Changing the rules of globalization
When the Chinese finally took the so-called Doha round of trade talks off of life support last week, teaming up with India to say they would not stop protecting farmers to get tariffs reduced on their expanding industrial exports, it was no surprise.
This wasn't about tariff rates. It was about a fundamental shift in power - sophisticated manufacturing capacity, know-how and capital - that the United States, emerging from its own preoccupation with two wars, is just beginning to appreciate.
"This doesn't mean the breakdown of globalization, the end of trade, or back into some pre-World War II kind of protectionism," said Adam Segal, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies China. "The Chinese just feel that they don't have to put up with people lecturing to them any more about how to manage their economy."
INTERNATIONAL: Agro trade deals possible, post-Doha
The Doha Round of global trade talks has ground to a halt again, as they have on three previous occasions. Negotiators in Geneva last month were unable to find the elusive formula that would have permitted India and China to maintain (or even increase) protection of politically sensitive products, and also allow the United States and EU to claim that they had pried open these emerging markets. However, it may be that -- particularly in relation to agricultural trade -- such a comprehensive deal was always unrealistic.
Price of failure.
In the context of high global agricultural prices, a potential Doha agreement would have had little near-term effect. Banning export subsidies and other domestic price supports would have done little, since the amounts governments currently spend on trade-distorting subsidies are well below the proposed WTO limits -- even after the expiration of a proposed five-year phase-in period.
However, over the medium-term the agreement that was almost within reach would have transformed the nature of agricultural trade and policy:
- Preventing backsliding.
The broad reform of domestic farm policies in developed countries that began in the mid-1980s, and gathered steam in the 1990s, switched the focus from supporting commodity prices towards paying farmers direct income subsidies. Controversy still exists as to whether these payments are trade-neutral, but they are certainly superior to the purchase of surplus products by governments, and their subsidised disposal on world markets. These changes enabled countries to agree to key WTO principles on the nature and extent of subsidies; the Doha Round was supposed to tighten the screw and prevent backsliding.
- Softening hard times.
Trade agreements are most beneficial when economic conditions are weak. They reduce the inherent uncertainty of trade by constraining the ability of governments to use trade restrictions to shelter domestic producers in hard times. When the economy is buoyant they are less visible: exporters, who usually drive trade policy, are less concerned about protectionism. The WTO Agreement on Agriculture is at its most relevant when world food prices are declining -- as they eventually must.
- Reduced uncertainty.
As every farmer knows, periods of low prices inevitably follow boom periods. There is little evidence to show that this current boom is different. Demand from China and other emerging markets could cool if their frenetic growth rates slow, and supply is likely to respond to higher prices. What governments will do when prices start to slide, in particular if costs are still high, is uncertain. However, it would be remarkable if some governments did not revert to supporting domestic prices.
Progress outside Doha?
Frustration with the unwieldiness of a negotiating forum of 153 countries, each with a veto, is likely to simmer for some months. Therefore, other options for pushing trade liberalisation outside of Doha may need to be explored:
- Regional moves?
One such alternative is to negotiate limits on domestic support and export subsidies in the context of new or existing regional agreements -- although the problem of giving a 'free ride' to other exporters makes this unattractive.
- Seeking 'critical mass'.
More promising is the negotiation of 'plurilateral agreements' among those with most at stake. (Such trade pacts are often called 'critical mass' agreements.) However, in order to conform to WTO rules, the benefits would have to apply equally to other countries so as to avoid discrimination.
What is clear is that the Doha deadlock does not remove urgency of reforming global agricultural trade. However, whereas a comprehensive agreement was once thought necessary to secure complex trade-offs, future progress may have to proceed in smaller steps.
It's too hot for dog on the menu
Fuchsia Dunlop is the author of "Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China."
Those who hope to taste dog meat when they visit Beijing for this summer's Olympics may be disappointed.
The Beijing Catering Trade Association has ordered all 112 designated Olympic restaurants to take dog off the menu, and has strongly advised other establishments to stop serving it until September. Waiters have been urged to "patiently" suggest alternative dishes to customers who ask for dog. It's all part of a wider campaign to avoid offending foreigners during the Games. (Beijingers have also been told to line up nicely and to stop spitting.)
The order is not likely to bother many residents. Though dogs have been raised for food in China for thousands of years, you have to hunt around to find the meat on menus. Certain regions, like Hunan and Guizhou Provinces, are known for their canine predilections - but even in these places, dog is a relative rarity. And in Beijing itself, you hardly find it.
Dog eating, in any case, tends to be a seasonal pursuit. According to Chinese folk dietetics, which classify every food according to its heating and cooling properties, dog is one of the "hottest" meats around, best eaten in midwinter, when you need warmth and vital energy, not in sultry August.
Afghan airport to help switch from drugs to fruit
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan: The Afghan and U.S. governments have broken ground on an agricultural centre and airport in the volatile southern province of Helmand, aimed at helping farmers grow food crops instead of opium poppies.
Helmand is one of the most fertile provinces in Afghanistan, but much of its agriculture is devoted to poppy farming and the province produced about half the world's opium last year.
Fighting between Taliban insurgents and mainly British and U.S. troops in Helmand makes it hard to transport perishable produce to market, while traffickers collect opium directly from the farms or farmers can safely store the drug for some 20 years.
FRUIT AND NUTS, NOT DRUGS
The ground-breaking ceremony was held at the provincial capital's existing airfield, a dirt air strip with a small, dilapidated terminal building built in the 1960s.
The entire project will cost $45 million and will be mostly funded by the U.S. development agency, USAID. The Afghan government is expected to contribute around $5 million.
Some $18 million will be allocated to paving the 2,200-metre (yard) runway, expanding and rehabilitating the terminal and constructing the agricultural centre.
The remainder will be spent on agricultural development in the province, ensuring markets for the farmers and providing technical assistance.
Helmand used to produce some of the region's best dried fruits, pomegranates and nuts. But insecurity has led farmers to switch to opium, a crop that also funds the Taliban insurgency, adding to insecurity and further boosting drug production.
The airport aims to open up markets for farmers to transport "high value" products such as pomegranates and raisins to international markets, a USAID official told Reuters.
The airport and agricultural development in the province is part of a larger counter-narcotics strategy to get farmers to switch from growing opium.
Convincing the skeptics
John P. Holdren is a professor at the Kennedy School of Government and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard and the director of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts.
The few climate-change "skeptics" with any sort of scientific credentials continue to receive attention in the media out of all proportion to their numbers, their qualifications, or the merit of their arguments. And this muddying of the waters of public discourse is being magnified by the parroting of these arguments by a larger population of amateur skeptics with no scientific credentials at all.
Long-time observers of public debates about environmental threats know that skeptics about such matters tend to move, over time, through three stages. First, they tell you you're wrong and they can prove it. (In this case, "Climate isn't changing in unusual ways or, if it is, human activities are not the cause.")
Then they tell you you're right but it doesn't matter. ("O.K., it's changing and humans are playing a role, but it won't do much harm.") Finally, they tell you it matters but it's too late to do anything about it. ("Yes, climate disruption is going to do some real damage, but it's too late, too difficult, or too costly to avoid that, so we'll just have to hunker down and suffer.")
All three positions are represented among the climate-change skeptics who infest talk shows, Internet blogs, letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, and cocktail-party conversations. The few with credentials in climate-change science have nearly all shifted in the past few years from the first category to the second, however, and jumps from the second to the third are becoming more frequent.
All three factions are wrong, but the first is the worst. Their arguments, such as they are, suffer from two huge deficiencies.
First, they have not come up with any plausible alternative culprit for the disruption of global climate that is being observed, for example, a culprit other than the greenhouse-gas buildups in the atmosphere that have been measured and tied beyond doubt to human activities. (The argument that variations in the sun's output might be responsible fails a number of elementary scientific tests.)
Second, having not succeeded in finding an alternative, they haven't even tried to do what would be logically necessary if they had one, which is to explain how it can be that everything modern science tells us about the interactions of greenhouse gases with energy flow in the atmosphere is wrong.
Members of the public who are tempted to be swayed by the denier fringe should ask themselves how it is possible, if human-caused climate change is just a hoax, that:
The leaderships of the national academies of sciences of the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Russia, China, and India, among others, are on record saying that global climate change is real, caused mainly by humans, and reason for early, concerted action.
This is also the overwhelming majority view among the faculty members of the earth sciences departments at every first-rank university in the world.
All three of holders of the one Nobel prize in science that has been awarded for studies of the atmosphere (the 1995 chemistry prize to Paul Crutzen, Sherwood Rowland, and Mario Molina, for figuring out what was happening to stratospheric ozone) are leaders in the climate-change scientific mainstream.
U.S. polls indicate that most of the amateur skeptics are Republicans. These Republican skeptics should wonder how the presidential candidate John McCain could have been taken in. He has castigated the Bush administration for wasting eight years in inaction on climate change, and the policies he says he would implement as president include early and deep cuts in U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. (Barack Obama's position is similar.)
The extent of unfounded skepticism about the disruption of global climate by human-produced greenhouse gases is not just regrettable, it is dangerous. It has delayed - and continues to delay - the development of the political consensus that will be needed if society is to embrace remedies commensurate with the challenge. The science of climate change is telling us that we need to get going. Those who still think this is all a mistake or a hoax need to think again.
Brazilian mining magnate draws strength from 'cosmos'
SALVADOR, BRAZIL: "I am connected to the divine, to these forces here," João Carlos Cavalcanti, the Brazilian mining magnate, said as he swept an arm out across the lily pad-covered lake behind his $15 million mansion.
A gentle breeze rustled through his thick white beard. Cavalcanti stood on the pier and closed his eyes for a moment. A uniformed servant, one of a staff of 15, hovered nearby with hors d'oeuvres and nonalcoholic drinks. She knew better than to disturb a man who meditates for three hours a day and constantly refers to himself as a "mystical" person who draws strength from "the cosmos" - when he is not collecting expensive cars, fine paintings and other playthings.
In speech and new ad, Obama shifts focus to energy Illinois senator proposes tapping U.S. oil stockpiles
WASHINGTON: The campaign of Senator Barack Obama on Monday sought to link Senator John McCain in voters' minds to high gasoline prices and to the hugely profitable oil industry, prompting McCain's allies to accuse Obama of "hypocrisy" and "dishonesty."Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, made an energy speech in Lansing, Michigan, that linked two of his earlier proposals - a windfall tax on oil producers and a $1,000-a-family "energy rebate" - by saying that the tax on oil producers could finance the rebate for families.Obama also said that only an "all-hands-on-deck effort" to conserve energy and increase the use of renewable fuels would help the United States through an energy crisis.
The new Obama ad, titled "Pocket," takes direct aim at McCain. "Every time you fill your tank," the ad says, "the oil companies fill their pockets. Now Big Oil's filling John McCain's campaign with $2 million in contributions."Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, said the center's data show McCain as having raised $1.3 million from oil-related executives and their family members in this election cycle, compared with $394,465 for Obama.
Iran warns it could close waterway vital to oil shipments
TEHRAN: Iran on Monday warned that it could close a waterway in the Gulf that is critical for oil shipments and announced that it was in possession of a new naval weapon that could sink enemy ships within a range of 300 kilometers.
Agreement on Kirkuk could speed vote in Iraq
BAGHDAD: Iraqi political leaders reached a compromise Monday that could resolve a stalemate over the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and allow local elections to go ahead, the deputy speaker of Parliament said.
Iraq's next political test: Kirkuk and its oil wealth
Since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk has been a political tinderbox-in-waiting that was largely ignored as war-fighting took precedence. Now that violence is way down, Iraqi leaders have no excuse not to peacefully decide the city's future. Their failure to do so has raised tensions and could further shred Iraq's fragile social fabric - and unleash more bloodshed.
Kurds who run the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan should not be allowed to unilaterally annex Kirkuk, which they regard as their ancient capital but is also home to Turkmen and Arabs. They were promised a referendum in the Iraqi Constitution, but no durable solution can result without the participation of all groups.
Overconfident Kurds and their American supporters have not been looking seriously for compromise.
The problem came to a head two weeks ago when Iraq's Parliament passed a law again postponing a referendum on Kirkuk (it was supposed to be held by the end of 2007). The law contained a measure diluting Kurdish power in the area's provincial council.
The Kurds believe the referendum will endorse making Kirkuk and surrounding areas part of Kurdistan - giving them more oil revenue and furthering their goal of independence - while Turkmen and Arab leaders want the city to stay under the central government.
Kurdish parliamentarians boycotted the session, resulting in the election law being declared unconstitutional. Another session on Sunday dissolved without reaching a quorum.
The problem is not just with the Kirkuk referendum. If the Kurds continue to hold the election law hostage, provincial elections now expected in early 2009 will also be stymied. These elections are crucial to Iraq's political stability and reconciliation efforts because they will give minority Sunni Arabs a chance to be in government for the first time since they boycotted the 2005 elections.
Sunnis who played a key role fighting with American forces against Iraqi insurgents are already embittered by the failure of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government to hire enough of them for promised security jobs.
Compromises on Kirkuk are theoretically possible, but only the UN seems to be seriously trying to find one. That's baffling, since no one, other than the Iraqis, has more vested in keeping the lid on violence and on tension with Turkey and Iran than the United States.
Iraqis proved their post-Saddam political wheeling-and-dealing skills when they adopted budget, amnesty and provincial powers laws earlier this year. It's worth testing whether horse-trading on the crucial but deadlocked oil law and other issues like minority rights and redistribution of powers could produce a Kirkuk deal all ethnic communities could live with.
If Iraqi leaders cannot settle the matter, they might consider putting Kirkuk and its environs under UN administration as was done with Brcko after the Balkan wars. The imperative is to ensure that Kirkuk's future is not drawn in blood.
Oil prices renew push to drill on U.S.-owned lands
However modest the Rockies' contribution may be, they are the place where the impact of the rapid expansion of energy drilling infrastructure can best be measured, both in terms of energy production and environmental impacts.
Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming together contain about 10 percent of the nation's oil reserves and about 30 percent of natural gas reserves. About 90 percent of onshore U.S. drilling permits were issued there in the 2007 fiscal year, according to U.S. public lands data analyzed by the Wilderness Society.
The environmental effects have been palpable. The expansion of the energy industry has subdivided parts of Wyoming and Colorado into a rabbit warren of wellheads and roads. An area in Pinedale, Wyoming, had its first ozone alerts last winter, thanks to a combination of factors: natural gas flaring from scores of wells, increased vehicle traffic associated with drilling activities and seasonal temperature inversions. One study showed that the mule deer herd that migrates near Pinedale declined by nearly half from 2000 to 2005.
In the hills of Nebraska, change is on the horizon
Driving south out of the agricultural town of Ainsworth, you can't miss its newest crop: wind turbines, three dozen of them, with steel stalks 230 feet high and petal-like blades 131 feet long, sprouting improbably from the sand hills of north-central Nebraska, beside ruminating cattle.
Though painted gray, the turbines stand out against the evening backdrop of battleship-colored thunderclouds and bear an almost celestial whiteness when day's light is right. Airplane pilots can spot them from far away, and rarely does a bird make their unfortunate acquaintance.
The sound of 8.5-ton blades, three to a turbine, turning and turning, only enhances their almost supernatural presence. Standing at the base of a turbine's stalk, you hear a whistling whoosh — whuh ... whuh ... whuh — as steady summer winds come like the breath of gods to toy with pinwheel amusements.
Six renewable energy technicians share in tending this strange garden, including Jered Saar and Devin Painter, neither of whom could be described as chatty. Painter, 25, is the son of ranchers; when he's working at the top of a turbine, he can see his family's spread miles away. Saar, 34, comes from the nearby town of Bassett; he spent last year in Iraq with the Nebraska Army National Guard, and yes, he would rather be here than there.
Utility officials harbored larger hopes for Ainsworth, in part because suitable transmission lines were already in place. Soon consultants and engineers were descending upon the sand hills, which had been good for little more than hunting and grazing since forever, and coming up with solutions for matters like how to build the turbines without disturbing the American burying beetle, an endangered species with a taste for carrion.
After determining the best locations for the 36 turbines, Nebraska Public struck a long-term deal with some ranchers for 11,000 acres: the turbines would take up about 50 acres, the cattle could roam the rest of the land, and no development would come along to impede the flow of the wind.
In May 2005, crews began erecting 195-ton wind turbines, one after another. Crowds gathered to watch the construction, which altered the Ainsworth horizon in a way that might have been imagined only by Dali, or Christo.
"It was, shall we say, somewhat of a godsend when we were picked to be the first major wind farm in Nebraska," says Russ Moody, mayor of Ainsworth. "And to be honest with you, I don't think I've heard anybody grumble about them as far as the looks."
Rejuvenating on France's Wild Coast
On a Sunday morning last June, the wind was howling across a craggy stretch of France's Côte Sauvage, or Wild Coast, on the tiny peninsula off Brittany called Quiberon. Standing in the wind, arms outstretched, my traveling companions and I had the sense we might blow out to sea, or at least back toward the pretty houses that line the seaside town of Quiberon.
Below us waves crashed into the sharp rocks, and signs along the rolling green parkland above the sharp gray boulders warned that swimming was prohibited. We were headed not into the water, but into the wind, toward a little shack that clung to the cliffs. Inside, a crowd of Frenchmen and women dug into a midday meal of seafood — snails, oysters, clams, sardines — pulled from the nearby ocean and dressed simply in olive oil and parsley, salt and pepper.
The owners of the restaurant Les Mouettes displayed a little book "Quiberon — la Presqu' Île" ("The Quiberon Peninsula") on a shelf. I flipped through it as I ate a perfect tarte-au-citron. The French Atlantic coast is interspersed with stretches of wild, protected land, dotted with fishing towns that were once as isolated and cut off as little islands. In the late 19th century, the railroad reached the truly wild Quiberon peninsula, which boasts mile after mile of protected coast. The tiny town of Quiberon, known for sardine canning, (and still popularly known as the place to buy various exotic fish spreads sold in tins) eventually became a tourist draw. The bulk of Quiberon's income began to shift from fish canning to catering to the hordes of chic coast-seekers from the French interior.
These days, stores in Quiberon are eager to allow tourists to dress the part of seafaring types, stocking pea-coats, nautical sweaters and caps — as well as more luxurious byproducts like bath salts and algae moisturizers. Old sardine companies hawk their wares at factories like La Belle-Iloise in fancy tins, packaged as gifts. Bicycle companies rent their wheels to Côte Sauvage adventure seekers, and ferries shuttle beautiful people out to Belle-Île-en-Mer, an unspoiled island in the Atlantic filled with 19th-century homes. At the very edge of the Quiberon peninsula, facing the rocky coast, the rich and world weary can nurse themselves back to health at a joint thalassotherapy and diet center.
In the 1960s, hoteliers saw potential in the windswept bluffs at the tip of the Quiberon peninsula and built the Sofitel Thalassa, and later added the Sofitel Diététique. The center reflects the essence of French haute bourgeoisie and attracts the quietly and not-so-quietly wealthy. In the past, clients have included the Chiracs, as in the former Monsieur le Président and Madame.
Small tornado kills three in northern France
LILLE, France: Three people were killed overnight when a small tornado charged through towns in northern France, destroying houses and spewing debris over the area, the local government said.
Roughly 40 houses were hit by the freak meteorological event in the town of Hautmont, near the Belgian border. Three dead bodies were pulled from wreckage and six people were slightly injured.
'War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq: A Series of Cases, 2003-2007'
The pictures show shredded limbs, burned faces, profusely bleeding wounds. The subjects are mostly American GIs, but they include Iraqis and Afghans, some of them young children.
They appear in a new book, "War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq: A Series of Cases, 2003-2007," quietly issued by the U.S. Army - the first guidebook of new techniques for American battlefield surgeons to be published while the wars it analyzes are still being fought.
Paradoxically, the book is being issued as news photographers complain that they are being ejected from combat areas for depicting dead and wounded Americans.
But efforts to censor the book were overruled by successive U.S. Army surgeons general. It can be ordered from the Government Printing Office for $71; Amazon.com lists it as out of stock, but the Borden Institute, the army medical office that published it, said thousands more copies would be printed.
"I'm ashamed to say that there were folks even in the medical department who said, 'Over my dead body will American civilians see this,"' said David Lounsbury, one of the three authors. Lounsbury, 58, an internist and retired colonel, took part in the 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq and was the editor of military medicine textbooks at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"The average Joe Surgeon, civilian or military, has never seen this stuff," Lounsbury said. "Yeah, they've seen guys shot in the chest. But the kind of ferocious blast, burn and penetrating trauma that's part of the modern IED wound is like nothing they've seen, even in a Manhattan emergency room," using the initials for what the Pentagon calls an "improvised explosive device," or roadside bomb. "It's a shocking, heart-stopping, eye-opening kind of thing. And they need to see this on the plane before they get there, because there's a learning curve to this."
The pictures of wounded children include some of a 5-year-old shot in a vehicle trying to run through a checkpoint. Other pictures show wounds enfiladed with dirt, genitals severed by a roadside bomb, a rib - presumably that of a suicide bomber - driven deep into a soldier's body, and the tail of an unexploded rocket protruding from a soldier's hip.
The woman behind the bomb
Lindsey O'Rourke is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Chicago.
Women, we are told, become suicide bombers out of despair, mental illness, religiously mandated subordination to men, frustration with sexual inequality and a host of other factors related specifically to their gender. Indeed, the only thing everyone can agree on is that there is something fundamentally different motivating men and women to become suicide attackers.
The only problem: There is precious little evidence of uniquely feminine motivations driving women's attacks.
I have spent the last few years surveying all known female suicide attacks throughout the world since 1981 - incidents in Afghanistan, Israel, Iraq, India, Lebanon, Pakistan, Russia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Uzbekistan. In order to determine these women's motives, I compared the data with a database of all known suicide attacks over that period compiled by the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism.
This research led to a clear conclusion: The main motives and circumstances that drive female suicide attackers are quite similar to those that drive men. Still, investigating the dynamics governing female attackers not only helps to correct common misperceptions but also reveals important characteristics about suicide terrorism in general.
To begin with, there is simply no one demographic profile for female attackers. From the unmarried communists who first adopted suicide terrorism to expel Israeli troops from Lebanon in the 1980s, to the so-called Black Widows of Chechnya who commit suicide attacks after the combat deaths of their husbands, to the longtime adherents of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam separatist movement in Sri Lanka, the biographies of female suicide attackers reveal a wide variety of personal experiences and ideologies.
Likewise, while stories of young, psychologically disturbed women being coerced into their attacks makes for compelling news (and rightly emphasizes the barbarity of the terrorist organizations), they represent a small minority of cases. For example, female suicide attackers are significantly more likely to be in their mid-twenties and older than male attackers.
Additionally, claims of coercion are largely exaggerated. For instance, the well-publicized claims that two women who killed dozens in blowing up a Baghdad pet market were mentally retarded were later revealed to be unfounded.
Blaming Islamic fundamentalism is also wrongheaded. More than 85 percent of female suicide terrorists since 1981 committed their attacks on behalf of secular organizations; many grew up in Christian and Hindu families. Further, Islamist groups commonly discourage and only grudgingly accept female suicide attackers. At the start of the second intifada in 2000, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, claimed: "A woman martyr is problematic for Muslim society. A man who recruits a woman is breaking Islamic law." Hamas actually rejected Darin Abu Eisheh, the second Palestinian female attacker, who carried out her 2002 bombing on behalf of the secular Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
So, what does motivate female suicide attackers? Surprisingly similar motives driving men to blow themselves up on terrorist missions.
For one, 95 percent of female suicide attacks occurred within the context of a military campaign against foreign occupying forces, suggesting that, at a macro level, the main strategic logic is to create or maintain territorial sovereignty for their ethnic group.
Correspondingly, the primary individual motivation for both men and women suicide bombers is a deep loyalty to their community combined with a variety of personal grievances against enemy forces.
Why use women?
Paradoxically, the strategic appeal of female attacks stems from the rules about women's behavior in the societies where these attacks take place. Given their second-class citizenship in many of these countries, women generate less suspicion and are better able to conceal explosives. Moreover, since female attacks are considered especially shocking, they are more likely to generate significant news media attention for both domestic and foreign audiences.
In a similar vein, my research showed that women were much more likely than men to be used for single-target assassination suicide attacks. Perhaps the most famous of these was the 1991 assassination of India's prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, by Thenmuli Rajaratnam, a Tamil Tiger. Although women make up roughly 15 percent of the suicide bombers within the groups that employ females, they were responsible for an overwhelming 65 percent of assassinations; one in every five women who committed a suicide attack did so with the purpose of assassinating a specific individual, compared with one in every 25 for the male attackers.
Bomb blast kills at least 15 women in Somalia
NAIROBI, Kenya: More than 15 women cleaning the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, were killed Sunday by a large bomb buried in a pile of garbage, witnesses and hospital officials said.
Feel the eyes upon you
Olivia Judson, a contributing columnist for The New York Times, writes The Wild Side at nytimes.com/opinion.
Several recent experiments have shown that people respond to pictures of eyes by altering their behavior in subtle ways, even when they haven't consciously noticed the eyes are there.
For example, take a game beloved of economists, the dictator game. In its simplest form, you have two players. Player A (the dictator) is issued a sum of money; he or she gets to decide whether to share the money with player B, and if so, how much to give. The dictator gets to keep whatever's left ... and that's it. Game over. (What fun economists have!)
In anonymous versions of the game - played over the computer, so dictators and recipients can't identify each other - most dictators don't share. In one series of experiments, though the players were anonymous, the background computer screen was modified so that it sometimes included two eyespots. The results showed that dictators were much more likely to give money when the eyes were present. In a different set of experiments (using a more complicated economic game), the background screen sometimes included a picture of a robot with human-like eyes; here, too, players were more generous when the eyes were there.
Such effects aren't restricted to these artificial situations. A couple of years ago, scientists at a university in the north of England did an experiment in their staff common room where people are supposed to pay for coffee by putting money into a box - an honor system. Above the notice reminding everyone to pay, the scientists put a picture of eyes during some weeks and a picture of flowers in other weeks. In the weeks with eyes, people paid more often than they did in the weeks with flowers.
It's not surprising that such cues could affect behavior without our being aware of it. We constantly respond to things that the conscious brain hasn't registered. For instance, suppose you are asked to sniff a scent before looking at a photograph of a stranger. The scent is too faint for the conscious part of your brain to detect - so you sniff and think you smell nothing - yet it will affect your response. Unpleasant smells increase the chance that you'll take a dislike to the photograph.
And when it comes to eyes, humans are especially sensitive. Our eyes have a large "white." This makes it easy to see where someone is looking. Moreover, certain neurons in the human brain respond strongly to eyes; a number of researchers believe that humans have neural circuits dedicated to perceiving eyes and the direction they're looking.
Why might this have evolved? Many animals respond to eyes and alter their behavior when they sense they are being observed. For instance, birds like starlings are sensitive to whether a predator is looking at them. On coral reefs, fish that clean other fish for a living are more likely to do a good job at removing parasites, and less likely to take a bite of their customer, when other fish are watching.
Another example: ravens, which store food to eat later. But they have a problem: thieves. Ravens steal from each other. So if a raven notices it's being watched while storing, it will often remove the food and hide it elsewhere.
Humans are a highly social species; perhaps we've evolved to be sensitive to being watched because what other people see you doing may alter the way they treat you. In our evolutionary past, individuals seen to be selfish or greedy may have found themselves ostracized - or even killed.
To my mind, all this raises a slew of questions. Our cities are plastered with images of faces - do these influence our behavior? What about countries that have real dictators, whose photographs are ubiquitous - does that have an effect? Moreover, to date, experiments have looked at the effects of eyes on generosity and honesty. But can images of eyes modulate other aspects of our behavior - a tendency for vandalism, say? Instead of signs announcing, in words, the presence of surveillance systems, would pictures of pairs of eyes be more effective?
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Sri Lanka fresh fighting kills 43
COLOMBO: Fresh fighting in Sri Lanka's far north killed 34 Tamil Tiger rebels and nine solders, the military said on Monday, as government forces continued their push against the rebels' northern stronghold.
The fighting came days after the military said it had entered the rebels' de facto capital in the north, amid a daily barrage of land, sea and air attacks on northern rebel-held territories.
"From the Sunday fighting troops had killed 34 LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists and injured 33 others," said a spokesman at the Media Centre for National Security, who asked not to be named in line with its policy.
"Nine soldiers had also died and 15 (were) injured from the fighting."
Solzhenitsyn, 20th-century oracle, dies
Solzhenitsyn had been an obscure, middle-aged, unpublished high school science teacher in a provincial Russian town when he burst onto the literary stage in 1962 with "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." The book, a mold-breaking novel about a prison camp inmate, was a sensation. Suddenly he was being compared to giants of Russian literature like Tolstoy, Dostoyevski and Chekov.
Solzhenitsyn was heir to a morally focused and often prophetic Russian literary tradition, and he looked the part. With his stern visage, lofty brow and full, Old Testament beard, he recalled Tolstoy while suggesting a modern-day Jeremiah, denouncing the evils of the Kremlin and later the mores of the West. He returned to Russia and deplored what he considered its spiritual decline, but in the last years of his life he embraced President Vladimir Putin as a restorer of Russia's greatness.
He wrote that while an ordinary man was obliged "not to participate in lies," artists had greater responsibilities. "It is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie!"
By this time, Solzhenitsyn had completed his own massive attempt at truthfulness, "The Gulag Archipelago." In more than 300,000 words, he told the history of the Gulag prison camps, whose operations and rationale and even existence were subjects long considered taboo.
Publishers in Paris and New York had secretly received the manuscript on microfilm. But wanting the book to appear first in the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn asked them to put off publishing it. Then, in September 1973, he changed his mind. He had learned that the Soviet spy agency, the KGB, had unearthed a buried copy of the book after interrogating his typist, Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, and that she had hung herself soon afterward.
He went on the offensive. With his approval, the book was speedily published in Paris, in Russian, just after Christmas. The Soviet government counterattacked with a spate of articles, including one in Pravda, the state-run newspaper, headlined "The Path of a Traitor." He and his family were followed, and he received death threats.
On Feb. 12, 1974, he was arrested. The next day, he was told that he was being deprived of his citizenship and deported. On his arrest, he had been careful to take with him a threadbare cap and a shabby sheepskin coat that he had saved from his years in exile. He wore them both as he was marched onto an Aeroflot flight to Frankfurt.
Solzhenitsyn was welcomed by the German novelist Heinrich Böll. Six weeks after his expulsion, Solzhenitsyn was joined by his wife, Natalia Svetlova, and three sons. She had played a critical role in organizing his notes and transmitting his manuscripts. After a short stay in Switzerland, the family moved to the United States, settling in the hamlet of Cavendish, Vermont
There he kept mostly to himself for some 18 years, protected from sightseers by neighbors, who posted a sign saying, "No Directions to the Solzhenitsyns." He kept writing and thinking a great deal about Russia and hardly at all about his new environment, so certain was he that he would return to his homeland one day.
His rare public appearances could turn into hectoring jeremiads. Delivering the commencement address at Harvard in 1978, he called the country of his sanctuary spiritually weak and mired in vulgar materialism. Americans, he said, speaking in Russian through a translator, were cowardly. Few were willing to die for their ideals, he said. He condemned both the United States government and American society for its "hasty" capitulation in Vietnam. And he criticized the country's music as intolerable and attacked its unfettered press, accusing it of violations of privacy.
Many in the West did not know what to make of the man. He was perceived as a great writer and hero who had defied the Russian authorities. Yet he seemed willing to lash out at everyone else as well — democrats, secularists, capitalists, liberals and consumers.
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was born in the Caucasus spa town of Kislovodsk on Dec. 11, 1918, a year after the Soviet Union arose from revolution. His father, Isaaki, had been a Russian artillery officer on the German front and married to Taissa Shcherback by the brigade priest. Shortly after he was demobilized and six months before his son's birth, he was killed in a hunting accident. The young widow took the child to Rostov-on-Don, where she reared him while working as a typist and stenographer. By Solzhenitsyn's account, he and his mother lived in a dilapidated hut. Still, her class origins — she was the daughter of a Ukrainian land owner — were considered suspect, as was her knowledge of English and French. Solzhenitsyn remembered her burying his father's three war medals because they could indicate reactionary beliefs.
He was religious. When he was a child, older boys once ripped a cross from his neck. Nonetheless, at 12, though the Communists repudiated religion, he joined the Young Pioneers and later became a member of Komsomol, the Communist youth organization.
He was a good student with an aptitude for mathematics, though from adolescence he imagined becoming a writer. In 1941, a few days before Germany attacked Russia to expand World War II into Soviet territory, he graduated from Rostov University with a degree in physics and math. A year earlier, he had married Natalia Reshetovskaya, a chemist. When hostilities began, he joined the army and was assigned to look after horses and wagons before being transferred to artillery school. He spent three years in combat as a commander of a reconnaissance battery.
In February 1945, as the war in Europe drew to a close, he was arrested on the East Prussian front by agents of Smersh, the Soviet spy agency. The evidence against him was found in a letter to a school friend in which he referred to Stalin — disrespectfully, the authorities said — as "the man with the mustache." Though he was a loyal Communist, he was sentenced to eight years in a labor camp. It was his entry into the vast network of punitive institutions that he would later name the Gulag Archipelago, after the Russian acronym for the Main Administration of Camps.
His penal journey began with stays in two prisons in Moscow. Then he was transferred to a camp nearby, where he moved timbers, and then to another, called New Jerusalem, where he dug clay. From there he was taken to a camp called Kaluga Gate, where he suffered a moral and spiritual breakdown after equivocating in his response to a warden's demand that he report on fellow inmates. Though he never provided information, he referred to his nine months there as the low point in his life.
After brief stays in several other institutions, Solzhenitsyn was moved to Special Prison No. 16 on the outskirts of Moscow on July 9, 1947. This was a so-called sharashka, an institution for inmates who were highly trained scientists and whose forced labor involved advanced scientific research. He was put there because of his gift for mathematics, which he credited with saving his life.
At Ekibastaz, any writing would be seized as contraband. So he devised a method that enabled him to retain even long sections of prose. After seeing Lithuanian Catholic prisoners fashion rosaries out of beads made from chewed bread, he asked them to make a similar chain for him, but with more beads. In his hands, each bead came to represent a passage that he would repeat to himself until he could say it without hesitation. Only then would he move on to the next bead. He later wrote that by the end of his prison term, he had committed to memory 12,000 lines in this way.
On Feb. 9, 1953, his term in the camps officially ended. On March 6, he was sent farther east, arriving in Kok-Terek, a desert settlement, in time to hear the announcement of Stalin's death broadcast over loudspeakers in the village square. It was here that Solzhenitsyn was ordered to spend his term of "perpetual exile."
He taught in a local school and secretly wrote poems, plays and sketches with no hope of having them published. He also began corresponding with his former wife, who during his incarceration had divorced him. He was bothered by stomach pains, and when he was able to visit a regional clinic, doctors found a large cancerous tumor.
After acquiring medical treatment and resorting to folk remedies, Solzhenitsyn did recover. In April 1956, a letter arrived informing him that his period of internal exile had been lifted and that he was free to move. In December, he spent the holidays with his former wife, and in February 1957, the two remarried. He then joined her in Ryazan, where Natalia Reshetovskaya headed the chemistry department of an agricultural college. Meanwhile, a rehabilitation tribunal invalidated his original sentence and found that he had remained "a Soviet patriot." He resumed teaching and writing, both new material as well as old, reworking some of the lines he had once stored away as he fingered his beads.
At the time, Solzhenitsyn's private life was in turmoil. As news of the prize was announced, his marriage was dissolving. Two years earlier he had met Natalia Svetlova, a mathematician who was involved in typing and circulating samizdat literature, and they became drawn to each other. As Solzhenitsyn explained, "She simply joined me in my struggle and we went side by side." He asked his wife, Natalia Reshetovskaya, for a divorce. But she refused, and continued to do so for several years. At one point, shortly after he had won the prize, she attempted suicide, and he had to rush her to a hospital, where she was revived.
In the meantime, Natalia Svetlova gave birth to Yermolai and Ignat, Solzhenitsyn's two oldest sons. Finally, in March 1973, Natalia Reshetovskaya consented to a divorce. Soon afterward, Solzhenitsyn and Natalia Svetlova were married in an Orthodox church near Moscow.
Solzhenitsyn believed his stay in the United States would be temporary. "In a strange way, I not only hope, I am inwardly convinced that I shall go back," he told the BBC. "I live with that conviction. I mean my physical return, not just my books. And that contradicts all rationality."
With that goal, he lived like a recluse in rural Vermont, paying little attention to his surroundings as he kept writing about Russia, in Russian, with Russian readers in mind.
"He wrote, ate, and slept and that was about all," Remnick wrote in 1994 after visiting the Solzhenitsyn family in Cavendish. "For him to accept a telephone call was an event; he rarely left his 50 acres." In contrast to the rest of his family, he never became an American citizen.
As for the author, he would head each morning for the writing house, a wing the Solzhenitsyns had added to the property. There he devoted himself to a gigantic work of historical fiction that eventually ran to more than 5,000 pages in four volumes. The work, called "The Red Wheel," focused on the revolutionary chaos that had spawned Bolshevism and set the stage for modern Russian history. It has been compared, at least in it's sweep and intentions, with Tolstoy's "War and Peace."
There were those who described him as reactionary, as an unreconstructed Slavophile, a Russian nationalist, undemocratic and authoritarian. Olga Carlisle, a writer who had helped spirit the manuscript of "The Gulag Archipelago" out of Moscow but who was no longer speaking to Solzhenitsyn, wrote in Newsweek that the Harvard speech had been intended for a Russian audience, not an American one.
"His own convictions are deeply rooted in the Russian spirit, which is untempered by the civilizing influences of a democratic tradition," Carlisle said. And Czeslaw Milosz, generally admiring of his fellow Nobel laureate, wrote, "Like the Russian masses, he, we may assume, has strong authoritarian tendencies."
In October 1994, Solzhenitsyn addressed Russia's Parliament. His complaints and condemnations had not abated. "This is not a democracy, but an oligarchy," he declared. "Rule by the few." He spoke for an hour, and when he finished, there was only a smattering of applause.
Solzhenitsyn started appearing on television twice a week as the host of a 15-minute show called "A Meeting With Solzhenitsyn." Most times he veered into condemnatory monologues that left his less outspoken guests with little to do but look on. Alessandra Stanley, writing about the program for The Times, said Solzhenitsyn came across "as a combination of Charlie Rose and Moses." After receiving poor ratings, the program was canceled a year after it was started.
As the century turned, Solzhenitsyn continued to write. In a 2001 book, he confronted the relationship of Russians and Jews, a subject that some critics had long contended he had ignored or belittled in his fiction. A few accused him of anti-Semitism. Irving Howe, the literary critic, did not go that far but maintained that in "August 1914," Solzhenitsyn was dismissive of Jewish concerns and gave insufficient weight to pogroms and other persecution of the Jews. Others noted that none of the prisoners in "Ivan Denisovich" were definitively identified as a Jew, and the one whose Jewish identity was subtly hinted at was the one who had the most privileges and was protected from the greatest rigors.
Remnick defended Solzhenitsyn, saying he "in fact, is not anti-Semitic; his books are not anti-Semitic, and he is not, in his personal relations, anti-Jewish; Natalia's mother is Jewish, and not a few of his friends are, too."
In the final years of his life,, Solzhenitsyn had spoken approvingly of a "restoration" of Russia under Vladimir Putin, and was criticized in some quarters as increasingly nationalist.
In an interview last year with Der Spiegel, Solzhenitsyn said that Russians' view of the West as a "knight of democracy" had been shattered by the NATO bombing of Serbia, an event he called "a grave disillusion, a crushing of ideals." He dismissed Western democracy-building efforts, telling the Times of London in 2005 that democracy "is not worth a brass farthing if it is installed by bayonet."
In 2007, he accepted a State Prize from then-President Putin — after refusing, on principle, similar prizes from Gorbachev and from Yeltsin. Putin, he said in the Der Spiegel interview, "inherited a ransacked and bewildered country, with a poor and demoralized people. And he started to do what was possible — a slow and gradual restoration."
Many young Russians barely recognize Solzhenitsyn's name
16 Chinese military police killed; Beijing tightens security measures for Games
BEIJING: Two men armed with knives and explosives ambushed a military police unit in China's majority Muslim northwest Monday morning, killing 16 officers and wounding 16 others before being arrested in what the state media called the deadliest terrorist attack in China since the early 1990s.
According to those accounts, two men driving a dump truck rammed their vehicle into the jogging soldiers, killing or wounding 10. The attackers jumped out of the truck, stabbing the soldiers with knives, and then lobbed homemade bombs at the barracks, although they exploded outside the compound, Xinhua said. The police arrested the attackers, whom they described as Uighurs, 28 and 33 years old, but did not release their names.
Troops deployed in Italian cities against crime and illegal immigration
ROME: Soldiers were deployed throughout Italy on Monday to control embassies, subway and railroad stations and centers for illegal immigrants as part of broader government measures to fight crime.
By the time it is fully in effect next week, the effort will place about 3,000 soldiers alongside regular police and military police officers, a visible signal to citizens that the government "has responded to their demands for greater security," Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said in an interview on the Italian Sky News channel.
Nearly 150 die in stampede at Indian temple
NEW DELHI: A stampede during a religious festival at a north Indian temple on Sunday had left 148 people dead by Monday, including more than 40 children.
Some eyewitnesses said visitors on their way down the hill claimed large stones began sliding down the hillside, leading to panic in the crowd below, while others heard rumors of a bomb.
"Because so many pilgrims were gathered at the shelter, the way up and down was blocked," said Suresh Kumar, a spokesman in the police control room at the temple. "When pilgrims started pushing down and the way was very crowded, the stampede took place."
Metal guard rails meant to protect temple visitors from slipping down steep drops were knocked down by the crowds, sending some tumbling down the hillside. Pilgrims said that officials on hand could not control the crowd and watched helplessly as thousands broke barricades and ran downhill.
The Himachal Pradesh government said Monday that it would investigate the tragedy and pay 100,000 rupees, or about $2,366, to the family of each victim and provide free treatment to the injured, according to the Press Trust of India.
Rescuers reach Italian after 11 die on K2
ISLAMABAD: Rescuers have reached an Italian mountaineer who refused to succumb to frostbite and exhaustion on K2 after 11 other climbers perished on the world's second-highest mountain, a Pakistani guide said on Monday.
"Marco (Confortola) is being accompanied by four rescuers and most probably, he'll be brought tonight to the Advance Base Camp (ABC) that is at an altitude of 6,000 metres," Sultan Alam, a Pakistani guide, told Reuters from K2 base camp.
Three Pakistani high-altitude porters and an American climber reached Confortola after racing up the mountain to bring him to the camp where food and medicine were waiting, he said.
Darkness had fallen and it was likely that the 37-year-old climber would spend another night on K2, before a helicopter could airlift him off the towering pyramid of rock and ice.
Confortola's feet were in "very bad" shape but he appeared to have saved his hands, Agostino Da Polenza, head of the Ev-K2-CNR mountaineering group in Italy, told Reuters after speaking to the lost climber by satellite phone.
"Of course, of course, I'll keep going. Imagine if I gave up now," Da Polenza quoted Confortola as saying on Monday before being reached by the rescuers.
A Pakistani army helicopter had earlier plucked two Dutch climbers off the slopes of the remote 8,611 metre (28,240 foot) peak, deep in the Karakoram range, bordering China.
Pakistani authorities confirmed that 11 climbers perished in the deadliest episode in K2's history but rescuers were unsure whether anyone else was missing.
Anxious fellow climbers kept vigil at K2 base camp, scanning the steep flanks of the mountain.
Among the dead were three Koreans; two Nepalis; two Pakistani high altitude porters; French, Serbian, and Norwegian climbers; and an Irishman earlier listed as missing.
Several died when an ice wall collapsed and tore away their fixed lines as descended having reached K2's summit on Friday.
Others succumbed in the freezing, oxygen-starved air, stranded at an altitude known as the "Death Zone".
Several teams had massed for an assault on the summit. At least two climbers died during the ascent. Then disaster struck during the descent at a steep gully known as the Bottleneck, above 8,200 metres.
The ice fall killed the three Korean and two Nepali climbers and left around a dozen more, exhausted from the ascent, stranded in the thin air above the Bottleneck.
Wilco van Rooijen, the rescued leader of a Dutch team that lost at least three members, told Reuters from his hospital bed in the northern Pakistani town of Skardu how he slept without a sleeping bag, food or water.
Van Rooijen said he was screaming instructions for people to work together, but they appeared consumed by self-preservation.
"They were thinking of my gas, my rope, whatever," he said. "Actually everybody was fighting for himself and I still do not understand why everybody was leaving each other."
Some tried to find their own way off a mountain where anyone who goes missing almost inevitably dies.
"People were running down but didn't know where to go, so a lot of people were lost on the mountain on the wrong side, wrong route, and then you have a big problem and then things like that happen," van Rooijen said.
A Swedish survivor, Fredrik Strang, had earlier described to U.S. broadcaster CNN how people froze to death during the night and spoke of a sense of foreboding after a Serbian climber and a Pakistani plunged to their deaths on the ascent.
Questions will inevitably arise over whether the climbers' judgment was fatally clouded by desire to reach the summit, a condition known in mountaineering circles as "summit fever".
Some teams summitted in darkness after 8.00 p.m., according to Nazir Sabir, president of the Alpine Club of Pakistan.
Critics spoke of summit fever in the wake of the previous deadliest day in K2's history, August 13, 1995, when six people fell or disappeared during a storm, including British female climber Alison Hargreaves.
Risks multiplied when small teams made simultaneous summit bids, according to veteran Pakistani mountaineer Sher Khan.
His old climbing partner, the legendary Italian alpinist Reinhold Messner, told Reuters in Italy that commercial climbing caused more fatalities as inexperienced people, regardless of their strength, faced situations without knowing how to react.
Certainly, van Rooijen was full of recriminations.
"The biggest mistake we made was that we tried to make agreements. Everybody had his own responsibility and then some people did not do what they promised," the Dutchman said.
More than 70 climbers have died on K2. In mountaineering records the ones who lost their lives after conquering the mountain have an asterisk by their name.
Ninety-four militants and 14 troops killed in Pakistan
MINGORA, Pakistan: Pakistan's army killed 94 Islamist militants and lost 14 soldiers in fighting in the northwestern Swat valley in the past week and plans a major operation against the insurgents, a senior officer said on Monday.
The ferocity of the clashes sounded the death knell for a peace deal between the government and militants seeking to impose Taliban-style Islamic law in the alpine valley that was once one of Pakistan's main tourist destinations.
"More troops are coming and we will launch a major operation and we will go after the militants in their strongholds," Brigadier Zia Bodla told journalists in Mingora, the main town in Swat.
Among the 14 soldiers killed were three members of the Inter-Services Intelligence, who were killed on July 28 in an ambush by fighters loyal to radical cleric called Fazlullah.
The Brigadier didn't mention civilian or police casualties, but at least 25 civilians and eight policemen have also been killed since fighting flared last week.
With Flemish nationalism on the rise, Belgium teeters on the edge
It's about culture in the end. In its escalating dysfunction Belgium demonstrates the inextricable link between culture and nationhood. As acting mayor Thiéry presides over tense meetings at which nationalists from out of town listen to hear if he utters a word in French instead of Flemish, as the various Dutch dialects of Flanders are known. If so, he said, all council decisions can be annulled, and he can be replaced as mayor by someone the Flemish choose.
"We have two separate cultures in Belgium," said Thiéry [Damien Thiéry, mayor of Linebeek, a bedroom community outside Brussels which is 84 percent French-speaking, but within the Flemish north, and the region's Flemish government has so far declined to ratify his election.
Thiéry is not Flemish], a sturdy man wearing shirt sleeves on a warm summer day, clearly exasperated. "It wasn't this divisive when I grew up. Protesters shout, 'French people get off our territory' at our meetings. Flemish authorities refuse to give contracts to our French-speaking schoolteachers; they give Flemish children here 179 euros a year for school trips and other expenses, French children, 68 euros. If we want subsidies, we are obliged to stock our library with 75 percent of the books in Flemish, but it's ridiculous to have a Flemish library in a mostly French-speaking town."
Francophones have now come to talk about "linguistic cleansing." Flemish, many of them openly resentful of subsidizing poorer French-speaking compatriots, who for years lorded it over them economically and otherwise (unemployment today is three times higher in rust-belt Wallonia), say the issue is preserving national heritage. "It's difficult to have a rational conversation," said Roel Jacobs, a writer born to Flemish parents who lives in bilingual Brussels.
"There are six million Dutch speakers and they're angry about Francophone influence, but meanwhile they care nothing about the influence of English and Anglo culture," he went on, "so it's not rational. We've forgotten our true cultural history. In the 15th century Bruges was the most vibrant city outside Italy because it was full of foreigners. Then it was Antwerp, when the foreigners left Bruges. Today the national movement in Flanders is in complete denial of the past."
A century or so ago Émile Verhaeren, the Flemish Symbolist poet, who was born in Sint-Amands, near Antwerp, and educated at the University of Leuven, wrote in French. Now the university has split into two, the one Flemish, the other French and moved to Wallonia, and the region around Sint-Amands is a stronghold of far-right, anti-immigrant Flemish nationalists.
"Back then the Francophones didn't want a bilingual country," Witte said. "French dominated, and it would have meant they would need to learn Flemish. Educated Flemish spoke in French. But then the electoral system changed and allowed everyone to vote, and more power went to the non-French-speaking Flemish middle and lower classes."
Paul Krugman: Slow- motion meltdown
Incidentally, it's surprising that the lousy economy hasn't yet had more impact on the campaign. McCain essentially proposes continuing the policies of a president whose approval rating on economics is only 20 percent. So why isn't Obama further ahead in the polls?
One answer may be that Obama, perhaps inhibited by his desire to transcend partisanship (and avoid praising the last Democratic president?), has been surprisingly diffident about attacking the Bush economic record. An illustration: If you go to the official Obama Web site and click on the economic issues page, what you see first isn't a call for change - what you see is a long quote from the candidate extolling the wonders of the free market, which could just as easily have come from a speech by President Bush.