Thursday, June 30, 2011

Yip Man

History Of Jerusalem

In Praise Of...

The first name on the list is John Angus. The records say little about him. He was, they suspected, from London. In September 1938, he was reported "fighting in Spain". He was a communist. In longhand, someone has later added "Returned". Further than that, the record is silent. But Angus is caught in the spotlight today because he is on a remarkable list of more than 4,000 British people who volunteered on behalf of the Spanish Republic in the civil war of 1936-39, which has now been made public in the National Archives. To MI5, which compiled the list, John Angus and the others who fought for Spain were suspicious, perhaps with reason in some cases. To many reading the newly released list today, however, Angus and his companions are heroes, bathed in romance. A few – like the poet John Cornford, against whose name a clerk wrote "DEAD" in December 1936, and then underlined it – were famous in their time. Most were not. They were mainly working-class, often communists, Scots and Jewish. More than 500 people from these islands died for Spain in those three years – more than have died in Afghanistan in nearly a decade. The names of the dead have long been collected together on the International Brigade Memorial Trust website. Now, thanks to a liberal gesture by the security service, the dead and their comrades who survived have been reunited in this much longer list, an enduring roll call of a generation and a company who should be remembered in honour.

Arthur Goldreich (RIP)

In the midst of one of the tensest periods of the anti-apartheid struggle, a single-winged Cessna aircraft carrying two priests in dog collars took off from an airstrip in Swaziland and flew across South African territory to British Bechuanaland. The "clerics" stepped out to a rapturous welcome from the local African National Congress. The escape of the freedom fighter Arthur Goldreich while on remand in a Johannesburg prison had been accomplished.

Goldreich, who has died aged 81, was part of the underground leadership of the ANC's liberation army, Spear of the Nation, that was captured in a police raid on Liliesleaf farm, Rivonia, in July 1963. Goldreich was the tenant of the property and had been living a seemingly harmless existence with his teacher wife, Hazel, and two sons, Nicholas and Paul – horse riding in the countryside and holding a job as a designer for a Johannesburg department store. (He designed the sets for King Kong, the black musical that played in London in the early 1960s.) So integrated were the Goldreich family in the secret life of the farm that on one occasion, as the high command met to discuss tactics, five-year-old Paul was found crawling around under the table.

Living at the farm, too, in the early 1960s was "David", purportedly a domestic servant but otherwise known as Nelson Mandela, the guerrilla commander-in-chief. Mandela discussed tactics with Goldreich, explaining in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1994), that "Arthur had fought with the Palmach, the military wing of the Jewish National Movement in Palestine. He was knowledgable about guerrilla warfare and helped fill in many gaps in my understanding."

Mandela was already in prison by the time the raid on the farm took place, but was brought back to court and put on trial alongside others arrested that day. The following year, at the conclusion of what became known as the Rivonia trial, he and seven other defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Goldreich was born in Johannesburg, the son of a furniture dealer. The family moved to Pietersburg (now Polokwane) in the northern Transvaal. At his Afrikaans school, his German language teacher gave out Hitler Youth magazines for the class to read. Arthur wrote to the pro-British prime minister, Jan Smuts, demanding to be taught Hebrew. The wish was granted.

On leaving school, he enrolled as an architectural student in Johannesburg, but as a dedicated Zionist he gave up his studies in 1948 to fight in Israel's war of independence. The war coincided with the Afrikaner nationalist victory in the South African general election. Goldreich later said that he was driven by "the Holocaust and the struggle against British colonialism, but the Nats winning the election left me in no doubt about what I had to do".

He left Israel to study industrial design in London before returning home. He had married Hazel Berman, who was active in the Young Communist League. Goldreich, though still preoccupied with Zionism, was moving to the left, and joined the underground Communist party. As the ANC prepared to launch its armed struggle, the Goldreichs were persuaded to rent Liliesleaf as the headquarters of its high command. Goldreich was the ideal cover. "A flamboyant person," Mandela said of him, "he gave the farm a buoyant atmosphere."

After the police raid, the Goldreichs were held under the 90-day law at Marshall Square, Johannesburg's main police station, but discipline there was surprisingly lax. One day Johan Greeff, a teenaged policeman with no idea of the importance of his charges, was switched to overseeing the "political" cells. The detainees found him obliging. He would collect food and cigarettes, and on one occasion a pair of shoes and a new suit. Goldreich even persuaded the station commander to allow him out of the building, accompanied by Greeff, to visit his barber. "Arthur could charm the birds out of the trees," Hazel says, "and Greeff was easy meat."

Greeff was interested in fast cars, and had his eye on a Studebaker Lark. He agreed to facilitate their escape for 4,000 rand (then £2,000) in cash. One quiet Saturday night, he opened the inner and outer doors, then faked an injury. Goldreich and a civil rights lawyer, Harold Wolpe, made good their escape and, despite a furious nationwide manhunt, were smuggled into Swaziland, where they lay low in the home of a sympathetic Anglican priest before setting out for London.

Goldreich returned to Israel, becoming a professor at the Bezalel academy of arts and design, part of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He later spoke out firmly against the brutality and inhumanity imposed on the people of occupied Palestine. Hazel was released after three months, having refused to join the escapees because of concerns about her children. The couple later divorced and Goldreich remarried.

Greeff did not fare as well. He was arrested within the hour, before he was able to collect the bundle of notes from a go-between, Paul Joseph. He was sentenced to six years in prison, paroled after serving two years. Thirty years later, with apartheid ended, Joseph raised the matter of his payment. The escapees, as well as the ANC, said the debt should be settled. Goldreich said Greeff was "a kind man and paid a severe price. We owe him a lot." More than 40 years after the debt was incurred, it was at last settled when a courier arrived at Greeff's motor repair shop in the remote northern Cape to deliver an amount believed to be in the region of SAR110,000 (£10,000).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is an internationally-developed research facility, which is being assembled in low Earth orbit and is the largest space station ever constructed. On-orbit construction of the station began in 1998 and is scheduled for completion by 2012. The station is expected to remain in operation until at least 2020, and potentially to 2028. Like many artificial satellites, the ISS can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. The ISS serves as a research laboratory that has a microgravity environment in which crews conduct experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy and meteorology. The station has a unique environment for the testing of the spacecraft systems that will be required for missions to the Moon and Mars. The ISS is operated by Expedition crews, and has been continuously staffed since 2 November 2000—an uninterrupted human presence in space for the past &000000000000001000000010 years and &0000000000000238000000238 days. As of June 2011[update], the crew of Expedition 28 is aboard.

The ISS is a synthesis of several space station projects that includes the American Freedom, the Soviet/Russian Mir-2, the European Columbus and the Japanese Kibō. Budget constraints led to the merger of these projects into a single multi-national programme. The ISS project began in 1994 with the Shuttle-Mir program, and the first module of the station, Zarya, was launched in 1998 by Russia. Assembly continues, as pressurised modules, external trusses and other components are launched by American space shuttles, Russian Proton rockets and Russian Soyuz rockets. As of November 2009[update], the station consisted of 11 pressurised modules and an extensive integrated truss structure (ITS). Power is provided by 16 solar arrays mounted on the external truss, in addition to four smaller arrays on the Russian modules. The station is maintained at an orbit between 278 km (173 mi) and 460 km (286 mi) altitude, and travels at an average speed of 27,724 km (17,227 mi) per hour, completing 15.7 orbits per day.

Operated as a joint project between the five participant space agencies, the station's sections are controlled by mission control centres on the ground operated by the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the European Space Agency (ESA). The ownership and use of the space station is established in intergovernmental treaties and agreements that allow the Russian Federation to retain full ownership of its own modules, with the remainder of the station allocated between the other international partners. The station is serviced by Soyuz spacecraft, Progress spacecraft, space shuttles, the Automated Transfer Vehicle and the H-II Transfer Vehicle, and has been visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations. The cost of the station has been estimated by ESA as €100 billion over 30 years, although other estimates range from 35 billion dollars to 160 billion dollars. The financing, research capabilities and technical design of the ISS program have been criticised because of the high cost.

Elaine Stewart (RIP)

Quote Of The Day

"If it moves it is biology, if it smells it is chemistry and if it doesn't work it is physics"

Water in the World

Picture Of The Day

Friday, June 24, 2011

St John The Baptist

We Love Bookshops

... and He is coming

He Came...

The West Wing


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Remember Rwanda

In a park in London, two men greet each other as old friends. One is grey-haired and American, the other a tall Rwandan in a smart suit. They embrace. The American wipes tears from his eyes. The last time the two men met was in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, in 1994: the year of the genocide in which 800,000 people were killed in 100 days.

The two men, Jean-Francois Gisimba and Carl Wilkens, met a handful of times in that year but in the most extreme of circumstances. Together with Jean-Francois' brother, Damas, they saved more than 400 children and hundreds of adults from the Interahamwe, the Hutu militia intent on eradicating Tutsi "inyenzi" or "cockroaches".

Seventeen years later, the Aegis Trust, which campaigns against genocide, has brought Jean-Francois and Carl back together in the UK. At last, Jean-Francois has the chance to say: "You saved my life but I don't understand why."

Back in 1994, Jean-Francois, then 24, and Damas were running the orphanage their late parents had founded in Kigali in the 1980s. Of mixed Hutu and Tutsi parentage, they were caring for around 60 children of different ethnicities. "We were brought up not to see a difference," Jean-Francois says. Damas ran the orphanage full-time, while Jean-Francois also worked for Radio Rwanda.

On 6 April, a private jet carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down near Kigali airport, triggering the genocide. Government-controlled news organisations began reporting that the Hutu president had been assassinated by Tutsi rebels. Within hours, Kigali was surrounded by roadblocks and the systematic murder of Tutsi families by militia groups began.

Jean-Francois rushed home from the radio station to find hundreds of people gathered at the orphanage, seeking shelter. "They came not because they thought we could save them, but because they didn't want to die alone," he says.

People were hiding in the attic, in the basement and in locked rooms, sick with dysentery and starvation. The brothers kept them alive for months with the help of Red Cross parcels. Because of their father, they had Hutu identity cards, and Damas began to negotiate for the orphanage's survival.

"My brother would go for a beer with the killers," Jean-Francois remembers. "He would say: don't come, don't panic the kids, but he was also protecting the adults inside. He was pretending to be with them."

As the killings continued, the militia members became restless. Armed men began turning up drunk at the orphanage. On one visit they tortured and killed eight people they found hiding on the roof. Then the brothers heard from friends that they planned to kill everyone at the orphanage.

"The day you came was the day the massacre was going to happen," Jean-Francois tells Carl. "There was a knock at the door and I thought: this is it. A boy said, there is a muzungu – a white man – at the door looking for you."

Jean-Francois looks at the man sitting next to him. "It was you in your white Toyota Corolla."

Carl was then the 36-year-old head of Adrai, an Adventist relief organisation working in Rwanda. On 10 April, the UN had evacuated all foreigners from the country, including Carl's wife, parents and three young children.

Carl was the only American who stayed through the genocide. By negotiating with key militia figures including Colonel Tharsisse Renzaho, the prefect of Kigali, he managed to get supplies of water and food through to people in dire need. Renzaho had told him there was an orphanage that needed help.

"I came out and you started telling me: 'I'm bringing water,'" Jean-Francois says. "I wanted you to stop talking. I had the feeling that you did not know what was going on. You just wanted to deliver water and go to the next place. I dragged you to Damas's office.

"I said to you: they are coming in five or 10 minutes to kill all of us. I just wanted you to stay there and witness – so that later you could tell people what had happened."

Carl wanted to leave immediately to fetch help. "I remember standing in the parking lot by my Corolla. You kept on telling me: don't go."

Jean-Francois shakes his head. "We went together slowly up to the car. You were trying to start it. You looked in the mirror and I remember you putting your hands through your hair. You got out again and got on your radio."

As the men stood by the car, dozens of Interahamwe militia began surrounding the orphanage. "The leader said: 'I am coming to take all the Tutsis who are here.'"

"Carl was still on his radio. Then I heard them say: 'We were going to carry out our mission, but the American is there.' The boss said in Kinyarwanda: 'Leave the place, don't do it in front of that man.'"

With Jean-Francois still begging him to stay, Carl left to raise the alarm. When he reached Renzaho's office he found that the prime minister, Jean Kambanda – who would later plead guilty to genocide – was visiting.

"He was one of three people orchestrating the genocide," Carl says. "But what choice did I have? I said: 'There's a massacre about to happen at Gisimba.'

"He talked to his men and said: 'We're aware of this.' He promised me that the orphans would be OK. He shook hands with me."

At the orphanage, Jean-Francois waited. "For three days nothing happened," he says. "Then an army major arrived. Many Interahamwe came behind him. One of the biggest killers – who had killed thousands – was there. 'Inyenzi' he called us – cockroaches."

The major took Jean-Francois aside. "He said to me, 'I am not a killer, I am with you, but you need to tell me the truth.' I decided to trust him. I said, well, the truth is we are hiding many people – more than 400 children, and a big number of adults, widows. I don't even know the number myself.

"He said: 'Be ready to be evacuated.'"

By the next day, more militia had surrounded the orphanage. The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the Tutsi rebel army fighting their way back into Rwanda, were now close to the capital. "Bombs were landing like rain from the hills," Jean-Francois says. "I thought: now we are going to die.

"The major returned with 12 bodyguards. He said to his men, 'Whoever tries to shoot, you shoot all of them.' If only more soldiers had been like him.

"I thought these were my last moments. There was shooting. They took us to the road. He packed all of us into buses. He had a revolver in his hand and a Kalashnikov on his shoulder. They took us all up to St Michel Cathedral. Two to three days later the RPF took the area and we were safe."

More than 17 years later, Carl and Jean-Francois have met again because the Gisimba orphanage (still run by Jean-Francois and Damas) needs money. Next week is the 25th anniversary of the orphanage's foundation. "We want it to have a future," Jean-Francois says.

In London, the American turns to the Rwandan and says: "I never knew if it was the right decision to leave you at the orphanage."

"It was the right decision," Jean-Francois replies. "But what about my question – why did you help us?"

Carl talks about not abandoning his Rwandan staff and friends, but Jean-Francois is shaking his head. "You were on the other side of the city so why cross through all those roadblocks, bombs and bullets to get to the orphanage?"

Carl looks at him as if he should know. Jean-Francois, after all, is a man who let hundreds shelter in the orphanage knowing it meant almost certain death. "Why did you help those people?" he asks.

Jean-Francois looks at him with incredulity. "How would we turn people away? We were taught by our parents that we should respect other people's lives. If you tell people to get away you are an animal not a human being."

And so somehow he himself answers the question he has been waiting 17 years to ask.

Muscular Liberalism

'Muscular liberalism," says Jack Gilbert. "I'm no Tory, but that's what we need here. A little muscular liberalism." He sighs. It has been a trying time.

The main problem is always the earthquake, causing fear and devastation. But thereafter come the aftershocks, continuing the damage, heightening the uncertainty. Jack is worried about the aftershocks in Tower Hamlets in east London.

What happened in the borough, where a population 36% Muslim shares space with one of the highest ratios of same-sex couples in the country, was nasty. Stickers began appearing, on the streets, near gay venues, on public transport, outside a school, declaring the borough to be a "gay free" zone. "Verily Allah is severe in punishment," they said.

Fair dos; the local police reacted quickly. A fortnight ago one local man, Mohammed Hasnath, was convicted.

But then came the aftershocks. The first was that Hasnath was fined just £100. "The charge brought by British Transport Police was too low," says Gilbert. "Even the judge seemed to think so, but they decided that the stickers themselves were not threatening." Jack's exasperated. "Not threatening? As a Jew I know that had the signs said 'No Jew zone', that would have been regarded as threatening. 'No blacks zone'? We wouldn't even be talking about it."

Gilbert had been expecting the influential East London Mosque to react with an unequivocal public statement denouncing all shades of homophobia. Despite several requests and private meetings with officials, he is still waiting for some clear indication that everyone is on the same page.

"The CPS didn't cover themselves in glory either," he says. "You could say everyone needs to reflect."

They do indeed. For while we were all digesting figures that suggest a 21% rise in gay hate crime incidents locally, Gilbert was doing some number crunching. "We fear the true position is substantially worse," he suggests.

That's why, for him, the future is muscular liberalism. "We have been conciliatory, but that's got to work both ways. Now's the time for mutual respect."

The American Nightmare

It was not perhaps the most obvious way of getting a bad back, arthritis and a dodgy foot seen to. But if you're unemployed in North Carolina with no health insurance, there is no obvious way.

So on 9 June James Verone left his Gastonia home, took a ride to a bank and carried out a robbery. Well, sort of.

What he did was hand the clerk a note that said: "This is a bank robbery, please only give me one dollar." Then, as he later told the local NBC news station, he calmly sat in the corner of the bank having told the clerk: "I'll be sitting right over there in the chair waiting for the police."

Before his peculiarly modest robbery, Verone, 59, sent a letter to the Gaston Gazette. "When you receive this a bank robbery will have been committed by me for one dollar. I am of sound mind but not so much sound body."

He invited the paper to send a reporter to interview him in Gaston county jail, where he is now in custody facing charges of stealing from a person (for just $1 the prosecutors didn't think they could hold up a bank robbery charge).

He told the paper he had lost his job after 17 years as a Coca-Cola delivery man, and with it his health insurance. He was in increasing pain from slipped discs, arthritic joints, a gammy foot and a growth on his chest.

Since being in the jail he has attained his goal: he has been seen by nurses and an appointment with a doctor is booked.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Picture Of The Day

Poem Of The Day

The blacksmith slave

Captive in the rainforests of the West
they brought you to Rome, slave,
they gave you the blacksmith work
and you make chains.
The red iron that you carry out the oven
can be adapted as you want,
you can make swords
in order that your people could break the chains,
but you, this slave,
you make chains, more chains.

Rainbow Parade

Friday, June 17, 2011

Arundhati Roy

Sad Town Losers (LA)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Full Moon Tonight

Collaborative Consuption

In November 2008, a 34-year-old security guard called Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, New York, by what local papers described as an "out-of-control" mob of 2,000 "frenzied" shoppers who had queued overnight in the promise of a slash-price sale. With the crowd outside chanting, "Push the doors in", staff climbed on to vending machines to escape the resulting stampede. Even when police later declared that the shop was closed because it was now a crime scene, angry shoppers remonstrated with officers. One yelled: "I've been queuing since yesterday morning." The bargains on offer included a 50-in plasma HDTV priced at $798.

Rachel Botsman, a "social innovator" who has presented her ideas at Downing Street and before Microsoft and Google executives, retells the event in her book, What's Mine Is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live. "It's a sad and chilling metaphor for our culture at large – a crowd of exhausted consumers knocking down the doors and ploughing down people simply to buy more stuff."

Botsman rails in the book against the excesses, futility and contradictions of mass consumption, but she doesn't rehash the usual tropes of anti-consumerism. Rather, her book is a cry for us to consume "smarter" by moving away from the outdated concept of outright ownership – and the lust to own – towards one where we share, barter, rent and swap assets that include not just consumables, but also our "time and space".

The notion of "collaborative consumption" is not, she notes, new – it has been around for centuries. But the arrival of internet-enabled social networking, coupled with "geo-located" smart phones, has super-charged a concept that was already rapidly gaining primacy owing to the twin pressures of our environmental and economic crises. Echoing the Japanese concept of muda – the relentless hunt for, and eradication of, inefficiencies in any system – collaborative consumption aims to exploit previously ignored or unnoticed value in all our assets by both eliminating waste and generating demand for goods and services that are otherwise "idling".

Botsman uses the example of motoring to show where collaborative consumption already makes sense. "Cars are 90% under-utilised by their owners," she tells me from her home in Australia. "And 70% of journeys are solo rides. So we now see car club companies such as Streetcar proving very popular in cities. In Munich, BMW now has a scheme where it lets members pay for a car by the minute rather than by the hour. And websites such as are allowing people to make money from unused space outside their properties. A great example is a church in Islington, London, which was facing financial trouble. But it started renting parking space out front and it now makes £70,000 a year from doing so."

If the internet and social networking act as lubricants for collaborative consumption, then trust is the glue that binds it together. None of this would work if we didn't have faith that the invariably anonymous person at the other end of the transaction will do what they promise; namely, pay for your goods or services, or deliver what they have advertised.

"Really interesting things are happening with trust at the moment," says Botsman. "We don't trust centralised monopolies, but we do trust decentralised systems. So we see peer-to-peer money-lending sites such as Zopa proving popular, in stark comparison to banks. 'Trust circles' are being built online for things such as skill-sharing, space rental and task-running. eBay has shown us that trust-based transactions work online. The US is about 18 months ahead of the UK at the moment with all this, but sites such as TaskRabbit and Hey, Neighbor! are redefining what a neighbour is."

One of Botsman's most radical ideas is that the rise of collaborative consumption in coming years will see the advent of "reputation banks". In her book, she writes: "Now with the web we leave a reputation trail. With every seller we rate; spammer we flag; comment we leave; idea, comment, video or photo we post; peer we review, we leave a cumulative record of how well we collaborate and if we can be trusted."

Soon, Botsman argues, our reputation rating will be as, if not more, important than our credit rating. "It is only a matter of time before there is some form of network that aggregates your reputation capital across multiple forms of collaborative consumption. We'll be able to perform a Google-like search to see a complete picture of how people behave and the degree to which they can be trusted, whether it's around products they swap and trade or money they lend or borrow or land or cars they share."

Botsman's advice for anyone considering diving into the world of collaborative consumption is to begin by drawing up an inventory of your assets. estimates that the average UK home has nearly £600 worth of unused items – old gadgets, books, clothes etc – collecting dust. But Botsman says to think more laterally: consider the spare storage space you might have under the stairs or in a garage; the electric drill you could rent to neighbours; your unique skills – dog-walking, accountancy, shelf-fitting – you could hire by the hour, or exchange for someone else's skill.

Like many people, I've dabbled with some of these concepts before. I've flogged unwanted items on eBay. I've signed up to lift-sharing websites and joined a car club. I've looked into how TimeBank works. I enjoy eking out extra value from my "idling assets", but I also hate waste so relish any opportunity to see a resource fully utilised.

But critical mass seems to be just as an important an ingredient to collaborative consumption as trust and the connectivity of the internet. If there aren't enough people "out there" offering or demanding these goods and services, then these systems quickly wither. "Yes, you've got to have critical mass for this to work," says Botsman. "Not just geographical, but across subject categories."

So, to stress-test the hypothesis of collaborative consumption myself, I trialled three popular examples.

Clothes 'swishing'

Early last year, Anna Dalziel, an HR executive from Truro in Cornwall, decided to channel her "addiction" for car-boot sales and eBay into a public-spirited hobby. She approached the owners of a cafe in a converted grammar school in Redruth and asked if she could host a clothes-swapping "swish" in one of the school's disused corridors. She now holds weekly events across west Cornwall and has attracted nearly 600 attendees.

"Sometimes it can get a bit scary," says Dalziel ominously, as I arrive clutching a bag containing a skirt my wife has sent me to swap "for something nice". (No pressure, then.) "It's often a case of having to sharpen your elbows if you really want something."

Swishing rules vary according to the organiser, but Dalziel operates a system whereby women (I am very much the lone male) earn a single swap credit for every item they bring with them. Some other swishes sort clothes into higher and lower value piles, with, for example, a designer label item being worth 10 credits compared to a single-credit Topshop top. To pay for the time it takes to do all this sorting, organisers charge up to £20 at the door. However, Dalziel just charges £3 to cover her costs – fuel and venue hire – and operates a strict all-items-are-equal rule.

Clothing racks marked with sizes have been lined up along a corridor. Around 15 people are waiting in the adjacent cafe for "kick-off". Dalziel says it's normally double that, but the rain might have kept people at home.

As the women stream in, I stand back. "Many women treat swishing like a clothes library," says Dalziel, as she takes the entrance fee. "You sometimes see the same items rotating week to week. Some people come before they go on holiday just to stock up and I know some women who have swapped around 500 items over the past year. I think people find they have less commitment to an item than if they had bought it so have an attitude that they can just bring it back next week."

I finally go to the clothes racks and tentatively let my fingers walk along the hangers. I don't know what I'm looking for and Dalziel kindly realises this so comes over and holds up some brand new bikinis. I just take one to avoid any further awkwardness. The inevitable questions from my wife about why I've come home with a bikini await.

"Facebook has been brilliant for us," says Dalziel. "I just announce to everyone who has signed up when the next event is and it goes from there. The most we've ever had is about 90 people at an event we held at Penryn which attracts lots of students. That got a bit scary, but I would say 30-40 people is the ideal number. After each swish I sort through the remaining clothes and sort a pile for the charity shop or recycling. The rest I store at home and take to the next event. Some people treat us a bit like a charity shop and then want lots of credits. But that's not how it works, so we have a ban on things like underwear. I don't do this to sort through women's old bras."

I'm curious to know whether she thinks a male-orientated swish would work. "I don't think so really. We did try a kids swish once thinking parents would like to swap toys, baby accessories and clothes. But it just didn't take off for some reason. It was also much harder to organise and manage the stock. And I'm just not sure whether, say, a tool swap for men would work as well. I sometimes wonder whether my swishes are more about the chance to socialise than they are about the clothes. Perhaps that's the secret?"

Local swapping

In my hunt for a swapping service that isn't limited to clothes, I turn to the internet. The first I try is U-Exchange, which seems to mimic the popular TV show of my childhood, Swap Shop.

I type in my location, but the results are far from encouraging. The nearest person to me is offering a football table in exchange for "SAS war books". I'm unsure what I find less appealing: the items to be traded, or the thought of meeting up with this person.

Ecomodo is a far bigger site, probably because it doesn't limit itself to swapping, but also allows users to give or, for a fee set by the owner, rent items to anyone who might want them.

Again, I type in my location. And, again, I'm disappointed. All that is returned is someone 15 miles away renting their cross-trainer for £4.34 a day.

It is patently obvious that these sites work best when you live within or close to a high-density population, not in a rural setting such as my home county of Cornwall. This is borne out when I type in my old London postcode to find more than 200 items offered, ranging from a tennis racket (free) and chocolate fountain (free), through to wellies (£2.27 a day) and a lawnmower (£4.34 a day). I can easily see how this could be a fantastic – and somewhat addictive – resource.

Postal swapping

Botsman recommends Bookhopper, which lets users swap books much in the same way as a swish for clothes but facilitated through the post. Swaps are limited by national boundaries (to keep postal costs down) and you must offer at least 10 books before you can request one. This way there is always a fluid stock of books in the system.

My wife warns me that all her books are out of bounds. She employs a strangely possessive attitude to novels, so much so that she doesn't like to lend them "in case they bend the spine". I find 10 books that I'm happy to never see again, but the challenge is harder than I thought. I suffer from "you never know when you might need it", especially when it comes to non-fiction, which doesn't exactly match the spirit of collaborative consumption.

As it happens, after a week no one has requested any of my books. Adding my unwanted copy of The Da Vinci Code to the 167 Dan Brown novels already on offer has probably earned me the karma I deserve. An early lesson of collaborative consumption is that it mimics Newton's third law of motion, namely that you tend to get out of it what you put in.

Sri Lanka v Tamil People

The footage screened by Channel 4 last night ranks among the most horrific yet shown on British television. Naked prisoners shot in the head; the dead bodies of women who had been raped, dumped on a truck; the immediate aftermath of a shell landing on a hospital – images caught on mobile phones of the atrocities committed by government soldiers in the final months of Sri Lanka's brutal civil war. The story of what happened two years ago when government forces corralled hundreds of thousands of Tamils in horrific conditions into an ever-shrinking space, as they closed in the defeated Tigers, is well known. A UN panel last month found credible allegations of war crimes committed both by the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. But the pictures of the shootings are new and Channel 4 has done what human rights organisations should have been doing in compiling and sifting through it.

The footage, shot either by escapers, or as trophy videos by soldiers committing the atrocities, is almost unwatchable. But on this occasion there are two reasons why it was right to dispense with the responsibility broadcasters have to avoid causing distress. First, the Sri Lankan government engineered a war without witness, which was why, in echoes of Srebrenica, they forced UN observers to leave first. This film atones, in small part, for the failure of the international community to make Sri Lanka accountable for these deaths. Second, the parallel with Srebrenica is only too real. As the UN panel reveals, the shelling of hospitals in the so-called no-fire zones was so systematic – there were 65 such attacks – that it is impossible to believe it was random. One shelling took place after a Red Cross official supplied the GPS co-ordinates to the Sri Lankan authorities, a procedure meant to avoid such shellings.

The targeting of civilians is a war crime. If proved, these charges go right up the chain of command of Sri Lanka's military and government. If Iran stands condemned for killing hundreds in the wake of the June 2009 election, if Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic now face justice in The Hague, if Bashar al-Assad faces UN sanctions for an assault that has killed 1,300 Syrians, how it is that President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, the defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, escape all censure, after over 40,000 civilians were killed?

That the LTTE assassinated presidents and invented the suicide belt, that the Tigers used civilians as human shields, is no defence from the charge that Sri Lankan soldiers summarily executed prisoners in their custody. Sri Lanka is trying to pretend these events are history, as the economy and tourism pick up. They are not. This evidence has to be faced.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Picture Of The Day

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sikkim People

Another Journalist Murdered

Himalayan Crack

Disputed borders are both a cause and a symptom of tensions between big neighbours in South Asia. When the colonial power, Britain, withdrew from India it left a dangerous legacy of carelessly or arbitrarily drawn borders. Tensions between India and China flare on occasion, especially along India’s far north-eastern border, along the state of Arunachal Pradesh. In recent years Chinese officials have taken to calling part of the same area “South Tibet”, to Indian fury, as that seems to imply a Chinese claim to the territory. A failure to agree the precise border, and then to demarcate it, ensures that future disagreements may flare again.

Pakistan, too, is beset by difficult borders. Afghanistan, to the north, has long been a hostile neighbour. This is largely because Afghanistan refuses to recognise the frontier—known as the Durand line—between the countries, drawn by the British.

Most contentious of all, however, are the borders in Kashmir, where Pakistan, India and China all have competing claims. By the time of independence, in 1947, it was clear that many Indian Muslims were determined to break off from Hindu-majority India. It fell to a British civil servant, who knew nothing of the region, to draw a line of partition between territory that would become Pakistan and India. Pakistan was given Muslim dominated areas in the far north west, plus territory in the east (which itself got independence as Bangladesh in 1971). The rulers of some disputed areas, notably Kashmir, were told to choose which country to join.

While Kashmir’s Hindu rulers prevaricated, hoping somehow to become an independent country, Pakistan’s leaders decided to force the issue. Since Kashmir was (and is) a Muslim majority territory, Pakistan felt justified in seeing Pushtun warlords charge in from the north-west of Pakistan, late in 1947, to seize control of Kashmir. In response India, apparently invited by Kashmir’s rulers, deployed its national army and stopped the invaders taking Srinagar, Kashmir’s capital, located in the Kashmir valley, the most coveted part of the territory. The resulting line of control, by and large, remains the de-facto international frontier within Kashmir and, in effect, is accepted by Paksitan and India. Huge numbers of Indian and Pakistani soldiers remain in Kashmir today as both countries profess to be the rightful authority for the rest of Kashmir.

Complicating matters, China has also extended its influence, and control, over portions of Kashmir, largely with the support of Pakistan, an ally.

The Cool Table

Church & State

Learned man that he is, when Rowan Williams attacked the coalition's economic policies he knew he was picking a scab on one of western society's deepest wounds: the struggle for supremacy between secular and spiritual authority that so often pits archbishops of Canterbury against the government of the day.

Clergy no longer assert their superiority or pay for defiance with their lives. But within memory, archbishops have attacked foreign wars – in Iraq or Vietnam – urged more progressive social policies to help the poorest, and condemned indiscriminate bombing in the second world war. Winston Churchill was as annoyed by his clerical critics as Margaret Thatcher would be when Robert Runcie – holder of the Military Cross – insisted on prayers for the Argentinian war dead as well as Britain's after the Falklands war of 1982.

The Arab spring is only the latest demonstration that tensions between clerics and secular modernisers is not confined to western states, where the issue was largely resolved in favour of secular power long ago. Yet conflict between theocratical and temporal claims in Iran or Saudi Arabia that would be familiar to medieval Europeans, still flare up, not least in the United States, whose 1787 constitution explicitly separated religion from the state to avoid repeating Europe's bloody conflicts.

Each country's struggle has been different. The best-known clash in England culminated in four knights murdering Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, after years of dispute between Henry II and his archbishop over the appointments of bishops and thus control of the wealth, taxes and power that they exercised. Becket had been Henry's secular lord chancellor and the king misjudged where his loyalties would lie as archbishop.

Their feud echoed the 100-year-old "investiture crisis" between pope and German emperor – self-styled heir to the empire of Rome – over which appointed the other and ultimately called the shots. When Napoleon took the diadem from the pope's hands and crowned himself emperor of France in 1804 he was making the same ancient point.

Eastern religions like Hinduism largely avoided the problem. Even the eastern Roman empire – Byzantium – did so after it split with Rome when the Orthodox church ceded primacy to the emperor. The Russian Orthodox church was reduced to a department of state by Peter the Great long before Stalin. In Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios was head of church and state until his death in 1977.

But Caesaro-papism – where Caesar also plays pope – re-emerged in the west in different guise.

The German princes relished Martin Luther attacking the corrupt late medieval papacy – and the emperor – after 1517, but Lutheranism's early radicalism succumbed early to state power.

England's familiar version is better known than understood. Henry VIII was more interested in acquiring land, power and a new wife than the finer points of theology. But when he declared "this realm of England is an empire" he was cocking a snook at European claims to overlordship – by both pope and emperor – which would not seriously be revived until the Treaty of Rome (where else?) created the embryo EU in 1957.

Cardinal Wolsey, Henry's ecclesiastical first minister, had fallen after failing to square his pope and monarch. Lord Chancellor Thomas More went to the block for a similar failure. Henry's Catholic daughter, Queen Mary, burned his more obliging archbishop, Thomas Cranmer (1533-55) at the stake, but only after the cleric had been formally deposed by her pope and handed over for punishment. Her protestant sister Elizabeth did the same to Catholic dissidents; and her efforts to combine a degree of religious tolerance with political loyalty collapsed into half a century of civil strife after her death.

Another archbishop, William Laud (1633-45) was executed and another, William Sancroft (1678-90) deposed for refusing to take an oath of allegience to the protestant William and Mary who had just ousted the Catholic James II/VI.

Scottish Presbyterianism went its own way, as did Catholic Ireland. Wales would disestablish the official Anglican church in 1902. But the Anglican settlement of 1689 still stands with 26 senior bishops in the House of Lords and the Queen as head of the established church with few exceptions the church became what wits called "the Tory party at prayer". So Tory was Archbishop William Howley (1828-48), who crowned Queen Victoria in 1837, that he led opposition to the Great Reform Act and wider toleration, as well; as being one of the last men in England to wear a wig.

Things slowly changed. Christians became more involved in political and social reform. After the Catholic hierarchy was readmitted to England, Cardinal Manning mediated the great London dock strike of 1889. In 1909 Cosmo Lang, then at York but later (1928-42) Canterbury, defended Lloyd George's "People's Budget" in the reactionary House of Lords — and even spoke up for the kaiser when war broke out in 1914.

When Lang died, Churchill opposed the promotion of George Bell, bishop of Chichester ("Brother Bell" to the trade unions) to the vacancy for his outspoken criticism of the bombing in Germany.

But William Temple (1942-44) who got the job — his father had also been archbishop — was also a progressive, sometime member of the Labour party, who backed the 1944 Education Act and the Beveridge report a negotiated peace with, not unconditional surrender of, the Axis powers. As church attendance – and power – declined, the church became more radical. Of postwar archbishops, Geoffrey Fisher (1945-61) was a former flogging headmaster who blocked Princess Margaret's marriage to the divorced Peter Townsend, and George Carey (1991-2002), who ordained women priests but irritated his own flock, was Margaret Thatcher's less troublesome replacement for the outspoken Runcie (1980-91).

Runcie had been a tank-commanding chum of Willie Whitelaw's in the war, preferred by Thatcher over the more flamboyant Hugh Montefiore.. But he proved a thorn in her flesh, not least in publishing Faith in the City which criticised Tory social policy – a Marxist work, according to Norman Tebbit who has again attacked it on the airwaves. The days when archbishops' outbursts were politely received and condemned only privately by ministers are long gone. David Cameron said he "profoundly disagreed" with many of Williams' points. But this archbishop will not be sent to the Tower.

Map Of Kurdish Language


An Algerian-born man living in France has been refused French nationality because of his "degrading attitude" towards women.

The man, who has not been named, is married to a Frenchwoman, but does not allow her to leave the family home freely, it was claimed.

In what is seen as a legal precedent, his application for French nationality was turned down because "his idea of sexual equality is not that of the republic", according to a high-ranking official quoted by French radio station Europe 1.

The French constitution states that the government can refuse nationality or strip nationality for a "lack of integration". The interior minister, Claude Guéant, has made it clear he expects candidates for nationality to not only integrate but "assimilate" into French society.

A spokesman for the minister told the Guardian that concerns were raised when police interviewed the man as part of the application process. The refusal, she added, had been confirmed by the State Council – the legal body that advises the government on legislation – and was awaiting signature by the minister.

"The man was eligible for French nationality as he had been married to a French citizen for more than four years. In such cases, however, it can be refused by a disrespect of or lack of assimilation into the French community or if the person practises polygamy.

"In this case, during the interview at the police station his behaviour showed a lack of assimilation into the French community; it was incompatible with the values of the French republic, notably in respect to the values of the equality of men and women. This justifies the decision for not giving him French nationality. The case was examined by the State Council, which agreed and a decision to that effect was given."

The case emerged a week after far-right leader Marine Le Pen wrote to French MPs asking them to support an end to dual nationality, claiming it "undermines republican values". Le Pen has made no secret that her demand is aimed at people from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. A delegation of 50 MPs from the ruling right-of-centre UMP party met President Nicolas Sarkozy recently to press for an end to dual nationality. Afterwards one of the MPs said Sarkozy was "very favourable" to the idea.

Henry Guaino, one of the president's closest advisers, told French radio: "It's an idea that merits debate. Whatever the National Front's position, it's not wrong to discuss this issue."

Socialist MP Manuel Valls, who chairs a parliamentary committee on nationality rights, said scrapping dual nationality would be counter-productive and that French expatriates with dual nationality acted as "ambassadors" for their country around the world.

Christophe Girard, the Socialist deputy mayor of Paris, wrote in Le Monde that the history of France and its mix of cultures was under threat. "This return to nationalism that locks and narrows pits citizens against each other in fear and hatred and is a proven risk," he wrote. "The atmosphere fostered by the current government is even more revolting given that the current head of state himself is the son of an immigrant father and his third wife is French-Italian.

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the backbone of France. We need to strengthen it. I would appeal to all those who are able to obtain a second citizenship to take the necessary steps now."

Monday, June 06, 2011

West Africa

Empires Rise & Fall

America clocked up a record last week. The latest drop in house prices meant that the cost of real estate has fallen by 33% since the peak – even bigger than the 31% slide seen when John Steinbeck was writing The Grapes of Wrath.

Unemployment has not returned to Great Depression levels but at 9.1% of the workforce it is still at levels that will have nerves jangling in the White House. The last president to be re-elected with unemployment above 7.2% was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The US is a country with serious problems. Getting on for one in six depend on government food stamps to ensure they have enough to eat. The budget, which was in surplus little more than a decade ago, now has a deficit of Greek-style proportions. There is policy paralysis in Washington.

The assumption is that the problems can be easily solved because the US is the biggest economy on the planet, the only country with global military reach, the lucky possessor of the world's reserve currency, and a nation with a proud record of re-inventing itself once in every generation or so.

All this is true and more. US universities are superb, attracting the best brains from around the world. It is a country that pushes the frontiers of technology. So, it may be that the US is about to emerge stronger than ever from the long nightmare of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The strong financial position of American companies could unleash a wave of new investment over the next couple of years.

Let me put an alternative hypothesis. America in 2011 is Rome in 200AD or Britain on the eve of the first world war: an empire at the zenith of its power but with cracks beginning to show.

The experience of both Rome and Britain suggests that it is hard to stop the rot once it has set in, so here are the a few of the warning signs of trouble ahead: military overstretch, a widening gulf between rich and poor, a hollowed-out economy, citizens using debt to live beyond their means, and once-effective policies no longer working. The high levels of violent crime, epidemic of obesity, addiction to pornography and excessive use of energy may be telling us something: the US is in an advanced state of cultural decadence.

Empires decline for many different reasons but certain factors recur. There is an initial reluctance to admit that there is much to fret about, and there is the arrival of a challenger (or several challengers) to the settled international order. In Spain's case, the rival was Britain. In Britain's case, it was America. In America's case, the threat comes from China.

Britain's decline was extremely rapid after 1914. By 1945, the UK was a bit player in the bipolar world dominated by the US and the Soviet Union, and sterling – the heart of the 19th-century gold standard – was rapidly losing its lustre as a reserve currency. There had been concerns, voiced as far back as the 1851 Great Exhibition, that the hungrier, more efficient producers in Germany and the US threatened Britain's industrial hegemony. But no serious policy action was taken. In the second half of the 19th century there was a subtle shift in the economy, from the north of England to the south, from manufacturing to finance, from making things to living off investment income. By 1914, the writing was on the wall.

In two important respects, the US today differs from Britain a century ago. It is much bigger, which means that it benefits from continent-wide economies of scale, and it has a presence in the industries that will be strategically important in the first half of the 21st century. Britain in 1914 was over-reliant on coal and shipbuilding, industries that struggled between the world wars, and had failed to grasp early enough the importance of emerging new technologies.

Even so, there are parallels. There has been a long-term shift of emphasis in the US economy away from manufacturing and towards finance. There is a growing challenge from producers in other parts of the world.


Now consider the stark contrast between this economic recovery and the pattern of previous cycles. Traditionally, a US economic recovery sees unemployment coming down smartly as lower interest rates encourage consumers to spend and the construction industry to build more homes. This time, it has been different. There was a building frenzy during the bubble years, which left an overhang of supply even before plunging prices and rising unemployment led to a blitz of foreclosures.

America has more homes than it knows what to do with, and that state of affairs is not going to change for years.

Over the past couple of months, there has been a steady drip-feed of poor economic news that has dented hopes of a sustained recovery. Optimism has now been replaced by concern that the United States could be heading for the dreaded double-dip recession.

In the real estate market, which is the symptom of America's deep-seated economic malaise, the double dip has already arrived. Tax breaks to homeowners provided only a temporary respite for a falling market and millions of Americans are living in homes worth less than they paid for them. The latest figures show that more than 28% of homes with a mortgage are in negative equity. Unsurprisingly, that has made Americans far more cautious about spending money. Rising commodity prices exacerbate the problem, since they push up inflation and reduce the spending power of wages and salaries.

Macro-economic policy has proved less effective than normal. That's not for want of trying, though. The US has had zero short-term interest rates for well over two years. It has had two big doses of quantitative easing, the second of which is now ending. Its budget deficit is so big it has led to warnings from the credit-rating agencies, in spite of the dollar's reserve currency status. And Washington has adopted a policy of benign neglect towards the currency, despite the strong-dollar rhetoric, in the hope that cheaper exports will make up for the squeeze on consumer spending.

Policy, as ever, is geared towards growth because the great existential fear of the Fed, the Treasury and whoever occupies the White House is a return to the 1930s. Back then, the economic malaise could be largely attributed to deflationary economic policies that deepened the recession caused by the popping of the 1920s stock market bubble. The feeble response to today's growth medicine suggests that the US is structurally far weaker than it was in the 1930s. Tackling these weaknesses will require breaking finance's stranglehold over the economy and measures to boost ordinary families' spending power and so cut their reliance on debt. It will require an amnesty for the housing market. Above all, America must rediscover the qualities that originally made it great. That will not be easy.

by Larry Elliott

Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Gray Lady

Describing her feelings on being appointed the first female editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson said it was as if she had arrived at Valhalla. A New Yorker (she has a subway token tattoo on her shoulder to prove it) she presumably meant she was happy. Her metaphor could be taken two ways, given that Vikings landed in the great hall in the sky after dying in combat.

There are and have been other female editors in the US and the UK. But although women make up 37% of daily newspaper employees, under 10% are in "supervisory or upper management positions", according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. In the UK, there are two female editors of 21 national daily and Sunday titles. Both – Tina Weaver at the Sunday Mirror and Dawn Neeson of the Daily Star – edit tabloids.

Since being appointed managing editor Abramson has tried to address the gender imbalance among staff. But she has to address the sense that the Times lacks sensitivity over women, particularly in its handling of a couple of recent stories. Last Sunday, the Daily Kos weblog carried an excoriating piece headlined, "The New York Times has a woman problem". Of particular concern was a piece written in March in which the gang rape of an 11-year-old was seen as a failing of hers and her mother's.

Will having a woman in charge change this? Maybe not. Abramson will no doubt focus on other issues, such as whether the newspaper can survive.

But her position at the top of an institution she compared to a "religion" when she was growing up might encourage all those other girls to think they can make it too. And not only once they're dead.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Louis Gallois

For a Frenchman who presides over a world-famous aerospace brand and counts presidents, central bank chiefs and media tycoons among his peers there is not a sniff of Gallic hauteur about Louis Gallois.

A graduate of the elite École Nationale d'Administration (ENA) in Paris, the 67-year-old gathered the stewardship of three major companies under his belt before taking on his biggest job: chief executive of the industrial conglomerate EADS, which has interests spanning defence, satellites and Airbus.

"I had fantastic opportunities and I was extremely lucky. That's the only thing I can say. It was not because I was the best. In each case I had the chance to be the guy who was needed."

Noting how 15 years ago he got the top job at SNCF, the French national rail operator, he adds wryly: "The chief executive of SNCF [Loïk Le Floch-Prigent] was in jail and they needed somebody. And nobody wanted it."

Nor was there much design in his appointment to EADS either, when he was drafted in five years ago amid production delays with the A380 superjumbo airliner and an associated insider-dealing scandal. Gallois has the background that would allow him to be parachuted into most big jobs without concern. ENA has groomed titans of French politics, finance and industry including the former French president Jacques Chirac, Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the European Central Bank, and Jean-Marie Messier, the Icarus-like former boss of Vivendi Universal.


Gallois wears the privilege lightly. He happily handshakes his way around the staff at EADS's London office before the interview, not, you sense, out of noblesse oblige. After all, this is someone who contemplated retiring and opening an antique bookshop before EADS came calling. It is too simplistic to equate his good manners with his strongly held socialist beliefs, but Gallois drives this multinational beast with French principles. "You could say that I am a republican in the French sense of the word, which is not the American one. You know the motto of France: liberty, equality and brotherhood." Even French rail unions – imagine the RMT with sharper elbows – were won over.

Working at the top of EADS should come naturally to someone schooled to walk the corridors of power. Its Airbus subsidiary provides aeroplanes for scores of well known airlines from British Airways to Emirates. EADS is also part of the Eurofighter consortium that is battling France's Rafale for a £6.1bn deal to sell 126 military jets to the Indian government, while customers of its defence business, Cassidian, include the UK and US governments, and the Astrium space division runs the UK Ministry of Defence's satellites. Last year revenues were €45.7bn (£40.4bn).

Shareholder diplomacy is important too, because EADS ownership must be balanced between the 22.5% stake of France's Lagardère group and the French state; a grouping of Daimler and German banks with a further 22.5%, and the Spanish state with 5%. Britain sold its 20% stake in Airbus in 2006.

The only semblance of a chill comes when Gallois is asked if he enjoys the politics involved in running EADS. Christian Streiff quit as Airbus chief executive after 100 days in 2006, saying that balancing French and German interests was impossible, adding: "I hope my resignation will be a salutary shock."

Gallois, flattening the question politely, is keen to keep politics out of it. Acknowledging that governments are important EADS customers, he says they do not interfere as shareholders. "I cannot say that the politics are interfering in the management of the company. I cannot say that. I know that I have to protect the balance inside the company: French, German, British and Spanish. I know that, but I am not receiving phone calls from any government on any topic."

Nonetheless, it is impossible to talk about EADS and not touch on political issues, since it is a huge firm exposed to defence spending cuts in the western world, sensitive to fluctuations in the euro and, as a multinational, reliant on business-friendly environments in a range of countries. On this point, Gallois has no complaints regarding Britain, where EADS is a major employer, including the Broughton Airbus site in Flintshire, north Wales; the Filton Airbus site in Bristol and 23 other sites around Britain.

When the company's 17,000-strong UK staff are mentioned, interrupts. They are at the top end of industry, he says: "High-technology people, skilled workers, engineers. We are spending more than a lot of British companies on research and development."

The seemingly interminable saga over reductions in Britain's £37bn defence budget is not a problem for EADS either, Gallois adds, because the coalition government has laid out its spending plans until 2015 already. "What we appreciate in the UK is we know exactly where you are." He adds: "We receive the support we need for research on the UK in defence. The UK is not at a disadvantage compared with France, Germany and Spain. It is a good base to do business."


Of greater concern to Gallois is the euro. EADS trades in euros but it sells planes in dollars so the stresses and strains of the eurozone, and its currency fluctuations, play havoc with planning. Gallois is confident that the eurozone will not break up and a solution will be found for Greece.

"Greece is small," he says. "It means we have the capacity to find a positive outcome to this crisis and I think we need it to strengthen the euro. You know we are not for a too-strong euro [to aid exports] but we need a sustainable common currency." In the long-term, he adds, the world needs a more stable currency market: Airbus aircraft jets are bought in dollars while most of EADS's 122,000 staff are paid in euros. A weak dollar and a strong euro is an excruciating combination for EADS.

Airbus exemplifies EADS's global footprint. It employs 52,500 people in the US, China, Japan, the Middle East and its Toulouse base, and its jets fly all over the world. The success of Airbus – it had sales of nearly €30bn last year – is one of the reasons why Gallois is determined to push into emerging markets, which he describes as calls the third pillar in the group's growth strategy. "We want to balance commercial aircraft manufacturing, which represents 65% of our activities, with other activities to reduce the risk we are taking with aircraft."

The interview took place before last week's interim report into the Air France Airbus crash in the Atlantic two years ago but Gallois declined to make a detailed comment about the disaster, which killed all 228 passengers and crew. "We have to know what happened," he says, reserving judgment until the final report later this year.

The report by France's BEA air crash investigation agency indicated that the A330 pilot, confused by conflicting speed signals in the cockpit, mistakenly slowed the plane down into a stall that could not be arrested. Airbus had a scare last year when a Qantas-owned A380, the world's largest and most modern passenger plane, suffered an engine blow-out over Indonesia. Luckily, the ruptured engine disc blew three holes in the wing and not the fuselage. Rolls-Royce, Britain's own industrial powerhouse, has spent £56m so far on rectifying the problem.

Gallois says the A380 came out of it well: "We are always alarmed when we have an incident and this one was significant. We had three shocks and the aeroplane was certified to receive one shock not three. We demonstrated the resilience of the aeroplane."

Gallois steps down next year with the German chief of Airbus, Thomas Enders, his most likely replacement. There has been less tumult under his leadership, reflecting his modest, mandarin style. In a last attempt to get politics into the conversation, Gallois's bonus is raised. In 2008 he gave an estimated €1m to charity, with a further €1m expected to be given away this year.

"I think when you are gaining a lot of money it is creating some duties in front of society. It is my opinion – it is absolutely personal, it is not a criticism of other people. I feel more comfortable. It is a way for me to stay free."

Louis Gallois

Born 26 January 1944

Education Economics at École des Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC); École Nationale d'Administration (ENA)

Career 1972-89: Posts in ministries of economy and finance, research and industry, and defence; 1989: chairman and chief executive of engine-maker Snecma; 1992: chief executive, Aérospatiale [predecessor of EADS]; 1996: chief executive, SNCF; 2006: co-chief executive, EADS; 2007: chief executive, EADS

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Multiethnic Bosnia

A Catholic Church, a Mosque and a Serbian Orthodox church in Bosanska Krupa, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Argentina v ABCD Four

The world's four largest grain traders, responsible for the vast majority of global corn, soya and wheat trading and processing, have been accused of large-scale tax evasion in a landmark series of cases being brought against them by the Argentinian government.

In an interview with the Guardian, Ricardo Echegaray, the head of Afip, the country's revenue and customs service, has given a detailed account of the charges his department is bringing against ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Dreyfus.

"These companies have gone into criminality," Echegaray said. "2008 was when agricultural commodities prices spiked and was the best year for them in prices, yet we could see that the companies with the biggest sales showed very little profit in this country."

The Guardian has learned from separate sources that Afip is seeking to claim $476m (£290m) for what it says are unpaid tax and duties from Bunge, $252m from Cargill and $140m from Dreyfus. The companies have all denied all the allegations and have said they will defend themselves vigorously.

With the global food system and who controls it under intense scrutiny in recent weeks, thanks to record prices, the legal battle between Afip and the "ABCD four", as they are known, has taken on heightened significance.

Oxfam, in a report earlier this week, warned of spiralling prices and a huge increase in global hunger over the next two decades, and said that corporate concentration in the global food trade was a structural flaw in the system.

Echegaray said he had begun investigating Argentina's large business taxpayers towards the end of 2008, cross-checking information given to his authorities with that from other countries where their exports were destined, by making use of tax information exchange treaties – some of which have been newly signed. He also cross-checked declarations made to Argentinian customs with corporate income tax returns.

He said he had evidence from his detailed inquiry that all four traders had submitted false declarations of sales and routed profits through tax havens or their headquarters, in contravention of Argentinian tax law.

He also alleged they had on occasion used phantom firms to buy grain. He further alleged that they had inflated costs in Argentina to reduce taxable profits or claim tax credits there.

The Afip inquiry has focused on the traders' sales to Uruguay, among other low-tax jurisdictions.

Echegaray said Bunge had set up an office in the tax-free zone of Montevideo through which it began routing its exports after 2007, from which point it declared no gains in Argentina. He alleged his checks had revealed that Bunge employed only a handful of people in Uruguay's capital, and that it had no real imports or exports from that office other than small items for those staff. Bunge was expelled from the Argentine exporters' register last week.

Bunge denied the allegations absolutely and was adamant it had broken no laws or tax rules. "We believe that we have done nothing wrong and that our past tax payments are complete. This is an issue that is not unique to Bunge, or even our industry. We will continue to take the appropriate legal steps to defend ourselves," it said in a statement.

Echegaray alleged that Cargill had also used Uruguay and Swiss subsidiaries to evade taxes in Argentina. Cargill, ADM and Dreyfus were suspended from the exporters' register by the government earlier this year as a result of the investigation.

Cargill said: "All the allegations made about Cargill are false. Cargill complies with all Argentine tax and customs regulations. We are vigorously defending various tax and customs audits and litigation."

ADM responded that it "conducts business in accordance with the laws, including those governing tax obligations, in the countries where we operate. We are cooperating with Afip to successfully resolve this situation."

Dreyfus declined to comment, but according to Ciara, the grain exporters' trade association in Argentina, it too denies all the charges.

Ciara's president, Alberto Rodriguez, described the government's claims of tax evasion as political posturing.