When the convoy stops, a crowd of boys and old men swells around Dr. Ramey Wilson, an Army battalion surgeon.
"What do you folks need around here? Children immunized? Any problems with eye diseases? Need good schools? Schools for the girls?" Wilson calls out. No, we have all that, the crowd answers back.
One by one, a chorus of the older voices builds, as the men press forward.
"What we need is electricity," they say, through Wilson's Afghan translator. "To power computers. For our children. To connect to the Internet."
Unable to gain access to gas from Qatar or Iran, the northern emirates of Ras al Khaymah and Al Fujayrah have been obliged to import diesel and coal to meet their power generation needs, said Simon Williams, a senior economist with HSBC in Dubai.
"Demand has accelerated more quickly than anticipated and additions to supply have fallen behind," he said. "They've had little option but to look to alternative sources of energy supply. The irony of the Gulf importing hydrocarbon energy is not lost on anyone."
Oil and natural gas now account for 50 percent of central government budget revenue and 65 percent of export receipts, according to a Bank of Finland report in February.
There is in fact no shift in strategy, said a Russian oil industry analyst with an international organization in Paris, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the authorities in Russia to criticism. In the absence of new thinking, "the only strategy is accumulation of assets in state hands and appropriation of the largest possible share of the oil and gas rent," he said.
Combining state ownership with an authoritarian government has resulted in self-censorship, favor-based promotions rather than competence-based promotions, and power struggles between competing clans that are holding back progress on a range of projects in exploration, production, transportation and refining, the analyst said.
Reflecting that, only one new gas field - the Zapolyarnoye field, which came on stream in 2001 - has entered production since the 1980s, while various energy transportation projects are behind schedule, including the East Siberia-Pacific oil pipeline - now set to open a year later than planned, at the end of 2009.
This paralysis coincides with rising doubts about the sustainability of Russian production - running at close to 10 million barrels a day of oil and 850 billion cubic meters, or 30 trillion cubic feet, of gas in 2007, compared with 6 million barrels a day and less than 600 billion cubic meters in the 1990s.
Worldwide, there are about 440 nuclear reactors in operation.
Leaving aside the unresolved issue of disposing of the 12,000 tons of radioactive waste that are produced annually and remain dangerous for millions of years, nuclear power presents other drawbacks: Atomic power plants routinely release radioactivity into the air and into the water used in their cooling and waste treatment systems.
"Scientific evidence does not indicate any cancer risk or immediate effects at doses below 100 millisieverts per year," according to the Web site of the World Nuclear Association, an industry group.
One issue in judging the danger of radiation from nuclear plants is the lack of reliable data, said Rosalie Bertell, a specialist in biometrics and environmental epidemiology.
Most information about the effects of low-dose radiation is extrapolated from flawed studies of Japanese atomic bombs victims, said Bertell, who has studied radiation effects for over 50 years. Bertell said the studies focused on survivors of high-dose radiation, using lower-dose survivors mainly as a control group.
These studies, in assessing the reproductive effects, looked only at live births, ignoring miscarriages and stillbirths despite their own findings that the most vulnerable to radiation are children and fetuses. A further flaw of thresholds set by regulatory bodies, Bertell said, is that they are determined in relation to healthy, young males rather than for the most vulnerable, pregnant women.
Beyond the potential health hazard of low-level radiation exposure looms the ever-present fear of cataclysmic accidents.
In the 22 years since Chernobyl, there have been 22 significant accidents at nuclear power plants worldwide, including 15 that caused abnormal radioactive releases, according to a French antinuclear organization, Sortir du Nucléaire.
Yet the industry plays down the possibility of another serious accident. "No mistakes are allowed - the consequences in terms of public confidence are too great," said Jeremy Gordon, an analyst for the World Nuclear Association.
But insurance companies are unconvinced.
"The market," Schwartz said [Julia Schwartz, head of legal affairs at the Nuclear Energy Agency, which is based in Paris and advises industrialized countries on nuclear power], "doesn't have the capacity or refuses to cover these risks because, in the case of environmental risks, these are unquantifiable and they don't know how to assess the risk."
CHEMISTRY + CREATIVE THINKING = CLEANER CITY AIR.
WIND = GROWTH
Navigating a badly informed world of information
I've got a soft spot for abracadabra design stories, the ones where the hero or heroine hits upon a design solution to a problem that's been troubling the rest of us. Many of my favorites are about information design: how designers have dreamt up ingenious ways of helping us to navigate the world, by making sense of the whirlwind of information with which we're bombarded every day.
There's the tale of the 16th-century Welsh mathematician, Robert Recorde, who grew so bored with writing the words "is equal to" that he invented a sign to symbolize them: a pair of parallel lines of the same length "because no two things can be more equal."
The Bush administration is proposing the broadest overhaul of Wall Street regulation since the Great Depression. But the plan, to be unveiled on Monday, has its genesis in a yearlong effort to limit Washington’s role in the market.
And that DNA is unmistakably evident in the fine print.
The regulatory umbrella created in the 1930s would grow wider, with power concentrated in fewer agencies. But that authority would be limited, doing virtually nothing to regulate the many new financial products whose unwise use has been a culprit in the current financial crisis.
Turkey's Constitutional Court will consider Monday whether to accept a case aimed at closing down the governing party for Islamist activities.
"We won 47 percent of the vote," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told supporters Sunday. "Everyone must respect the nation's will."
"We will continue our struggle within democracy," Erdogan continued, his voice almost hoarse after a weekend of speech-making.
"This episode has revealed a system error in Turkey's constitutional framework that may need to be addressed through a constitutional amendment," EU enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn said at a news conference after EU foreign ministers met with Turkey's foreign minister, Ali Babacan.
Islam has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the biggest single religious denomination in the world, the Vatican said on Sunday.
Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, who compiled the Vatican's 2008 yearbook of statistics, said Muslims made up 19.2 percent of the world's population and Catholics 17.4 percent.
"For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us," Formenti told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, saying the data referred to 2006.
He said that if all Christian groups were considered, including Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants, Christians made up 33 percent of the world's population, or about two billion people. The Vatican recently put the number of Catholics in the world at 1.13 billion. It did not provide a figure for Muslims, generally estimated to be around 1.3 billion.
Formenti said that while the percentage of Catholics in the the world's population was fairly stable, the percentage of Muslims was growing because of higher birth rates. He said the data on Muslim populations had been compiled by individual countries and reported by the United Nations. The Vatican, he said, could only vouch for its own statistics.
"The image of Benedict XVI is not only not well known, but it is badly known," said Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who as apostolic nuncio is the Vatican's top diplomat in the United States.
"He is known as an intransigent man, almost an inhuman man," the archbishop said of Benedict in an interview at the Vatican Embassy in Washington. "It will be enough to listen to him to change completely the idea of this tough, this inhuman person."
"He is not a man of blah, blah, blah," Archbishop Sambi said. "He's a thinker, and before speaking, he thinks. And he prays a lot."
The film "Fitna" -- an Arabic term sometimes translated as "strife" -- intersperses images of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and Islamist bombings with quotations from the Koran, Islam's holy book.
British-based LiveLeak.com, the first Web site to post the Wilders film, said it had removed the film after threats to its staff "of a very serious nature."
LETTERS: A controversial film
The four points of view expressed in your articles "Hate speech, free speech" (March 26), by writers from different parts of the world, rightfully focuses on the important subject of the freedom of speech.
I am afraid, however, that in Europe where the latest problem originated, for a simple citizen like me, the reaction to the publication of the Muhammad cartoons and to the release of the short film by a right-wing Dutch politician, disturb the common perception about Islam as one of the world's major religions. As a result, the dialogue called for by the writers becomes less attainable.
Isabelle le Millour Saumur, France
Defending the right for people to say things that everyone may not like is something that Muslims all around the world will have to learn to accept, and interestingly enough, many in the Netherlands actually do. But nowhere in the Dutch law does it say that taxpayers are responsible for offering a platform for any expression that a citizen or elected official would like to utter. It would be shameful if the media and Internet providers shun Geert Wilders' 15-minute film out of fear for reprisals, economic or otherwise. But that, too, is their free choice.
Theodore Poland, The Hague
Hospitals in Mogadishu overflowed with the wounded on Sunday and the death toll from mortar strikes on the city's sprawling main market reached at least 17.
A federal prison in Texas erupted in violence early Friday when two gang-related fights broke out almost simultaneously in facing housing units.
The prison, the Federal Correctional Institution in Three Rivers, was locked down as F.B.I. agents began an inquiry, the Bureau of Prisons announced. The prison, between San Antonio and Corpus Christi, houses 1,160 men.
The fights, which broke out about 6:20 a.m., were quelled with the help of 10 nonguards — plumbers, electricians, secretaries and other workers — who happened to be reporting early, said Richard Wechsler, local president of the American Federation of Government Employees, a supervisor and a former guard at the prison.
The dead inmate was identified as Servando Rodríguez, 38, an illegal immigrant serving 54 months for marijuana and parole violations. Investigators said he was stabbed and bludgeoned and died at the scene, but they gave no other details. Fifteen inmates, with two listed in critical condition, went to hospitals; three were returned to the prison. Seven others with minor injuries were treated at the prison.
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When a bid is 'fair' but 'inadequate'
In some ways, an inadequacy opinion the opposite of a fairness opinion. It is the investment bank’s opinion that the price being offered is inadequate from a financial point of view.
No definition of inadequacy is ever given, and there is no judicial meaning assigned. But the presumption is that inadequate means not reflective of the full takeover value of the company. Thus, the price can be considered fair, but still inadequate.
Inadequacy opinions have the same problems as fairness opinions. Since financial valuation is a subjective exercise and there are no set, agreed guidelines or practices for it, there is substantial leeway for investment banks to arrive at their client’s desired conclusion. This is particularly true in light of the typical contingency-based fee arrangement for investment banks.
Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally said he was amazed by the number of variations Ford offered when he arrived at the No. 2 U.S. automaker from Boeing Co in 2006.
"I was looking at the (Lincoln) Navigator console," Mulally said. "We have 128 different options you could choose on the console. That's just the console."
With so many variations, a customer inevitably will want a vehicle that is not in stock, leading to a frustrated customer and pressure on the dealer to offer a discount, Mulally said.
"They're unhappy and we're losing money," he said of Ford, which posted losses of $2.7 billion in 2007 and $12.6 billion in 2006.
Ford's chief of marketing, Jim Farley, who was hired away from Toyota Motor Co last year, said he was stunned to find that Ford was offering 100,000 combinations of options on its entry-level Focus sedan. Some 80 percent of Ford's sales came from just 4,000 of those combinations, he said.
THE STORY OF FORGETTING
By Stefan Merrill Block
313 pages. $25. Random House
Nothing about Mr. Block’s narrative is predictable or even suitably bleak, given the nature of the illness he addresses. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, made grimmer by the new scientific certitude of genetic testing, is at the heart of this emotional roller coaster of a novel.
His book’s most enchanting detour is to a parallel universe called Isidora, which provides the kind of solace once found on Kurt Vonnegut’s Planet Tralfamadore. Isidora is a place where memory doesn’t matter and therefore anything is possible: people can fall in love over and over without realizing they have done it before. And Isidora provides escape from the painful realities that sear “The Story of Forgetting.” Courting but avoiding excess whimsy, Mr. Block even gives his book a slogan about Isidora: “Alongside this world there’s another. There are places you can cross.”
Hugo Claus, one of Belgium's most renowned authors despite his often caustic portrayals of his nation, particularly its ambiguous role in World War II, died on March 19. He was 78.
Claus, who had Alzheimer's disease, died at Middelheim Hospital in Antwerp.
The author of more than 20 novels, more than 60 plays and several thousand poems, Claus was best known for his 1983 novel, "The Sorrow of Belgium."
A long, dense, poetic work, the book views the Nazi occupation of Belgium, starting in May 1940, through the eyes of a teenage boy named Louis Seynaeve. It examines the moral contradictions many Belgians faced and the outright collaboration of others, undermining myths of widespread resistance that took hold after the Nazis were defeated.
There were 90,000 Jews in Belgium when the war started; 40,000 perished, most in the death camps. When the news reaches Louis's father after the war, he utters a glib excuse for his ignorance.
The experiences of young Louis in "The Sorrow of Belgium" resembled those of Claus's own adolescence, he said. Like Louis, he hated going to a Roman Catholic boarding school and rebelled against authority figures, particularly his father. When the German tanks first rolled in, he told The New York Times in 1990, "There was an ecstatic feeling."
"We were close to the French border, and the French soldiers drank our red wine, attacked our women and ate all our food," Claus continued. "The Germans were disciplined, sang marching songs - they were very exotic enemies. Like Louis, I liked them very much.
"I began despising the Germans as soon as they started to lose," he said.
New Zealand won the Hong Kong Sevens tournament Sunday to make it five wins from as many tournaments in the current IRB World Sevens campaign.
The 26-12 win over South Africa in Sunday's final extended the Kiwis' winning streak in the series to 42 games, although this was the first time they had won in Hong Kong since 2001.
New Zealand began the final day by beating Wales 26-7 in the quarterfinals and then trounced traditional sevens power Fiji 34-0 in the semis, with captain D.J.Forbes and Yates both scoring two tries.
South Africa had beaten Australia 19-14 in the quarters and then edged defending Hong Kong tournament champion Samoa 12-10 to book a place in a Hong Kong final for the first time. A drop goal by Lolo Lui looked to have put Samoa into the final again, but South Africa struck with a late try by Stick.
Fiji had beaten Kenya 10-0 to reach the last four, while Samoa downed England 17-12, reversing the result of their pool game on Saturday.
In the plate competition, for those eliminated at the pool stage, France beat Argentina 17-14 in extra time in the final.
It was the first competition win in the current world sevens season for France, which recovered after the ignominy of being held to a draw by hosts Hong Kong on Saturday.
France scored the first two tries of the final, but a second-half try to Gabriel Ascarte saw the match level at full time. In sudden death extra time, Simon Sarthou scored a penalty after only 41 seconds.
Zimbabwe's main opposition party claimed an early lead Sunday in elections, seeking to thwart any possible vote rigging by President Robert Mugabe amid silence from the Electoral Commission and the deployment of security forces.
In the lesser bowl competition, Russia beat Zimbabwe 19-14, defending its Hong Kong title.
Zimbabwe took an early advantage with two tries, but Russia rallied and a try to Aleksandr Gvodzdovskiy gave a single competition point to the Russians.
Although the government is sitting on oil and gas windfall profits of $450 billion in official reserves and $150 billion in its Stabilization Fund, the strategy of state concentration of assets has left Rosneft and Gazprom heavily loaded with debt - leading some Western observers to question their ability to finance the investments needed to maintain Russian production levels, estimated by the International Energy Agency at $328 billion from 2001 to 2030.