Sunday, June 28, 2009

Coup D´etat in Honduras...

Back to bad old times...?

English & Welsh- All British?

Woman thrown out of shop for speaking Welsh

They have put up with countless jokes about leeks and have suffered Anne Robinson's constant description of them as irritating. But now it seems the Welsh have something to be truly angry about.

Simply speaking in their native tongue, it seems, can get them into trouble. Rosemary Dean claims that she was kicked out of a gift shop on the Isle of Wight for speaking in Welsh. The shopowner, she says, was offended by the language.

Dean was celebrating her 60th birthday with her sister in Shanklin when she stopped by Grange Gifts to buy a present for her granddaughter. She claimed yesterday that she was was talking in her native tongue to her sister, discussing what to buy, when the owner asked her to speak in English.

The argument that followed led to Dean and her sister being asked to leave the store. But she was determined not to leave it at that, and has reported the incident to the Welsh equality and human rights commission.

She explained: "It was unbelievable. We were just talking in Welsh about the goods in the shop and the woman behind the counter shouted at us to stop.

"There was no warning, she just launched into us. She got really angry and admitted she was discriminating against the Welsh.

"I was not even talking to her and if I was I would have spoken English – it would have been rude otherwise."

Sue Pratley, the shopowner, said: "I made a comment to them that I wished they would speak English but she took issue with that. I do not want to go into detail about what happened. I did not ban them from the shop but I did ask them to leave."

Morale: Can you imagine someone being thrown out of a shop say in the Welsh-speaker area of Snowdonia in North Wales because someone speaks English, with her sister, in the shop? Fascist nonsense they would say, wouldn´t they? same here. (Note of C.T.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson (RIP)

A myth has born.
An homage to the artist "10 x bigger than Elvis".

Gay David?

Farrah Fawcett (RIP)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Complex Iran

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Google Today

Secrets of a nimble giant

Technology companies usually get slower as they get bigger - so why is Google as fast as ever? Co-founder Sergey Brin tells Jemima Kiss how size can make for innovation.

It was Rupert Murdoch who summed up success in the digital age when he said: "Big will not beat small any more - it will be the fast beating the slow." That might be inspiring for startups, but in the process-laden, corporate environment, how can big companies keep their edge by moving quickly and lightly? This has become something of an obsession for Google watchers, who have seen the college research project develop into a multi-billion-dollar phenomenon, stretching from mobile software and blogging to social networking and the ubiquitous search. How does a company with 20,000 staff manage to keep innovating?

Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder, thinks size should help. "It's important for people to realise that you should benefit from the scale - if you're not benefiting then you're doing something wrong, and might as well break up into lots of little things. Instead of having our employees in large buildings, we could have several thousand houses each with a garage - there's nothing stopping us from doing that. But the fact is that as we scale, we should be able to take advantage of that. Look at how many colleagues can you talk about a specific issue with, and how can you take advantage of a piece of infrastructure that the company already has."

Google's infrastructure - and those enviable facilities - are much reported, from the lavish, free canteen and commuter shuttles to the infinity pool at the Mountain View headquarters. The Sydney office has equally fine trimmings, with lava lamps and great views, which may or may not have contributed to the birth of its most recent tech toy, the communications tool Wave. Tapping several sweet spots in web development, Wave aggregates real-time Twitter-esque instant messaging with email, wiki-based collaboration features and social networking.

Wave of confidence

Brin doesn't get his hands dirty with quite as many of Google's tech projects as he'd like, so he says he's "trying to take time to do more of that". But when Lars and Jens Rasmussen came to him with the idea for Wave, it was their track record that gave him confidence in the project. The pair joined Google with the acquisition of their mapping startup Where 2 Technologies in October 2004; that grew into the first incarnation of Google Maps.

"We have been gradually embracing the idea that once you're successful, we give you much more latitude," says Brin. "Somebody who has a success under their belt has really demonstrated accomplishment and in that case we will give them generally more liberty. When they came and proposed this idea they said, 'We want to do something new and revolutionary, but we're not even going to tell you what it is. And we want to go back to Australia, hire a bunch of people and just work on it.' That was a crazy proposal," Brin says, and not one many businesses would have supported. "But, having seen their success with Maps, I felt that it actually was pretty reasonable." It was two years ago that Brin agreed to support the project, and the full version of Wave will be released later this year.

Google was one firm rumoured to be looking at acquiring Twitter, and the two are known to be talking about a possible real-time search collaboration. But despite the real-time elements of Wave, the project was conceived before Twitter had achieved momentum. Brin says the team wasn't aware of Twitter at the beginning, but wanted to create something timeless. "The very first demo that they showed me had, for example, character-by-character typing, which actually made me nostalgic because the old Linux systems all did that with Talk."

Mainstream manifesto

As well as organisational structure and the track record of engineers, Brin talks about intuition around projects that might translate to something more mainstream. "That essentially takes taste, I would call it, and a certain kind of intuition. People may or may not have that kind of intuition - that's why for something like Wave the prior success on a mass consumer scale is what gave me confidence that these guys can do that again in another field."

With that $131bn market value, Google is in an unusually powerful financial and strategic position to give its engineers this kind of latitude. The downturn has barely dented Google's research and development budget, which was reduced to $641m (£392m) for the first quarter of this year from $673m in 2008. Around 36% of its staff work in R&D in total, and the entire 2008 R&D budget was a staggering $2.79bn.

Despite appearing to suffer mildly from the economic climate, Brin has previously said that tough times bring out the best of the Valley because when there's too much money around, "you get a lot of noise mixed in with the real innovation and entrepreneurship".

Companies can traditionally buy in innovative products, as happened with Where 2, or develop in-house. The most well-known Google initiative for encouraging innovation in-house is its "20% time" strategy, which has almost become an innovation cliché. The idea that 80% of an engineer's time is spent on the day job and 20% pursuing a personal project is a mathematician's solution to innovation, Brin says. Some staff secretly admit their 20% time is spent catching up with the day job, but the firm insists the strategy has led to Google News, Gmail and the mighty AdSense system, among other things.

New priorities

What could established media companies learn from Google's approach to innovation? Given the perfect storm of economic meltdown and once-in-a-generation collapse of their business model, innovation may well have slipped off the priority list for old media. Perhaps it is time to rephrase the challenge, says Brin. "Any conversation I have about innovation starts with the ultimate goal - in this case what the reader is trying to accomplish, and what would make that better. Somebody reading up on the news wants to be kept up to date, and quickly." News sites offer some useful content, but there's a lot of duplication. "I don't have a solution for you - I'm just saying that I think posing the problem correctly is perhaps more important than defining the solution. People want to have good, engaging, high-quality information about things going on right now in the world."

In-house, Google uses a project database and an ideas mailing list to manage new projects. While noting ideas on the mailing list is important, it is less significant than the project database, says Brin, which lists weekly updates on who is working on what, their goals, progress and links to documentation. That distinction has to be instilled in the company culture.

"It's important not to overstate the benefits of ideas," he says. "Quite frankly, I know it's kind of a romantic notion that you're just going to have this one brilliant idea and then everything is going to be great. But the fact is that coming up with an idea is the least important part of creating something great. It has to be the right idea and have good taste, but the execution and delivery are what's key."

Samuel Beckett

Friday, June 19, 2009

Geopolitics: Alfred T. Mahan

The notion that geography is power is making an unwelcome comeback in Asia

A CENTURY ago the ideas of an American naval officer, Alfred Thayer Mahan—pal of Teddy Roosevelt, inventor of the term “the Middle East”, advocate of American expansionism in Asia and father of the modern American navy—were much in vogue among military strategists and great-power leaders. Now they are back in fashion again, this time among Asia’s rising powers.

Mahan was a founding father of geopolitics, in particular the notion that geography—poring over maps—should inform foreign policy more than any other consideration. It was the wine-dark sea that interested him most. His book, “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History”, was self-fulfilling, helping sea power shape history, though not for the better. Mahan concluded that command of seaborne commerce was the key to winning wars, and that what was needed was an “overbearing power on the sea which drives the enemy’s flag from it”. Wilhelm, the German Kaiser, loved the book, once saying he was trying to learn it by heart. The naval arms race between Germany and Britain that followed was both catastrophic and avoidable.

The understanding of sea power has since evolved, yet Mahan is now hugely admired in Asia’s two most populous powers. Banyan was recently in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, run by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London think-tank. It seems Britain’s former naval dominance of Asia has been forgiven or forgotten (or perhaps is recalled with admiration), for this forum is where defence types now get together with old friends and future foes. And whenever Banyan prodded a military man from India or China, out leapt a Mahanite.

For China’s strategic planners, securing sea lanes against hostile powers has become perhaps the chief preoccupation. For India’s, it is the growth of China’s presence in its backyard, in and around the Indian Ocean. In both countries Mahan is pressed into service in one planning paper after the next. James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara of the United States Naval War College have followed the uses and abuses of Mahan. He is often selectively quoted, suppressing his equal emphasis on peaceful commerce. There is also this dictum: “Whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. This ocean is the key to the seven seas in the 21st century. The destiny of the world will be decided in these waters.” Both Chinese and Indian papers quote it. But it is a fabrication; Mahan never wrote it.

That Asia should be looking to the sea makes sense. Threats to the two biggest countries historically came from their Central Asian hinterlands. But in terms of the spread of commerce, culture, religion and empire, Asia’s is a largely maritime history, carried on the monsoon winds. Asia’s modern “miracle”—economies plugged into globalised networks of supply and demand—is essentially a littoral story too, even when it falters, as now. A remarkable sight in Singapore is possibly the largest fleet ever gathered: hundreds of supertankers and bulk carriers from around the world, lying idly at anchor.

Despite the global slump, Asian growth continues. More than four-fifths of crude oil bound for China crosses the Indian Ocean before passing through the narrow Malacca Strait. Vast ship-borne imports of iron ore, coal and bauxite make up other raw ingredients for Chinese growth. India imports four-fifths of its oil, mostly from the Persian Gulf, plus liquefied natural gas from Qatar and Indonesia. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Robert Kaplan, an American journalist, whose poring over maps also suggests Mahanite tendencies, describes the whole Indian Ocean seaboard as “a vast web of energy trade”. Global energy needs are expected roughly to double by 2030, with India and China accounting for nearly half of the new growth in demand. Maritime security concerns are inevitable and legitimate.

The danger comes when concerns are amplified or imagined, and hitched to Mahanite prescriptions. The chief threats to peace in Asian waters come from non-state or pariah-state actors: Somali pirates, North Korean nuclear smugglers, water-borne jihadists, drug- and people-traffickers. For Chinese strategists, however, the threats are still America and India. In Singapore Robert Gates, America’s defence secretary, met his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, to reassure them in the face of North Korea’s nuclear bluster. Yet a Chinese general disapproved of the meeting and bluntly told Banyan that America’s alliances in North-East Asia were intended to threaten China.

Other strategists gaze at maps and conjure up evil shapes. For Japanese imperialists (also Mahan fans), the Korean peninsula was a dagger at Japan’s heart; for Chinese strategists it is a threatening “bridgehead”. As for the Indian subcontinent, it is, in this Chinese analysis, “akin to a massive triangle reaching into the heart of the Indian Ocean” or, like Japan and Taiwan, “a giant and never-sinking aircraft-carrier”. India, in turn, espouses its own “Monroe doctrine”, demanding that outsiders keep out of its backyard. So it decries China’s “string of pearls” (roads, pipelines and ports being built in friendly countries around the Indian Ocean) as a provocation. Rivalry is helping drive a build-up of naval arms: three new aircraft-carriers for India; new destroyers, submarines and hints of an aircraft-carrier programme for China.

Mercifully, it is not all preordained to end in a rerun of 1914. The task of economic development concentrates Chinese and Indian minds at home. Smaller Asian navies are expanding as a counterbalance to the big powers, and they have an interest in keeping hands off the choke-point of the Malacca Strait. And America remains the defining force in Asia, able for now to enforce the peace. But, even if history never repeats itself, the persistence of Mahan’s doctrines suggests the past likes to have a try.

Geopolitics: A New African State?

Align Centre

New South Sudan flag and map showing its relative size to overall Sudan.

A Desert Of Salt

Stand in the middle of Salar de Uyuni, the world's greatest salt desert, and the first word that springs to mind is ­nothing. As far as the eye can see, ­nothing. Not a shrub or tree, not a hill or valley, just an endless expanse of white.

This salt flat in Bolivia, the landlocked heart of South America, is a harsh and eerie landscape, perhaps the closest thing nature has to a void. From the Incas to the present day, humanity has made little impression here.

But that may be about to change. Dig down and you find brine – water saturated with salt – rich in deposits of lithium, the lightest metal.

As the invention of the pneumatic tyre turned rubber into a precious commodity in the 19th century, the world's tilt towards greener energy is expected to do the same for lithium in the 21st. For years, tiny amounts have been used in laptops, BlackBerrys and other devices, but now its main use is expected to be in batteries for electric cars, which campaigners, manufacturers and governments say will – or should – replace petrol and diesel vehicles.

For Bolivia, this is good news. It is thought to possess 5.4m tonnes of lithium, half the world's supply. "Lithium is very important for us and the world," Bolivia's mining and metallurgy minister, Luis Alberto Echazú, said. "We hope to extract 1,200 tonnes next year and that's just the beginning. When we're up and running we'll be producing 10, 15 times that."

Four wells have been dug in Salar de Uyuni and a state-run pilot plant is being built near the village of Rio Grande on the fringe of the desert.

But there is a problem. Bolivia's socialist government has a habit of clashing with foreign multinationals in other sectors and has not clinched a deal – and, according to some, may never seal one – with the investors needed to extract significant quantities of lithium.

Foreign companies are afraid to deal with a government that confiscates assets and rips up contracts, said Carlos Alberto López, a former energy minister and consultant with Cambridge Energy Research Associates. "Bolivia's ­ideological face does not square with business and commercial realities. I doubt lithium's potential will be realised in the short or medium term." Pessimists fear a fiasco: carmakers lacking batteries to power electric vehicles and Bolivia, one of the continent's poorest countries, losing an opportunity to develop. President Evo Morales, a former llama herder and trade union leader, has a different fear: that western multinationals will suck the wealth of Salar de Uyuni like capitalist vampires. Morales swept to power in 2005 promising to end 500 years of plunder. Lithium is a test case. "The government of Bolivia will never give away control of this natural resource," he said. He acknowledges, however, that a foreign partner is needed.

The government is talking to France's Bollore Group, South Korea's LG Group and Japan's Sumitomo and Mitsubishi. Bollore has been asked to join the government's scientific commission on lithium, suggesting it has the edge.

The government said it would choose as a partner the company which will help Bolivian industry and not just ­mining. The idea is to process and add value to the lithium after it is extracted, for instance by making batteries or even fleets of electric cars in the impoverished country. The $6m (£3.6m) state-run pilot plant near Rio Grande is the first step. At the end of a dirt track dozens of workers are building barracks to house technicians and miners. Over a generator's hum Marcelo Castro, 48, the site manager, exuded patriotic pride. "We are building every­thing from scratch. This is a historic moment. We are working for ourselves." Rich countries would no longer plunder Bolivia's resources. "There is a new dialectic."

Sceptics say that is delirium. Work at the pilot plant has proved slow, talks with multinationals remain inconclusive and there is no production timetable.

The 2006 nationalisation of the oil and gas industry is a troubling precedent. Foreign investment evaporated, production fell and the state-owned energy company, YPFB, became mired in corruption. "The trustworthiness of the Bolivian state has come into question," said López, "and I don't think investors will expose themselves to being hammered on the head."

Time will tell. With a lithium shortage forecast for 2015, Bolivia may also have the upper hand. "We have had bad experiences in the past," said Paulino Colque, leader of an indigenous workers' group Uyuni. "If there are any investors that want to come, they can come – but as partners, not patrons."

Running on lithium

Lithium ion batteries, first proposed in the 1970s but not commercialised until 20 years later, are the technology most likely in the short-term to make the clean electricity dream viable. Several times lighter than current rechargeable batteries (usually made from nickel compounds) and with a better performance and longer lifetime, ­Li-ion cells have already been developed for laptops and mobile phones. Now they face their biggest challenge. For cars, they will have to be more powerful, more reliable and – a big sticking point – far cheaper. Most experimental electric vehicles today use some form of Li-ion batteries and many experts agree the technology is ready for the first generation of electric vehicles. The other big hurdle is size: the batteries are still too big.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

No Internet...

What Do They Have In Common?

A free coffee to anyone who guesses what those three states have in common...

333rd post... and counting!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Robert Capa

Gerda Taro

A Kiss

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Party & The Paper

A devastating Editorial by The Guardian about Gordon Brown...

There are lots of unwritten rules in UK politics. Just to mention two:

- You don´t become PM without the support of The Sun.
- You don´t become Labour leader without the support of The Guardian.

Gordon Brown: Labour's dilemma

Gordon Brown talks much about his Presbyterian past, but he has a story to tell - about personal morality, a sense of justice and a belief in the power of politics that does, at its best, appeal to the "better angels of our nature", as he put it on his first day in Downing Street. The nation needs someone who answers this description to lead it now, just as Labour needs to find someone who is able to set out a case for progressive government. Political reform can no longer be put aside as an abstract idea, of appeal to dreamers but not to voters who face the harder realities of life. The public is calling furiously for a better system. People want an honest parliament. They want leaders who are prepared to act. They loathe the old system, and many of the people who are part of it.


The tragedy for Mr Brown and his party is that his chance to change it has gone. Although he still purports to be a radical, he has adopted the caution of an establishment man. He cannot lead a revolution against his own way of doing government, and yet a revolution is necessary. Grandstanding on his claims to good intentions, the prime minister demands the right to carry on, even as the cabinet implodes around him. The home secretary, the chancellor, and perhaps even the foreign secretary may go, and Labour faces its worst defeat in its history on Thursday, but the prime minister does not recognise his direct responsibility for the mayhem.

The truth is that there is no vision from him, no plan, no argument for the future and no support. The public see it. His party sees it. The cabinet must see it too, although they are not yet bold enough to say so. The prime minister demands loyalty, but that has become too much to ask of a party, and a country, that was never given the chance to vote for him. Had there been a contest for the leadership in 2007 - and had Mr Brown called a general election - he would probably have won. He decided not to do these things. And he has largely failed since.

Any assessment must recognise the strength of Mr Brown's response to the financial implosion. When action to save the banks was needed, he acted impressively. But flaws in his character that drove his party close to revolt last summer now dominate again. He is not obviously able to lead. He blames others for failures and allows them insufficient credit for successes, as the current dismembering of Alistair Darling's reputation shows. He is only secure in the economic comfort zone he built up as chancellor, and in the company of his closest allies, such as Ed Balls, now being tipped as chancellor. The prime minister shines at the IMF or the G20, but the job involves much more than that.

Great causes win the day when people fight for them. A year of lingering emptiness beckons instead. Parliament is treading water; little is happening beyond the discredited attempt to sell off part of Royal Mail. Parts of government still function: on climate change, for instance, Britain is leading the way towards Copenhagen. But Mr Brown himself is not inspiring progress on these things. The McBride affair was poisonous to his reputation, but he did not seem to understand why. His timidity in the face of the expenses crisis has been painful.

The blunt reality is that, even if he set out a grand programme of reform now, his association with it would doom its prospects. Proportional representation would transform parliament, but if Mr Brown put a referendum on the ballot, it would be defeated because he backed it. A draft constitutional renewal bill was published more than 12 months ago - but what has come of it? This week Mr Brown announced a national democratic council that might (to see it in a generous light) form the basis of the sort of constitutional convention that led to Scotland's modern parliament. But it is too late. The chance for him has passed.

The next seven days will be crucial to Britain's political future. Jacqui Smith's pre-emptive resignation yesterday was the start of a reshuffle that Mr Brown may be imagining will defend himself from terrible election results. He is heading for the bunker. If Labour holds off now, at perhaps the last moment when a change of leader might be possible, it had better reconcile itself to sticking with its leader to the bitter end. The worst of all worlds would be for people to drag their feet, carry on supporting him when others desert, then desert too, late in the day, when it can only make things worse. During the next few days it will become apparent whether Mr Brown still commands sufficient support among his parliamentary colleagues to carry on. If he suspects not, he would win much respect by announcing that he will be standing down, and let his party choose someone who can use its remaining time in power to reform parliament and then fight the election with credibility.

The case for a new leader has been made stronger by the expenses crisis. Labour needs to enter the next election having reformed parliament. But Mr Brown will never do it. The prime minister was absent from the start of the debate and cautious now he has joined it. His instinct is usually to hesitate, and to establish reviews and commissions. Meanwhile, the chance of a generation is being missed. Only a Labour government, working with the Liberal Democrats, will bring about serious reform. The likelihood, for all David Cameron's promises, is that the Conservatives will not be radical enough, especially on fair votes. But Mr Brown has shown himself incapable of collaborating in this way. His disastrous announcement of expenses reform on YouTube showed that he cannot build the coalitions of interest (inside his party, never mind beyond) that are necessary for constitutional change. If reform is not to stall, someone else will have to lead it.

Rapid contest

The mechanics will not be easy to arrange. Change will always be a gamble. Mr Brown, on past form, may fight for his job. But he cannot last if his cabinet refuses to back him, faced with an inward-looking and isolationist reshuffle that leaves the prime minister at odds with the mood of his own parliamentary party.

Any handover should be rapid and democratic. There will have to be an election for leader, and clarity from the candidates about when they want to hold a general election. Labour's constitution is murky, and some argue that it would be impossible to hold a contest quickly. They worry that the party might squander much of the time it has left in power in debates and union votes.

They are wrong. The 2007 contest for deputy leader took less than two months. Former party officials confirm a contest now could be held in 23 days; the new prime minister could be in place by early July. Several ministers would make a better leader than Mr Brown, and want to stand. They should say so early next week.

After such a contest, parliament could sit longer into the summer and return early in September, as Nick Clegg suggested in the Guardian last week. A bill should allow a referendum on electoral reform on the date of the next election. There should be a guarantee that no former MPs and party officials will be sent to the House of Lords. A bill should be passed to establish fixed terms for parliaments, as works well in Scotland, setting the date for the next election.

The opposition will want one immediately, but a new leader can make the case for some time to establish themselves, for reform laws to pass and for parties to pick new candidates. They could also argue that David Cameron needs to be tested properly. An election now would see Britain stumble into the future without any idea where it will lead.

Before polling day, the public also needs to know the score on all MPs - not just that proportion subjected to the Daily Telegraph's treatment so far. The most open way to do this would be for every editor, and broadcaster, to be sent the disc now in the hands of one paper, with the onus of meeting data protection and defamation laws on the publishers. Parties will need time after that to find new candidates.

Progressive future

The needs of the Labour party and the country are obviously not the same. Labour members must ask themselves this weekend whether they think Mr Brown is best placed to put its values into action, and win popular support for them. The public, in tomorrow's elections, will consider whether Mr Brown is the right man to lead the country. And anyone advocating a change of leadership must make it clear whose interests will gain from it. This paper believes Britain has often been at its best when Labour has been at its strongest. People who disagree with that will welcome its implosion, knowing that it will make a Conservative landslide inevitable. That is why they are not clamouring for Mr Brown to go. Progressive thinkers do not have this luxury. Of course many people, who see the better angels in Mr Brown's nature, do not want his dreams to end like this. His premiership would be one of the briefest in history. He would never have fought an election. But fate can be unjust.

All must agree that the die is cast and a hard judgment made. Otherwise progressive politics will be dragged down at a general election in May 2010 that could lead to a much bigger defeat than Labour suffered in 1979. That might bring a chance for other parties to take it forward, as the Liberal Democrats are trying to do in this election. But they are not placed to enter government. Labour has a year left before an election; its current leader would waste it. It is time to cut him loose.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Safe Aotearoa

On top of the many humiliations that have rained down on Iceland recently – the implosion of its economy, banks and currency to name just three – the erstwhile Viking tiger today lost its title as the safest place in the world.

New Zealand is now officially your best bet for a risk-free destination, according to the new Global Peace Index (GPI), an annual ranking of the world's nations on the basis of how peaceful they are.

Despite the much-vaunted progress on security, Iraq remained bottom of the list, below Afghanistan, Somalia and Israel, which found itself listed as more dangerous than Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the top, the usual Nordic suspects clustered below New Zealand: Denmark, Norway and Iceland came second, third and fourth, followed by Austria and then Sweden.

Britain was 35th: better than last year, and one position higher than Italy, but still below most of Europe and countries as diverse as Botswana, South Korea, Malaysia and Qatar.

The United States has clawed its way up six places to 83rd – still weighed down by two foreign wars, a high prison population and the general availability of guns. Its slight rise was attributed to the number of years since 9/11 that the country has avoided a terrorist attack, and the relative decline of other countries.

The index was collated by the Economist Intelligence Unit for a new thinktank called the Institute for Economics and Peace. It uses a weighted mix of 23 criteria, including foreign wars, internal conflicts, respect for human rights, the number of murders, the number of people in jail, the arms trade, and degrees of democracy.

This year's results found the economic downturn had made the world a little less peaceful. That, say the authors, "appears to reflect the intensification of violent conflict in some countries and the effects of both the rapidly rising food and fuel prices early in 2008 and the dramatic global economic downturn in the final quarter of the year.

"Rapidly rising unemployment, pay freezes and falls in the value of house prices, savings and pensions is causing popular resentment in many countries, with political repercussions that have been registered by the GPI through various indicators measuring safety and security in society."

The results come from a groundbreaking study, released alongside the 2009 GPI, which estimates the economic impact of lost peace on the global economy at $7.2tn (£4.4tn) a year.

Of this, $4.8tn is made up of business activities that never see the light of day because of violence; a further $2.4tn relates to the redeployment of resources and expenditure away from industries benefiting from violence to those that benefit from peace.

"The reality is that the net economic benefit of peace to humanity is substantial, and governments and businesses should seriously consider how adopting practices and policies that promote peace helps their bottom line," said Clyde ­McConaghy, who oversees the index at the institute. "It is this kind of thinking that the Institute for Economics and Peace will promote."

Greenland, less Denmark

The left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit (Community of the People, IA) party has won Greenland's parliamentary elections, official results show.

The party ousted the Social Democratic Suimut Party, which has governed the territory for 30 years.

With all districts counted, the IA had nearly 44% of the vote and Suimut just over 26%, the election commission said.

IA will be the first party to govern the semi-autonomous Danish territory under an expanded home rule agreement.

IA leader Kuupik Kleist told supporters celebrating in the capital Nuuk: "Greenland deserves this."

Current Prime Minister Hans Enoksen had called the election early, after Greenland voters approved plans in November to give their government more powers.

He said he had wanted to give islanders the chance to decide who would be leading them into the "new era".

Under the new status, Greenlanders will be able to make decisions on most issues.

But the authorities will continue to negotiate with Denmark on defence and foreign affairs.

Correspondents say the polls were seen as a turning point in Greenland's path to partial independence from Denmark.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A White Man in Viet-Nam

A terrible cover but a very hooking reading. Wolff is a master describing realities and especially the minds of his characters. Here we have the story of a young Wolff serving in Viet-Nam as an American soldier and we will find all the classical ingredients: The Viet Cong (VC), the Tet offensive, the rain, the ponchos, the mud, the cultural barriers... another book about Viet-Nam? Not at all - read it and you will tell me.