Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Eureka Moments

Major breakthroughs of the decade


In 2003, scientists unveiled the most detailed map of the cosmic microwave background – the light emitted by the universe moments after the big bang. It reveals that only 4% of the universe is ordinary matter. A quarter is dark matter. The rest is mysterious dark energy that drives the expansion of the universe.


In 2004, South Korean researchers claimed to have cloned a human embryo. But the research, led by Woo Suk Huang, became a scandal when it emerged the results were fabricated.


The international space station welcomed its first inhabitants, while missions to the moon and Mars both detected frozen water. Planet hunters spotted hundreds of worlds beyond our solar system, including some that may be habitable.


Work began on the international thermonuclear experimental reactor (Iter) in Cadarache, France. The project aims to generate cheap and plentiful power through nuclear fusion.


Scientists find evidence that schizophrenia, dyslexia and Tourette syndrome are caused by faulty wiring in the brain. Other research shed light on how the brain stores memories.

Science fiction

Invisibility cloaks came a step closer in 2006 when researchers developed materials that can bend light around objects and shield them from view.


The European Nuclear Research Organisation near Geneva started up the Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful particle accelerator. Discoveries at the laboratory will decide the direction of physics for the next two decades.

Human origins

The remains of Ardi, a 4.4m-year old female and the oldest putative human ancestor, left, were unearthed in Ethiopia. Short for Ardipithecus ramidus, the skeleton dates back to the dawn of humanity. In 2003, the remains of a diminutive and hitherto unknown species of human were unearthed on the Indonesian island of Flores. The discovery of Homo floresiensis, or "hobbit", is regarded as the most important anthropological find in 50 years. Adults of the species stood just 1m tall and lived as recently as 13,000 years ago.


In 2006, the reclusive Russian genius Grigori Perelman solved the Poincaré conjecture, which deals with abstract shapes in 3D space, more than 100 years after it was first proposed.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Raids in Kurdistan

Turkish anti-PKK op nets dozens

Turkish police have detained more than 30 people, including several mayors of Kurdish-majority towns, in an operation against alleged Kurdish separatists.

The raids, conducted in 11 provinces, targeted two outlawed organisations - the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Democratic Society Party (DTP).

The DTP was banned by Turkey's highest court two weeks ago. It was accused of links with PKK militants.

The PKK has been fighting for 25 years to create a separate Kurdish homeland.

The ban on the DTP sparked protests across south-east Turkey and was opposed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had initiated a programme to improve Kurdish rights.

The DTP was the only Kurdish party represented in parliament. It was the latest of 10 pro-Kurdish parties to be closed down by the Turkish authorities.

The EU, which Turkey hopes to join, has expressed concern at the ruling.

Some 40,000 people have died since the PKK launched its armed campaign in the mainly Kurdish south-east. It is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and the US.

Kurds make up about 20% of Turkey's population of more than 70 million.

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul says prosecutors are closing down the already limited opportunities for dialogue between the state and its largest minority.

Thursday's operation was the fifth this year. Fifty-two Kurdish activists are still being held after similar raids eight months ago - and all have been charged with membership of the PKK.

The dissolution of the DTP left the government without a negotiating partner for its peace plan, our correspondent says.

The party's MPs have now decided to retain their seats in parliament - but most of them have similar charges hanging over them. Only parliamentary immunity has protected them from arrest, Jonathan Head reports.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Paul Samuelson (RIP)

Paul Samuelson, who died yesterday, aged 94, was probably the most influential American economist of the 20th century. Certainly, no thinker did more to turn economics from a scattered selection of ideas into a social science.

Paul Samuelson

What makes economies grow? When and why do companies choose to invest? Does international trade cost jobs? There weren't many big questions in economics that Samuelson didn't lend his brain to. He once boasted: "My finger has been in every pie." When they started a Nobel Prize for economics in 1969, they gave the second award to him.

As his friend Paul Krugman has commented:

"[M]ost economists would love to have written even one seminal paper - a paper that fundamentally changes the way people think about some issue. Samuelson wrote dozens: from international trade to finance to growth theory to speculation to well, just about everything, underlying much of what we know is a key Samuelson paper that set the agenda for generations of scholars."

Samuelson did much to bring maths into the subject - in The Foundations of Economic Analysis he showed his fellow economists how equations could help them predict how households and businesses would behave. Critics now would say the mathematical turn took the subject away from the real world - eventually giving economists too much faith in abstract models, like the complex equations for estimating risk which have lately got the financial markets into so much trouble.

But if there's a link between Samuelson and our current troubles - and frankly I think it's a bit mean to draw one - it's a link that goes to the core of all of modern economics. For, whatever economics is today, for good and bad, it is, in no small part thanks to him.

His most famous student was a recently elected John F Kennedy, to whom he gave his first economics class on a beach near the Kennedy compound in New England in 1960.

With his seminal textbook - Economics - Samuelson brought the ideas of John Maynard Keynes to generations of students around the world.

As I discussed in my recent Analysis programme, ( The Economist's New Clothes ), some of Keynes insights - especially about the nature of uncertainty - got lost in Samuelson's effort to incorporate Keynes into the mainstream. But had it not been for Samuelson, Keynes might not have found his way into the standard textbooks at all.

Samuelson was lucky to have come to the subject when he did - when modern economics was just beginning. It would be all but impossible for one individual to leave such a mark today. "I don't care who writes a nation's laws - or crafts its advanced treatises" - he once said. "if I can write its economics textbooks".

by Stephanie Flanders

Wanted (in Britain)

Kurdistan in Europe

New roadblocks spring up to obstruct peace with Turkey’s Kurds

SOON after Turgut Ozal, a former Turkish president, spoke in 1993 of an amnesty for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), 33 Turkish soldiers were killed by PKK rebels in an ambush. His hopes for lasting peace went up in smoke. There was a sense of déjà vu on December 10th when the PKK claimed responsibility for the deaths of seven soldiers in Tokat, a Turkish nationalist stronghold in the north-east. The attack came soon after bold reforms by the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party to improve the lot of the country’s 14m-odd Kurds and perhaps end the PKK’s 25-year insurgency.

Kurdish and Turkish nationalists alike promptly declared the government’s so-called Kurdish overture dead. Clashes between Turks and Kurds intensified when the constitutional court voted unanimously on December 11th to ban the biggest Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party (DTP), on the grounds that it had become “a focal point for terrorism”. Two DTP parliamentarians, including its co-chairman Ahmet Turk, were stripped of their seats and 37 party officials were banned. Some 19 other DTP deputies said they were pulling out of parliament with the aim of regrouping under a new label.

On December 15th two Kurds died in Bulanik, in the south-east, after a shopkeeper fired on protesters. Fears of ethnic conflict are growing. Might this be part of a plot hatched by rogue members of the security forces (and the PKK) to weaken the AK government? This is being claimed as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, ponders his next move.

Mr Erdogan’s overtures—easing restrictions on the Kurdish language, restoring Kurdish names to Kurdish villages, and reintegrating PKK fighters untainted by violence—have spooked the terrorists, who thrive on state repression. Nobody more so than Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned PKK leader, who ignited the protests in early December when he claimed he had been moved to a smaller cell. “I can hardly breathe,” he said, though it emerged that his quarters had barely shrunk. More reforms mean less support for the PKK. It seems that Mr Ocalan does not like being sidelined—and he still commands the allegiance of millions of Kurds.

Now he has decided to take a bloody gamble by unleashing the PKK once again. He may want to blackmail the government into direct, public negotiations. He also wants to be moved from solitary confinement into house arrest. Neither demand is likely to get very far. As ever, ordinary Kurds will pay the price as support for the AK’s Kurdish reforms fizzles out. Banning the DTP has reinforced the belief of many Kurds that they can get change only through bullets, not the ballot box. By walking out of parliament, the DTP has cemented this belief. Murat Karayilan, a PKK commander in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, has exhorted the Kurds to “flow to the mountains.” He says recruitment is up.

What should Mr Erdogan do? Pressing ahead could mean losing votes to nationalists. AK has already frozen its plans to ease penalties for Kurdish youths accused of “terror crimes” (usually chanting PKK slogans or hurling stones at the police). Yet Mr Erdogan could call Mr Ocalan’s bluff and pursue Kurdish reforms with greater vigour. The AK might lose a few votes, but Turkey could still win the peace.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Catalonia in Europe

Catalonia votes on independence

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Catalonia

This weekend, 700,000 people in Catalonia are eligible to vote in the region's first ever referendum on independence from Spain.

Organised by activists and volunteers, the vote is not officially binding but it is taking place at a tense time in relations with Madrid.

Supporters hope it is the first step towards a formal ballot for a separate state.

Deep in the nationalist heartland of Catalonia, campaigners have been drumming up support for the vote.

In the medieval town of Vic, hundreds of residents have already cast an early ballot at a tent in a corner of the main square.

Many say the autonomy Catalonia already has is not enough, and they are voting "Yes" to independence.

"More and more people think we have no room in the Spanish house, so we need a house of our own," organiser Alfons Lopez Tema says.

"[The Spanish] don't want us, they don't love us, they don't give us what we want. So the best thing is to vote and decide."


Almost 170 Catalan towns and villages are holding ballots, staffed by thousands of volunteers.

Vic has traditionally favoured independence but the vote will be a first indication of whether views here are spreading.

The referendum has been the topic of daily debate on local radio.

Speaking Catalan on air was forbidden as subversive during General Franco's dictatorship.

Today, it is an official language, used in schools and government, and Catalonia itself has broad autonomy.

But three years ago, people across Catalonia voted for more. They approved a new statute - the law that sets out the relationship between Catalonia and the Spanish state - which defined this part of eastern Spain as a distinct nation.

It gave more jurisdiction to the local authorities and what many believe is a fairer share of the revenue collected.

For the moderate-minded majority of Catalans, that was enough.

The law was approved in a referendum, passed by the Catalan and Spanish parliaments and signed by the king.

People are disillusioned by what's happened
Vic Radio presenter Joan Turro

But Spain's main opposition party is contesting the statute in the Constitutional Court and many Catalans fear key provisions of the law will soon be overturned.

"People are disillusioned by what's happened. They're fed up. That's why so many are involved in organising this vote," Vic Radio presenter Joan Turro explains during a break in the schedule.

"People here in the interior of Catalonia have always wanted independence. We want this vote to show that it's not just us now."

Many people in Catalonia say they feel different from the rest of Spain, with their own distinct language, culture and history.

Sunday's referendum will test how far that feeling translates into actual support for a separate state.

Economic help

But frustrations about the relationship with Madrid are as much about money as identity.

Home to some 7m people, Catalonia is a prosperous place.

The pretty cobbled streets of medieval Vic are lined with boutiques and alluring delicatessens - industry and agriculture are both strong here.

But many complain that too much of that local wealth is drained away subsidising poorer parts of Spain and the return investment from Madrid is minimal.

A key provision of the new statute adjusted the balance but the improved system has not been implemented yet.

One pig farmer told me he believed breaking away from Spain would help the local economy.

"If you add everything up, we support the rest of Spain and they don't support us," he said, though like many people he struggled to name anything specific Catalonia has missed out on.

National identity

The Catalan government agrees that the balance of payments to Madrid was deeply unjust.

But Finance Minister Antoni Castells says that the new statute does correct that, adding more than 2 billion euros to the local budget this year.

He points out that only one in five Catalans usually express support for independence.

Still, he says, the fight over the statute has frustrated many and left "a strong feeling of disappointment".

For the minister, the thing to watch at this weekend's unofficial referendum is the turnout.

"If it's high, that suggests an increased number of people think the relationship between Catalonia and Spain should be reconsidered, that too many things are not going in a good way and that a lot of people think Spain is not respecting our self-government and our national identity," Mr Castells explains.

Catalans are certainly passionate about their identity.

Back in a smoky bar in Vic, most of the young crowd watching a Barcelona football match on TV have draped themselves in yellow and red Catalan flags.

Their songs in Catalan are a mixture of swearing at Spain and their own national anthem. There is a map of Catalonia on the wall, with the rest of Spain blanked out.

Most voters in this town will clearly say "Yes" to independence.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Stopping Climate Change - Free Marketeers Version

Rich and poor countries have to give ground to get a deal in Copenhagen; then they must focus on setting a carbon price

AT A time when they are not short of pressing problems to deal with, the presence of 100-odd world leaders at the two-week meeting that starts in Copenhagen on December 7th to renew the Kyoto protocol on climate change might seem a little self-indulgent. There will be oceans of planet-saving rhetoric, countless photographs of politicians wearing dark suits and serious faces and, if things go according to plan, an agreement to cut emissions to avert a rise in temperature that might anyway have turned out to be marginal and self-correcting.

The Economist
The Economist

It might; and then again it might not. Uncertainty about the consequences of climate change makes it hard to persuade people to spend money on it, for where the damage is uncertain, so are the benefits of averting it. Yet uncertainty is also why mankind needs to take the problem seriously. If we were sure that the temperature would rise by 2-3ºC, then we could choose to live with that. But we do not know how far the rise might go. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the body set up by the UN to establish a scientific consensus on the subject, puts the range of possible increases by the end of this century at 1.1-6.4ºC. At the bottom end of the range, the difference would be barely noticeable. At the top end of the range—well, guesses about what the world would look like then read rather like science fiction.

Although the benefits of averting that sort of catastrophe are incalculably large, the costs of doing so should not be enormous—as little as 1% of global output, if policy is well designed (see our special report). This newspaper reckons that the world should fork out, rather as householders spend similar proportions of their income on insuring their homes against disaster.

Agreeing that the problem is worth tackling is, however, a small step on the way to doing so. Since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which spawned the Kyoto protocol, was signed in 1992, global carbon-dioxide emissions have risen by a third. The problem is not a lack of low-carbon technologies. Electricity can be generated by nuclear fission, hydropower, biomass, wind and solar energy; and cars and lorries can run on electricity or biofuels. Nor is the problem an economic one. A percentage point of global economic output is affordable for a worthwhile project. Saving the banks has cost around 5% of global output.

So the problem is both simpler and cheaper to fix than most people think. But mankind has to agree on how to share out the costs, both between and within countries. That splits into two challenges. The first is to get an international deal, which is what world leaders are trying to do at Copenhagen. The second is to implement that deal at a national level, with better policies than those currently in place, including a credible carbon price. Otherwise the cost will be far more than that 1%.

The prospects for Copenhagen look better than those for Kyoto did. Australia, which initially walked away from Kyoto, has now ratified it (though its government may choose to hold an election on the issue—see article). America’s emissions-cutting bill is stuck in the Senate, and may never emerge, but Barack Obama is keen to push on. Some middle-income countries, such as Brazil and Mexico, have announced targets for cutting emissions; China has announced one for cutting the carbon-intensity of its economy.

The arguments at Copenhagen will focus on two issues: emissions cuts and money. Developed countries are required to produce targets for cutting their emissions by 2020. On the basis of the IPCC’s figures, their emissions need to drop by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 if the world is to limit the rise in temperature to 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. The offers on the table add up to around 15% compared with 1990 levels by 2020. America, the main laggard, is offering around 4%.

Developing countries are required to come up with “actions” to limit emissions. China, now the world’s biggest emitter, and so the country in the spotlight, has committed itself to cut the carbon-intensity of its economy by 40-45% by 2020. America is dissatisfied with that, because that’s pretty much where China would get to on the basis of its existing policies.

Emerging countries want governments in the rich world to pay huge sums from their coffers for adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change. China has mentioned $400 billion a year. The EU reckons €100 billion ($150 billion) a year is more like it—some from exchequers, most from capital markets.

On emissions cuts, both sides need to give ground. Developing countries are right that America’s offer is unimpressive compared with 1990 figures, but the trajectory from now on is pretty steep. And, given that the crucial legislation is stuck in the Senate, Mr Obama’s decision to put any numbers on the table is a brave one. Senators react badly to the sense that their country is being pushed around by foreigners—as their pre-emptive rejection of the Kyoto protocol showed. A deal on the basis of the numbers America has offered would be better than no deal. Nor is China’s offer derisory. The Americans complain that China’s existing policies would achieve those cuts with no extra effort. True; but China, unlike America, has already introduced significant emissions-cutting measures.

On cash, money should indeed change hands—both for moral reasons (rich countries are largely responsible for the problem so far but poor ones will suffer most) and for practical ones (some poor countries do not have access to the capital they need to invest in mitigation). But developing countries should not be asking for huge government-to-government transfers. Capital markets are better at allocating resources than governments are. Rich-country governments should help money flow from the markets by subsidising the risk of investing in clean energy in poor countries: public money should be used to prompt larger sums of private capital.

If an agreement is reached at Copenhagen, there will be much relief on all sides; but the job will only just have started. The parties to the negotiation decided to put aside the question of whether, and how, to make the deal legally binding pending the passage of America’s emissions-reducing legislation. And an international agreement is only the first step to emissions cuts. National targets have to be implemented through domestic policies which encourage businesses to invest in clean products and processes, and discourage them from investing in carbon-intensive products and processes. This is the second, harder task.

A good policy framework would include some regulation in areas where the market doesn’t work well, such as the energy-efficiency of buildings and appliances. It would include a modicum of subsidy, on research into technologies that are still a long way from being marketable, such as carbon capture and storage. But it would rely largely on by far the most efficient tool in the policymaker’s kit—a carbon price.

A carbon price sends business a price signal to invest in clean stuff not dirty stuff. It doesn’t involve micromanaging business, which regulations do. It doesn’t impose a burden on taxpayers, or require governments to pick winners, which subsidies do. It is, according to an American study, twice as efficient as any other policy.

Economists prefer carbon prices, especially those set by taxes rather than cap-and-trade systems, which are more vulnerable to capture by the polluters they are supposed to penalise. Sadly, though, the views of economists carry little weight. Governments and businesses both tend to like subsidies.

Europe has done best. Its cap-and-trade system has set a carbon price and cut emissions modestly in the sectors it covers. But it relies too heavily on subsidies for renewable energy, and too little on its carbon price. Economists reckon a carbon price of around $40 is needed. Europe’s is around €13. America does not yet have a national carbon price; and its corn-ethanol subsidy, combined with a tariff on cheaper, greener imports, takes the planet’s first prize for the world’s most counterproductive “green” policy. The subsidy-laden bill to establish a cap-and-trade system is a step in the right direction; but, since the carbon price it would set is likely to be around $12, rising to $20 by 2020, not a very large one.

Governments see subsidies as a convenient way of easing in emissions curbs which businesses would otherwise resist. That may be so in the short term. But in the long run they make cutting emissions harder. The notion that dangerous climate change can be averted for a mere 1% of global GDP depends on policy being efficient. If it isn’t, the costs will mount—and so will the chances that the effort will fail.

The leaders gathering in Copenhagen need to come to an agreement, even if it isn’t a very good one. But that will only be the start. The national policies used to implement cuts need to be more efficient than the ones that are so far in place. That requires leadership from the politicians, and support from the voters. The world is, in the end, in their hands.

Edito by The Economist

A Couple Of Books

James Tobin

"I have absolutely nothing in common with those anti-globalisation rebels. Of course I am pleased; but the loudest applause is coming from the wrong side. Look, I am an economist and, like most economists, I support free trade. Furthermore, I am in favour of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation. They've hijacked my name ... The tax on foreign exchange transactions was devised to cushion exchange rate fluctuations. The idea is very simple: at each exchange of a currency into another a small tax would be levied - let's say, 0.1% of the volume of the transaction. This dissuades speculators as many investors invest their money in foreign exchange on a very short-term basis. If this money is suddenly withdrawn, countries have to drastically increase interest rates for their currency to still be attractive. But high interest is often disastrous for a national economy, as the nineties' crises in Mexico, South East Asia and Russia have proven. My tax would return some margin of manoeuvre to issuing banks in small countries and would be a measure of opposition to the dictate of the financial markets."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A New State In India

Picture Of The Day

Monday, December 07, 2009

Editorial by 56 Papers

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June's UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: "We can go into extra time but we can't afford a replay."

At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world's biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of "exported emissions" so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than "old Europe", must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature".

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Dream Festival

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Poem Of The Day

The Corset

by Joanna Grant, December 2009

Roswell, Georgia, 1955

I am the one who knows
What needs to be done, I

Knew from the start that this day
Would come and find me climbing

The ladder to the attic where the brass-bound trunk
With its rivets, its hasps

Its mothballs, its sachets keep away
The yellowing, the stains and the tears

Of long, long wear. When I held it up
She cried. Little fool, as if she

Did not know herself. What she needs
Is bone, pounds of pressure to the inch,

Tight lacing, a knee in the back,
White knuckles on the bedrail.

Girls, I tell her, should only seem soft,
Should only look like they bend.

This is what you will not understand,
I tell this jelly, this fat crybaby girl.

Love, the real kind, is always a squeezing
A choking off all that offends.

Ephemerids: 3rd of Dec

Joseph Conrad was born 152 years ago, today.

Robert Louis Stevenson died 115 years ago, today.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Nein To Minarets

Hi Mate! Dear Sir/Madam...

The complex etiquette of du and Sie in Germany

With all du respect

“AT 2.12 our work was finished. At 2.15 we called each other Horst and Guido. This is the beginning of a great friendship.” That is how Guido Westerwelle, the Free Democratic leader in Germany’s coalition government, broke the news that he and Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union would henceforth address each other by the familiar du rather than the formal Sie. Since Mr Seehofer had called Mr Westerwelle a crybaby just weeks earlier, it was a touching reconciliation. But how much warmth does the intimate du convey?

It used to be so simple. Relatives, friends, children and dogs were du; everyone else was Sie. The offer of du, usually by an older interlocutor, was not made lightly. But this formula has become scrambled during the past 40 years. Germany is not America, where everyone is on first-name terms except in the doctor’s surgery. The rules are now confusing, so that instead of guarding the borders between friendship and acquaintance, Sie and du often now smuggle coded messages across them.

It started with 1968ers who impudently called their professors du. Later generations of students reverted to Sie. But with each other, indeed with everyone of student age, du predominates. Bouncers at Berlin’s clubs are gesiezt but bartenders are geduzt. Shoppers at upmarket KaDeWe are Sie but in shops packed with young Germans even those not so youthful may be called du. Annett Louisan, a pop singer, laments the passing of Sie: “This distance adds a little more/to something that would be a bore/‘What can I do for Sie?’/stimulates wild fantasy.”

In less erotically charged settings Sie holds sway. Banks, law firms and ministries remain bastions of Sie, though egalitarian companies like Sweden’s IKEA have converted to du. It is easier to sack a Sie than a du. Sometimes du can even be dangerous: try it on a policeman and you may end up paying a fine for insulting an officer.

Politics has its own rules. In the Social Democratic Party (SPD) it would be an insult to siezen a “comrade”. Communists in East Germany were du to each other, which gives it a sinister ring to some Ossis. In conservative circles and across party lines du is not yet automatic. Angela Merkel, the Christian Democratic chancellor, never said du to Frank-Walter Steinmeier, her SPD foreign minister, though she apparently already does so to his successor, Mr Westerwelle.

In Mr Seehofer’s case, as the older man, he almost certainly made the first move with Mr Westerwelle. But that has not stopped him repeatedly sniping at the new foreign minister. In this case du seems less a profession of friendship than a screen for hostility.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Europe v USA?

Free Western Sahara


My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Angels & Demons

Thursday, November 19, 2009


It´s estimated that, between 1450 and 1800, around 28m people were abducted in Africa to be sold as slaves mainly in America.

The Atheist Ads

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Napoleon The Corsican

Align Centre

"A throne is only a bench covered in velvet".
Napoleon Bonaparte (a Corsican)

Poem Of The Day: Tin

(the can opener was invented

forty-eight years after the tin can)

When you asked me for a love poem,

(another love poem) my thoughts

were immediately drawn to the early days

of the food canning industry –

all those strangely familiar trade-names from childhood:

Del Monte, Green Giant, Fray Bentos, Heinz.

I thought of Franklin and his poisoned men

drifting quietly northwest by north

towards the scooped shale of their graves

and I thought of the first tin of cling peaches

glowing on a dusty pantry shelf

like yet-to-be-discovered radium –

the very first tin of cling peaches

in the world, and for half a century

my fingers reaching out to it.

by John Glenday

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Happy Day