political intentions behind the haj. Pilgrims should not raise any slogans other than that of Islam," Islamic Affairs Minister Saleh bin Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh said in comments published in Saudi newspapers.
There have been clashes between police and Iranian pilgrims in the past over political slogans. Sectarian tensions have arisen recently in the Arab world after Shi'ite Muslims came to power in Iraq, emboldening Iran and its Shi'ite allies.
Disputes between Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah delayed and prevented some Palestinian pilgrims from arriving, adding another potential flashpoint.
Speaking in Mecca, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blamed Hamas. "Unfortunately, this is the first time in the history of the Palestinian people that pilgrims were prevented. Israel never once prevented pilgrims," he told reporters.
The Saudi government is also wary of militancy. Despite an al Qaeda campaign to destabilise Saudi Arabia from 2003 to 2006, The haj has never been targeted by al Qaeda militants.
Islamist militants rampaged through the Indian financial capital of Mumbai last week, killing 171 people.
(Additional reporting by Nael al-Shyoukhi; editing by Matthew Jones)
The Associated Press
Saturday, December 6, 2008
POZNAN, Poland: About 700 environmental activists have marched through Poznan, Poland, to demand that delegates at a U.N. conference do more to combat climate change.
They rallied Saturday as delegates from 190 countries in a nearby conference center worked on a new climate change deal. The deal should be sealed in a year, and would succeed the Kyoto Protocol.
Groups that took part included Greenpeace, WWF and Oxfam, as well as small numbers of anti-globalists and anarchists. The rally was peaceful.
Angela Corbalan of Oxfam says her group is calling on rich countries to urgently cut their emissions of polluting greenhouse gases. Environmentalists have sharply criticized rich countries for not offering deeper commitments at the talks.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
MANILA: A unit of British investment manager Ashmore Group has agreed to a Philippine government offer to buy a 40 percent stake in oil refiner Petron for 25.7 billion pesos (360 million pound), a source close to the deal said on Saturday.
The deal would raise the Ashmore group's holdings in Petron, the Philippines' largest oil refiner, to about 90 percent.
The source told Reuters Ashmore has agreed on the price of 6.85 pesos a share set by the government, despite a steep 57 percent premium to the oil firm's closing price of 4.35 pesos on Friday.
Earlier this year, Ashmore unit SEA Refinery Holdings bought a 40 percent stake in Petron from Saudi Aramco for $550 million (377 million pound), or 6.531 pesos per share, below the government's sale price.
Ashmore's unit later increased its Petron stake to slightly more than 50 percent after buying shares from minority shareholders via a tender offer at the same share price as its deal with Saudi Aramco.
"I know something was sent," Eric Recto, Petron president and Ashmore representative to the board told Reuters when asked whether Ashmore made the December 5 deadline to agree to or reject the government's offer. He declined to give details.
The sale would boost the Philippine government's coffers and help keep its budget deficit within a goal of 75 billion pesos this year despite increased spending to cushion the economy from the impact of the global financial crisis.
(Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco and Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Jan Dahinten)
By Somini Sengupta
Saturday, December 6, 2008
MUMBAI, India: Last Wednesday, an extraordinary public interest lawsuit was filed in this city's highest court. It charged that the government had lagged in its constitutional duty to protect its citizens' right to life, and it pressed the state to modernize and upgrade its security forces.
The lawsuit was striking mainly for the people behind it: investment bankers, corporate lawyers and representatives of some of India's largest companies, which have their headquarters here in the country's financial capital, also known as Bombay. The Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the city's largest business association, joined as a petitioner. It was the first time it had lent its name to litigation in the public interest.
The three-day siege of Mumbai, which ended a week ago, was a watershed for India's prosperous classes. It prompted many of those who live in their own private Indias, largely insulated from the country's dysfunction, to demand a vital public service: safety.
Since the attacks, which killed 163 people, plus nine gunmen, there has been an outpouring of anger from unlikely quarters. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of urban, English-speaking, tank-top-wearing citizens stormed the Gateway of India, a famed waterfront monument, venting anger at their elected leaders. There were similar protests in the capital, New Delhi, and the southern technology hubs, Bangalore and Hyderabad. All were organized spontaneously, with word spread through text messages and Facebook pages.
On Saturday, young people affiliated with a new political party, called Loksatta, or people's power, gathered at the Gateway, calling for a variety of reforms, including banning criminals from running for political office. (Virtually every political party has convicts and suspects among its elected officials.)
Social networking sites were ablaze with memorials and citizens' action groups, including one that advocated refraining from voting altogether as an act of civil disobedience. Never mind that in India, voter turnout among the rich is far lower than among the poor.
Another group advocated not paying taxes, as though that would improve the quality of public services. An e-mail campaign began Saturday called "I Am Clean," urging citizens not to bribe police officers or drive through red lights.
And there were countless condemnations of how democracy had failed in this, the world's largest democracy. Those condemnations led Vir Sanghvi, a columnist writing in the financial newspaper Mint, to remind his readers of 1975, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed emergency rule. Sanghvi wrote, "I am beginning to hear the same kind of middle-class murmurs and whines about the ineffectual nature of democracy and the need for authoritarian government."
Perhaps the most striking development was the lawsuit because it represented a rare example of corporate India's confronting the government outright rather than making back-room deals.
"It says in a nutshell, 'Enough is enough,' " said Cyrus Guzder, who owns a logistics company. "More precisely, it tells us that citizens of all levels in the country believe their government has let them down and believe that it now needs to be held accountable."
In India's city of gold, the distinction between public and private can be bewildering. For members of the working class, who often cannot afford housing, public sidewalks become living rooms. In the morning, commuters from gated communities in the suburbs pass children brushing their teeth at the edge of the street. Women are forced to relieve themselves on the railway tracks, usually in the dark, for the sake of modesty. The poor sometimes sleep on highway medians, and it is not unheard of for drunken drivers to mow them down.
Mumbai has been roiled by government neglect for years. Its commuter trains are so overcrowded that 4,000 riders die every year on average, some pushed from trains in the fierce competition to get on and off. Monsoons in 2005 killed more than 400 people in Mumbai in one day alone; so clogged were the city's ancient drains, so crowded its river plains with unauthorized construction that water had nowhere to go.
Rahul Bose, an actor, suggested setting aside such problems for the moment. In a plea published last week in The Hindustan Times, he laid out the desperation of this glistening, corroding place. "We overlook for now your neglect of the city," he wrote. "Its floods, its traffic, its filth, its pollution. Just deliver to us a world-standard antiterrorism plan."
None of the previous terrorist attacks, even in Mumbai, had so struck the cream of Bombay society. Bombs have been planted on commuter trains in the past, but few people who regularly dine at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel, one of the worst-hit sites, travel by train. "It has touched a raw nerve," said Amit Chandra, who runs a prominent investment firm. "People have lost friends. Everyone would visit these places." In any event, public anger could not have come at a worse time for incumbent politicians, who were at their most contrite last week. National elections are due next spring, and security is likely to be one of the top issues in the vote, particularly among the urban middle class. It remains to be seen whether outrage will prompt them to turn out to vote in higher numbers or whether politicians will be compelled to pay greater attention to them than in the past.
"There's a revulsion against the political class I have never seen before," said Gerson D'Cunha, a former advertising executive whose civic group, AGNI, presses for better governing. "The middle class that is laid back, lethargic, indolent, they've been galvanized."
For how long? That is a question on everyone's lips. At a memorial service on Thursday evening for a slain alumnus of the elite St. Xavier's College here, a placard asked: "One month from now, will you care?"
"It's helplessness, what do we do?" said Probir Roy, the owner of a technology company and an alumnus of St. Xavier's. "All the various stakeholders — the police, politicians — you can't count on them anyway. Now what do you do?"
Tops, a private security agency, has plenty to do. It is consulting schools, malls and "high net individuals" on how to protect themselves better. Security was a growth industry in India even before the latest attacks. Tops's global chairman, Rahul Nanda, said the company employed 73,000 security guards Saturday, compared with about 15,000 three years ago.
Mumbai is not the only place suffering from official neglect. Public services have deteriorated across India, all the more so in the countryside. Government schools are notoriously mismanaged. Doctors do not show up to work on public health projects. Corruption is endemic. In some of India's booming cities, private developers drill for their own water and generate electricity for their own buildings.
Political interference often gets in the way of the woefully understaffed and poorly paid police force. Courts and commissions have called for law enforcement to be liberated from political control. Politicians have balked.
The three-day standoff with terrorists was neither the deadliest that India has seen, nor the most protracted; there have been other extended convulsions of violence, including mass killings of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 and of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.
Yet, the recent attacks, which Indian police say were the work of a Pakistan-based terrorist group called Lashkar-e-Taiba, were profoundly different. Two of the four main targets were luxury hotels frequented by the city's wealthy elite: the Taj, facing the Gateway of India, and the twin Oberoi and Trident hotels, a few miles west on Nariman Point. They were the elite's watering holes and business dinner destinations. And to lose them, said Alex Kuruvilla, who runs the Condé Nast publications in India, is like losing a limb.
"It's like what I imagine an amputee would feel," he said. "It's so much part of our lives."
Last Wednesday, on the night of the candlelight vigil, Kuruvilla's driver made a wrong turn. A traffic policeman virtually pounced on the driver and then let him go with a bribe of 20 rupees, less than 50 cents. Kuruvilla is not optimistic about swift change. "Our cynicism is justified," he said.
Ashok Pawar, a police constable from the police station nearest the Taj, entered the hotel the night the siege began. It was full of gunfire and smoke. He could not breathe, and he did not know his way around. "It was my first time inside the Taj," he said. "How can a poor man go there?"
In The Indian Express newspaper on Friday, a columnist named Vinay Sitapati wrote a pointed open letter to "South Bombay," shorthand for the city's most wealthy enclave. The column first berated the rich for lecturing at Davos and failing in Hindi exams. "You refer to your part of the city simply as 'town,' " he wrote, and then he begged: "Vote in person. But vote in spirit, too: use your clout to demand better politicians, not pliant ones."
"In your hour of need today," he added, "it is India that needs your help."
By Kirk Semple
Saturday, December 6, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan: Most of the additional American troops arriving in Afghanistan early next year will be deployed near the capital, Kabul, American military commanders here say, in a measure of how precarious the war effort has become.
It will be the first time that American or coalition forces have been deployed in large numbers on the southern flank of the city, a decision that reflects the rising concerns among military officers, diplomats and government officials about the increasing vulnerability of the capital and the surrounding area.
It also underscores the difficult choices confronting American military commanders as they try to apportion a limited number of forces not only within Afghanistan, but also between Afghanistan and Iraq.
For the incoming Obama administration, a first priority will be to decide the greater risk: drawing down American forces too quickly in Iraq, potentially jeopardizing the gains there; or not building up troops quickly enough in Afghanistan, where the war effort hangs in the balance as security worsens.
The new army brigade, the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York, is scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan in January and will consist of 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers. The "vast majority" of them will be sent to Logar and Wardak Provinces, adjacent to Kabul, said Lieutenant Colonel Rumi Nielson-Green, a spokeswoman for the American units in eastern Afghanistan. A battalion of at least several hundred soldiers from that brigade will go to the border region in the east, where American forces have been locked in some of the fiercest fighting this year.
In all, the Pentagon is planning to add more than 20,000 troops to Afghanistan in response to a request from General David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan. Those troops are expected to be sent to violent areas in the south. But they are expected to be deployed over 12 to 18 months. Nearly all would be diverted from Iraq, officials say.
The plan for the incoming brigade, then, means that for the time being fewer reinforcements — or none at all — will be immediately available for the parts of Afghanistan where the insurgency is most intense.
It also means that most of the newly arriving troops will not be deployed with the main goal of curbing the cross-border flow of insurgents from their rear bases in Pakistan, something American commanders would like and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has recommended.
In recent months, amid a series of American military operations that caused civilian casualties, Karzai has repeatedly said that the fight against the insurgents should not be waged "in the villages" of Afghanistan but rather in the rugged borderlands to the east and south.
In an interview, the president's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said there was no conflict between the January deployment and Karzai's declarations. While Karzai had requested a focus on border areas, the spokesman said, additional reinforcements were also needed throughout the country, including in Wardak and Logar.
There are about 62,000 international troops currently in Afghanistan, including about 32,000 Americans, a military spokesman said, but they are spread thinly throughout the country, which is nearly the size of Texas.
American commanders say they desperately need more. Military officials say that if McKiernan's requests are met, deployments in the next year and a half or so will include four combat brigades, an aviation brigade equipped with attack and troop-carrying helicopters, reconnaissance units, support troops and trainers for the Afghan army and the police, raising American force levels to about 58,000.
The United States and NATO forces are hoping to expand the Afghan army to 134,000 from nearly 70,000 over the next four or five years.
Colonel Gregory Julian, a top military spokesman, said that for security reasons he could not say where exactly those troops would go, but NATO's southern command in Afghanistan includes Kandahar, Helmand, Oruzgan and Zabul Provinces.
Of immediate concern, American and NATO commanders say, is the need to safeguard the capital, to hit new Taliban strongholds in Wardak and Logar, and to provide enough security in those provinces for development programs, which are essential to maintaining the support of Afghan villagers.
Unlike in previous winters, when there was a lull in fighting as many Taliban fighters returned to Pakistan, American commanders expect more Taliban fighters to remain in Afghanistan and continue the fight. If so, the change would seem to reflect an effort by the emboldened insurgency to maintain its momentum and hold newly gained territory.
Wardak and Logar had been relatively secure until late last year. But by most accounts, Taliban activity has soared in the two provinces in the past year, as the insurgents have stepped up attacks against Afghan and foreign forces, sometimes even controlling parts of major roads connecting Kabul to the east and south.
The number of attacks in Wardak by the Taliban and other insurgent groups has increased about 58 percent since last year, and in Logar about 41 percent, according to statistics collated by Sami Kovanen, a security analyst in Kabul.
Insurgents now have significant influence, if not control, in much of the two provinces, said Kovanen, who draws his information from a wide range of government, nongovernment and private sources.
The American military command said it had incomplete statistics for the level of violence in those provinces. "Frankly, in Wardak and Logar, we don't know what we don't know," Colonel Nielson-Green said in an e-mail message. "There are few of our forces present in those areas, hence the reason for the incoming brigade there."
"I suspect that violence will increase as we place this unit but will go down over time," she added, "because we assess that there are considerable enemy support areas in both provinces and we will be going after them."
In June, three American soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were killed in an ambush when their vehicles were hit by mines and rocket-propelled grenades as they drove through Wardak Province.
In August, three Western women and an Afghan driver, all working for the International Rescue Committee, a relief group based in New York, were killed in Logar. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
The next month, the governor of Logar Province and three of his guards were killed in the explosion of a mine buried in a road.
American and NATO military commanders eventually hope to turn over the country's security to Afghan forces, but the Afghan police and military are nowhere near ready to assume that responsibility, officials say.
The Afghan government has already begun to work with local and provincial elected officials to extend the influence of the central government in the region, improve public services and gain the support of residents. But the government's efforts have been continually hampered by criminal gangs and insurgent groups.
Sediqa Mubariz, a member of Parliament from Wardak, said in an interview that she would welcome any additional American troops in her province.
Mubariz said security had been so poor that since last year she had not been able to travel from Kabul to her home district in Wardak, only 50 miles away.
The Associated Press
Saturday, December 6, 2008
WASHINGTON: For a Democrat whose opposition to the Iraq war was a campaign centerpiece, President-elect Barack Obama is remarkably in sync with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on many core defense and national security issues — even Iraq.
The list of similarities suggests the early focus of Obama's Pentagon may not change dramatically from President George W. Bush's.
Given that Obama made the unprecedented decision to keep the incumbent Republican defense secretary, it would seem natural to expect that they see eye to eye on at least some major defense issues. But the extent of their shared priorities is surprising, given Obama's campaign criticisms of Bush's defense policies.
In his first public comments about signing on with the incoming administration, Gates said Tuesday that in his decisive meeting with the president-elect in November, they talked more about how his appointment would be made and how it would work in practice, than about substantive policy issues.
The two "share a common view about the importance of integrating all elements of American power to make us more secure and defeat the threats of the 21st century," Brooke Anderson, the Obama transition office's chief national security spokeswoman, said Saturday.
She said Obama "appreciates Secretary Gates' pragmatism and competence and his commitment to a sustainable national security strategy that is built on bipartisan consensus here at home."
The apparent harmony between Gates and Obama on broad defense and national security aims is on display in a Foreign Affairs magazine article by the defense chief that was released Thursday. Gates lays out a comprehensive agenda based on the Bush administration's new National Defense Strategy. In numerous ways it meshes with the defense priorities that Obama espoused during the campaign. Examples include:
_better integrating and coordinating military efforts with civilian agencies, including the State Department. This is one of the lessons the Bush administration learned from the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, where initial combat efforts went well, only to fail to avert destabilizing insurgencies.
_building up the security capacity of partner nations. This is central to a belief, advocated by Gates and shared by Obama, that the fight against Islamic extremism — what the Bush administration calls the war on terror — cannot succeed in the long run without help from allies and partners.
_not overlooking the possibility of future threats from conventional military powers, even while continuing to focus on prevailing in the counterinsurgency campaigns where conventional firepower plays a lesser role.
There also are points of potential differences between Obama and Gates: closing the prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and expanding the U.S. missile defense system into Eastern Europe.
Gates advocates both, but on Guantanamo he lost the argument in Bush administration councils.
Obama has been unequivocal that he will close the prison. On missile defense, he has indicated support in general while emphasizing it must not divert resources from other priorities "until we are positive the technology will protect the American people." That condition could lead to delays in the Europe project, although the Pentagon managed a successful test intercept of a target missile over the Pacific on Friday.
But even on Iraq, Gates said that he considers Obama's focus on troop withdrawals to be an "agreeable approach," given that Obama has said he would listen to his commanders on how to proceed. Reminded that he previously had opposed setting a firm timetable for withdrawal, Gates said the situation changed when the Bush administration accepted Iraq's demand for an agreement in writing to remove U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities by next June and to withdraw entirely by Dec. 31, 2011.
"So we will confront or have a different kind of situation in Iraq at the end of June 2009 than we would have thought perhaps in June of 2008," Gates said. "And I think that the commanders are already looking at what the implications of that are, in terms of the potential for accelerating the drawdown."
Obama has said he believes a full withdrawal of combat troops can be accomplished within 16 months of his swearing in on Jan. 20. But he also has said the withdrawal should be done responsibly. This appears in line with indications that in a meeting last July in Baghdad with Gen. David Petraeus — then the top U.S. commander in Iraq and now the overseer of U.S. military operations across the Middle East — Obama gave hints, if not outright assurances, that he could be flexible on a pullout timetable.
Both Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, who will remain as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after Obama takes office, have stressed their eagerness to shift resources, including troops, from Iraq to Afghanistan, where the insurgency has grown in intensity. That, too, is in line with Obama's agenda.
Obama has pledged to continue the expansion of the Army and the Marine Corps that Gates started. They are on the same page, too, with regard to overhauling Pentagon's procurement system.
Also, both emphasize a need to improve the government's ability to address concerns of military families who are under strain from repeated, lengthy and frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Robert Burns has covered defense and national security issues for The Associated Press since 1990.
The Associated Press
Saturday, December 6, 2008
RAMALLAH, West Bank: The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on Saturday warned that Gaza's severe cash shortage may cause local banks to collapse, the most serious warnings yet regarding the consequences of Israel's continued refusal to allow new money infusions into Gaza banks.
Israel has not allowed money to enter Gaza since October, causing cash shortages in local banks. Israel's refusal to allow Palestinian banks to transfer cash to their Gaza branches is a part of a larger blockade imposed on the territory in response to Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza.
"The liquidity crisis could lead to the collapse of the commercial banking system in Gaza," the World Bank warned in a statement. The International Monetary Fund offered a similar prediction.
The cash shortage means around 77,000 Palestinian civil servants will not be able to withdraw their salaries before a Muslim holiday early next week. The cash shortage also forced the United Nations in November to halt cash payments to thousands of Gaza's poorest residents.
Gaza banks closed on Thursday payday for civil servants because of cash shortages. Bank officials have not said if they will open Monday, their next working day.
Monetary officials estimate Gaza banks hold less than a quarter of the cash needed to pay wages. The Israeli shekel is Gaza's main currency.
Jihad al-Wazir, head of the Palestinian Monetary Authority in the West Bank, said Gaza's banks have around 47 million shekels (about $12 million) between them. They need 220 million shekels ($54 million) to pay salaries, he said.
Al-Wazir said salaries may be paid in a mix of currencies to bypass the shekel shortage.
President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's partner in peace talks, lost control of Gaza to the Hamas militant group in June 2007. Based in the West Bank, he still claims authority over Gaza and has continued to pay tens of thousands of civil servants there each month through the banking system.
The cash crunch appears to be hurting Abbas much harder than Hamas, since the militant group pays 20,000 of its own employees with cash it smuggles into Gaza from Egypt. Their employees received December salaries.
Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza after Hamas took power last year, only allowing in humanitarian aid, fuel and some commercial goods.
The blockade tightened in early November after an Israel incursion into Gaza set off Palestinian rocket fire at nearby Jewish communities. Militants fired a rocket into the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. The army said it landed in an empty industrial area and no one was hurt.
Israel says despite the blockade, it wont allow a humanitarian crisis to develop. However, Israel's Defense Ministry, which signs off on goods entering Gaza, says cash supplies are not vital humanitarian aid.
Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment Saturday. But they have repeatedly said the cash will start flowing when the rocket fire stops.
With reporting by Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah
By Katherine Zoepf and Tariq Maher
Saturday, December 6, 2008
BAGHDAD: On Nisour Square here in the Iraqi capital, where at least 17 civilians were killed last year by guards working for the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, Iraqis reacted with satisfaction and anger to the news that five Blackwater guards had been indicted by the United States Justice Department.
"They started shooting randomly at people without any reason," recalled Ali Khalf Selman, a traffic policeman who said he witnessed the killing of 21 people on the day of the shootings. "I wish I could see the criminals in person, and I hope that they will pay a price for killing people who just happened to be in the wrong place on that bad day."
The shootings occurred on Sept. 16, 2007, as a Blackwater convoy traveled through Nisour Square, which was crowded with pedestrians, police officers and cars. The guards have said that they fired after coming under attack, and Blackwater has maintained that its guards did nothing wrong.
In Washington, lawyers for the five guards described them as decorated military veterans who had honorably served the United States. The five were identified as Paul Slough of Keller, Texas, a former member of the army Infantry, who served as a peacekeeper in Bosnia and on a security detail in Iraq as part of the Texas National Guard; Nick Slatten, of Sparta, Tennessee, a former army sergeant who served two tours in Iraq; Donald Ball, of Valley City, Utah, a former marine who served twice in Iraq; Dustin Heard, of Knoxville, Tennessee, a former marine who served in Afghanistan and Iraq; and Evan Liberty, of Rochester, New Hampshire, also a marine, who was stationed at embassies in Cairo and Guatemala City.
Iraq has not yet filed any claims against Blackwater, said an Iraqi official, who asked not to be identified because he had not been authorized to speak on the subject.
The Nisour Square shootings have had a deep impact on the Iraqi government's relationship with the Bush administration, and immunity for security contractors became a major issue recently in negotiations of the security pact that lays the ground rules for American troops' continuing presence in Iraq.
"This was one of the main issues in the pact," said Shatha al-Abousi, a Sunni member of Parliament. "It was a big problem, giving immunity to American soldiers and bodyguards. But everywhere on earth the guilty one must pay. It is a good thing this issue was completely solved in the pact."
Also last week, McClatchy Newspapers reported that about 1,000 men from several South Asian countries who had been hired by a subcontractor for the American military were held for months in conditions like slavery near Baghdad International Airport. The men had paid middlemen to obtain jobs in Iraq with Al Najlaa International Catering Services, a Kuwait-based subcontractor to KBR, a contractor that provides services to the United States military, McClatchy said. When they arrived in Iraq, it said, they were held in cramped conditions in warehouses, without jobs, salaries or adequate food.
The American military, in a statement, said that it took the allegations seriously and that it "will work closely with KBR and any other contractor involved to investigate and ensure that future violations do not occur.".
KBR responded with a brief statement, saying that it "in no way condones or tolerates unethical or illegal behavior." A spokeswoman for KBR, Heather Browne, wrote in an e-mail message that "KBR has been in discussions with the government on this issue and we will continue to monitor the situation."
In Kirkuk on Saturday, a suicide bomber attacked a police academy, killing one person and wounding 15, the authorities said. Saman Ghafour, a police captain who witnessed the attack, said that the bomber appeared to be 12 to 16 years old.
By Jack Healy
Friday, December 5, 2008
Wall Street shook off the grim new unemployment numbers and its early losses on Friday afternoon, swinging sharply higher as bargain-hunting investors snapped up long-suffering financial and technology stocks.
At the close, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 259.18, or 3.1 points, at 8,635.42, a stark reversal after falling more than 200 points earlier in the day. The broader Standard & Poor's 500-stock index was up 30.85 points, or 3.7 percent, at 876.07, while the Nasdaq composite index was up 63.75 points, or 4.4 percent, 1,509.31.
Even with Friday's gains, Wall Street finished the week modestly lower, and analysts said the stock market was likely stay volatile and keep teetering between sharp gains and deep losses for the foreseeable future.
"I think we're just due for bear market rallies," said Brian Gendreau, investment strategist at ING Investment Management. "I don't know anyone who thinks this is the start of a bull market."
Commercial banks, finance companies and insurance companies helped lead the rally, with biotechnology companies, software makers and computer manufacturers posting strong gains. As with previous rallies in the midst of a broad economic downturn, the hardest-hit sectors were pulling ahead on Friday.
"We're seeing those beaten-down sectors rallying a little bit," said Richard Sparks of Schaeffer's Investment Research. "We're seeing buyers step in on what had been the riskiest or toxic types of stocks."
Shares of Hartford Financial Services more than doubled after the company offered a sunnier profit outlook for 2008 and said it had enough cash to weather more turmoil in the markets. The company's stock, which plunged to from more than $80 a share at the beginning of the year to less than $5 recently, rebounded to more than $14 a share on Friday.
Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase each posted solid gains.
But energy companies lagged on Friday afternoon, and crude oil prices tumbled for a second day, settling at $40.81 a barrel in New York. Oil futures hit their lowest price in four years as traders bet that a deep and painful economic slowdown would curb demand in the United States, China and across the globe.
Shares of General Motors and Ford were higher as the leaders of the Big Three American automakers spent a second day on Capitol Hill, trying to persuade skeptical lawmakers to provide a $34 billion bailout for the automobile industry.
A broad range of retailers including Wal-Mart, Sears, Macy's, and Target watched their shares bounce back after an earlier tumble.
Although the decline in nonfarm payroll jobs announced Friday by the Labor Department was nearly 200,000 more than an expected drop of 335,000, for the worst monthly losses in 34 years, analysts said that many investors had quietly been bracing for starker figures than the consensus projections.
"The whisper numbers, we were hearing some 4's and 5's out there," said Philip Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors. "It's not as if it were completely out of the realm of possibility."
And analysts said that the markets appeared to anticipate Friday's bleak data with a late sell-off on Thursday that dragged down the Dow by 215 points.
If the headline number of 6.7 percent unemployment looked stark, economists saw only grimmer signals buried in the data.
"As bad as minus 533,000 looks at the surface, it's actually much worse than that when you dig through the details," said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch, who cited downward revisions in employment from previous months and a shrinking workweek for people who still have jobs. "This was the equivalent of a million job losses."
In a grim omen for year-end employment, temporary jobs fell by 78,000 and retailers slashed 91,000 positions. News of the cutbacks came one day after a host of retailers announced double-digit declines in their November sales, and analysts said Friday that retailers would reduce their wholesale buying and offer deeper discounts to stay above water this winter.
"No matter how one parses through the various indicators, there is nothing to change the first impression conveyed by the headline number — this is a historically awful employment report," Michael Feroli, United States economist at JPMorgan, said in a note.
The job losses in November, the 11th straight month of declines, portend months of struggle for the American economy. Economists said that consumers would continue to slash their spending through the holiday season, businesses would keep scaling back and industrial production and manufacturing would continue their decline.
"The economy is suffering from cardiac arrest," Rosenberg said. "It really needs help immediately."
Adding to the economic malaise, the combined number of foreclosures and delinquent home loans increased to a new high in the third quarter, according to a report from the Mortgage Bankers Association. Nearly 10 percent of all home loans were past due or already in foreclosure at the end of September, up from 9.2 percent in June, the industry group said Friday.
While the absolute number of homeowners behind on payments is high and rising, what is perhaps more alarming is that people who become delinquent on payments are much more likely to lose their homes today than in past.
The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that 30 percent of homeowners who miss one payment end up in foreclosure a few months later. Historically, only 12 percent to 15 percent fell that far behind and most borrowers were able to catch up or strike a deal with their lender.
In California and Florida, 75 percent and 65 percent respectively of homeowners who miss one payment make it to foreclosure.
Mortgage delinquencies are rising sharply among borrowers with good, or prime, credit histories, providing clear evidence that the problems that first identified among risky loans has become more widespread as the economy has weakened.
"It's clear that the mortgage market now is being driven by the fundamental issues, jobs and the economy," said Jay Brinkmann, the chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Brinkmann estimated that foreclosures this year would total 2.2 million, in line with a prediction by the Federal Reserve's chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, that home foreclosures would reach 2.25 million by the end of 2008.
European markets all fell sharply to close lower for the week. The FTSE 100 in London closed down 2.7 percent on Friday, while the DAX in Frankfurt dropped 4 percent. The CAC 40 index in Paris fell the farthest, ending the day down 5.5 percent.
By Robert Pear
Saturday, December 6, 2008
ASHLAND, Ohio: As jobless numbers reach levels not seen in 25 years, another crisis is unfolding for millions of people who lost their health insurance along with their jobs, joining the ranks of the uninsured.
The crisis is on display here. Starla Darling, 27, was pregnant when she learned that her insurance coverage was about to end. She rushed to the hospital, took a medication to induce labor and then had an emergency Caesarean section, in the hope that her Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan would pay for the delivery.
Wendy Carter, 41, who recently lost her job and her health benefits, is struggling to pay $12,942 in bills for a partial hysterectomy at a local hospital. Her daughter, Betsy Carter, 19, has pain in her lower right jaw, where a wisdom tooth is growing in. But she has not seen a dentist because she has no health insurance.
Darling and Wendy Carter are among 275 people who worked at an Archway cookie factory here in north central Ohio. The company provided excellent health benefits. But the plant shut down abruptly this fall, leaving workers without coverage, like millions of people battered by the worst economic crisis since the Depression.
About 10.3 million Americans were unemployed in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of unemployed has increased by 2.8 million, or 36 percent, since January of this year, and by 4.3 million, or 71 percent, since January 2001.
Most people are covered through the workplace, so when they lose their jobs, they lose their health benefits. On average, for each jobless worker who has lost insurance, at least one child or spouse covered under the same policy has also lost protection, public health experts said.
Expanding access to health insurance, with U.S. government subsidies, was a priority for President-elect Barack Obama and the new Democratic Congress. The increase in the ranks of the uninsured, including middle-class families with strong ties to the work force, adds urgency to their efforts.
"This shows why — no matter how bad the condition of the economy — we can't delay pursuing comprehensive health care," said Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio. "There are too many victims who are innocent of anything but working at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Some parts of the U.S. government safety net are more responsive to economic distress. The number of people on food stamps set a record in September, with 31.6 million people receiving benefits, up by two million in one month.
Nearly 4.4 million people are receiving unemployment insurance benefits, an increased of 60 percent in the past year. But more than half of unemployed workers are not getting help because they do not qualify or have exhausted their benefits.
About 1.7 million families receive cash under the main U.S.-state welfare program, little changed from a year earlier. Welfare serves about 4 of 10 eligible families and fewer than one in four poor children.
In a letter dated Oct. 3, Archway told workers that their jobs would be eliminated, and their insurance terminated on Oct. 6, because of "unforeseeable business circumstances." The company, owned by a private equity firm based in Greenwich, Connecticut, filed a petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.
Archway workers typically made $13 to $20 an hour. To save money in a tough economy, they are canceling appointments with doctors and dentists, putting off surgery, and going without prescription medicines for themselves and their children.
Archway cited "the challenging economic environment" as a reason for closing.
"We have been operating at a loss due largely to the significant increases in raw material costs, such as flour, butter, sugar and dairy, and the record high fuel costs across the country," the company said. At this time of year, the Archway plant is usually bustling as employees work overtime to make Christmas cookies. This year the plant is silent. The aromas of cinnamon and licorice are missing. More than 40 trailers sit in the parking lot with nothing to haul.
In the weeks before it filed for bankruptcy protection, Archway apparently fell behind in paying for its employee health plan. In its bankruptcy filing, Archway said it owed more than $700,000 to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, one of its largest creditors.
Richard Jackson, 53, was an oven operator at the bakery for 30 years. He and his two daughters often used the Archway health plan to pay for doctor's visits, imaging, surgery and medicines. Now that he has no insurance, Jackson takes his Effexor antidepressant pills every other day, rather than daily, as prescribed.
Another former Archway employee, Jeffrey Austen, 50, said he had canceled shoulder surgery scheduled for Oct. 13 at the Cleveland Clinic because he had no way to pay for it.
"I had already lined up an orthopedic surgeon and an anesthesiologist," Austen said.
In mid-October, Janet Esbenshade, 37, who had been a packer at the Archway plant, began to notice that her vision was blurred. "My eyes were burning, itching and watery," she said. "Pus was oozing out. If I had had insurance, I would have gone to an eye doctor right away."
She waited two weeks. The infection became worse. She went to the hospital on Oct. 26. Doctors found that she had keratitis, a painful condition that she may have picked up from an old pair of contact lenses. They prescribed antibiotics, which have cleared up the infection.
Esbenshade has two daughters, ages 6 and 10, with asthma. She has explained to them why "we are not Christmas shopping this year — unless, by some miracle, mommy goes back to work and gets a paycheck."
She said she had told the girls, "I would rather you stay out of the hospital and take your medication than buy you a little toy right now because I think your health is more important."
In some cases, people who are laid off can maintain their group health benefits under a U.S. government law, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986, known as Cobra. But that is not an option for former Archway employees because their group health plan no longer exists. And they generally cannot afford to buy insurance on their own.
Wendy Carter's case is typical. She receives $956 a month in unemployment benefits. Her monthly expenses include her share of the rent ($300), car payments ($300), auto insurance ($75), utilities ($220) and food ($260). That leaves nothing for health insurance.
Darling, who was pregnant when her insurance ran out, worked at Archway for eight years, and her father, Franklin Phillips, worked there for 24 years.
"When I heard that I was losing my insurance," she said, "I was scared. I remember that the bill for my son's delivery in 2005 was about $9,000, and I knew I would never be able to pay that by myself."
So Darling asked her midwife to induce labor two days before her health insurance expired.
"I was determined that we were getting this baby out, and it was going to be paid for," said Darling, who was interviewed at her home here as she cradled the infant in her arms.
As it turned out, the insurance company denied her claim, leaving Darling with more than $17,000 in medical bills.
The latest official estimate of the number of uninsured, from the Census Bureau, is for 2007, when the economy was in better condition. In that year, the bureau says, 45.7 million people, accounting for 15.3 percent of the population, were uninsured.
M. Harvey Brenner, a professor of public health at the University of North Texas and Johns Hopkins University, said that three decades of research had shown a correlation between the condition of the economy and human health, including life expectancy.
"In recessions, with declines in national income and increases in unemployment, you often see increases in mortality from heart disease, cancer, psychiatric illnesses and other conditions," Brenner said.
The recession is also taking a toll on hospitals.
"We have seen a significant increase in patients seeking assistance paying their bills," said Erin Al-Mehairi, a spokeswoman for Samaritan Hospital in Ashland. "We've had a 40 percent increase in charity care write-offs this year over the 2007 level of $2.7 million."
In addition, people are using the hospital less. "We've seen a huge decrease in MRI.'s, CAT scans, stress tests, cardiac catheterization tests, knee and hip replacements and other elective surgery," Al-Mehairi said.
The Associated Press
Saturday, December 6, 2008
ACCRA, Ghana: Voters in this coastal African nation are acutely aware of the responsibility they bear when they head to the polls Sunday to elect their next president.
Flanked on one side by Togo, a nation ruled for 41 years by the same family, and on the other by Ivory Coast, which is only now emerging from civil war, Ghana is a rare example of democracy.
The candidate they elect Sunday will mark the country's second successive transfer of power, a litmus test for a mature democracy and a feat that only a handful of other nations in Africa have accomplished.
"The significance of this election, is that Ghana is going to tell the world, 'We understand the need for democracy and we can do it," says Akwasi Osei, a Ghanaian who is now a political science professor at Delaware State University, "We can get it right."
An estimated 12.4 million registered voters, roughly half the country's population of 23 million, will choose from one of eight candidates to succeed President John Kufuor, who is stepping down after two terms as required by law.
But the race is really against Kufuor's chosen successor Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party, or NPP, and opposition leader John Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress, or NDC. With Ghana averaging 6 percent growth, roughly three times the global average, the ruling NPP Party is campaigning on a platform of continuity.
They have plastered the country with posters that say "We are moving forward" and their tens of thousands of supporters use a hand signal to greet each other: They place their two palms out in front of them and make a back-and-forth motion, indicating forward momentum.
They point to the fact that during Kufuor's two terms in office Ghana has become an economic success story. Foreign investment has grown 2000 percent, while exports shot up 1 1/2 times from $1.6 billion in 2001 to $4.2 billion now.
Yet for all the statistics indicating success, many here say they have little to show for what economists quantify as progress. Much of the country has no electricity and even in the capital, the poor relieve themselves on the white sand beach because they have no latrines.
The seven opposition candidates use a different hand signal to greet each other. They roll their fists in a circular motion, like the turning of two wheels, signifying they stand for change.
"We need change," says Samuel Asante, a taxi driver, whose meager salary hasn't changed much in the past eight years. "It's not good for one government to stay in power for so long. We want to keep them on their toes."
Polls open at 7 a.m. Sunday at an estimated 22,000 polling stations and close at 5 p.m. Early results are expected within days. The winner needs to secure more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.
Regardless of who wins, Ghanaians are keenly aware of the example they set. Ever since 1957 when they became the first nation in Africa to declare independence from their colonial ruler, Ghana has had the weight of history on its shoulders. For them, it's important that the election goes off without the all-too-common hooliganism, ballot stuffing and violence that continues to plague African elections.
On one local TV station, a group of activists paid to have a continuous ticker run along the bottom of the screen. It quotes the French novelist Albert Camus, who said: "Peace is the only battle worth waging."
By Benedict Carey
Friday, December 5, 2008
He knew his name. That much he could remember.
He knew that his father's family came from Thibodaux, Louisiana, and his mother was from Ireland, and he knew about the 1929 stock market crash and World War II and life in the 1940s.
But he could remember almost nothing after that.
In 1953, he underwent an experimental brain operation in Hartford to correct a seizure disorder, only to emerge from it fundamentally and irreparably changed. He developed a syndrome neurologists call profound amnesia. He had lost the ability to form new memories.
For the next 55 years, each time he met a friend, each time he ate a meal, each time he walked in the woods, it was as if for the first time.
And for those five decades, he was recognized as the most important patient in the history of brain science. As a participant in hundreds of studies, he helped scientists understand the biology of learning, memory and physical dexterity, as well as the fragile nature of human identity.
On Tuesday evening at 5:05, Henry Gustav Molaison known worldwide only as H. M., to protect his privacy died of respiratory failure at a nursing home in Windsor Locks, Connecticut His death was confirmed by Suzanne Corkin, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who had worked closely with him for decades. Henry Molaison was 82.
From the age of 27, when he embarked on a life as an object of intensive study, he lived with his parents, then with a relative and finally in an institution. His amnesia did not damage his intellect or radically change his personality. But he could not hold a job and lived, more so than any mystic, in the moment.
"Say it however you want," said Dr. Thomas Carew, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, and president of the Society for Neuroscience. "What H. M. lost, we now know, was a critical part of his identity."
At a time when neuroscience is growing exponentially, when students and money are pouring into laboratories around the world and researchers are mounting large-scale studies with powerful brain-imaging technology, it is easy to forget how rudimentary neuroscience was in the middle of the 20th century.
When Molaison, at 9 years old, banged his head hard after being hit by a bicycle rider in his neighborhood near Hartford, scientists had no way to see inside his brain. They had no rigorous understanding of how complex functions like memory or learning functioned biologically. They could not explain why the boy had developed severe seizures after the accident, or even whether the blow to the head had anything do to with it.
Eighteen years after that bicycle accident, Molaison arrived at the office of Dr. William Beecher Scoville, a neurosurgeon at Hartford Hospital. Molaison was blacking out frequently, had devastating convulsions and could no longer repair motors to earn a living.
After exhausting other treatments, Dr. Scoville decided to surgically remove two finger-shaped slivers of tissue from Molaison's brain. The seizures abated, but the procedure especially cutting into the hippocampus, an area deep in the brain, about level with the ears left the patient radically changed.
Alarmed, Dr. Scoville consulted with a leading surgeon in Montreal, Dr. Wilder Penfield of McGill University, who with Dr. Brenda Milner, a psychologist, had reported on two other patients' memory deficits.
Soon Dr. Milner began taking the night train down from Canada to visit Molaison in Hartford, giving him a variety of memory tests. It was a collaboration that would forever alter scientists' understanding of learning and memory.
"He was a very gracious man, very patient, always willing to try these tasks I would give him," Dr. Milner, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Montreal Neurological Institute and McGill University, said in a recent interview. "And yet every time I walked in the room, it was like we'd never met."
At the time, many scientists believed that memory was widely distributed throughout the brain and not dependent on any one neural organ or region. Brain lesions, either from surgery or accidents, altered people's memory in ways that were not easily predictable. Even as Dr. Milner published her results, many researchers attributed H. M.'s deficits to other factors, like general trauma from his seizures or some unrecognized damage.
"It was hard for people to believe that it was all due" to the excisions from the surgery, Dr. Milner said.
That began to change in 1962, when Dr. Milner presented a landmark study in which she and H. M. demonstrated that a part of his memory was fully intact. In a series of trials, she had Molaison try to trace a line between two outlines of a five-point star, one inside the other, while watching his hand and the star in a mirror. The task is difficult for anyone to master at first.
Every time H. M. performed the task, it struck him as an entirely new experience. He had no memory of doing it before. Yet with practice he became proficient. "At one point he said to me, after many of these trials, 'Huh, this was easier than I thought it would be,' " Dr. Milner said.
The implications were enormous. Scientists saw that there were at least two systems in the brain for creating new memories. One, known as declarative memory, records names, faces and new experiences and stores them until they are consciously retrieved. This system depends on the function of medial temporal areas, particularly an organ called the hippocampus, now the object of intense study.
Another system, commonly known as motor learning, is subconscious and depends on other brain systems. This explains why people can jump on a bike after years away from one and take the thing for a ride, or why they can pick up a guitar that they have not played in years and still remember how to strum it.
Soon "everyone wanted an amnesic to study," Dr. Milner said, and researchers began to map out still other dimensions of memory. They saw that H. M.'s short-term memory was fine; he could hold thoughts in his head for about 20 seconds. It was holding onto them without the hippocampus that was impossible.
"The study of H. M. by Brenda Milner stands as one of the great milestones in the history of modern neuroscience," said Dr. Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia University. "It opened the way for the study of the two memory systems in the brain, explicit and implicit, and provided the basis for everything that came later the study of human memory and its disorders."
Living at his parents' house, and later with a relative through the 1970s, Molaison helped with the shopping, mowed the lawn, raked leaves and relaxed in front of the television. He could navigate through a day attending to mundane details fixing a lunch, making his bed by drawing on what he could remember from his first 27 years.
He also somehow sensed from all the scientists, students and researchers parading through his life that he was contributing to a larger endeavor, though he was uncertain about the details, said Dr. Corkin, who met Molaison while studying in Dr. Milner's laboratory and who continued to work with him until his death.
By the time he moved into a nursing home in 1980, at age 54, he had become known to Dr. Corkin's MIT team in the way that Polaroid snapshots in a photo album might sketch out a life but not reveal it whole.
H. M. could recount childhood scenes: Hiking the Mohawk Trail. A road trip with his parents. Target shooting in the woods near his house.
"Gist memories, we call them," Dr. Corkin said. "He had the memories, but he couldn't place them in time exactly; he couldn't give you a narrative."
He was nonetheless a self-conscious presence, as open to a good joke and as sensitive as anyone in the room. Once, a researcher visiting with Dr. Milner and H. M. turned to her and remarked how interesting a case this patient was.
"H. M. was standing right there," Dr. Milner said, "and he kind of colored blushed, you know and mumbled how he didn't think he was that interesting, and moved away."
In the last years of his life, Molaison was, as always, open to visits from researchers, and Dr. Corkin said she checked on his health weekly. She also arranged for one last research program. On Tuesday, hours after Molaison's death, scientists worked through the night taking exhaustive M.R.I. scans of his brain, data that will help tease apart precisely which areas of his temporal lobes were still intact and which were damaged, and how this pattern related to his memory.
Dr. Corkin arranged, too, to have his brain preserved for future study, in the same spirit that Einstein's was, as an irreplaceable artifact of scientific history.
"He was like a family member," said Dr. Corkin, who is at work on a book on H. M., titled "A Lifetime Without Memory." "You'd think it would be impossible to have a relationship with someone who didn't recognize you, but I did."
In his way, Molaison did know his frequent visitor, she added: "He thought he knew me from high school."
Henry Gustav Molaison, born on Feb. 26, 1926, left no survivors. He left a legacy in science that cannot be erased.
The Associated Press
Sunday, December 7, 2008
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands: Amsterdam has unveiled plans to close brothels, sex shops and marijuana cafes in its ancient city center as part of a major effort to drive organized crime out of the tourist haven.
The city is targeting businesses that "generate criminality," including gambling parlors, and the so-called "coffee shops" where marijuana is sold openly. Also targeted are peep shows, massage parlors and souvenir shops used by drug dealers for money-laundering.
"I think that the new reality will be more in line with our image as a tolerant and crazy place, rather than a free zone for criminals" Lodewijk Asscher, a city council member and one of the main proponents of the plan, said Saturday.
The news comes just one day after Amsterdam's mayor said he would search for loopholes in new rules laid down by the national government that would close marijuana cafes near schools citywide. The measures announced Saturday would affect about 36 coffee shops in the center itself — a little less than 20 percent of the city total.
Asscher underlined that the city center will remain true to its freewheeling reputation.
"It'll be a place with 200 windows (for prostitutes) and 30 coffee shops, which you can't find anywhere else in the world — very exciting, but also with cultural attractions," he said. "And you won't have to be embarrassed to say you came."
Under the plan announced Saturday, Amsterdam will spend €30 million to €40 million ($38 million to $51 million) to bring hotels, restaurants, art galleries and boutiques to the center. It will also build new underground parking areas.
Amsterdam already had plans to close many brothels and some coffee shops, but plans announced Saturday go further.
Asscher said the city would reshape the area, using zoning rules, buying out businesses and offering assistance to upgrade stores. The city has shut brothels and sex clubs in the past by relying on a law allowing the closure of businesses with bookkeeping irregularities.
Prostitution will be allowed only in two areas in the district — notably De Wallen ("The Walls"), a web of streets and alleys around the city's medieval retaining dam walls. The area has been a center of prostitution since before the city's golden shipping age in the 1600s.
Prostitution was legalized in the Netherlands in 2000, formalizing a long-standing tolerance policy.
Marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but prosecutors won't press charges for possession of small amounts. Coffee shops are able to sell it openly.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
MANILA: Sixteen people died after suspected robbers engaged police in a shootout outside the headquarters of a transport firm in a Manila suburb, police said Saturday.
Highway police and special operatives acting on an informant's tip were deployed to the transport firm's office but were spotted by the robbers and met by a volley of gunfire, according to police chief inspector Glenn Tigson's official report.
Eight robbers inside a sports utility vehicle died on the spot after the policemen returned fire. A second vehicle with two thieves on board sped away during the crossfire but was chased by the police.
The two robbers later abandoned their vehicle and grabbed a motorcycle from a passing motorist but were intercepted by police who shot and killed the suspects on the spot.
A father and his 7-year-old daughter on board a passing sports utility vehicle were also hit in the crossfire and later died. Two other people manning a truck near the office of the transport firm also died from gunshot wounds.
The police report said one member of the police's elite special action force and the transport firm's security guard also died after being hit in the crossfire.
Two police officers were wounded, including the chief of the police highway patrol group's special operations unit..
Police recovered four M16 rifles, two .45 calibre guns, handheld radios, ammunition and a police jacket in the robbers' vehicle.
Police are investigating the possibility that the robbers may have been former police officers involved in a spate of bank heists, Chief Superintendent Perfecto Palad, director of the police highway patrol group told reporters.
"They are ruthless criminals who will not hesitate to kill at the slightest provocation," Palad said.
Leopoldo Bataoil, Manila police chief, told reporters he has ordered an inquiry into the shootout after receiving complaints from witnesses and relatives of the victims that the passing motorists were hit by police.
(Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
By Claudia Barbieri
Thursday, December 4, 2008
PARIS: What is a group of Bangladeshi rickshaw drivers doing in London, staring impassively at their unseen observer? And what do they have in common with an ethereal young woman tentatively breaking pieces of china? For an answer, turn to Runa Islam, the Bangladeshi-born artist whose video works - "First Day of Spring," featuring the Dhaka rickshaw riders, and "Be the First to See What You See as You See It," a slow-motion study of smashing porcelain - helped propel her onto the short list for this year's Turner Prize.
Sometimes shocking and controversial, in other years more thought-provoking, the Turner Prize has become not just a barometer of the state and direction of British contemporary art but also a fixture on the social calendar.
Founded in 1984 by a group of contemporary art patrons linked to the Tate gallery, the prize is awarded to an artist under the age of 50, born or working in Britain, whose publicly exhibited work over the past year has seemed especially innovative or important. The winner is selected from a short list of four, chosen by a five-member jury; the first prize is worth £25,000, or about $37,500, and the three runners-up receive £5,000 each.
Past winners have included some of the most notorious enfants terribles of British Art - Gilbert and George in 1986; Damien Hirst in 1995; Chris Ofili, with his elephant dung paintings, in 1998; the transvestite potter Grayson Perry in 2003; Tracy Emin's unmade bed failed to win in 1999.
"In the 1990s, the Turner Prize became like the Grand National, in terms of it being a national event," said Virginia Button, curator of the prize from 1993 to 1998 and author of its regularly updated official history.
The notoriety of the prize wins envious recognition beyond sometimes insular confines of the British art world.
"The Turner Prize goes far beyond an art prize - it has become a national event with a global profile," said Gilles Fuchs, president of the Association for the International Diffusion of French Art, organizer of the Marcel Duchamp contemporary art prize, in Paris.
This year's jury, led by Stephen Deuchar, director of the Tate Britain gallery, included Suzanne Cotter, senior curator and deputy director of the Oxford-based gallery and publisher of the Modern Art Oxford; Jennifer Higgie, co-editor of Frieze magazine; Daniel Birnbaum, director of the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste, in Frankfurt; and the architect David Adjaye.
Their short-listed contenders, whose works are on exhibit at the Tate Britain gallery until Jan. 18, included, alongside Islam, two other women - Goshka Macuga, who was born in Poland, and Cathy Wilkes, who was born in Northern Ireland - and Mark Leckey, a British-born professor of film studies in Frankfurt.
Leckey, the bookmaker's favorite and eventual winner - the jury's verdict was announced on Monday - uses a mix of media in his works including film, sculpture, performance and lecture, referencing fine art, music, clubbing and pop culture. His works on show at the Tate Britain engage their audience with images of cultural icons that include Felix the Cat, Jeff Koon's steely rabbit and the Simpsons.
"There is no hierarchy in his work - anything is up for grabs," said Carolyn Kerr , one of the show's curators.
To a casual observer all four short-listed artists share some fundamental stylistic traits. They work in installation film and multimedia genres. Paint, apparently, is out.
"Art today is no longer about pretty pictures," said Marc-Olivier Wahler, director of the Palais de Tokyo, the contemporary-art museum space in Paris. "The artist is free to express whatever he wants; artworks are more often than not frustrating, troubling and make the viewer re-examine his preconceptions."
That approach is perhaps most apparent in Wilkes's work. "Give you all my money" is a collection of found objects with a centerpiece of two stripped down checkout counters surrounded by an assortment of junk: leftover food in bowls; hair clippings, burned wood and other detritus, forming an extended personal iconography echoing Emin's bed. Into this meticulously dysfunctional installation two mannequins bring an abstractedly human counterpoint; one sits on a toilet, naked except for a nurse's hat and the other leans against a counter, her head in bird cage. Both have various domestic bits and pieces hanging by strings from their skulls. The whole work seems to add up to an expression of everyday feminine drudgery.
This year's short-listed artists were not especially easy to understand, said Deuchar, the jury chairman. But, he added in a interview broadcast by the BBC, "the public is not frightened by art that requires some investigation and whose meaning is not instantly clear."
No less enigmatic, Macuga's has been likened to cultural archeology, in which she constructs histories and explores conventions of archiving, exhibition making and museum display. In her Tate installation - described as an exploration of the professional and romantic relationships between the World War I artist Paul Nash and the surrealist painter Eileen Agar and the Bauhaus architects and designers Mies Van der Rohe and Lily Reich - she uses photos and archive material from the Tate in a set of photomontages and collages surrounding a minimalist sculpture of glass and steel. Drawings of rain adorn the walls. The relationship between these elements is, indeed, not instantly clear.
Leckey's offering, "Cinema in the Round," is a video of a 40-minute performance art lecture in which the artist talks of his fascination with the life of images on screen, mixing ideas about language and film with shots of filmed objects and images, in a looping exploration of the relation between self and image.
These works are the product of "a seismic shift in the appreciation of the visual arts in Britain," said Button, the historian of the prize. "They are polythemic; they can be appreciated on many different levels." This adds to their richness and complexity, she said. "No contemporary artist would say there is one way of looking at a work," Button said.
Kerr, the curator, agreed. Artists are engaging in a multilayered exploration of their universe, she said, "a sort of collaging in every sense."
"New media are available to artists," Kerr said. "Art is no longer confined to painting and sculpture. Art is taking on a whole new language, about testing and exploring, in a sense growing up, moving on from sensationalist statements to something more thoughtful and thought-provoking."
She added: "British art is heading into a different place. The work requires more attention; it's in a more thoughtful place. It's intriguing, challenging, deeply rooted in aesthetics. We're heading to redefining what it means to be modern - post-post-modernism."
Living in France
Blogs about France