Sunday, November 30, 2008

Guadalajara (Mex) Book Fair

Just A Perfect Day (I´d like to have with ya)

Just a perfect day,
Drink sangria in the park,
And then later, when it gets dark,
We go home.
Just a perfect day,
Feed animals in the zoo
Then later, a movie, too,
And then home.

Oh its such a perfect day,
Im glad I spent it with you.
Oh such a perfect day,
You just keep me hanging on,
You just keep me hanging on.

Just a perfect day,
Problems all left alone,
Weekenders on our own.
Its such fun.
Just a perfect day,
You made me forget myself.
I thought I was someone else,
Someone good.

Oh its such a perfect day,
I´m glad I spent it with you.
Oh such a perfect day,
You just keep me hanging on,
You just keep me hanging on.

Youre going to reap just what you sow,
Youre going to reap just what you sow,
Youre going to reap just what you sow,
Youre going to reap just what you sow...

Jorn Utzon (RIP)

Waltz With Bashir

A good film!

The concept of Time

"I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up".

Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Broken Book

There could be nobody better suited to describe the hilarious, improbable triumph of Robert Bolaño than Bolaño himself, which is a terrible shame because he's dead. At the time of his death, from liver disease, in 2003, Bolaño was a major writer in the Spanish-speaking world but virtually unknown and untranslated in English. Why that should be is not much of a mystery. Bolaño, who was born in Chile and spent most of his life in Mexico and Spain, is a difficult, angry, self-reflexive writer who lived an erratic and occasionally unpleasant life. And Americans, as the head of the Swedish Academy has annoyingly but rightly pointed out, don't read much fiction in translation.

But when Bolaño's novel The Savage Detectives--a massive, bizarre epic about a band of avant-garde Mexican poets--was published in the U.S. last year, it instantly became a cult hit among readers and practically a fetish object to critics. Bolaño's other major novel, 2666, is even more massive and more bizarre. It is also a masterpiece, and its publication in English translation by Farrar, Straus & Giroux on Nov. 11 is the most electrifying literary event of the year. With 2666, Bolaño's posthumous conquest of America is complete.

The 898 pages of 2666 are divided into five parts. The first concerns four literary critics--three men and a woman, all friends, all Europeans, all authorities on a mysterious German novelist named Archimboldi, whom none of them have ever met. Eventually they get a tip that Archimboldi has been seen in a backwater town in northern Mexico called Santa Teresa. But by the time they get there, the trail has gone cold.

From that suspended moment--with the smell of revelation in the air but the actual article nowhere to be found, as if the author had accidentally left it in his other coat--2666 tacks sideways into the mind of a philosophy professor who teaches in Santa Teresa and may slowly be going insane, and then again into another genre entirely, a hard-boiled yarn about a journalist sent to Santa Teresa from New York City to cover a boxing match. It becomes clear only in the book's fourth section that Bolaño is performing these lateral leaps the better to observe from all sides the book's true subject: the horrific serial rape and murder of hundreds of women in and around Santa Teresa.

Part 4 (it's called "The Part About the Crimes," as if it were a Friends episode) consists of a ruthlessly precise forensic catalog of those killings, complete with torn nylons and vaginal swabs, along with the stories of the victims and the investigating detectives. It is a police procedural straight from the precinct of hell. It is also as bravura a display of novelistic mastery and as devastating a reading experience as you are likely ever to encounter. By the time Archimboldi does show up in Part 5, a belated Godot, we are very far past the possibility of any redemptive epiphany.

2666 is not a novel that any critic could describe as brisk or taut. (Not like all those other brisk, taut 898-page novels.) Bolaño is addicted to digressions, unsolved mysteries and seemingly extraneous details that actually do turn out to be extraneous. He loves trotting out characters we will never encounter a second time--a habit that can be exhausting. And whenever a character falls asleep, the reader should prepare to hear about his dreams.

But the meandering quality of 2666 has its own logic and its own power, which hits you all the harder because you don't see it coming. How can art, Bolaño asks, a medium of form and meaning, faithfully reflect a world that is blessed with neither? That is in fact a cesspool of randomness and filth? An orderly book, all signal and no noise, would not be a true book. To mirror a broken world, to speak the unspeakable, you need a broken book. That Bolaño should have died and left his book an orphan might even have struck him as appropriate.

by Lev Grossman

Friday, November 28, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Tue Poem

Last night while I was sleeping
I dreamed - blessed illusion! -
a fountain flowed
inside my heart.
Water, tell me by what hidden channel you came to me
with a spring of new life
I never drank?

Last night while I was sleeping
I dreamed - blessed illusion! -
I had a beehive
inside my heart,
and from my old bitterness
the gold bees
were contriving white combs
and sweet honey.

Last night while I was sleeping
I dreamed - blessed illusion! -
a fiery sun glowed
inside my heart.
It was fiery, giving off heat
from a red fireplace.
It was the sun throwing out light
and made one weep.

Last night while I was sleeping
I dreamed - blessed illusion! -
that it was God I had
inside my heart.

Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

Greenland Referendum

Greenland referendum could pave the way towards independence

Greenlanders will head to the polls today for a referendum on whether to expand the Danish territory’s autonomy and thus possibly pave the way for total independence for the Arctic island.

Some 39,000 people are eligible to cast their vote on the local government’s proposal for self-rule that could be a first step to ending nearly three centuries of Danish hegemony in Greenland.

The proposal is the result of a Danish-Greenlandic commission report in May calling for “the people of Greenland (to) be considered a people in line with international law ... with the right to self-determination.”

If the “yes” side wins, the local government in Greenland, which was granted a semi-autonomous status in 1979, has the chance to take over control of new areas such as natural resource management, justice and police affairs and to a certain extent foreign affairs.

Greenlandic would also be recognised as the island’s official language.

Also at stake in Tuesday’s referendum is how to share the potential revenues from the natural resources under Greenland’s seabed, which according to international experts is home to large oil deposits.

The commission report on self-rule proposed among other things that “the revenues from activities related to raw materials be distributed to Greenland” in return for reducing annual subsidies from Copenhagen.

A recent poll conducted by the University of Nuuk and broadcast on Greenlandic radio on November 16, indicated that an overwhelming 75 percent of Greenlanders who had already made up their minds were in favour of expanding the island’s autonomy.

Just 25 percent said they were against the move.

This referendum “is not about independence,” local government chief Hans Enoksen stressed in a radio interview, adding however that he hoped “Greenland will be independent in 12 years ... for my 65th birthday.”

“Agreeing on self-rule is the only road forward,” he said, pointing out that “the Greenlandic people have wished for many years to be more independent.”

Like most of the parties in the local parliament, as well as the Greenlandic media, the Social Democratic prime minister has called on voters to “take advantage of this opportunity.”

He is not the only politician who believes full independence can be achieved in the not so distant future.

Lars Emil Johansen, one of two Greenlandic members of the Danish parliament, says he dreams the day will come by 2021, in time for the 300th anniversary of Denmark’s colonisation of Greenland.

“Of course we can be the masters of our own destiny and fly on our own wings,” he told AFP.

Not all Greenlanders are dreaming of breaking loose from Denmark however. A fringe movement, backed by a single political party, the Democrats, has emerged as an outspoken critic of the proposal.

“Greenland will never be an independent state,” Finn Lynge recently stated, much to the dismay of his Siumut party, which is part of the government coalition and strongly in favour of a “yes” vote in the referendum.

“There are only between 50,000 and 60,000 of us living here in geographically and climatically extreme conditions. With such a tiny population it is impossible to provide the human contributions needed to turn Greenland into a modern and independent state,” he said.

And while the island’s biggest daily, Sermitsiaq, has called on voters to support the self-rule motion, it has stressed that “it is wrong to talk about independence now” because “independence is indissolubly linked to an economy that can support it.”

In 2007, the territory received subsidies of 3.2 billion kroner (432 million euros, 540 million dollars) from Denmark, or about 30 percent of its gross domestic product.

With its 2.1-million square kilometer (840,000 square mile) surface, 80 percent of which is covered by ice, Greenland is the world’s largest island. It counts 57,000 inhabitants, 50,000 of whom are native Inuits.

In 1985, it voted by referendum to leave the European Union, of which Denmark remains a member.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Haiti´s Forest & Poverty

Deep gashes in the steep mountains around Gonaïves are the claw marks of the disasters that strike this north-western coastal city with deadly regularity. They are also Haiti's stigmata: the wounds of a nation caused by the near-complete deforestation of a land that was once a rich tropical habitat.

But after a hurricane season in which this, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, was struck by four intense storms triggering flash floods and landslides that took hundreds of lives and created tens of thousands of refugees, richer nations are again being asked to help a country often described as beyond hope. So far, the call for aid has fallen on mainly deaf ears. The UN appealed for $108m in emergency aid after Gonaïves and another town, Cabaret, were buried under millions of tons of mud, sewage and rock after being hit by storms from mid-August to mid-September. But so far only 40 per cent of that target has been met.

After a relative lull in the disasters afflicting the country - it is more than three weeks since a poorly built school on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, collapsed killing 94 pupils and visitors, and more than six months since Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis was removed after riots over the rising price of food - there are reports of widespread malnutrition in rural areas, as well as two dozen cases of child starvation in the Baie d'Orange region along the south-east coast.

But there is a gathering effort to alleviate Haiti's misery by addressing one of its critical underlying problems - deforestation. Without trees, even moderate rain brings a deluge of soil and rock down on its towns; without trees, there is nothing to hold the soil together for agriculture. This year's mudslides, which killed 300, are not unprecedented: poorly situated Gonaïves was flooded in 2004 by tropical storm Jeanne, killing 3,000. In the north-west, Lake Azuei, on the border with the Dominican Republic, is close to bursting for similar reasons - deforestation and rubbish.

'You can really see here how environmental degradation is tied to extreme poverty,' said Antonio Pereira, the UN Environmental Programme's co-ordinator in Port-au-Prince. 'Deforestation, problems with run-off, waste management and sanitation. Here we don't even need a big event to cause a disaster.'

The US Agency for International Development estimates that only 1.5 per cent of Haiti is still forested, compared with 60 per cent in 1923. The Dominican Republic is still 28 per cent forested. Haiti is in danger of losing what trees it has left - as many as 30 million a year - to the insatiable demand for the charcoal used as cooking fuel.

The loss of Haiti's trees, coupled with a decline in agricultural self-sufficiency and loss of top soil, has made the politically unstable nation even more vulnerable to outside forces. After a dramatic rise in food prices this year, violent protests culminated in Alexis being forced from office by President René Préval.

So far, development and aid agencies are still experimenting with planting trees and shrubs that will help to halt the natural disasters that annually erase any moderate advances in Haiti's sickly economic picture. Christian aid groups favour eucalyptus; others, including the UN's environmental development arms, believe aloe and elephant grass are suitable for more arid areas around disaster-prone Gonaïves.

Fondation Seguin, an environmental organisation supported by musician Wyclef Jean's Yéle Haiti, which sponsors aid for Haiti, has launched its 'Ecole Verte' programme. The Lambi Fund of Haiti, a Washington-based group allied to the Kenyan Nobel prize-winner Wangari Maathai's Green Belt movement, has announced the planting of more than a million trees in the country. 'Reforestation is key to sustainability,' said the fund's Haiti director, Josette Perard. 'This is not about offsetting climate change but about restoring the natural ecosystem. We're trying to undo years of damage. Without tree cover we keep getting setbacks and the mudslides show how far the system is out of balance.'

As Haiti last week celebrated the black slave uprising against the French in 1804 that led to its independence, the scale of the problem it faces was plain to see. In Gonaïves, two months after the deluge that brought three million tons of sediment into town, large hillocks of ooze, reinforced with detritus and parts of old cars, have yet to be removed. The other component of Haiti's disaster scenario was also evident: floating islands of plastic bottles that block storm drains. 'Every time it rains, it becomes chaos again,' said one UN peacekeeper, Jeanne Nidaji from Benin. 'Mud makes it impossible. You cannot swim in it, so you drown.'

Jean-Marie Vanden Wouver, of the UN's International Labour Organisation, a technical adviser to the UN development programme, heads a project to slow the run-off of topsoil and rock by digging holes in mountainsides and planting elephant grass. 'When it's possible to break the speed of the water, you can slow erosion dramatically,' he said. 'Our problem is the budget comes in too late to plant, and goats eat the seedlings.'

With the UN warning that the problems of deforestation, precarious shanty towns and blocked rivers make the capital vulnerable to the same fate as Gonaïves, there is new urgency in the effort to tackle environmental degradation. Haiti's new Prime Minister, Michèle Pierre-Louis, installed in August, warned that the fate of Gonaïves could befall Haiti itself. 'The whole country is facing an ecological disaster,' he said. 'We cannot keep going on like this. We are going to disappear one day. There will not be 400, 500 or 1,000 deaths. There are going to be a million deaths.'

But with poverty and instability as natural to the nation as voodoo - now recognised as a state religion - efforts to reverse the damage run counter to experience and expectation. 'It's a critical situation that requires exceptional effort and investment or we will not be able to consolidate the gains we have made,' said UN spokesperson Sophie Boutaud-de-la-Combe.

Treating environmental degradation as a cause, and not just a symptom, of poverty represents an important change in emphasis. Even Haiti's government, long without political will to tackle the problem, now speaks of change. Pierre-Louis has spoken of passing laws and erecting billboards throughout the country warning: 'You cannot build here.'

One solution comes from close to home. In Kenscoff, 40 miles from Port-au-Prince in the hills, Jane Wynne, a US-educated environmentalist, praises the benefits of bamboo. Her father, a structural engineer, imported dozens of species to the island in the 1950s under the fervent belief that bamboo offers a near-perfect combination of attributes.

Wynne, who has spent her life trying to get Haitians to change their lifestyles to help avoid devastation, has developed a system of parallel terracing coupled with bamboo that could help stop the denuded mountainsides slipping into the cities. 'We've been warning of this disaster for years,' Wynne said. 'We could see what was coming. In 1956, my father said bamboo could save that country.

'People say they cut the trees because they're poor, but I don't believe that. Poor people would never cut down a tree. A branch maybe, but not a tree. The real problem is with the people who have houses and cars but would rather steal someone else's tree than cut their own.'

Part of Wynne's programme is to help Haiti develop new sources of fuel, possibly using the waste from sugar cane to make combustible briquettes. After all, the use of charcoal is a relatively new phenomenon that only gathered strength during US President Bill Clinton's blockade of Haiti in 1993 to bring about the restoration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as President. That helped to push Haitians from kerosene to dependence on cutting down trees to make charcoal.

Fuel is a part of the puzzle that will need to be solved to rescue Haiti. But in a nation where 65 per cent of the people now live on a dollar a day, reforestation - and a chance of returning to self-sufficiency - can sometimes appear a luxury, not a necessity. But environment is the key, Wynne believes: 'Young people want to learn, we need to encourage them. We come from the soil and we go back to the soil, we cannot destroy the soil.'

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Aotearoa Turns Right

New Zealand may mourn the end of the Clark era: she was a prime minister in a different mould

The end of an era came this week when the millionaire merchant banker John Key was sworn in as New Zealand's 38th prime minister. His centre-right National party had won a resounding victory over the longstanding Labour government. That also sadly meant the end to the reign of one of the country's most successful leaders, Helen Clark, who then resigned as head of the party.

With all that is going on in the world, it is easy to think that peaceful regime change in a country with a population the size of the East Midlands, in the middle of an ocean 12,000 miles from here, isn't exactly vital. (Which may explain why the election hardly got a mention in the British press.) But Helen Clark was a different kind of politician from any New Zealand had seen before - and as an expatriate I know I am not alone in feeling unusually proud of her achievements and sad to see her go.

During her nine years in power, Helen (as the 58-year-old was called by those who loved or reviled her) was a "third way" social democrat, aiming to flatten some of the more glaring inequalities in the country's so-called egalatarian society by introducing a 39% top-tax rate and family tax credits, taking interest off student loans and increasing subsidised healthcare. She revived ailing services like Air New Zealand and the railways by returning them to state ownership, and she made waves in the US when she insisted that New Zealand waters remain free of nuclear-powered vessels.

Like Tony Blair (whose Labour party preceded Helen's to power by two years) she was tasked with bringing together a party with deep ideological divisions. On top of that, in 1996 New Zealand had changed from first past the post to mixed member proportional voting so in each of her governments she had to negotiate constantly with small, often badly behaved parties from the margins.

Her former press officer, Mike Munro, said: "From day one she did an amazing job - there were some fairly feral characters in the Alliance." There were also plenty of controversial MPs in her own party, accused of everything from drink-driving and sexual misconduct to bribery and corruption. Her standards of ministerial accountability were tough, but as Munro put it: "She made sure they were all brought into the tent."

From a farming family in the Waikato, Helen was resolutely down to earth and - in the Kiwi vernacular - not at all "flash". She followed the footie (rugby), liked pop music, and went climbing and walking whenever she got any spare time. As the late Sir Edmund Hillary said of her: "She's always off climbing something, doing something exciting and I think that New Zealanders admire that."

But there were some things about Helen they never felt comfortable with. Her deep voice, her wardrobe of serviceable trouser suits, and her childless marriage to sociologist Peter Davis all brought their share of snide media comment. This didn't seem to bother her much; she was no emotional chin wobbler. But as one media commentator pointed out: "Bossy women aren't much liked or trusted in New Zealand."

Columnist Chris Trotter in the Sunday Star Times went so far as to attribute the election result to ingrained sexism: "It was the men who just couldn't cope with the idea of being led by an intelligent, idealistic, free-spirited woman; the gutless, witless, passionless creatures of the barbecue-pit and the sports bar (and the feckless females who put up with them) who voted Helen Clark out of office."

Others see the election as the result of boredom. The country has, so far, been relatively free of the economic maelstrom that the rest of us are experiencing. But rather than stick with the partnership of Helen and finance minister Dr Michael Cullen that had led to stability and the high living standards New Zealanders enjoy, all the pre-election talk was of the need for "change".

I first met Helen in 1975. I was a first-year at the University of Auckland; she was my political science tutor. She was then as she turned out to be later: informal, plain speaking, occasionally droll, determined and committed. Only six years later she was elected to represent the middle-class Auckland suburb of Mt Albert, a seat she still holds.

The next time I met her was in New Zealand House in London, where she had attended the premiere of Niki Caro's film Whale Rider. All through her government she was also the minister for arts and culture. Not everyone in that particular world felt her reign was beneficial, but generally she was seen as firm but fair, a politician you could talk to.

Just before the election she attended the NZ Music Awards to give out a prize - but it was her appearance that got the standing ovation. From a room full of popular musos, after nine years in office, that says something about Helen. And I can't imagine any British prime minister ever pulling it off.

by Louise Chunn

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Guyana 30 years ago today

1978: Mass suicide leaves 900 dead

The bodies of 914 people, including 276 children, have been found in Guyana in South America.

Most of the dead - members of the People's Temple Christian Church - had consumed a soft drink laced with cyanide and sedatives.

However, the body of the People's Temple charismatic leader, Jim Jones, was said to have a bullet wound in the right temple, believed to be self-inflicted.

The deaths are being linked to the earlier killings of five people, including US Congressman Leo Ryan, on a nearby airstrip.

Mr Ryan had led a fact-finding mission to the church's jungle settlement - Jonestown - after allegations by relatives in the US of human rights abuses.

Last year Jim Jones and most of the 1,000 members of the People's Temple moved to Guyana from San Francisco after an investigation began into the church for tax evasion.

People who had left the organisation told the authorities of brutal beatings, murders and a mass suicide plan but were not believed.

In spite of the tax evasion allegations, Jim Jones was still widely respected for setting up a racially-mixed church which helped the disadvantaged.

Five dead at airport

Leo Ryan's delegation arrived in Jonestown on 14 November and spent three days interviewing residents.

They left hurriedly earlier on Saturday after an attempt on Mr Ryan's life, taking with them about 20 People's Temple members who wished to leave.

Delegation members told police as they were boarding planes at the airstrip a truckload of Jim Jones' guards arrived and began to shoot.

When the gunmen left five people were dead: Congressman Ryan, a reporter and cameraman from NBC, a newspaper photographer and one "defector" from the People's Temple.

A producer for NBC News, Bob Flick, survived the attack.

Mr Flick said: "Every time someone fell down wounded they would walk over and shoot them in the head with a shotgun."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Buying Home

"Home is the most important place in the world"

O give me a home...

The Maldives’ president has come up with a solution to the world’s problems

Rex Features
Rex Features

LOSING one’s home is a sadly common experience in these dark economic days, but it normally happens at an individual, rather than a national, level. The residents of the Maldives, however, face collective homelessness as a result of rising sea levels, which are expected eventually to engulf the 1,200-island nation, whose highest point is 2.3 metres above sea level. Faced with this alarming prospect, the country’s new president, Mohamed Nasheed, has come up with an equally dramatic solution: put aside some of the Maldives’ tourism revenues to buy another homeland.

At first blush Mr Nasheed’s notion seems a bit over the top. Countries don’t usually go round purchasing large lumps of other nations. The only precedent he cites—Jews buying up bits of Palestine before Israel was established—does not inspire confidence that his plan would increase world harmony. And since the rich countries that caused the climate to change and the seas to rise can easily absorb the Maldives’ 370,000 people, it seems reasonable to assume that Mr Nasheed and his compatriots will be offered citizenship elsewhere.

Reasonable, but wrong. Australia’s government has already turned down a request to offer citizenship to the 12,000 people of Tuvalu, another small, drowning island; so a few hundred thousand Maldivians knocking on rich-country doors seem likely to get even shorter shrift. Anyway, they may not want to be absorbed into a larger nation. They might prefer to stay together to maintain their community spirit and traditions of folk-dancing and imprisoning political dissidents. So a solution as radical as Mr Nasheed’s may be the only answer.

It’s a buyer’s market in property these days; and, if the Maldivians are looking for an island, Iceland is said to be going cheap. But they may be spoilt for choice: think of all the tiresome bits of territory that other countries would like to offload. The snooty English, for instance, have long disparaged Wales, which they caricature unfairly as being populated mostly by Methodist preachers and disaffected sheep. It might be a challenge to persuade the Maldivians to swap their palm-fringed paradise for Llandudno pier on a wet Sunday afternoon; still, a bit of adroit marketing, focusing on the height of the hills, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins (both sadly no longer resident) might do the trick.

Once Mr Nasheed’s visionary notion gains acceptance, it could have far wider application. The Israelis, for instance, could put an end to a hundred years of futile hostilities by buying somewhere for the Palestinians. If they clubbed together, they could get somewhere really nice—Florida, maybe. China could stop making aggressive gestures towards Taiwan and buy Malaysia instead. It’s already run by Chinese, so they’d hardly notice the difference. And Barack Obama, committed to uniting America, could defuse the nation’s culture wars by purchasing an alternative homeland for those of his countrymen who want more use of the death penalty, less gun control and no gay marriage. A slice of Saudia Arabia’s empty quarter would do nicely: there’s plenty of space and the new occupants would have lots in common with the locals.

The British are familiar with the notion that, if you’re bored at home, you grab somebody else’s country; but recent experience suggests that invading places can be expensive and troublesome, so a market solution seems a better way of dealing with national dissatisfaction. The British are, let’s face it, fed up with their damp little country. Instead of renting villas in Tuscany, they should buy the place; instead of complaining about the weather, they could complain about Silvio Berlusconi. The Russians suffer from too much crime and too much snow; the Gulf Arabs from too much heat and too little fun. Both should think of buying a temperate, orderly city with decent nightlife, such as London. Wait a minute…

(from The Economist)

Mon Letter

SIR – I would like to congratulate Mr Obama on his brilliant victory. In his official capacity as president of the United States he will probably have to meet our prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. I apologise in advance.

Marta Sanna
Cagliari, Italy

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Bunch Of Red Roses

For you.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ideas For Next Bath

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Taxing With Crazee & Gaga

I like Simon Hoggart´s "sketch"es ... he is the typical well-off upper-middle class Guardianista pretending to be a member of the working class. But he is genuinely funny.

Gordon Brown gave a press conference yesterday to explain his plans for rescuing the economy. These involve spending more money, while at the same time cutting taxes.

An intelligent layman asks: What does this mean?

Brilliant economist: "We call this the Looney Tunes strategy. It's like this. A cartoon character, such as the Road Runner, dashes off cliff top into mid-air, looks down at canyon underneath, goes 'Yikes!', and runs back on to the said cliff top."

Intelligent layman: "Does it work?"

Brilliant economist: "It does in the cartoons."

The prime minister was speaking at a press conference, just after the Conservative leader, David Cameron, had given his own press conference. The Tories had offered bacon sandwiches. Mr Brown did not. Offering breakfast snacks is not what serious politicians do. Serious politicians offer nothing - no ifs, no butties.

Mr Cameron had also proposed tax cuts. They were better and shinier tax cuts than Mr Brown had in mind. It was getting a little like the competitive commercials you sometimes see on local television in the US: "Hi, I'm 'Crazeee' Dave, and you are not going to believe the deals I'm offering on new tax cuts! I must be 'outta' my mind! If you can find a better tax cut in the metro area I'm not only 'gonna' slash taxes to match them, I'll set fire to myself! 'Cos I'm Crazeee!"

Two minutes later: "Are these tax cuts completely insane? They must be because I'm 'Gaga' Gordon and these cuts are dee ... mented! If you can get a better deal you can come on over and cut off my head! And eat it!"

The nub of the matter seemed to be that, according to the prime minister, we have a fundamentally healthy economy with a very low level of public debt - better than (and he gave us a long list) France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland, America, the Planet Mong, etc.

By contrast, according to Mr Cameron, we have a massive and unsustainable level of public debt, worse than every country in the world except Pakistan and Hungary. Nevertheless, the Tories are offering their own tax cuts.

Mr Brown said that these cuts were unfunded. "Every week they have a new initiative to get themselves in the news. They are not serious. We need serious policies for serious times. Not bacon sandwiches." (He didn't say the last bit, of course, but given the way Labour attacks Tory policies and then blithely adopts an enhanced version of them, we can expect at the next presser a sideboard groaning with sausages, eggs, kedgeree, devilled kidneys, and so on.)

Now Mr Brown is off to America to use his amazing powers - you will recall that last month he saved the world banking system from complete collapse, with the ease of Superman stopping a runaway train. The general plan is to "stimulate" the world economy.

He talked so much about stimulation that he sounded like one of those kindly sex therapists who advise chaps when their marriages are going wrong. "I love my economy very much, but I find it impossible to stimulate it. I am at my wits' end.

"Kindness and gentleness are the key. And tax cuts."

The gist of the prime minister's message in Washington seems to be that all the countries that have saved money for a rainy day should now splurge it in order to help countries who have been on spending and credit binges.

Like us.

Michael Crichton (RIP)

In quick succession in the early 1990s, Michael Crichton's novel Disclosure was No 1 on the US bestseller charts; the film Jurassic Park, based on another of his novels and on whose screenplay he worked uncredited, was America's top-grossing film; and the television series ER, which he created, was the best-rated programme on US television. This remarkable hat-trick emphasises the ability that Crichton, who has died aged 66 of cancer, possessed to catch the interests of the mass-market audience with fiction that otherwise might be consigned to genre ghettos.

And catch it he did, selling more than 150m books worldwide, and seeing many of his works made into hit films. This was all the more surprising because his speciality, the "techno-thriller" strand of science fiction, was remarkably dystopian, generally dealing with the unexpected consequences of technology or misunderstood science gone out of control, and could usually be read as warnings about putting too much faith in progress. "He was the greatest at blending science with big technical concepts," said the Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg, a long-time friend.

Crichton was unusual too in the way in which he moved from writing novels to directing films at a very early stage in his career. His utilitarian writing style, primarily plot-driven, made his books naturals for screen adaptation, but many authors' writing makes the transition, without the authors themselves succeeding in screenwriting, much less directing, feature films.

He also achieved notoriety with his 2004 novel State of Fear, which argued that attribution of global warming to human activity was speculation, not fact. In his novel, a group of scientists are creating natural disasters themselves, and blaming them on global warming. Crichton's book was hailed by President George W Bush, not the best endorsement of its science, and he came under fire for accepting the American Petroleum Geologists journalism award.

Crichton launched his own assault on journalists, pointing out that although readers inevitably find newspaper errors in subjects with which they are familiar, they paradoxically nevertheless believe newspaper accounts of all other subjects.

Tall, handsome and successful, he had his own dystopian side. His notorious social detachment stemmed, he said, from self-consciousness about his height. At his peak, he was earning tens of millions of dollars per year, but he rarely slowed down his pace of work, once claiming to have as many as 30 ideas for books "buzzing around in my brain" at any time. His private life suffered; four of his five marriages ended in divorce; the settlement in his fourth divorce, from the actress Anne Marie Martin, cost him an estimated $100m. "It's like living with a body and Michael is somewhere else," she claimed.

He may have inherited his ferocious drive from his father, a journalist and editor of Advertising Age magazine. Crichton was born in Chicago, but grew up in the Long Island town of Roslyn, a New York suburb. His father was demanding, and in his 1988 memoir Travels he called him "a first-rate son of a bitch".

Crichton began his writing career producing school assignments for his classmates; at Harvard he switched his major from English to anthropology after he fooled a professor he believed was grading him unfairly, by submitting under his own name an essay by George Orwell, to which the professor awarded a low B. He graduated with highest honours in 1964 and, after teaching for a year on a fellowship at Cambridge University, studied at Harvard medical school, Massachusetts, gaining his MD in 1969. He supported himself by writing novels; between 1966 and 1970, he published seven thrillers under the pen-name John Lange, chosen because he stood six foot nine, and Lange means "long" in German. While studying, he could still turn out 10,000 words a day. He was so busy that he needed a different pseudonym - Jeffrey Hudson (a famous English dwarf in the 17th century) - for A Case of Need, a medical thriller which won the Edgar award as best novel from the Mystery Writers of America.

In 1969, under his own name, he published The Andromeda Strain, about a mutating virus from space, which influenced a generation of sf novels and films. Robert Wise directed the hugely successful film adaptation in 1971. It was produced by Universal studios; when Crichton arrived to visit the set, he was given a tour by Spielberg, himself on his first day of work as a young contract director.

More books, and films, followed quickly. Five Patients (1970) was a non-fiction work account of cases at Massachusetts General hospital. Dealing (1970), written with his younger brother Douglas, under the name Michael Douglas, was filmed in 1972, the same year Crichton published Terminal Man, filmed by Mike Hodges in 1974, and his final novel as John Lange, Binary.

By now Crichton was a hot property, and Binary's very commercial combination of technology feeding the zeitgeist of violent protest (a businessman attempts to steal nerve gas and assassinate the president led to his chance to direct the book's TV-movie adaptation. In 1973, he wrote the screenplay for Extreme Close-Up, and directed Westworld, about a robot-populated theme park which goes out of control. It was the first film to make use of computer generated graphics (CGI); Crichton would go on to write manuals for computer programming, and an early computer game, Amazon (1984), which was produced by John Wells, with whom he would work on ER.

He returned to books with two historical novels, The Great Train Robbery (1975), based on the 1855 theft of gold from a London to Folkestone train, and, the following year, Eaters of the Dead, one of his best and most overlooked books. Presented as a lost manuscript written by an Islamic envoy kidnapped by Vikings in 932, it was a retelling of the Beowulf story, which he originally wrote on a bet that he could make that myth relevant to a modern audience. He also published a 1977 monograph on the artist Jasper Johns.

For the next decade he bounced between decreasingly successful films and rather routine novels. He directed a 1978 adaptation of Coma, based on a very Crichtonesque medical thriller by Robin Cook, and the following year adapted his own Great Train Robbery, starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland, which won his second Edgar, for best screenplay. But his directorial style was, if anything, more utilitarian than his writing.

His next novel, Congo (1980), was an updating of the classic "lost world" novels by the likes of Conan Doyle, whom he often cited as a major influence, and H Rider Haggard. He directed two more science-fiction films, Looker (1981), and Runaway (1984), neither of which made an impact. His novel Sphere (1987) revisited The Andromeda Strain's theme of an unstoppable alien force visited on earth, and two years later he directed his last film, the Burt Reynolds thriller Physical Evidence (1989).

But it was a repeat of Westworld's concept of a theme-park whose science has gone out of control - the 1990 novel Jurassic Park - that became his hugest success. Crichton had written a screenplay based on life in an emergency ward, which Spielberg had been set to direct, but put it aside when Crichton told him his story of "dinosaurs and DNA". The film became a blockbuster, costing $95m and grossing nearly $1bn. The movie's success also resulted in a newly discovered dinosaur fossil being named Crichtonsaurus Bohlini after him. In 1995, he was also awarded an Oscar, for developing a programme to track schedules and budgets for computerised film-making.

Meanwhile, the discarded script became the TV series ER, which debuted in 1994 and is currently in its 15th, and final, season. It won Crichton an Emmy, and launched George Clooney to stardom.

Crichton's novels seemed to become way-stations between sophisticated "issues" and their blockbuster films. Rising Sun (1992), concerned with the Japanese threat to American business, was filmed by Phil Kaufman, again with Connery. Disclosure (1994) dealt with sexual harrassment; Barry Levinson directed the film, with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, the same year, and went on to adapt Sphere, with Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone, in 1998. In 1995 he updated Conan Doyle's Lost World as a sequel to Jurassic Park, and Spielberg directed the film in 1997. Airframe (1996) was a slick air-crash thriller, whose resolution was more unusual, and complex, than most of his books; as a consequence, it has not been filmed. He and Martin, to whom he was still married, co-wrote the screenplay for the 1996 film Twister, and directed, uncredited, reshoots for The 13th Warrior, John McTiernan's 1999 film of Eaters of the Dead.

Crichton's last four novels were all science fiction. Timeline (1999) was filmed by Richard Donner. Prey (2002) drew heavily on concepts from earlier sf writers, particularly Stanislaw Lem. After New Republic critic Michael Croley panned State of Fear, Crichton's last novel, Next (2006), which deals with genetic research and controlling DNA, featured a child-rapist journalist named Mick Crowley. His harder attitude may have been the result of his narrow avoidance of being hijacked on 9/11, and then being attacked by burglars in his Los Angeles home.

He died in Los Angeles after suffering from cancer for a long time, but very privately. A new novel, originally scheduled for next month, has been postponed. He is survived by his fifth wife, the actor Sherri Alexander, and his daughter by his fourth marriage.


The tiny, obscure alpine principality of Liechtenstein seems to exist as mainly a repository of arcane distinctions:

  • At 160.4 sq. km (62 sq. mi), Liechtenstein is one of the smallest independent countries in the world (#189 out of 194 according to Nationmaster).
  • In Europe, however, it is one of the bigger mini-states; San Marino, Monaco and Vatican City are smaller.
  • But Liechtenstein is the smallest German-speaking country in the world, in population as well as size (there are only about 35,000 Liechtensteiners). It is also the only German-speaking country not to recognise officially any other language next to German (1).
  • It is also the smallest country bordering more than one other country; Liechtenstein is hemmed in by Switzerland to the west, and Austria to the east.
  • The country took its name from the dynasty that ruled it (usually it’s the other way round). The dynasty got its name from somewhere, of course, i.c. faraway Castle Liechtenstein (”bright stone”) at the edge of the Wienerwald, south of Vienna.
  • By disbanding its 80-man strong army in 1868, Liechtenstein may have been the first country in the (modern) world without an organised military force.
  • Prince Franz I (born 1853, ruled 1929-1938) was married to a Viennese noblewoman of Jewish descent - probably the only Jewish crowned head in Europe, an especially poignant position in those especially anti-semitic times. Franz I abdicated in 1938 because he couldn’t bear the thought of the Nazis invading while he was on the throne. As it happened, they respected the principality’s neutrality (although the local Nazi sympathisers agitated against Franz I’s wife).
  • After World War II, Liechtenstein offered asylum to 500 Russian soldiers who fought on the German side - a staggeringly high number, considering the small population had difficulties feeding itself. Argentina eventually agreed to take them in.
  • During the Cold War, all Liechtensteiners were forbidden entry into Czechoslovakia, which had nationalised huge tracts of land formerly held by the Liechtenstein dynasty.
  • Although landlocked, Liechtenstein’s lenient banking regulations have made it such a fiscal paradise that it is often included in the top lists of ‘offshore’ tax havens.
  • In 2003, the ruling prince Hans-Adam threatened to leave the country if he lost a referendum on expanding his powers. He won, making Liechtenstein the only European country in modern history where the monarchy’s power increased. The prince can now veto laws and dismiss governments - making the principality the closest thing present-day Europe has to an absolutist monarchy.

Another distinction is visible only when seeing a map of the borders of Liechtenstein’s Gemeinden (communes) such as this one. Liechtenstein as a whole has an unremarkable teardrop shape, but the subnational entities are fragmented to such an extent that, internally, Liechtenstein looks like a crazy patchwork quilt. It must be the most exclave-rich country in the world, at least relative to the rather small number of subnational entities.

I use the word ‘exclave’ instead of the more currently used term ‘enclave’. The meanings of these terms overlap, but only partially (2). And the distinction is particularly clear in these cases.

While many of these Liechtensteinian fragments might be considered exclaves, most also border more than one other territory, and consequently only three can be considered enclaves (which are totally surrounded by only one other territory): the communes of Schaan and Planken each contain an enclave of each other within their main territory (each enclave in this case naturally also being an exclave), Schaan also containing an enclave of Vaduz (which, from the point of view of Vaduz, is an exclave, of course).

  • Vaduz, the capital of the country, is the most fragmented of Liechtenstein’s 11 communes. It consists of 6 distinct territorial units, one of which is a true enclave within the commune of Schaan. The name Vaduz might derive from aquaeductus (’aqueduct’) or from vallis thiudisk (’valley of the [German] people’), its either/or origin reflecting that, linguistically, Liechtenstein was in a contact zone between romance and germanic cultures.
  • the commune of Balzers consists of three incontiguous areas.
  • Triesenberg, consisting of two separate parts, is the largest commune of the principality.
  • Schaan, the most populous commune, is all over the place, with three large chunks of territory in the north, centre and south of the principality - plus two exclaves in Planken.
  • Planken, which counts less than 400 inhabitants, is the least populous of Liechtenstein’s communes. It consists of two larger bits of territory, and two smaller exclaves, one of which is also an enclave in Schaan.
  • Eschen, in the north, is made up of a large, medium and small portion. Its neighbour Gamprin is made up of two parts.
  • The communes of Ruggell, Schellenberg, Mauren and Triesen consist of (only) one part each.

General Hok Lundy (RIP)

Cambodia's notorious and brutal police chief, he was widely feared

General Hok Lundy, Cambodia's notorious police chief and close ally of prime minister Hun Sen, has died at the age of 58 in a helicopter crash. He was travelling from the capital, Phnom Penh, to the south-eastern province of Svay Rieng. None of the helicopter's other occupants - General Sok Saem, deputy commander of the Cambodian infantry, the pilot and co-pilot - survived the crash.

A four-star general and member of the politburo of the ruling CPP (Cambodian People's party), Hok Lundy was a man who inspired fear not only in opposition ranks, but also in members of his own party. Born in Svay Rieng, he first rose to prominence as the governor of Phnom Penh in 1990. Four years later, Hun Sen appointed him national police chief, reporting directly to the prime minister. He never took orders from Sar Kheng, his nominal boss as minister for the interior.

In the aftermath of a bloody power struggle in 1997 between partners in the coalition government, many royalist generals were captured and killed in cold blood. Hok Lundy played a key part in these mopping-up operations and extrajudicial executions. A Funcinpec (royalist) party minister, Ho Sok, was detained at the interior ministry and shot dead by a police unit there. It is known that Sar Kheng had ordered the police to ensure Ho Sok's safety, but Hok Lundy chose to handle things his own way, according to high-ranking sources close to the minister.

This was later confirmed by Heng Pov, the former Phnom Penh police chief, after he fell out with Hok Lundy. While he was on the run from criminal charges stacked against him, Heng Pov accused Cambodia's police supremo and security chief not only of murdering Ho Sok, but also the union leader Chea Vichea and film star Piseth Pilika, in revelations to the French magazine L'Express.

Diplomats in Phnom Penh routinely referred to Hok Lundy as a "thug". This reputation was further enhanced by his role in the burning of the Thai embassy in January 2003. The police chief, who was normally no fan of demonstrators, had permitted anti-Thai protestors to run riot, attacking Thai-owned properties all over Phnom Penh. In the aftermath of this violence he persuaded the prime minister to sack the capital's popular governor, his arch-rival Chea Sophara, as a scapegoat.

That Hun Sen sided with his police chief was no surprise, as Hok Lundy had already married his daughter off to one of Hun Sen's sons, thus consolidating close family ties among Cambodia's clannish ruling elite.

Lundy was also implicated in drug trafficking, the return of refugees to countries where they faced persecution and human trafficking. Two US Drug Enforcement Agency officials and a former unnamed US ambassador to Cambodia confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the US government was aware of Hok Lundy's involvement in drug trafficking. In February 2006, the US State Department's human trafficking office specifically cited Hok Lundy's alleged involvement in human trafficking as grounds for denying him a visa. That decision was linked to a brothel raid in December 2004, after which Hok Lundy reportedly ordered the release within hours of several traffickers, before an investigation could be conducted.

However, after 9/11 the Cambodian government had become cooperative in the war on terrorism. In March 2006, the month after the refusal of a visa, the FBI nonetheless awarded Hok Lundy a medal for his support for the US global war on terrorism, and the US ambassador to Cambodia, Joseph Mussomeli, praised Lundy's cooperation with the US in drug trafficking and human smuggling. State Department officials confirmed at the time that Hok Lundy had been invited to visit the FBI specifically because of his purported cooperation in counterterrorism. When, in April 2007, the FBI invited him to Washington for such discussions, Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch's Asia director, commented: "Hok Lundy's alleged involvement in political violence and organised crime in Cambodia means that the FBI should be investigating him, not hosting him."

The sudden death of a man who had made many enemies has sparked much speculation in Cambodia that the helicopter crash may not have been an accident, despite reports of bad weather. The helicopter caught fire, and the government has promised an investigation. Many people would have cause to celebrate the death of Cambodia's Mr Untouchable.

A French online agency, K-Set, has reported that Chea Mony, the brother

of the slain trade unionist and presidentof the Free Trade Union of Workers in the Kingdom of Cambodia, has said that the death of the top policeman means that the number of murders of politicians, entertainers and Cambodian reporters will undoubtedly be reduced, but regrets that he was never brought to justice.

God Help US!

Sarah Palin has returned to Alaska after her whirlwind 68-day exposure to America's national political scene, but the controversy over her vice-presidential candidacy shows no sign of abating.

As the state governor stepped off a plane in icy Anchorage on Wednesday, she faced fresh allegations over her behaviour on the campaign trail and renewed attacks on her lack of readiness for the White House. Many of the attacks were from disgruntled aides within John McCain's campaign.

The most piercing allegations concerned Palin's ignorance of foreign affairs - which were depicted to be even more extreme than already thought - and the amount she spent kitting out herself and her family with a TV-friendly wardrobe.

Fox News, a channel that had been generally flattering in its coverage of the "Palin phenomenon", reported that aides were astonished when they learned she was unaware that Africa was not a country but a whole continent. She was also said to be unable to name the countries that belong to the North American Free Trade Agreement: the US, Mexico and Canada.

Unnamed McCain advisers, their ire no longer constrained by campaign discipline, complained that the Alaskan governor had been uncooperative with them. The New York Times reported that the McCain circle was angry about her decision to talk directly to someone she thought was French president Nicolas Sarkozy, but was in fact a Canadian radio DJ playing a prank.

The most colourful new information concerned Palin's spending spree on the campaign trail. Newsweek reported that she ended up spending far more than the $150,000 (£93,000) that was already known about, with up to $40,000 being lavished on her husband, Todd.

A wealthy donor who had offered to pay was shocked, Newsweek said, when he got the bill from the high-end retailers Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. One McCain aide characterised the episode to the magazine as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast".

Palin refused to address the accusations. She said: "If they're an unnamed source, that says it all. I won't comment on anyone's gossip based on anonymous sources. That's kind of a small, of a bitter type of person who anonymously would charge that I didn't know an answer to a question. So until I know who's talking about it, I won't have a comment on a false allegation."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008



Thomas Hood, 1844

as heard in The Art Of Noise's "Opus 4"

No sun - no moon!

No morn - no noon -

No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,

No comfortable feel in any member -

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,

No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The 44th US President

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Lost In Translation

E-mail error ends up on road sign

When officials asked for the Welsh translation of a road sign, they thought the reply was what they needed.

Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council said in Welsh: "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated".

So that was what went up under the English version which barred lorries from a road near a supermarket.

"When they're proofing signs, they should really use someone who speaks Welsh," said journalist Dylan Iorwerth.

It's good to see people trying to translate but they should really ask for expert help
Dylan Iorwerth, Golwg magazine

Swansea Council became lost in translation when it was looking to halt heavy goods vehicles using a road near an Asda store in the Morriston area

All official road signs in Wales are bilingual, so the local authority e-mailed its in-house translation service for the Welsh version of: "No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only".

The reply duly came back and officials set the wheels in motion to create the large sign in both languages.

The notice went up and all seemed well - until Welsh speakers began pointing out the embarrassing error.

Welsh-language magazine Golwg was promptly sent photographs of the offending sign by a number of its readers.

Managing editor Mr Iorwerth said: "We've been running a series of these pictures over the past months.

"They're circulating among Welsh speakers because, unfortunately, it's all too common that things are not just badly translated, but are put together by people who have no idea about the language.

"It's good to see people trying to translate, but they should really ask for expert help.

"Everything these days seems to be written first in English and then translated.

"Ideally, they should be written separately in both languages."

A council spokeswoman said: "Our attention was drawn to the mistranslation of a sign at the junction of Clase Road and Pant-y-Blawd Road.

Other confusing signs

"We took it down as soon as we were made aware of it and a correct sign will be re-instated as soon as possible."

The blunder is not the only time Welsh has been translated incorrectly or put in the wrong place:

• Cyclists between Cardiff and Penarth in 2006 were left confused by a bilingual road sign telling them they had problems with an "inflamed bladder".

• In the same year, a sign for pedestrians in Cardiff reading 'Look Right' in English read 'Look Left' in Welsh.

• In 2006, a shared-faith school in Wrexham removed a sign which translated the Welsh for staff as "wooden stave".

• Football fans at a FA Cup tie between Oldham and Chasetown - two English teams - in 2005 were left scratching their heads after a Welsh-language hoarding was put up along the pitch. It should have gone to a match in Merthyr Tydfil.

• People living near an Aberdeenshire building site in 2006 were mystified when a sign apologising for the inconvenience was written in Welsh as well as English.

The World´s Megacities

India Over The Moon

Indian pride is rising almost as fast as the Chandrayaan-1 Moon rocket that yesterday blasted off from southern India to begin two years of lunar studies and establish India's place in the forefront of the Asian space race. The launch was greeted with patriotic enthusiasm across the country, as scientists hailed the unmanned mission as a landmark for the nation's high-technology industries, and politicians spoke of India's emerging global importance.

Few questioned the cost, despite the vast sums still needed to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty. Even the poor expressed joy at an achievement remarkable for a country that was regularly swept by famine only 60 years ago. The space operation is ostensibly about mapping the Moon's surface, looking for helium-3 and broadening India's commercial space programme. In fact, as politicians and the public understand, it is more about responding to China's first space walk last month and the unmanned probes launched by both China and Japan last year.

This has been a good week for India. Two days ago a crossing point over the line of control in Kashmir was opened for the first time to allow Indian and Pakistani lorries to carry fruit, vegetables and other exports between the two halves of the divided state that have been shut off from each other for six decades. The symbolic traffic over the Peace Bridge was agreed during talks between the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistani President at the United Nations. It is intended to demonstrate to both countries that, despite the political turbulence in Pakistan and Indian accusations that Pakistan was responsible for the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the rapprochement between the two countries is still on track. Reopening of the trade route has been a main demand of Kashmiri separatists. It will do much to calm renewed tensions in Indian Kashmir before elections there later in the year.

Back on Earth, another Indian has just won the Man Booker Prize. Aravind Adiga, a 33-year-old Oxford-educated writer, beat another Indian shortlisted contender, Amitav Ghosh, and is the fourth Indian-born writer to win the prize since it was established in 1969. But his novel, The White Tiger, is itself a play on the competition between India and China, and takes a bitter look at the hollowness behind the boasts of “India shining” - a crass slogan that probably cost the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party the last general election. The space launch may deflect attention temporarily from the problems that Adiga chronicles, but the gap between India's vaunted democracy and the realities of daily life are pitilessly exposed, as the Government itself has found. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, won a coup in securing his cherished nuclear deal with Washington, but otherwise little has gone his way: the economy has slowed, the quarrels within his coalition have sharpened and reformers are disappointed that changes they see as essential to further development have stalled.

Nevertheless, the Moon shot underlines a point also made by the global downturn: that India, which surely deserves a permanent Security Council seat, is a power not to be ignored. For millions of Indians that point was joyously made by India's one really important achievement: victory over Australia in the second Test, with the bonus of Sachin Tendulkar racking up more runs than anyone else in Test match history.

Pat Kavanagh

Literary agent | Died in 2008

Enigmatic figure of the literary world feared by publishers and valued by authors

Pat Kavanagh, who died from a brain tumour on 20 October, 2008, aged 68, was a literary agent with a stellar list of clients, an exemplary track record and a reputation as one of the leading figures in British publishing.

During her career she represented the likes of Ruth Rendell, Joanna Trollope, Wendy Cope, John Irving, Andrew Motion and Clive James. She was married to another client, Julian Barnes, and was formerly Martin Amis' agent until a well-publicised fall-out in the mid-1990s.

She was known for a straightforward but aloof manner, which, combined with her disarming good looks and a fierce intelligence, helped her become one of the industry's most fearsome negotiators.

"Pat could make publishers shake in their handmade shoes," said Clive James. "Some of the awe she inspired at all levels of the business may have come from the fact that she had a self-assured hauteur and yet was hard to place."

Born to British parents in 1940 in Durban she was educated in South Africa, then embarked on a brief acting career that took her to London. She abandoned the stage for a job with an advertising firm before being hired by the famous agent and producer A D Peters.

Writers regarded her as a valuable advocate and frequently a personal friend, but she was also known as an honest judge of work and a reliable guide through the murky world of publishers' lunches, book launches and meetings with the press. She won her clients many a great deal, but was careful to ensure that they never squandered their advances or indulged in frivolous projects.

She became the subject of a book herself in Jeanette Winterson's 1992 novel Written on the Body, a fictionalised account of an affair she had had with the author.

Novelist Robert Harris, on Ms Kavanagh's books for 27 years, paid tribute to her: "She was fantastically efficient and just the person you wanted to have represent you. There was no one quite like her really. And she was exotic, like a bird of paradise. She was unflappable and she didn't let you get above yourself."

Another client, Blake Morrison, said: "She had the values of an earlier generation. She was old school but she never seemed jaded. We all thought she would always be there, that she would never retire."

Biographer and critic Hermione Lee said: "Pat Kavanagh was my friend and agent and to say the word 'was' in speaking of her is very hard for me to do. I loved and admired her refusal ever to be false or gushing. She was a distinguished human being and the world is a lesser place without her."

Franco and His Generals

Winston Churchill authorised millions of dollars in bribes to stop General Franco from entering the Second World War on the side of Germany, a new book claims.

The British wartime leader persuaded Juan March, a Spanish banker, to act as a secret agent, organising payments of millions of dollars to the generals. In return the generals persuaded Franco not to side with Hitler.

The plot was revealed by the historian Pere Ferrer in Juan March: The Most Mysterious Man in the World, after researching papers in British and US archives.

In the summer of 1940 Churchill was convinced that Spain would enter the war on the side of Hitler after receiving reports that Franco and the Germans were planning to invade Gibraltar. Ferrer has claimed that a British officer, Alan Hillgarth, came up with a plan to bribe the generals, believing that Franco's high command was corrupt and, because they were not paid much, would be open to bribery.

A letter from Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Solborg, a US agent in Portugal, to J. Donovan, the head of strategic services, read: “The Spaniard selected to be the main internal instrument to acquire the political favours of these generals was the rich financier Juan March.”

March, who earned a fortune during the First World War dealing in contraband tobacco, seemed an unlikely ally because during the Spanish Civil War he sided with Franco.

Ferrer said that questions remained as to whether March was a double agent. He claimed that documents suggested March may have stayed in the pay of the Germans while working for the British. When he was approached by the British in 1940, however, March accepted the role. He approached 30 generals who had fought in the Spanish Civil War. Though their sympathies had been with the Nazis they switched sides.

The $10 million bribe money was deposited in a bank account in New York in 1940 but the plot nearly fell apart a year later when the US Treasury thought that March was using the money to support Hitler.

The British Ambassador in Washington convinced President Roosevelt that British military interests depended on the account being unfrozen. The Americans relented and in 1942 alone the generals received between $3 million and $5 million.

The book said that some generals were not simply bought off by bribes - many loathed Franco. In a reference to Franco, General Alfredo Kindelan wrote in his memoirs: “You could sense vertigo in him above all else because, like climbers who go higher than they are able, he felt dizzy from having reached such heights with limited abilities.”

After the Second World War March returned to the sedate life of finance, dying in 1962 aged 82.

Franco and Hitler

General Franco’s rise to power, leading the Nationalist armies to victory against the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War, was supported by Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy during the 1930s

Franco’s only meeting with Hitler took place in October 1940 in Hendaia, Basque Country. Hitler refused to offer Franco French colonial possessions in return for Spain’s support in the war. After their meeting, Hitler remarked that he would “as soon have three or four teeth pulled out” as barter with Franco again

Franco did allow Hitler to use Spanish naval bases during the Second World War. German U-boats were resupplied at its ports and Italian bombers refuelled at its airfields, while Spain helped to build observation posts around Gibraltar for German spies

Spain declared complete neutrality in 1943, allowing Franco, right, to retain power until 1975, when he died in his bed.