Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Berlin Obama Didn't See

"People of the world -- look at Berlin!"
-- Barack Obama, July 24, 2008, quoting Berlin Mayor Ernst Reuter, Sept. 9, 1948

By all means, senator, let's take a long, hard look at Berlin: Germany's hip, and nearly bankrupt, capital.

A couple of years ago, Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit -- a man Passport magazine describes as "effortlessly personifying" the city's "hip, sophisticated, and tolerant image" -- petitioned Germany's high court to compel the federal government to assume at least 60% of the city's debt, then topping $77 billion and marking a fivefold increase since the city's reunification in 1990. About 12% of the city's budget went to servicing its debt, close to the 15% figure New York City reached when it nearly defaulted under Mayor Abe Beame in 1975. Worse, unemployment in Berlin was running around 17%, about twice the national average, and the city was poorer than it had been 16 years before.

"We cannot climb down from this mountain of debt alone," complained the mayor. "We have done everything we can and now need federal solidarity" -- solidarity in this case being the German word for "bailout."

The high court demurred. "Berlin adorns itself with the slogan 'poor but sexy,' but it isn't so poor," observed the presiding judge in his verdict. "Berlin doesn't have a budget emergency. Significant indicators point only to a budget that is under stress." The judge suggested the city might consider selling off some of the 270,000 housing units it owned, or cutting the wages of Berlin's civil servants, which on average ran 50% higher than Hamburg's, or consolidating its six housing authorities, two zoos, or three opera houses into more manageable units.

Well, perish the thought. In the matter of opera houses, for instance, no other city except Milan has more; New York and London, each twice the size of Berlin, get by with two apiece. Attendance at the old East German Komische Opera rarely topped 50%. On one notorious occasion, all three houses staged Mozart's Marriage of Figaro on the same night. Until recently, all this cost taxpayers $146 million a year in subsidies.

Now, after years of tortuous debate, the opera subsidies cost taxpayers a mere $120 million a year. Naturally, all three operas remain in business, if "business" is the right word. So do both zoos.

Yet Berlin's problems are not merely, or even mainly, political. Mr. Wowereit has done a relatively creditable job by cutting spending by 11%, slashing tens of thousands of jobs from the city payroll and balancing the budget. Other revolutionary changes include introducing tuition fees for the city's three universities, a shock to the system of Berlin's student class.

Instead, the real problem is ideological. A reunited and rebuilt Berlin was intended to serve as a symbol for a vibrant, bold, energetic country, and the recipe for achieving this vision was government support on a grand scale. First, subsidies to the tune of six billion euros a year poured in. Then the federal government moved in, with all the new jobs that was supposed to entail.

There was also a massive urban planning component, with areas like the old no-man's land of Potsdamer Platz being transformed, through the mechanism of "public-private partnerships," into what was meant to be a glittering cultural and commercial center.

Typically, the planning didn't turn out as planned. In December, anchor tenant Daimler sold its 19 buildings on the Platz to a Swedish banking group, reportedly at a loss. Sony followed suit a couple months later, and Deutsche Bahn also intends to leave in a couple of years. The city's building craze hasn't been a total loss: Berlin has become a renter's paradise, where huge apartments can be had for a pittance. But what's good news for starving artists is bad news for landlords, not to mention the city's tax base. In 2006, revenues amounted to barely half of the city's budget.

All of which brings us back to Mr. Obama's call to "Look at Berlin!" After nearly 18 years of economic decline, there isn't that much to look at, at least in the sense that it might serve as a model. The notion of a "German miracle" has become as much a memory as the Berlin airlift. Mr. Obama's call for Europe to share "the burdens of global citizenship" forgets, or ignores, just how slight a burden Europe is able, much less willing, to bear.

As for Berlin itself, a city that in 1989 seemed to serve as an emblem for the end of history turned out to offer a different lesson: that history keeps rolling along; that the tearing down of walls marks a beginning rather than an end; and that history isn't especially kind to those who fail to keep pace with it.

So, yes, let's look closely at Berlin, a city that's hip, sexy, sophisticated and tolerant. Also a city of wasted promise. It didn't get there by accident.


A plague of Koalas

They should allow the koalas to be captured and exported. That would be the humane solution

KOALA management on Kangaroo Island is costing up to $1 million a year, prompting calls from a parliamentary committee to drastically cut their numbers.

A top-level parliamentary committee report on the issue says it is "concerned at the high cost of the present management program".
It has been estimated that more than $5 million has been spent since the program began in 1997.

The Natural Resources Committee describes the koalas as "pests" and says "a sustainable solution must be found".

Committee member and Democrat Sandra Kanck said humane culling was the solution.

But new Environment Minister Jay Weatherill said the density of the koala population had been reduced to sustainable levels and the "current sterilisation and relocation program is being successful".

"The Government has no intention of commencing any culling," he said.

Evidence presented to the committee estimates between 22,000 and 30,000 koalas remain on the island. It was told up to 70 per cent of those would need to be sterilised and one-third relocated costing up to $1 million a year.

Nearly 3500 koalas have been moved from the island since 1997 and more than 7700 sterilised. This year, 162 sterilised koalas have gone to the South East.

Kangaroo Island Natural Resources Management Board member Fraser Vickery told the committee the current management program was ineffective.

He said culling was "an obvious solution".

But he said surveys of visitors to the island indicated there would be "a massive resistance by American, Canadian and other visitors" if a culling program was begun.

Ms Kanck said she did not believe the state "should allow Japanese tourists to determine this state's environmental policies".

"If they start calling for boycotts then I think that what we need to do is look them straight in the eye and say one word to them – whales," she said.

The committee has warned it may launch another inquiry into the handling of the island's koala problem.

Nimrod families may get 'close to £1m' compensation

Families of servicemen killed when a Nimrod spy plane suffered a fuel leak and exploded in Afghanistan two years ago have been offered close to £1m in compensation, it has been disclosed.

That the nation which invented the railway and was once the workshop of the world cannot now stop fuel leaks in its aeroplanes is a sad commentary on the destruction wrought by socialism. There is nothing wrong with the old De Havilland Comet airframe. It is the modern-day bungling that is at fault

The Ministry of Defence and the legal teams representing families of the 14 men are still in discussion about the eventual lump sum payments, but an MoD source confirmed it has proposed nearly £1m in some cases.

The figure takes into account the loss of the men's earnings and pensions, the careers they might have had and whether they had wives and children.

"A couple of individuals may be eligible for close to the £1million mark, but it doesn't apply across the board," the source said.

However, the payout comes with a condition preventing the families from seeking any further legal redress.

Barrister John Cooper, who represents Graham Knight, the father of Sergeant Ben Knight, 25, who died in the crash, said his instructions were to pursue a claim - most likely for negligence - in the High Court.

"The main aim of those I represent is for those responsible for what happened to be held to account in court," he said.

The MoD declined to comment on the figure, but said it was willing to pay compensation and expected to do so by the end of the financial year.

The news comes as defence minister Bob Ainsworth said that the RAF's 37-year-old Nimrod spy planes have experienced more than 300 fuel leaks since the fatal crash near Kandahar in September 2006.

Mr Ainsworth said that while half of the recorded leaks were in the wings and posed "no hazard to the aircraft", 111 were within the fuselage of the plane as was the fatal Nimrod leak, which saw fuel come into contact with a hot-air pipe after mid-air refuelling.

Following an inquest into the deaths last year, coroner Andrew Walker called for the remaining 15 Nimrods to be grounded because they were not airworthy.

Mr Ainsworth responded that they were, and was later forced to apologise to the families for his "insensitivity" at making the statement immediately afterwards.

Confirming the leak figures in a written reply to a request from his Conservative opposite number Liam Fox last week, Mr Ainsworth said the abolition of mid-air refuelling and the shutting down of the aircraft's hot air system during flight meant the risks were now "extremely low".

"Despite this, no leakage, however small, from pipes, couplings or fuselage tanks is accepted and the aircraft will not fly until such leaks have been rectified," he added.

But Mr Knight reacted angrily to the latest figures.

"We've said all along not enough has been done to ensure the safety of these aircraft. That there have been 111 leaks proves the point. Even one leak is too many if it's in the wrong place," he said.

Gerald Howarth, the Tory defence spokesman, added: "The leaks are a matter of great concern. It's well known that there have been problems with the fuel system, which is why it is important the Government expedites the programme to replace the fleet."


Britain's Typhoid Marys locked up for life in an Epsom asylum

At least 43 female typhoid carriers were locked up for life in a mental hospital after being deemed a public health risk, it was revealed today.

The women were held at Long Grove asylum in Epsom, Surrey, in the years between 1907 and its closure in 1992, a BBC investigation found.

The female patients, who had recovered from typhoid fever but still excreted the bacterium, may have been sane when they went into the hospital but became mad after being locked up, according to nursing staff.

Despite the production of antibiotic treatments in the 1950s, the women were kept locked up because of the state of their mental health.

Most of the hospital’s records were destroyed after it shut down, but historians working at the Surrey History Centre in Woking discovered two volumes of records in the asylum’s ruins.

They found that between 1944 and 1957, three new typhoid carriers entered the unit each year. All of the women came from the London area.

Jeanie Kennett, a ward manager who worked at Long Grove for 40 years, said that life was “pretty tough” for the patients.

“They’re somebody’s loved ones, they’re somebody’s mother, or sister. Everybody had forgotten about them - they were just locked away,” she said.

“Life was pretty tough. They were seen as objects, it was prison-like - everything was lock and key.”

Fear of apparently healthy people who could infect and kill others first emerged in the early years of the 20th Century, prompted by the story of Mary Mallon, known as Typhoid Mary, a poor Irish immigrant who infected 47 people during her career as a cook in New York, three of whom died.

Mallon's case became notorious because she refused to accept that she was a typhoid carrier, and when released from quarantine on condition that she did not work with food again, she illicitly worked under an assumed name as a cook in a hospital, infecting a further 25 people, one of whom died. She was quarantined again, this time for life, and was often interviewed by journalists thrilled to be banned from accepting so much as a glass of water from her.

Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, said that the women incarcerated in Epsom posed only a small risk to the public.

“They certainly were infectious, they had the potential to spread the infection to others if they had poor hygiene and they were preparing food and all that type of thing,” he said.

“But as a public health risk, I think they were basically targeted and there was a lot of over-exaggeration about the threat they posed.”

Responding to the report today, a spokesman for the Department of Health said: “There was not, and never has been, a policy of incarcerating anyone, in this context.

“There were long-standing powers under the 1984 Public Health Act (and legislation dating back to the 1880s) for a JP (justice of the peace, or magistrate) to order that someone be detained in a hospital if he is suffering from a notifiable disease, and if proper precautions against his infecting others would not be taken. Typhoid is a notifiable disease.

“The 1984 Act made provision for local authorities to approach JPs and request detention on public health grounds.”

Most of the records from the hospital were destroyed after it shut down but historians at Surrey History Centre in Woking have found some relevant documents in Long Grove’s ruins, the BBC said.

Typhoid fever is transmitted by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with faeces from an infected person. The disease is characterised by a prolonged fever, as high as 40C, sweating, gastroenteritis, and diarrhoea.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Is Knol A Fast-Track To High Google Placement?

Google's unit of knowledge measures up in SERPs

Well-respected search pundit Danny Sullivan put the newly-launched Google Knol to the test, to see if contributed pages found their way into a top-ten placement in Google's search results.
If Knol were a baseball player, it would be in contention for the Major League batting title going into the second half of the season.

Sullivan noted his findings on Search Engine Land, after taking a look at 30 different knols selected from the main Knol page. Of those thirty, ten made the top-ten search results for their keyword searches on Google.

"We've been assured that just because content sits on Google's Knol site, it won't gain any ranking authority from being part of the Knol domain," Sullivan wrote.

Being a new site, Knol didn't show any PageRank. But behind the scenes, as Sullivan suggested, PageRank calculations happen continually.

We decided to repeat his experiment; it's easy enough to do, making it well-suited for our purposes. Here's where we found Knol pages in the top-ten for their keywords, when they ranked that well:

A Crisis in Leadership: 4
Restless Leg Syndrome: 0
Ischemic Stroke: 0
Breastfeeding: 0
Chicago Hot Dogs: 0
Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM): 0
Lung Cancer: 6
Buttermilk Pancakes: 0
Music in Capoeira: 3
Pediatric Sports Injuries: 0

We batted 3 out of 10 in randomly picking topics off of the Knol home page, an average that would keep us in the batting order every day and have our agent salivating over free agent negotiations at baseball's winter meetings.

Google's Knol will get a lot of SEO attention, there's no doubt about it. The opportunity to grab prime organic placement for a given keyword phrase, at minimal cost, will be irresistible.


How one careless phone call ended Radovan Karadzic’s liberty

A careless phone call brought Radovan Karadzic’s colourful life on the run to an abrupt end

As the long-haired, bearded man who had become known as the local eccentric walked out of the Leotar supermarket in a suburb of Belgrade nine days ago, he unexpectedly turned back to the checkout girls.

“I want to say goodbye,” he said. “I’m going on vacation. I need a rest, I’ve been working a lot.” He could not know how prescient his words were.

Radovan Karadzic, 63, wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs and one of the most wanted men in the world, had only a few hours of freedom left after almost 13 years on the run.

Sofia Kaluderovic, 44, at the checkout, rang up the usual purchases for the man she believed was Dragan Dabic, a new age doctor: yoghurt, specially ordered cherries, the nationalist newspaper Pravda and a bottle of Bear’s Blood, a cheap Serbian red wine.

As he left the shop, he cut his usual distinctive figure, dressed in a black T-shirt and trousers, sandals, his long white hair bound with an elastic band into a top knot and his face buried beneath an enormous white beard and oversize glasses.

In retrospect, Uros, the shop’s owner, realised that his customer may have found comfort in the shop’s name, Leotar – a famous mountain in the Serbian part of Bosnia that Karadzic ran as president of the self-styled Srpska Republic.

“He was a real gentleman,” Uros said, remembering his jokes and generous tips. “If I’d known who he really was, I would never have charged for anything. I will die sorry that I didn’t recognise him.”

Karadzic’s disguise was effective right up until the moment he was caught. He boarded the 73 bus from the stop around the corner, carrying a bag containing a lap-top, two mobile phones, clothes including swimming trunks, and €600 (£472) in cash.

His plan to leave Belgrade apparently spurred Serbia’s security services into action. They had been watching him for a month and did not want to take the chance of him slipping away.

As the bus passed the Teloptic factory in an industrial part of town, a group of men in civilian clothes boarded and asked if they could talk to Karadzic. He refused. They showed him their badges, told him that they knew who he was, blindfolded and handcuffed him. He went quietly. It was a surprisingly pedestrian end to an extraordinary life on the run.

Karadzic had been a wanted man since 1996, when international arrest warrants were issued for him and Ratko Mladic, the army general who was his partner in the slaughter and “ethnic cleansing” in the 1992-5 Bosnian war that left an estimated 200,000 dead.

Karadzic’s lawyer filed an appeal against his extradition from Serbia just before the deadline at 8pm on Friday, but the former leader is expected to be flown this week to the United Nations tribunal at the Hague to stand trial on charges including genocide. He faces life imprisonment.

In Belgrade there was a muted reaction to the arrest of the one-time Serbian hero. Had he been arrested a decade ago, nationalist Serbs would have poured onto the streets in violent fury, but last week the protests came mainly in the form of disgruntled youths.

Serbs attributed the lack of an outcry to the length of time that had elapsed since the end of the war. Equally, it may just have been that everyone was stunned at the revelation of Karadzic’s life on the run. They had expected something more like a dramatic shootout on a mountain.

No one knew quite how to react when it emerged that he had been selling “human quantum energy” diviners on the internet from a flat in surburban Belgrade, speaking at conferences for alternative health and maintaining an intimate friendship with a rather good-looking younger woman.

THE breakthrough in the hunt for Karadzic came last month from a single telephone call. A Serbian security source said that the call, from Karadzic’s mobile phone, was his “fatal error”.

For years, Serbian and international security services, including Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping centre, had tapped the telephones of his family, relatives and friends and routinely raided their homes and took them in for questioning as part of a campaign to locate Europe’s most wanted man. That would have been no secret to Karadzic, who had a $5m bounty on his head.

He appears, however, to have become complacent after years in his new skin. At some time in June, according to two Serbian security sources, a telephone call from a mobile number in Belgrade was monitored on the tapped line of one of his relatives. The number was traced to a Dr Dragan David Dabic, living in a small rented apartment in New Belgrade.

Serbian security agents monitored Dabic, following him on his walks in down-town Belgrade and stops at coffee shops and cinemas, visits to his favourite local, the Madhouse, where he would pick up and play the gusle, the traditional Serbian string instrument, and monitoring his telephone calls. It is unclear when they realised that Dabic was in fact Karadzic.

“I think he started to believe himself that he was not Radovan Karadzic,” said Bruno Vekaric, the senior adviser of the war crimes prosecutor in Belgrade. “We’ve been following him for a long time.” Pressed, he agreed it was “about a month”.

Having decided that he could be arrested without posing a security threat and sure he was their man, they decided to act.

“We believed he was moving home,” Vekaric said.

Bozo Prelevic is the former Serbian police minister who served in the first government after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president who died in prison during his trial at the Hague. Prelevic believes that Karadzic’s success was his downfall.

“He started to believe that he would never be arrested,” said Prelevic, who is still close to Serbian security forces. “He had become overconfident, speaking at conferences. Karadzic could not live without an audience. Calling that relative was his fatal error.”

It may not have proved so had there not been a change in the Serbian government three weeks ago. After elections in May, Boris Tadic, the president, was able to form a new pro-western government with its sights set on membership of the European Union.

Key to that prospect was the EU’s insistence that war criminals would have to be apprehended.

It can be no coincidence also that Karadzic’s arrest came the day after an ally of Tadic’s was installed as head of the state security service.

Indeed, in a more favourable political climate in Bosnia, near the ski resort of Pale above Sarajevo which is still a stronghold of Bosnian Serb nationalism, Karadzic had been able to live openly even after his international arrest warrant had been issued.

Last week, friends and former supporters in the picturesque town said that everyone in Pale knew where Karadzic lived until the beginning of 2000 – except Nato it seems. Its green jeeps carrying troops who were searching for him routinely drove by his not-so-secret safe house, where he was often joined by his wife Ljiljana.

“In the early days there were 40 security people around him,” recalled Milovan Bjelica, a leader in Karadzic’s Serbian Democratic party, last week. “Up until late 1999 it was normal to see him. If I wanted to talk to him about something, he would send a car to pick me up. We would sit and discuss things. We would eat dried fruit and nuts and drink coffee.” Karadzic’s former house, a three-storey, wood-fronted chalet set back from a dirt road behind tall pine trees, was deserted last week. Broken windows let in the slanting rain and pine cones littered the stairs to the french windows on the ground floor, but it must once have been a luxurious residence. Karadzic and Ljiljana also spent time in a small white house outside Pale that they still own.

Bjelica does not think Nato was really interested in capturing Karadzic. “They believed it would endanger their own forces,” he said, a view endorsed by regional experts at the time.

He insists that he did not see Karadzic after he left Pale in early 2000. He said the rumours were that the former Serbian leader was hiding in remote mountain villages, monasteries or even caves.

“But Radovan was not a country man,” Bjalica said. “He needed the city, so I never believed these stories. I thought he was in Russia, or maybe Argentina.”

It was a renewed initiative by international forces that forced Karadzic to abandon Pale. Yet he still managed to see his family. Letters seized by Nato forces during a raid on the marital home as late as December 2002 reveal clandestine visits from Ljiljana while he was on the run. “Now summer is practically here, everybody is going somewhere, so it would not be a problem [to meet],” said one missive.

Later, presumably after they had met and done more than hold hands, he jokes about his wife feeling unwell: “If I was younger, I would hope you were pregnant.”

It is not certain precisely when he moved to Serbia, but it was after Vojislav Kostunica, the hardline president, was elected. It soon became clear that the government was opposed to returning alleged Serbian war criminals to the Hague.

“Karadzic realised he had a better chance of hiding in a forest of people in the big city than in a forest of trees,” said Goran Petrovic, former head of the Serbian intelligence agency. “He said goodbye to the people he knew and came to Belgrade alone. In Belgrade there were people who knew who he was, but they were less than five [in number].”

The first time he showed up as Dabic, the full-blown new age character, was in 2005. Mina Minic, an alternative healer from Belgrade, recalled last week an unusual visitor to the large house he shares with three generations of his family.

“He [Karadzic] came to my house and brought flowers to my wife,” Minic said. “He kissed her hand and asked for me to become his teacher. I remember he was so tall, dressed like he was from a monastery.”

Minic explains that after taking a five-day course in “human quantum energy”, a student is awarded a military-style “rank” based on their talent for the subject. Karadzic was given the rank of general.

He threw himself into the role. His articles in Healthy Life, a Serbian alternative medicine magazine, show a man who was fluent in new age thinking. “It is widely believed our senses and mind can recognise only 1% of whatever exists around us. Three per cent we understand with our hearts. All that remains is shrouded in secrecy, out of the reach of our five senses; however, it is within our reach in the extra-sensory manner,” he wrote in one article.

Minic’s teaching helped to form the cornerstone of Karadzic’s new identity. “Dragan Dabic” rented a small flat on the third floor of a block in Belgrade, decorated with a gaudy glass lampshade and a vase of dried flowers by the window.

Last week Karadzic’s books were still piled on shelves and papers were strewn across a desk next to a fax machine and office desk lamp. On a rail in front of the door hung coats and suits.

Karadzic was a regular customer in the Madhouse bar, where he drank red wine and listened to traditional Serbian music, sitting at a banquette where he could look at the portraits above the bar – of himself and Mladic.

He ate at the Arkidiye, a smart cafe-restaurant nearby. He always sat at the same table, in a screened booth in the corner of the restaurant, where he would eat cheap, simple meals of prebranac (dried beans) or topli obrok (a fish meal).

“He had great charisma,” said the restaurant manager Ziza Stevo. “He was always alone and was not a man you could chat with. I had the impression that he was always fasting. He seemed much taller than Karadzic.”

The revelation that has transfixed Serbia is that while supposedly on the run he enjoyed a close bond with Mila Cicak, an attractive 53-year-old divorcee who lives in an apartment with her university-age son in the Zemun neighbourhood of Belgrade.

Certainly her association with alternative medicine is working; she looks a decade younger than her years. Cicak is coy about how they met and denies allegations in Serbian newspapers that they were having an affair. Kosa Maksimovic, a neighbour who knows Cicak well enough to have lent her money in the past, said Cicak had told her that she went to Dabic for treatment for migraines.

Last week, sitting on a stool in her tiny flat, Cicak looked exhausted from the week’s events. “Of course I didn’t know who he was. Who could know that?” she said. “You can’t imagine how I feel.”

She admits she bought into the strange world of alternative therapy. “I had read about quantum energy, so I knew that Dr Dabic was a great expert. He told me he was working with an autistic child, so I asked to meet the child and work with him. That’s how our co-operation began.”

She says she last saw him on the Friday morning before he was arrested: “We went together to visit the autistic child. He said he needed to travel, that he was going away for two weeks.”

Cicak denies having an affair with Karadzic, but their relationship was clearly close. “They always came together and they would hold hands,” said Tanya, a secretary at Healthy Life. “I thought they were husband and wife.”

Whatever the truth of their relationship, there was no contact last week as the family of Karadzic took over.

Dragan Karadzic arrived at the empty apartment in Belgrade on Thursday to collect his uncle’s belongings. Accompanied by two thickset men wearing baseball caps and leather jackets, he was intercepted by police as he entered the flat.

They demanded to see written permission but, after a heated discussion, they accompanied Dragan into the apartment, allowing him to leave with a pair of battered trainers, a black tracksuit, two dictionaries and some vitamins.

After an angry tirade and threats against journalists, Dragan revealed that his uncle was fasting and needed the vitamins, before racing off in a muddy black Mercedes estate car.

THIS weekend Karadzic was in a Belgrade prison cell with a barred window in the door. He was refusing prison food, but eating hazelnuts and walnuts brought by Luca, his brother, and reading newspapers that all pictured him on their front pages. It is already an outdated image – he has yet again changed his appearance, demanding to be allowed to shave and cut his hair.

This week will be one of recovery from shock in Serbia and legal manoeuvres that will most likely see Karadzic in a new role: that of prisoner in the Hague.

The UN high representative in Sarajevo has denied permission for Ljiljana or his children, Sasa and Sonja, to travel to Belgrade to visit him.

Intelligence agencies are now engaged in the process of piecing together Karadzic’s movements. Attention will turn to Dragan Karadzic, who this weekend told a Serbian newspaper that he had been the only person helping his uncle over the past six years as he hid from justice.

There were clearly some near-misses with the authorities along the way. Yesterday Austrian police said anti-terror units had found a man who looked exactly like Drabic while searching an apartment in Vienna for a murder suspect last year. The man was not connected to the killing and was released without being fingerprinted. Meanwhile, an Austrian newspaper reported that Karadzic had worked in Vienna as a “miracle healer” in 2006, seeing patients in the homes of Serbians living there.

In Serbia, the government has vowed to move on and focus on capturing Mladic, the next most wanted man in Europe. Serbian sources say that will be a different odyssey. The general behind the Srebrenica massacre is never alone and is surrounded by armed bodyguards willing to fight to the death rather than give up their leader.

Rumours that Mladic had given up Karadzic to save himself were just that.

Petrovic said: “Arresting Karadzic was not a big risk. To catch Mladic would be different. Mladic’s bodyguards have orders to kill him rather than let him be captured. Karadzic was a doctor. Mladic is a crazy military man.”

Karadzic’s home for the foreseeable future is already waiting. At the detention centre at the Hague they have prepared an en-suite cell, about 18 metres square, with a television, facilities to cook Balkan specialities with fellow war criminals and a ping-pong table.

If he is to represent himself in court, as he has promised to do, Karadzic will also need one more thing: the bearded guru of human quantum theory could soon be swapping his tomes on alternative health for law books.


Deceitful Australian TV channel pays up

Channel Seven has paid a retirement village operator a six-figure sum to settle a defamation proceeding after Today Tonight broadcast footage an 84-year-old resident chained on the premises.

The program, broadcast in February last year, said Shirley Frey was being kicked out of Willoughby Village.

"Shirley Frey would have to be the oldest person in Australia to be kicked out of a nursing home," the reporter, Nicholas Boot, had said. "But this feisty 84-year-old is refusing to budge, chaining herself to her room."

The first problem was that Boot had brought the chain with him to film his story. The second problem was Mrs Frey was not being kicked out.

Lindy Kearns, chief executive of the Willoughby Retirement Community Association, which runs the village, said she told Boot it was taking Mrs Frey to court for breaching her residential agreement by trying to avoid paying a $250,000 accommodation bond. Ms Kearns said Mrs Frey had claimed she had only $5000 in assets but she owned an apartment in Cammeray.

Mrs Frey left in February after losing her legal battle.

The association sued Seven, saying it suffered financial loss as a result of damage to its reputation and goodwill. Yesterday Ms Kearns said Seven had agreed to pay $250,000 plus legal costs.

"This vindicates the longstanding position held by our residents, staff and volunteer directors against the reporting by Today Tonight," she said last night.

Two days after the story was broadcast, Boot left Seven, which said he had gone "to pursue other opportunities. There is no ill feeling between Nicholas and Seven and we wish him well in his future endeavours."

Seven did not respond to the Herald's request for comment.

In May Seven lost a defamation case against Mercedes Corby, the sister of the jailed drug trafficker Schapelle.


China sold on brands made in Australia

MADE In Australia brands are booming in China, reversing the long-time trend of Aussie shoppers buying Made In China products.

Australian fashion, wine, cosmetics and even computer software are all in hot demand in the booming Chinese economy.

More than 4000 Australian companies exported $2.6 billion worth of manufactured goods to China in 2007, up 10 per cent from the previous year.

Austrade's chief economist Tim Harcourt said the resources boom, Chinese students attending Australian educational institutions and a rapid increase in tourism numbers have "influenced the Chinese to develop a taste for all things Australian".

Ultraceuticals managing director Helen Brownie said the Sydney firm's cosmetics, sold through a Chinese distributor who has set up Australian concept stores called Ousia, have been embraced by Chinese women.

"Australia has a really good name and reputation as far as our therapeutic goods administration goes," Ms Brownie said.

"In China, they believe Australia is a very clean country, they see us as having beautiful fresh clean air and lots of green open spaces, and they trust our products."

Other Australian cosmetics brands being sold in China include Private Formula International, Shizen, Glamourflage, Nature's Care, Vitaman and Say It With Scent.

Australian retail food brand manager and franchisor Retail Food Group Limited recently announced it would soon open a Donut King store in Shanghai.

Foster's media manager Troy Hey said the Chinese market for fine wine, particularly Penfolds Grange, is growing. [What a disaster. At $500 a bottle, Grange is dear enough already! Adding Chinese demand will just increase that.]

"Generally as China's affluence grows quickly they're developing the same taste as affluent Westerners," Mr Hey said.

Austrade Senior Trade Commissioner in Shanghai Christopher Wright said Australians were known for giving everybody a fair go, and were open and co-operative when doing business in China.

"Our cultural predisposition makes us easy to do business with," he said.

"We don't have cultural or historic baggage in China."

Mr Wright said networking was very important in China, and Australians were very good at meeting and greeting.

"Business here is a very personal thing," he said.

"People here like to see who they're doing business with; they like to go to dinner with you."

During the Beijing Olympics, Austrade has set up Business Club Australia to establish links between Australian companies and Chinese partners.

Fashion industry brands doing well in China include Ksubi and Kirrily Johnston.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

REAL Cornish pasties

There are pasties and there are Cornish pasties, and it has been left to a vegetarian to tell them apart.

A six-year campaign by pasty makers in Cornwall has persuaded Hilary Benn, the Rural Affairs Secretary and vegetarian, that the name “Cornish pasty” should be protected in law. He has decided that the Cornish should have the exclusive right to use their county’s name when selling pasties, which took off as a staple food for the county’s tin miners in the 18th century.

If Brussels approves, the Cornish pasty will join the prestigious club of other top-quality produce in Europe such as Parma ham and champagne - though some leading French brands are angling to expand the champagne grape-growing region to take advantage of climate change. It will also mean that anyone attempting to pass off a similar pasty made anywhere else in Britain as authentic Cornish could face prosecution from trading standards officers.

The branding would also guarantee to consumers exactly what they are buying - so anyone eating a pasty with peas, carrots or spicy lamb instead of plain beef, or even with pretty glazed crimping along the top, will know it is not officially the real thing. According to the rules put forward by the Cornish Pasty Association, the authentic pasty must have a distinctive D-shape and be crimped on the side. This feature was demanded by miners who had dirty hands. They were able to eat the meat and vegetable pie and then throw away the grimy crust.

The filling must be uncooked mince or roughly cut chunks of beef - at least 12.5 per cent of the filling - mixed with potato, onion, swede or turnip, and a light peppery seasoning. No flavourings or additives are allowed. The pastry is then glazed with milk or egg and baked.

Mr Benn’s decision is a coup for Ginsters, which makes its Cornish pasties in Callington, Cornwall.

Mark Duddridge, its managing director, said: “This is fantastic news but the decision has been so long coming it’s caught us on the hop. We haven’t even planned a celebration. But if people are making pasties at the moment and calling them Cornish they will have to change the name on the label. We make authentic Cornish pasties and have staff who crimp them by hand in our factory.”

Rival firms have indicated that they intend to challenge the application at the European Commission. Kerry Foods, which produces Cornish pasties under the Miller and Clover brand, from a factory in Poole, Dorset, announced yesterday that it would fight the plan. Greggs Bakeries, which is based in Newcastle upon Tyne, and makes 200 million pasties a year, most of them sold as Cornish, is also to make a formal objection.

Cornish pasties are already worth £60 million a year to Cornwall, some 6 per cent of its food economy. Pasty makers employ 1,800 permanent staff and another 13,000 people benefit from the trade which produces 86.5 million pasties a year.

Elaine Ead, who makes up to 1,000 authentic Cornish pasties a day, learnt the recipe from her mother-in-law and the technique has transformed the fortunes of her Chough bakery on the quay in Padstow.

The popularity of her pasties, made and baked inside the shop, has allowed her to build a new bakery out of town and expand her staff to 20 during the summer months. She is thrilled that in future pasties sold as Cornish must hail from the county.

She thinks that too many people are conned. “I was in Gloucestershire recently and visited a bakery where they were making Cornish pasties. But they were using a pastry mix and were putting in carrots and peas. Well, that’s not a Cornish pasty, whatever it else it may be.”

She said the secret of a perfect pasty is the freshness of the vegetables and the art of hand-crimping the edge. She said: “Our real Cornish pasties contain freshly cut local potatoes, turnip and onions and the best cut of beef. We add only a little salt and pepper though the extra ingredient in our pasties is a dash of clotted cream.

“Then it’s in the oven. Our pasties are so fresh that a customer will have paid and be eating one 20 minutes after the vegetables were chopped.”


Friday, July 25, 2008

Lesbians lose $400,000 baby case

THE lesbian mothers of IVF twin girls have lost a legal bid to sue their doctor for the cost of raising one of the toddlers.

The women, whose names have been suppressed, sued prominent Canberra obstetrician Sydney Robert Armellin for more than $400,000 for implanting two embryos instead of the requested one.

The ACT Supreme Court today ruled in favour of Dr Armellin, and ordered the couple pay his legal costs.

The IVF procedure, which used sperm from a Danish donor, resulted in the birth of twin girls, now aged four.

The couple, whose combined income is more than $100,000, sought $398,000 from Dr Armellin to cover the costs of raising one of the girls, including fees for a private Steiner school in Melbourne.

The court was told the twins' birth mother had lost her capacity to love and the couple's relationship suffered as they became mired in everyday tasks associated with raising two children.

But Dr Armellin's lawyer said loss of freedom was experienced commonly by parents across Australia.

The couple said it was Dr Armellin's responsibility to ensure his patient's wishes were carried out during the operation at Canberra's John James Memorial Hospital on November 12, 2003.

Dr Armellin countered by saying the birth mother only told him she wanted one embryo minutes before she was sedated, after previously signing a form consenting for up to two embryos to be implanted.

The case, before Justice Annabelle Bennett, sparked nationwide condemnation of the women in the media.

The mothers issued a statement during the civil proceedings arguing the case had nothing to do with their feelings towards their daughters, but with Dr Armellin's failure to comply with their wishes.

"This has never been a case about whether our children are loved," they said in a handwritten statement.

"They are cherished."

The couple's solicitor Thena Kyprianou said her clients, who live in Melbourne, were shocked by the decision.

"They're disappointed," Ms Kyprianou told reporters.

"They said they are shocked and that they will consider their options further once they have an opportunity to read the judgment."

Ms Kyprianou said the publicity surrounding the case had destroyed her clients' privacy.

Dr Armellin's barrister Kim Burke said her client was relieved but mindful the women have 28 days to decide whether to lodge an appeal.


Currencies out of whack, says Big Mac

A McDonald's Big Mac burger is over-valued by 50 per cent in the eurozone when compared to its price in US dollars and under-valued by 49 per cent in China, the Economist magazine says.

The magazine wrote that according to its Big Mac Index, which compares exchange rates that should leave a Big Mac burger costing the same in US dollars everywhere, "many currencies look more out of whack than in July 2007, when we last compared burger prices".

A Big Mac costs on average $US3.57 in the US.

But in the eurozone a consumer with the US currency in hand would have to change $US5.34 to buy a burger in euros.

For the two currencies to have the same purchasing power at McDonald's, the euro should be worth $US1.06, rather than $US1.57 at present, suggesting that the single currency is over-valued by 50 per cent against the US dollar.

But the Economist found that "the dollar buys a lot of burger'' in Asia, concluding that the Chinese yuan for example is under-valued by 49 per cent against the US dollar.

Elsewhere, the survey found that the Swiss franc is over-valued by 78 per cent against the US dollar, the British pound 28 per cent and the Norwegian krone 121 per cent.


F1 boss wins S&M orgy case

MOTOR racing boss Max Mosley won damages in London's High Court when a judge ruled his privacy was violated after The News of the World published a story about his part in a sado-masochistic orgy.

Mosley, president of Formula One's governing body and son of Britain's 1930s Fascist leader Oswald Mosley, did not deny taking part in a German-themed sex session with prostitutes, but said his privacy was violated by the newspaper's reporting.

Justice David Eady sided with Mosley, saying the tabloid Sunday newspaper was not justified in publishing the story and accompanying photographs despite Mosley's public profile and claims that it was in the public interest.

In the story, published earlier this year, the newspaper said the orgy involved Nazi-style role-play, something Mosley denied and the newspaper failed to back up in court.

"The claimant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to sexual activities (albeit unconventional) carried on between consenting adults on private property," Justice Eady wrote in his judgment.

"I found that there was no evidence that the gathering on 28 March, 2008 was intended to be an enactment of Nazi behaviour or adoption of any of its attitudes. Nor was it in fact."

The judge awarded Mosley £60,000 ($124,294) in damages and said the newspaper should pay his costs, estimated at £450,000.

Mosley, 68, brought the case earlier this month, saying the newspaper, which published pictures showing the Formula One boss being spanked by women dressed as prison guards, was responsible for a "gross and indefensible intrusion of his private life".

The News of the World said the sex session was an example of "true depravity" not just harmless "hanky spanky".

Giving evidence during the case, Mosley confessed to having had a penchant for sado-masochism from an early age, but dismissed any suggestion of a Nazi fetish or that there were any Nazi connotations. He said he could think of few things more unerotic given his family history.

Mosley welcomed the judge's ruling, saying: "This shows that they have no right to go into private premises and take pictures and films of adults engaged in activities that are no one's business but those of the people concerned."

The newspaper's case rested heavily on the evidence of a star witness, a prostitute married to a former British MI5 agent, who filmed the sex session secretly and was expected to claim that Mosley had explicitly requested a Nazi-themed orgy.

However, she failed to appear in court to give evidence and the other four prostitutes involved denied any Nazi connotation.

"They over-larded the story, and if you over-lard the story and get it wrong... you've got a real problem," privacy lawyer Rod Dadak told the BBC.

After the story emerged, Mosley faced pressure to quit his job but held on after winning a confidence vote last month at an extraordinary general assembly of the International Automobile Federation, Formula One's governing body.

In court, Mosley revealed that his wife of 48 years had had no idea about his sado-masochistic fetish. He said he had frequently paid up to £2500 a time to have prostitutes beat, whip and humiliate him.

The News of the World appeared unrepentant after the ruling, issuing a statement about Mosley's "depraved" behaviour.

"We are delighted that the judge has acknowledged that Mr Mosley is largely the author of his own misfortune.

"Taking part in depraved and brutal S&M orgies on a regular basis does not in our opinion constitute the fit and proper behaviour to be expected of someone in his hugely influential position," the newspaper said.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Google uses expert Knol to take on Wikipedia

GOOGLE has opened its website Knol to the public, allowing people to write about their areas of expertise under their bylines in a twist on encyclopedia Wikipedia, which allows anonymity.
"We are deeply convinced that authorship - knowing who wrote what - helps readers trust the content," said Cedric DuPont, product manager for Knol.

The name of the service is a play on an individual unit of knowledge, Mr DuPont said, and entries on the public website, knol.google.com, are called "knols". Google conducted a limited test of the site beginning in December.

Knol has publishing tools similar to single blog pages. But unlike blogs, Knol encourages writers to reduce what they know about a topic to a single page that is not chronologically updated.

"What we want to get away from is 'this last voice wins' model which is very difficult if you are a busy professional," Mr DuPont said.

Google wants to rank entries by popularity to encourage competition. For example, the first knol on "Type 1 Diabetes" is by Anne Peters, director of the University of Southern California's Clinical Diabetes Programs.

As other writers publish on diabetes, Google plans to rank related pages according to user ratings, reviews and how often people refer to specific pages, Mr DuPont said.

Knol focuses on individual authors or groups of authors in contrast to Wikipedia's subject entries, which are updated by users and edited behind the scenes.

Google's website does not edit or endorse the information and visitors will not be able to edit or contribute to a knol unless they have the author's permission. Readers will be able to notify Google if they find any content objectionable.

Knol is a hybrid of the individual, often opinionated entries found in blogs and the collective editing relied on by Wikipedia and other wiki sites.

The service uses what it calls "moderated collaboration" in which any reader of a specific topic page can make suggested edits to the author or authors, who retain control over whether to accept, reject or modify changes before they are published.

In its early stages, Knol remains a far cry from Wikipedia, which boasts 7 million collectively edited articles in 200 languages.

Google signed a deal with Conde Nast's New Yorker magazine, giving Knol authors the rights to use one of the magazine's famous cartoons in each Knol posting. Google will allow Knol writers to run ads on their entries and will share income with them.

Mr DuPont said that rather than competing with Wikipedia, Knol may end up serving as a primary source of authoritative information for use with Wikipedia articles.

"Knols will fill gaps on what we have on the web today. That is what we hope," he said.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

DNA tests show that 20% of paternity doubts are justified

Suspicious blokes who request paternity tests are mostly wrong and about 80 per cent are found to be the real father, new Queensland research suggests. While some 80 per cent of men who ask for a test find out they are in fact the father, only just over half had actually expected that result. And the research, conducted by Andrea Hayward, the director of Queensland's only registered DNA testing facility, DNA Qld, shows when a woman asks for a test she often gets the result she predicted.

She says that in Queensland, as many as 1500 paternity tests are carried out each year. Hayward says a growing number of women, particularly younger women, want to confirm paternity of a child before it is born. Hayward adds: "The message about safe sex and contraception is definitely not getting out there."

Hayward will present the preliminary findings of her research, which is ongoing, to the annual scientific meeting of The Australian Society for Psychosocial Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Adelaide next week. She added that other studies had shown that only between one and four per cent of people were mistaken about who their father was.

Hayward says infidelity motivates many of the women who request 20 per cent of the tests. "It is not only the aggrieved potential fathers wanting testing," Hayward says. "Women, while they are pregnant, are now also wanting to confirm paternity of their child. "Many of these women tested have had affairs while in a relationship and need to determine the identity of the genetic father before the child is born. "The majority of these cases confirm the partner as the father, but in the cases where the lover has been determined as the father, these pregnancies have been terminated."

Hayward says that, in Australia, it is believed that at least one in five men who are uncertain about the paternity of their children will have their uncertainty resolved by a test. The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures indicate that last year there were 12,163 divorces in Queensland. Of those, 3566 were joint applications for divorce, 5020 were lodged by the wife and 3577 by the husband. These findings are consistent with research overseas that shows women are initiating more divorces than men. Rising female infidelity is likely to influence these statistics even more.

Mira Kirshenbaum, a psychotherapist and author of When good people have affairs: Inside the hearts and minds of people in two relationships (St Martin's Press, 2008), says society has to let go of the idea that women are somehow purer, more noble than men. Kirshenbaum says there are several reasons for increases in female infidelity. These include feeling trapped in an unhappy marriage; fewer social repercussions for those who are caught and greater opportunity as more women work outside the home.


Vegemite the internet's 'most loved brand'

Vegemite on cracker biscuits is one of my favourite late-night snacks. Outside Australia, however, few people understand our national devotion to it. The Brits have some idea as their Marmite is similar to it.

IN an unlikely twist, Vegemite has trumped global marketing goliaths Coca-Cola, Nike and Starbucks to be named the world's "most loved brand" on the internet.

IBM researchers in the US analysing attitudes to brands among worldwide web surfers were "flabbergasted" to discover the iconic Aussie spread had the staunchest appeal, Kraft Foods spokeswoman Greta Cooper said.

"Our head of corporate affairs actually got a call from (IBM in) New York at 2am just saying, 'We're flabbergasted that we found these results for Vegemite and it's just blown us all away'," Ms Cooper said.

"We're pretty amazed by the results as well."

IBM conducted the research off its own bat, analysing 1.5 billion posts across 38 languages within social networking sites, blogs, message boards and online news.

The results turned up 479,206 mentions of Vegemite, with brand affinity found more often than for any other product worldwide.

This was despite numerous posts on sites like YouTube lampooning the appeal of Vegemite, with consumers from Japan to North America shown reeling in mock horror after tasting the yeast spread.

Vegemite sells only two per cent of its 22 million jars a year outside Australia.

However, Ms Cooper said there had been a "massive uptake" of the spread in Japan, after it was deemed to possess "umami" – a prized fifth primary taste – by gourmets there.

Japanese tourists snapping up the spread on shopping trips to Hong Kong and Singapore led to a Vegemite shortage in supermarkets, the Sunday Morning Post reported in April.

In Australia, Vegemite is the star performer for its US-owned manufacturer, Kraft Foods Australia.

It was the 68th-highest selling grocery brand last year, grossing between $75 million and $100 million in supermarket sales, according to Nielsen Australia.


Full set of Grange to top $150,000

About 25 years ago I bought a dozen Grange at $11 per bottle! I still drink it on rare occasions but my Presbyterian background tends to rebel at the current price of around $500 per bottle

WHEN South Australian Noel Ryan bought his first bottle of Penfolds Grange, he'd barely heard of the famous drop.

The retired automotive industry marketing director had been asked to source a few bottles for an interstate customer in the mid 1990s, and once he'd unearthed several sought-after vintages, he was hooked himself.
A dozen years later, Mr Ryan had amassed a complete set of the ultimate Australian red, including the rarest of all, the first 1951 vintage made by the revered Max Schubert at Penfold's Magill winery.

"There's a fascination with Grange and once you start, you can't stop," Mr Ryan said ahead of his complete collection going under the hammer tomorrow at Adelaide's Wickmans Fine Wine Auctions.

Mr Ryan's passion for his collection was driven by the desire to be one of only 12 to 15 people in the world to own a complete Grange set, the elite club's membership decided only by the availability in the secondary market of the prized 1951 vintage.

Mr Ryan says that the day he flew to Sydney to buy his 1951, he took a 6am flight with a bundle of cash in his pocket, returning by 11am after nursing the bottle on his lap all the way home.

He completed his set also as part of a broad range of retirement investments.

"It's a form of investment that can give you a lot of enjoyment," Mr Ryan said.

"I've had a lot of thrills putting this collection together."

The value of the full set of Grange is estimated by Wickmans to be more than $150,000.

The full set can be viewed online here
Auctioneer Mark Wickman said Grange was proving a good investment during recent economic instability.

"I've actually found that since January, it's started to creep up in price," he said.

"I attribute that to the fact that there is a lot of papers around the world touting alternative investments such as wine and art. People looking to take their money out of the stockmarket are turning to these alternative investments."

More people were also buying Grange for consumption, which was keeping sales levels high.

"People seem to be drinking more of it," Mr Wickman said.

"There's a lot of interest from retailers and restaurants at auctions at the moment."

"At the end of the day, it is the collector and resultant custodian of this masterpiece of Australian history that will determine the price it falls to under the hammer."


Alan Ayckbourn: 'It's a love-hate thing with theatre'

Does Sir Alan Ayckbourn actually enjoy the theatre? The fact is, the great man of the British stage, the first playwright to be knighted after Terence Rattigan, can't stand most of it. It makes him cringe. “It's a love-hate thing,” he says. “I love that moment when a show is firing on all cylinders in a room full of people who are having a great time. But the rest of it is really irritating. Come on ... why are we sitting in the dark? We all know it's only a play - so get on with it! I hate what Stephen Daldry once called 'burglar's theatre' - you know, suddenly everything goes dark and people in black called stage hands creep on and steal vases and things. If you are going to ask people to be stuck in the dark you've got to surprise them. I try to make my plays events, not plays, with lots of things happening.” There's a trait here. Ayckbourn's father, Horace, disliked music and thought Beethoven was rubbish - a drawback for the first violinist of the London Symphony Orchestra.

Young Ayckbourn ruled the West End by writing the sort of plays he wanted to see. In one year alone (1975) he had five plays on in London simultaneously. He was - and still is - a purveyor of laughter to the middle classes, who found themselves reflected, judged and found wanting in plays full of broken hearts and malfunctioning household gadgets.

His experimental plays (The Norman Conquests was three plays all set on the same weekend seen from three different parts of the house; Intimate Exchanges has 16 plot variants) were as daring as they were commercially successful. His Noël Coward-like grip on the public taste made him a fortune, much of which he ploughed back into his own theatre - his train set, he called it - on the Yorkshire coast, where he first went in 1957.

He's still there, working as a playwright and artistic director (unsalaried by choice) of the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Ayckbourn, twice as prolific as Shakespeare, will be 70 in April. He was lucky to make 69 after a serious stroke two years ago, which has slowed him up.

“I have yet to write my stroke play but I dare say it will come,” he says. On the other hand, death is at the front of his mind. “When you get older, you go to a few funerals. You don't know what to say to the woman - and it's usually a woman. You start this awful business, 'He was a terrific bloke', and they look at you as if saying, 'Yes, yes, get it over with'. My new play is about a woman who is just coming to terms with the death of her husband, and all her family are doing the crying on her behalf.”

Lady Ayckbourn (the former actress Heather Stoney) has her work cut out with his recuperation and his son (by his first marriage) and grandchildren living in the flat upstairs in their house in Scarborough's Old Town. In hospital he took the decision to retire from running the theatre he's been the head of since 1972.

“Before the stroke I had a blithe confidence in immortality - I thought, 'Maybe He'll miss me out'. I had cut back on my directing by not doing other people's plays, which I found totally exhausting because of the responsibility. So I have now given up the administering and the planning and what I am left with is directing my own plays and writing them. It's about as much as I can cope with”.

Next spring, the director Chris Monks will take over the running of the Stephen Joseph Theatre (formerly the Library Theatre). He has already asked Ayckbourn for a new play for 2009.

In the meantime another new Ayckbourn opens this week. Life and Beth - with Liza Goddard and Susie Blake - is about a widow facing her first Christmas alone. “It's all about taking the famous Philip Larkin text, 'They f*** you up, your mum and dad' - the disastrous effect parents have on their children and sometimes the other way round. I describe it as my Blithe Spirit. It's still quite sad. You can't write a play about a recently widowed woman at Christmas without it getting sad.”

His own childhood was a lonely business after his father left his mother for the orchestra's second violinist when Ayckbourn was young. His ciggie-toting, magazine-journalist mother took up with a bank manager - another unsatisfactory relationship which Ayckbourn has parlayed into umpteen plays.

Two things about this new play are typically Ayckbournian. Ticket prices are affordable, a belief instilled in him by his mentor Stephen Joseph in whose honour he renamed the in-the-round theatre and whose house he bought. Secondly, he writes superb parts for actresses. His plays are full of women: vivid, memorable, victimised. As so often in Ayckbourn, the laughter conceals the seriousness of the content.

He's been in Scarborough so long people think of him as local. He's not - he's a southerner who went from Haileybury public school straight into theatre to meet girls. At a tender age he married and had two boys. He split from his first wife after ten years but didn't divorce her for another 30, when he tied the knot in 1997 with Stoney.

“I came to Scarborough in 1957 as a sprog assistant stage manager playing small parts. I remember I got off the train packed with holidaymakers and this bracing air and smell of chips. I said, 'Wow!' Because I was an inland child living in north Sussex, one of the great treats as a child was a trip to the seaside - so, dear reader, I bought the sweet shop. I came to the seaside and stayed. I thought, 'This can't get better'.”

His old hits never go away. The Norman Conquests will be staged at the Old Vic in September. The pattern was for years that his new plays would go from Scarborough straight to the West End. Recently, however, he has grown disillusioned, refusing to allow his new plays into London because of the way a transfer a few years back was mangled.

“I know I sound blimpish but I do feel the straight play is a doomed species. And what I get really angry about is the terrible starvation of the theatre out of London. You can see it in insidious ways. The death of regional work is very serious. You pick up the programme of the average rep company and you find no individual voice - it's all co-productions with other theatres. Or it's 'devised' work, and most of that is rubbish.”

One day the Stephen Joseph Theatre will have to cope without Ayckbourn. For the time being, though, the house writer has no intention of stopping work.

“Two things I live for. One is being in a rehearsal room. The other is writing a new play. As soon as a new play comes out there's a terrible moment of post-partum emptiness - and then another idea comes in, sometimes two or three. I just can't imagine being alive without a play in me somewhere,” he says, getting up, pregnant with play No 72, his Christmas show.

Life and Beth opens at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (01723 370541), tomorrow. The Norman Conquests trilogy previews from Sept 11 at the Old Vic, SE1 (0870 0606628) and opens on Oct 6


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Coffee has spoiled the tea party

LOL. I sympathize with the guy below. I have been drinking tea all my life that I can remember and still think there is nothing like it. Brisbane cafes do generally have some choice of tea but it is all fancy-pants stuff. So when the waiter asks me what tea I want I usually say: "Bushells, the tea of flavour". I never get it

ARE we tea drinkers second-class citizens? Let me elaborate. I'm an eight-cups-a-day tea drinker. No milk, no sugar, simply black. Orange pekoe, Darjeeling first flush, oolong and then green tea. Yet most cafes and restaurants have menus with endless variations of coffee. You know the usual trendy drinks such as lattes, mugacino, cappuccino, espresso macchiato and cafe con leche. But where's the tea? If you are lucky there will be one or two types listed at the bottom of the blackboard - usually English breakfast or Earl Grey.

If you want further proof of our lower ranking on the citizenship scale, watch what happens after you have had your meal. The waiter always asks if anyone wants coffee. Do they ever ask if anyone would like tea? Rarely. And how about the look they give when you are the only one in your group who says "Can I have some tea?" They look in shock and puzzlement and say, "Yes, I think we may have English breakfast and Earl Grey." You go for the English breakfast because daring to ask for Darjeeling is likely to offend.

And then observe who gets served first. That's right - the coffee drinkers. Out comes their little cups of froth decorated with designs of fern or eucalypt leaves, or something that resembles a love heart. And then out comes the tea. I would say nine out of 10 times out comes a tea bag stuck in the small cup (to really make matters worse watch how often it is served in a glass mug . is there no shame?) Of course you may be lucky and have it served in a pot with the tea-bag label dangling out for all to see.

But occasionally you get the five-star service you really want and deserve. Real tea leaves in a white china pot and a petite fine china cup and saucer. But such quality is rare.


Aussie tourists fashion a let down

This I believe. I remember waiting around for my flight in Jan Smuts airport in Johannesburg along with lots of other Australians and noting how you could tell the Australians from the white South Africans. The Safs were all nicely dressed and the Australians all looked like they had just got out of bed. I was myself one of the worst offenders, of course

Australian tourists may be generous and polite but our fashion sense, or lack of, is letting us down, according to international hoteliers. Hence, Australians are ranked only number six by hoteliers when asked who they think are the world's best tourists.

More than 4000 hoteliers were questioned in the inaugural Best Tourist Survey by online travel company Expedia. Managing director of expedia, Arthur Hoffman, said Australians had to dress better and make an effort to try more local cuisine in order to rank better in next year's survey. While the survey stopped short of telling us what we are doing wrong in the fashion stakes, one can only imagine the likes of bum-bags, hiking boots and sloppy-joes are letting us down.

In search of some fashion sense I picked the brains of Jana Pokomy, the fashion director at one of the country's leading women's magazines, Marie Claire. Unlike our travelling counterparts in Europe and the United States, an international sojourn from Down Under can clock up many kilometres, Pokomy said. "With this in mind we Aussies generally wind up looking a little worse for wear by the time we've endured even a relatively close trip," she said.

The trick is being comfy on a long-haul flight without sacrificing all fashion know-how. "A total fashion disaster is a track suit in my books, but also tight jeans and stilettoes just look silly when flying," Pokomy said. She suggests loose fitting cotton pants or soft fabric jeans for breathability and a classic laid back look. "No rips, fraying or acid wash, just simple and stylish." Team this with a cotton tee and pack a spare one to make fresh-faced arrival.

"(If) you are travelling first class ... you should pop on that laid back yet sophisticated Giorgio Armani suit which gets taken off and hung up, replaced by a pair of those softy, comfy pyjamas." And on your feet, a loafer or ballet flat is easy to slip on and off.

The on-board air-conditioning is always a little too nippy, so a fine cashmere cardigan or oversized knit would be suitable and stylish. Plus a wrap scarf can double as a blanket. "All of these items are not only comfortable but classically simple and always look great," Pokomy said.

If you are heading somewhere that will have a high chill factor Pokomy suggests upping the ante on the carry-on luggage. "Have a good sized carry bag into which you should pack your favourite pair of flat boots, a pair of warm socks and a long coat to throw on upon arrival."

It's uber important that you take great care in cultural sensitivity when travelling. The best way of making sure you don't offend is by doing your homework. "Check on the local customs where you are going or even the airlines you fly with," Pokomy said. But regardless of this, Pokomy warns the ladies: "It's an absolute no-no to have too much cleavage on display as this may offend fellow travellers".


Art Deco

Art deco was a strange phenomenon. In the grand history of 20th-century art, it has generally been assigned a fairly lowly place. None of its leading figures are very famous, in the way that Picasso or Jackson Pollock are famous. It produced no magisterial paintings. And yet art deco represents something important that we lack today: an ambitious and serious artistic style whose home ground is the daily life of mainstream society.

The art deco style flourished from about 1910 to the outbreak of World War II. It gets its name from a vast exhibition held in Paris in 1925, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels. The long French title was later reduced to the appealing diminutive: art deco. Conveniently, this name clicked with the big style that came just before: art nouveau. Nouveau was curving and slender and a little precious. Deco was chunky, solid and populist.

The perfect nouveau moment would be a young man with long hair and a huge bow tie, drinking tea from a tiny Japanese cup and writing a poem to a butterfly. The perfect deco moment is a woman with short hair, mixing a martini at a chrome-plated home bar while listening to a jazz band on the radio, only to be interrupted by her maid saying she is wanted on the telephone.

The great Paris exhibition wasn't in the least like a modern biennale devoted to the latest quirks and turns of the art world; it was more like a world trade fair. The 1920s saw the dawn of mass production and consumerism. It was the age of Ford production lines; the vast halls of department stores were still new and exciting. The 1925 exhibition was devoted to showing objects that would sell and that could at the same time aspire to artistic meaning.

Art deco brings together a range of concerns that we don't usually associate with art movements: decorative and industrial arts. This, and the fact that its central event was a trade fair, a kind of stimulus to world shopping, tells us a great deal about the phenomenon.

It was connected to everyday life: its representative objects were clothes, chairs, lamps and cocktail shakers. The show at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne includes surely the most stylish heating radiators ever created: gleaming chrome and fabulous to look at when not in use. I was particularly impressed by a sea-green Bakelite radio with a lightly classical front, and a chrome-plated record player. These are extremely charming. They take the little objects of life and connect them, visually and sensually, with our more noble aspirations.

The grandest objects of art deco were the skyscrapers of Manhattan, especially the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. They sought to contain the vastness of the constructions within the visual ambitions of classical style: the Empire State Building is organised (at the lower and higher levels) as a sequence of plain temple facades. Art deco is the ideal office style: the utopia of professional duties. It looks smart and efficient; it has understated luxurious qualities; it is gleaming and geometrically pure. You need to wear a suit and have short hair. Your heels click authoritatively along the polished stone floors of the lobbies and corridors.

These buildings remind us that art deco was often visually conservative. It took up all the modern conveniences -- transport, office buildings, cinemas, hotels, dress, communications, swimming pools -- and sought to make them elegant and refined. And a key strategy in this was to adopt and lightly modernise existing patterns of design.

A big influence was the refined middle-class German domestic tradition known as Biedermeier -- a style of decoration, furniture making and, in fact, of living -- that emphasised decency, comfort, simple classical motifs and pleasant, easy sociability. Art deco was a commercial style; even people who did not belong to the beau monde or the self-conscious avant-garde could buy art deco furniture in the leading high-street shops.

In the progressive narrative of art, art deco was rather embarrassing. This was happening after Marcel Duchamp and Dada, after Le Corbusier had built aggressively modernist buildings. Perhaps the best known designer from the period was Viennese craftsman Josef Hoffmann. His painted chairs and tables with little gold panels and simple elegant character are almost timeless. From the point of view of progressive art he should have known better. How could you paint white chairs with golden details when the cutting edge had already moved on?

But one might take the examples as teaching a reverse lesson: so much the worse for a progressive narrative of art history if it leads us to ignore so many lovely and worthwhile things.

One of the exhibits at the NGV that attracted most attention, on a busy Saturday, was some footage of the luxury French liner the Normandie (launched in 1932). The ship was a floating showcase of art deco. We see men in tailcoats and women in slender, shimmering gowns strolling about the cocktail bar. As we watched, one woman said aloud what I imagine a lot of us were thinking: "I was born in the wrong age." It's a longing for a more glamorous, elegant, smart and charming existence (rather than the desire to have lived through two world wars).

Is the exhibition a window on to another curious world, one that we cannot inhabit and in which we cannot participate? This is the fantasy of the art-historian as ethnographer: recording but not participating in the rituals of a vanished art deco tribe. The visitor can watch the film, but not be in it. The more radical and dangerous thought is to be loyal to the love. One may feel that the values of that era, as reflected in the objects, were in some respects finer and better than those of today.

The most poignant object is a poster advertising a new train, first run by the Victorian Railways on the Melbourne-Albury line in 1937. The poster carries the legend: Spirit of Progress (also presented by an illuminated sign on the rear of the train, which one could see as it raced away).

Today the slogan has a melancholy ring. The train that carried it is much more elegant and stylish than the trains we have had since. Its optimism was misplaced: it heralded the end, not the beginning, of progress.

An object as fine as the little Hoffmann table exists beyond time, as well as being an object originating at a specific time. It gives sense to John Keats's dramatic claim: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."

The finest achievements vault over their period boundaries; they have something elemental and perfect about them that can excite admiration and love even if one knows very little about the origins. There is some deeply appealing cutlery from 1925. It would be perfect to use today. Sometimes, we may feel the benefit of a little period information to get us going. But the worth of the object cannot be comprehended if one sees it only as belonging to its time.

Many artistic and intellectual movements aim at changing the world and yet are fundamentally marginal: they challenge and shock, but make no difference. Art deco did not aim to change the world and yet it touched and enriched the lives of millions.

What we could -- and rather urgently need to -- learn from art deco is that a large purpose of art is to beautify and give style to the ordinary conditions of life in modern societies. Art deco did not rail against the factories or social inequality or the political system. Which is not to say that artists making beautiful cutlery or a perfect radiator were indifferent to such large-scale social matters.

It's just that they didn't see any particular need to try to solve the problems of the world by chrome-plating a record player or by painting a picture, such as Tamara de Lempicka's, of someone using a telephone (when that could still count as an exciting activity).

Exhibitions are very much governed by a set of scholarly art-historical assumptions. The most important official questions about a work of art are, first, how it came to be made at that time; and second, how did it fit into the evolving pattern of art?

Yet there are other more personal and perhaps more powerful questions that never seem to get raised. Why does this object matter to me now? What should you do if you love the art or style of the past more than you like the art or style of the present?

The point of encountering the art of the past is not so as to become well informed. Nor can it be as a way of understanding where we have come from. These are possible modes of curiosity, but they strike me as academic and intellectual. The real point, surely, is to find objects that speak intimately to one's soul: that seem to know you better, and address you more engagingly, than more recent items.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy: Queen was 'exquisite' and I love the eccentric British

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, France's First Lady, has described for the first time her admiration for the eccentric British and the "exquisite" Queen who spoke perfect French on her State visit to Britain.

In an interview to promote her new album Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy, who married President Nicolas Sarkozy only four weeks before the State visit in March, said that she took advice from the British embassy in Paris on how to behave.

Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy, 40, who had a whirlwind romance with the president, feared that she would not make the grade.

She thought that the British would be judgmental about her past life which had included a string of relationships with pop stars including Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger.

Her worse fears were confirmed when on the day she arrived a nude photograph from her previous life as a model was splashed over the front pages of two British newspapers. It was later auctioned by Christie's for £46,000.

While Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy feared the photograph it might damage her husband in the political arena she never felt any regret as she said she had no shame over what she had done in the past.

But any fears over the reaction of the British were forgotten after the warm reception from the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall who met the French party at Heathrow Airport. They the escorted them to Windsor Castle where they were guests of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.

The Duke showed the couple to their bedroom which he had explained had been the same room where his mother and grandmother had been born.

Despite the imposing regal surroundings the couple had felt at ease at all times because of the kindness of the Royal Family.

The First Lady had said that the "exquisite" Queen was everything she had imagined a Monarch would be. "Her intelligence, her perfect French - and she looked so well."

The President, at one point, had asked the Queen if she ever felt tired. The Queen, in faultless French, replied that while she often did she would never let it show.

In the interview in the Sunday Times, Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy, whose style and dress sense won her rave reviews in France and Britain, had loved the British for their "eccentric" and traditional behaviour despite her initial misigivings before she arrived.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Prince Charles wins a journalistic heart

By Paola Totaro

The gates outside Buckingham Palace are a delightful place to sit and people-watch. In summer and winter, in the rain or bright sunshine, tourists climb the railings like ivy over a stone wall. Young and old, monarchists and not, they clamber and peek and crane, cameras at the ready, just in case.

Last week, as the palace opened its gates for the investiture of 120 men and women on the Queen's New Year's Honours List, the heavens opened in typical London style. Hundreds of top hats and tails, silks and high heels, feathered hats and sequined fascinators, all heavy with water, soggy and limp.

Huddled under a patently inadequate umbrella at the palace's north gate, three of us Aussies had been asked to wait for an escort who would take us into the palace courtyard for a promised post-ceremony press conference with Kylie Anne Minogue, OBE. Press and TV cameras were there already but when the royal media person arrived we were whisked past our bedraggled colleagues to the Queen's ballroom. There, guests fanned themselves with their programs, seated stiffly on gilt-backed chairs upholstered in red-striped satin. Some chatted softly, others adopted a fabulously studied nonchalance. The enormous chandeliers shot shards of rainbow light onto the walls while aides in knickerbockers and tails ushered in even more guests, stopping to reassure the nervous and encourage the shy.

Like clockwork, at 11am, the Queen's bodyguards arrived. As we passed them earlier, waiting outside with their horses and coach, I heard one whisper: "Kylie's inside … that'll be a sight for sore eyes." The ballroom stood as Prince Charles entered the archway. His face and demeanour are so reassuringly familiar that it felt more like seeing an old friend arrive than a king in waiting.

And so began a very strange experience, one that I thought would arouse a reporter's innate cynicism (and republican spirit) but which elicited a different, funny kind of affection I did not expect.

For close to two hours we observed Prince Charles close up as he sashed and pinned, gave out medals, shook hands, and even created a couple of new knights. Not once did he falter in this practised and choreographed centuries-old dance of congratulation and reward and genteel small talk. Every now and then he touched his cufflinks with one hand in a gesture that is so innately Prince Charles that it should be trademarked.

The people he rewarded were as varied in background, in achievement, in education and in class as the modern City of London itself. There were professors of medicine and bobbies, architects and former soldiers, ex-cabinet secretaries and veteran civil servants, retired diplomats and septuagenarian charity workers. There were community leaders from Pakistan, Muslim teachers, several veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. And of course, there was Kylie Minogue. What was striking was the humanity of the event: the genuine, almost childlike joy that these men and women displayed as they received their honour, watched by their children, their partners or like Minogue, by a proud mother and father. All had achieved in their lives and had been marked for reward.

The monarchy has outlived its role in our political system, there is no doubt. But a public thank you for a life well lived is a precious thing indeed. As God Save The Queen played and Prince Charles left the ballroom, I caught myself hoping that one day we might still get to hear God Save The King.


Phaistos Disc declared as fake by scholar

Some say that its 45 mysterious symbols are the words of a 4,000-year-old poem, or perhaps a sacred text. Others contest that they are a magical inscription, a piece of ancient music or the world's oldest example of punctuation.

But now an American scholar believes that the markings on the Phaistos Disc, one of archaeology's most famous unsolved mysteries, mean nothing at all — because the disc is a hoax.

Jerome Eisenberg, a specialist in faked ancient art, is claiming that the disc and its indecipherable text is not a relic dating from 1,700BC, but a forgery that has duped scholars since Luigi Pernier, an Italian archaeologist, “discovered” it in 1908 in the Minoan palace of Phaistos on Crete.

Pernier was desperate to impress his colleagues with a find of his own, according to Dr Eisenberg, and needed to unearth something that could outdo the discoveries made by Sir Arthur Evans, the renowned English archaeologist, and Federico Halbherr, a fellow Italian.

He believes that Pernier's solution was to create a “relic” with an untranslatable pictographic text. If it was a ruse, it worked. Evans was so excited that he published an analysis of Pernier's findings. For the past century innumerable attempts have been made to decipher the disc. Archaeologists have tried linking them to ancient civilisations, from Greek to Egyptian.

Dr Eisenberg, who has conducted appraisals for the US Treasury Department and the J. Paul Getty Museum, highlighted the forger's error in creating a terracotta “pancake” with a cleanly cut edge. Nor, he added, should it have been fired so perfectly. “Minoan clay tablets were not fired purposefully, only accidentally,” he said. “Pernier may not have realised this.”

Each side of the disc bears a bar composed of four or five dots which one scholar described as “the oldest example of the use of natural punctuation”.

Dr Eisenberg believes that it was added to lead scholars astray — “another oddity to puzzle them, and a common trick among forgers”. The Greek authorities have refused to give Dr Eisenberg permission to examine the disc outside its display case, arguing that it is too delicate to be moved.

His misgivings could be laid to rest by a thermoluminescence test — a standard scientific dating test — but the authorities had refused, he said. In Rome, this test cast doubt recently on the provenance of another iconic archeological object.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Single Jewish Female Seeks Stress Relief


People often compare dating to interviewing for a job. In the Orthodox Jewish world, this notion is taken almost literally.

Upon returning from post-high-school studies in Israel, young Orthodox women (such as myself) meet with recruiters, commonly known as shadchanim (matchmakers). After determining whether the young woman wishes to marry a "learner" (a man studying full time in yeshiva), an "earner" (a professional) or a combination of the two, the shadchan collects the prospective bride's "shidduch résumé," detailing everything from education and career plans to dress size, height, parents' occupations and synagogue memberships. The shadchan then approaches a suitable single man or, most likely, his parents -- who add the woman to their son's typically lengthy "list."

Before agreeing to a noncommittal first date, the man's parents begin a thorough background check that puts government security clearance to shame. Phoning references isn't enough -- of course they'll say good things -- so they cold-call other acquaintances of the potential bride, from camp counselors to college roommates. The questions they ask often border on the superficial: "Does she own a Netflix account?"; "Does she wear open-toed shoes?" (The correct response may vary depending on how Orthodox a woman the man is looking for.)

Just as the economy is headed to recession, the shidduch system is in crisis mode. Or so the rabbis moan, noting the surplus of women eager to marry and the corresponding shortfall in the quality and quantity of available Jewish men. It's not that there are more Orthodox women than men out there; experts instead attribute the shortage to the broader sociological trend of postponing marriage, which works to the disadvantage of women looking for spouses their own age or just a few years older. Men who are 30 will date women as young as 18 and may turn their noses up at dating any woman past the age of 25. The 20% or 30% of women who don't get hitched right away begin to worry they'll be left out in the cold for good.

Sensing this shift of power, mothers of sons who remain in the matchmaking system increase their demands: Any prospective daughter-in-law must be a size two, or a "learner" son must be supported indefinitely by the girl's parents. For men, "it's a buyer's market," says Michael Salamon, a psychologist and author of "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (2008). "And the pressures of dating are creating all kinds of social problems, such as eating disorders and anxiety disorders. It's frightening."

I used to shrug off this talk. Genocide in Darfur is a crisis; being single at 23 is not. But the communal pressure is hard to ignore. Orthodox Judaism, like most traditional faiths, is geared to families; singles lack a definitive role.

Then there's what social worker Shaya Ostrov calls the "popcorn effect." During the first two to three years following high-school graduation, 70% to 80% of Orthodox women get married; weddings then peter off. "The system works for a very limited period of time," says Mr. Ostrov, the author of "The Inner Circle: Seven Gates to Marriage." Friends of mine compare dating to musical chairs; nobody wants to end up an "old maid," and so they get engaged, hoping doubts will prove unfounded. "Young women," notes Sylvia Barack Fishman, professor of contemporary Jewish life at Brandeis University, "are often made to feel that they are damaged goods if they have not married -- and married well -- by their early 20s."

Part of the problem is the increased number of "serial daters" who, as Ms. Fishman says, are "shopping for perfection." When Mr. Ostrov runs workshops, he asks male participants in their early 30s how many girls they have dated. "One hundred seventy-five is not an unusual number," he says. "Dating" in these cases usually ends after just one or two meetings with each girl.

Many men admit that their refusal to commit themselves to a woman stems from fear of making a mistake. The only thing worse than being an "older single" male, it seems, is being a 25-year-old divorcé with two children. It is women, though, who are usually more stigmatized by a split. Indeed, one big problem in the Orthodox community is the "Post-Shidduch Crisis."

"We're seeing more and more recently married, young Orthodox Jews getting divorced," says Mr. Salamon, who estimates that the divorce rate among the Orthodox has risen to an alarming 30% in the past five to 10 years. (Hard data are difficult to come by, Mr. Salamon says, because the Orthodox shun research studies for fear of harming their own or their children's shidduchim.)

The core of the problem is that young marrieds don't know how to accommodate each other, says Mr. Salamon. And singles need to start asking the right questions. "Family history has nothing to do with whether you'll make a good husband or wife," he says. The rigid, interview-style questioning is only wreaking havoc: "They're looking for some sort of guarantee. But who can guarantee happiness?"


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cheap Mazda defies bulldozer

On Wed., July 2, 2008, an Arab started trying to kill people on a very packed busy street in Jerusalem with his work vehicle, a caterpillar type of huge bulldozer. He just drove it onto the adjacent packed street and started trying to crush cars. One of the first cars he attacked was ours. In our car were my husband in the front passenger seat, me the driver, and 3 of our girls in the back; we were on our way to meet visiting friends.

As we drove toward the place, we were on the packed street called Sarei Yisrael, when suddenly, several workmen suddenly ran into the street gesturing vehemently that we should clear out. This was really impossible with the very packed traffic! And anyway, just behind them came a huge bulldozer at an impossible-seeming speed. In the first seconds as he bashed into a car to the left of us, it was not entirely clear whether the vehicle or driver was out of control. But then after flattening car #1, he crushed a second car next to us, and turned his attention to us, as I was already trying to reverse our car, as the only direction possible to attempt to distance ourselves from him, hoping that the drivers behind me would also back up.

So there we were stuck in our car, staring into the face of this man determined to kill us. He was around 30, looked somewhat overweight, with a fixed, purposeful look on his face, but unbelievably was using his bulldozer as a deadly weapon. I still feel how bizarre this was - a bulldozer! I have read since then, that later he was screaming Allah is great, but at the moment he was staring at us, determined to crash into us next, he was unsmiling and silent, with only what I thought was a look of
determination and concentration on his face.

He crashed his dozer into the front of our car 2 or 3 times after having successfully crushing the 2 near us with one blow each. Those 2 other cars I saw which he attacked before us were pancaked but amazingly the drivers were able to escape since he couldn't crush the drivers' sides quickly enough and noone else was in those cars. One driver was the woman whom he had diabolically motioned to proceed and then bashed into her car and as she dashed out of her destroyed car he tried to run her down! A second vehicle, a taxicab was flattened next. The 2 drivers both escaped from their cars virtually unscathed. The woman who was dressed unreligiously and we stayed together into the hospital - she declared that God must exist here after all. At any event, within seconds we were attacked.

We were immobilized in our car by his repeated violent crashing into us. Was he frustrated that our car didn't collapse with his first blow like the first 2 and yet it was full of people to kill? Over the next period of what was probably really only a minute or so, he bashed the front of our car repeatedly and bashed our roof with the shovel at least once, all to no avail!!!. Unlike the 2 other cars he had attacked first, our car would not crush. He then drove ONTO the roof of our car trying to crush the 5 of us in the car with the full weight of the dozer. This is truly a miracle - our inexpensive Mazda 5 minivan still did NOT collapse. The sides of the frame were so distorted that we could barely open only 1 door, the front of the car was crushed, and the front window in smithereens but the roof only a little caved in! I was the driver and as the bulldozer rammed us, I put the car into reverse - no other direction to go. His ramming pushed the car back against the one behind me but at least that movement absorbed some of his impact that might otherwise have further crushed the car with us in it.

Since I was unable to do anything at the moments of his attacking us, I don't think now that my thoughts were really prayer. They consisted of just a realization that when we can do nothing, then everything is in HaShem's hands. We couldn't try to get out until he stopped ramming our car. Then as we tried to open the doors, we discovered that the front passenger door was the only one that could be opened by my husband, but 1 of my kids had her window completely open so we all got out in the 2 ways quickly. We wondered whether we should have tried to escape while he was still attacking the car but he had already tried to crush another driver as she got out of her car [his first intended victim] and later we were told that he had a pistol which he used to try to kill others. It was hard to get out as fast as maybe we needed to because we were trembling so much. It took me a few minutes to be sure my legs wouldn't buckle under me if I tried to stand up. One of my kids has a bruised arm but it is a miracle that we were otherwise unscathed. Is this a recommendation for the Mazda 5? I don't know, our air bags NEVER opened :-) But they would not have helped us and the sturdiness of the frame did! Does Mazda design the minivan 5 to withstand a dozer driving into and over it? My brilliant husband had picked that car as the safest and best model for the money for us. We walked away from the attack!

We feel so glad to be alive. After his rampage including our car, he continued on to other cars, pedestrians, and at least 1 full bus behind, having finally given up trying to destroy us in our car. After driving over us, he apparently killed a new mother and rammed at least 1 bus effectively and turned it onto its side. 3 people were killed before a policeman and I think a soldier were able to jump into the dozer's cab and grapple with him. I think that is when he started shooting. Another man grabbed the gun of the policeman fighting the Arab [because he couldn't take his hands off him to reach his own pistol] and shot him and killed him.

For what it is worth, the perp was a 30 year old Arab, a citizen of Israel, had a well paid job with good government benefits, lived in his own house, and was married with children. His deed was praised fervently by his young widow who professed to be glad of his heroic action. The government says they MAY raze the perp's home and MAY suspend the gov. benefits the family would have been entitled to. Given the attitude of his widow, I have no problem with the government's plans. It remains to be seen whether they go through with them after the humanitarians of the world and our own bleeding hearts start protesting these reprisals as unacceptable cruelty to innocents. Besides, Saudi Arabia in particular sends checks for at least $25,000 to start to the survivor families and other benefactors send them money besides. The widow will be sitting and entertaining the numerous visitors come to congratulate her on her hero of a husband.

So we've received lectures about how we are going to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One person told us that we had to recount our ordeal at least 100 times in the first day to avoid PTSD. Another told us to immediately get psych counselling from an expert. So far we are all too numb to do more than go through our days on auto-pilot. My kids were called by everyone in their school, kids and teachers, by now I think they have retold their experience 100 times. Most of our friends and neighbors have found out we were at the terror scene and called us too. I broke out some chocolate for the kids that I usually save for Shabbat and the kids put on a funny movie. One of the girls' friends had come over but didn't inform her mom who finally calmed down when she tracked her down to our home.

What has so far been the most effective means of staving off PTSD is our neighbor Miriam's chocolate chip cookies. She brought over a freshly baked batch. We have always thought they are probably the best in the world even when one isn't trying to fend off PTSD. We know that we have to start counselling ASAP but are still too numb to initiate it yet.

Thursday is the first day of the new month, and with the Jewish calendar, also the new moon, a traditional holiday especially for women, so we will all be praying especially thankfully. We went to pray at the Wall. I have already started wondering why G-d made a miracle for us so that our inexpensive car somehow withstood the terrorist's REPEATED blows while other cars were flattened at once [that would have killed all 5 of us]. We happened to have donated generously over the past year to Victims of Terror, but among the killed was a dedicated teacher of the blind and a warm wonderful early childhood teacher who had recently had a baby after years of fertility treatments. I think that our past mitzvot cannot measure up to this miracle saving our lives. HaShem clearly needs us to still do things - mitzvot here so we are needed to live.

Rochelle Eissenstat

PS. If anyone is interested, I can send you pictures of our car after the attack. It is truly a nes that we survived the terroist's onslaught almost unscathed.