Monday, August 29, 2011

Vietnam embraces an old enemy

From The International Herald Tribune:

Vietnam embraces an old enemy


HANOI — Pham Binh Minh, whose father fought to force the United States out of Vietnam, is working fervently to elevate the interest and involvement of his country's former enemy.

Vietnam wants a U.S. presence for economic reasons and as a balance to China, the regional superpower. Mr. Minh is the new foreign minister; his father was part of Ho Chi Minh's Communist regime during the bitter conflict of the 1960s and 1970s; later, he was foreign minister when Vietnam clashed with China.

''One cannot imagine how fast the relationship between the United States and Vietnam has developed,'' Mr. Minh, 52, said in Hanoi.

''After 16 years of normalization, we've come to the stage where we've developed the relationship in nearly all aspects.''

While the United States hasn't fully erased the pain of that war, the Vietnamese, who suffered far more, have embraced their old adversary.

Economic ties between the nations are growing; the United States is the largest importer of Vietnamese goods. There are regular military contacts, and this month the two countries signed their first defense pact regarding military medicine. Last year, Vietnamese officers observed a U.S. military operation aboard a destroyer, the John S. McCain, named after two admirals, the father and grandfather of Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who was a prisoner of war in Hanoi for six years.

Now, the foreign minister said, the two countries are discussing upgrading their strategic relationship to ''a new level.'' That, he declared, would be ''good for the stability of the region,'' in accord with Vietnam's ''multilateral'' approach.

None of this, the top Vietnamese diplomat insisted, is intended to counter China. Still, talk of multilateralism and encouraging the U.S. role in the stability of the region isn't appreciated by the Beijing regime.

Vietnam has a long history of conflict with China; the most recent outbreak was in 1979, when it turned back a cross-border incursion. The Vietnamese know China is a superpower that isn't going away and prefer to have good relations with the big guy next door.

Nevertheless, there are tensions, particularly over territory in the South China Sea. Recently, there have been public protests in Vietnam against China, though the Hanoi government wants these to stop, fearing that nationalistic fervor could spiral out of control.

Common interests aside, the relationship with the United States is complicated.

Vietnam isn't sure that the United States is committed to Asia for the long run, and officials privately complain that the region is a low priority for Washington. In a one-hour interview with Charlie Rose, an American television host, that was broadcast July 21, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, spoke at length about China, but never mentioned Vietnam.

Mr. Minh said he'd like ''more consistency'' in U.S. policy, which should ''pay more attention'' to Southeast Asia. More troubling is the continuing friction over Vietnamese policies on human and political rights.

Progress has been made, especially in the area of religious freedom: Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia and a Vietnam veteran, noted during a visit to Hanoi the other day that when he first attended a Catholic service in Vietnam 20 years ago there were a handful of worshipers; a few years ago, there were 2,000 people at a Christmas Mass he attended. Still, a few dozen dissidents have been jailed over the past several years, and crackdowns on the news media are routine.

The record is better than China's. The realpolitik, however, is that with about 90 million people and a gross domestic product of $102 billion, Vietnam is treated differently than the colossus China.

Yet U.S. policy makers, who worry about the aggressiveness of an increasingly confident China, want deeper alliances with Vietnam. They look to a younger generation epitomized by Foreign Minister Minh, who remembers that as a teenager he would dash ''to the shelters when the bombs were dropped.'' As an adult, he received a graduate degree at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Massachusetts and spent several years at the United Nations in New York and at the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington.

The depth of the association in the years ahead depends on the evolution of Vietnam's economic, legal and political system. There have been striking gains since the Communists opened the system to private enterprise more than two decades ago. Per capita income is about $1,200, almost 10 times what it was more than a quarter century ago; the country has fully joined the global economic community. U.S. foreign investment is $10 billion, small but growing rapidly. Companies like Intel and Chevron are making major investments.

The economy, however, is still driven largely by inexpensive labor. The Communist Party bureaucracy stifles the entrepreneurial spirit. Corruption is rampant. Though he said that it was a ''top priority'' of the regime, Mr. Minh admitted that reducing corruption ''is hard.''

Paradoxes persist: Internet use per capita is among the highest in the region and the illiteracy rate is relatively low; yet the educational system is inferior.

One of the few jewels is the small public-policy center based in Ho Chi Minh City that is affiliated with Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. This is part of Harvard's Vietnam program, directed by Tom Vallely, a veteran who has spent much of his life since the war trying to improve U.S.-Vietnam relations.

A few years ago, the center published a study on the challenges facing Vietnam. It concluded that the hallmarks of the successful East Asian economies of Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan — transparency, little corruption, first-class health and education systems and a viable legal structure — all are lacking in Vietnam.

''Countries that compete on the basis of cheap labor cannot, by definition, move beyond lower-income status,'' it said.

Younger leaders like the foreign minister face daunting challenges.

Among the biggest: walking the delicate line between maintaining decent relations with the superpower next door and strengthening ties with Washington; and dramatically curbing corruption and changing an educational system the Harvard study described as abysmal.

That raises an interesting possibility, one the foreign minister said he would welcome: Harvard, the institution that produced many of the architects of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, could take the lead in creating a first-class Vietnamese university.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jobs stepping down as chief executive of Apple

From The International Herald Tribune:

Jobs stepping down as chief executive of Apple

SAN FRANCISCO — Steven P. Jobs, whose insistent vision that he knew what consumers wanted made Apple one of the world's most valuable and influential companies, is stepping down as chief executive, the company announced late Wednesday.

''I have always said that if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's C.E.O., I would be the first to let you know,'' Mr. Jobs said in a letter released by the company. ''Unfortunately, that day has come.''

Mr. Jobs, 56, has been on medical leave since January, his third such absence. He underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2004, and received a liver transplant in 2009. But as recently as a few weeks ago, Mr. Jobs was negotiating business issues with another Silicon Valley executive.

Mr. Jobs will become chairman, a position that did not exist before. Apple named Tim Cook, its chief operating officer, to succeed Mr. Jobs as chief executive.

Rarely has a major company and industry been so dominated by a single individual, and so successful. His influence has gone far beyond the iconic personal computers that were Apple's principal product for its first 20 years. In the last decade, Apple has redefined the music business through the iPod, the cellphone business through the iPhone and the entertainment and media world through the iPad. Again and again, Mr. Jobs has gambled that he knew what the customer would want, and again and again he has been right.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Germany stands firm against euro zone bonds

From The International Herald Tribune:

Germany stands firm against euro zone bonds


FRANKFURT — Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Sunday re-emphasized her opposition to issuing bonds backed by all euro zone countries, a position that will be greeted enthusiastically by many of her fellow citizens but could unsettle investors at the beginning of what could be another difficult week in global financial markets.

Mrs. Merkel told ZDF television in an interview broadcast Sunday that the so-called euro bonds would be an option only in the distant future.

''It will not be possible to solve the current crisis with euro bonds,'' Mrs. Merkel said. She added that ''politicians can't and won't simply run after the markets.''

''The markets want to force us to do certain things,'' she said. ''That we won't do. Politicians have to make sure that we're unassailable, that we can make policy for the people.''

The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, echoed Mrs. Merkel's comments, saying that common debt would make it easier for governments to avoid pursuing responsible fiscal policies. In any case, he told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag, it would take too long for countries in the euro zone to amend the treaty on monetary union, which would probably be required to allow the issuance of such bonds.

''We have to solve the crisis within the existing treaty,'' he said.

The statements by the German leaders are in tune with public opinion in Germany as well as in other countries, like the Netherlands. The Dutch finance minister, Jan Kees de Jager, told the magazine Der Spiegel during an interview published Sunday that Mrs. Merkel should remain firm in her opposition to euro bonds.

That is not what investors want to hear, though.

Stocks around the world plunged last week amid widespread concern that political leaders were unwilling to take bold steps to attack the European sovereign debt crisis, at the same time that indicators were pointing to sharply slower growth in Europe and the United States. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 index dropped 6.1 percent last week to its lowest level since July 2009, with banks suffering some of the biggest drops.

Any further drop in investor confidence could also put pressure on the European Central Bank, which has been intervening in bond markets to hold down yields on Italian and Spanish debt and keep borrowing costs for those countries from reaching dangerous levels.

France and Germany have made it clear that they do not want to use euro bonds to hold down borrowing costs for countries like Italy and Spain, ''at least not imminently,'' Frank Engels, an analyst at Barclays Capital in Frankfurt, wrote in a note issued before the interviews with Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Schäuble were broadcast and published.

So far the central bank's bond market intervention, which began two weeks ago, has kept Italian and Spanish yields below 5 percent, Mr. Engels noted. In October, the European Financial Stability Facility, the Union's bailout fund, will be able to buy government bonds. But that may not be enough to keep yields within bounds, he said.

''Are these backstop facilities sustainable?'' Mr. Engels wrote. ''We have our doubts, as the E.C.B.'s stamina is probably limited and the E.F.S.F.'s balance sheet is capped.''

Mr. Schäuble told Die Welt that he did not think it would be necessary to increase the size of the bailout fund. Such comments may come as a particular disappointment to investors because Mr. Schäuble is regarded as one of the most pro-European members of the German cabinet, and among the most willing to agree to national sacrifice in the interest of saving the common currency.

But Mr. de Jager, the Dutch finance minister, said he would be willing to increase the size of the bailout fund.

Since the beginning of the debt crisis Mrs. Merkel has resisted being pushed around by bond investors; she waited until pressure became intense before agreeing to aid for Greece and other measures that were unpopular with German voters.

She also said she saw ''nothing that points to a recession in Germany.'' She acknowledged that political leaders needed to regain the confidence of financial markets but said the best way to do that would be to reduce debt.

Mrs. Merkel had earlier expressed opposition to euro bonds after a meeting in Paris last week with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, during which they pledged to improve economic coordination among euro members.

In the interview with Die Welt, Mr. Schäuble said he personally would be willing to cede some control over fiscal policy to a European finance minister, as Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank, has proposed. But Mr. Schäuble added, ''We can only go as fast and as far as we can convince citizens and their representatives in Parliament.''

Separately, Der Spiegel reported that the German Finance Ministry had calculated that euro bonds would cost Germany an additional €2.5 billion, or $3.6 billion, in interest payments in the first year of issuance, and as much as 10 times that sum each year after a decade. Germany's borrowing costs are typically among the lowest in the world, but could rise if its reputation for fiscal prudence was diluted by closer association with countries like Italy.

A Finance Ministry spokesman said he could not confirm the Spiegel report, which the magazine said was based on estimates by unidentified ministry experts.

Opposition to euro bonds is strong within German political circles and among the country's conservative economics establishment because of the perception that the country would wind up subsidizing its neighbors.

But some economists argue that euro bonds would be cheaper even for Germany, because the volume of the bond market would rival the market for U.S. Treasury securities and promote the euro as a reserve currency. That would increase demand for the bonds and lower interest rates.

There is some support for euro bonds in Germany. Leaders of the opposition Social Democrats and Green Party have spoken in favor of common European debt. In addition, the Frankfurt Allgemeine newspaper quoted several members of Mrs. Merkel's governing coalition in Parliament on Sunday as saying that Germany should not rule out euro bonds forever.

While rejecting the bonds, Mr. Schäuble said that Germany would defend the euro ''under all circumstances'' and that the government categorically rejected suggestions that Greece should leave the euro zone, as some economists have proposed.

If Greece dropped out, he said, Europe would suffer ''a dramatic loss of trust and influence.''

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Monday, August 15, 2011

US must focus more on Asia, says top diplomat

US must focus more on Asia, says top diplomat

Sunday, August 14, 2011

USA: Immigration Woes

Can only be happy to live in Germany, where same-sex and straight couples are treated equal and having the same rights on this issue.

"Immigration Woes"
News Analysis: As a recent green card denial shows, same-sex married, bi-national couples face continued uncertainty

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

What lies ahead as Germany quits nuclear

From The International Herald Tribune:

What lies ahead as Germany quits nuclear


BERLIN — How did Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, turn its back on nuclear energy?

Most directly, the decision belonged to Chancellor Angela Merkel. Unlike other world leaders, she is a trained scientist, with a Ph.D. in physics.

She reached the momentous decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022 after discussing it one night over red wine with her husband, Joachim Sauer, a physicist and university professor, at their apartment in central Berlin, according to people who spent many hours debating the issue with her but spoke only on the condition that they remain anonymous.

The decision to switch off Germany's nuclear power plants has been widely portrayed as a sudden U-turn by Mrs. Merkel. After the nuclear disaster in Japan in March, the German public, long opposed to nuclear power, was ready to pull the plug, and their chancellor, known for shifting with the prevailing political winds, complied.

But those close to Mrs. Merkel described her change of heart as something more like an awakening. Powerful industrial and energy interests fought the shift, but Mrs. Merkel, her allies say, is ready to lead Germany into a new era in which wind and solar energy, along with enhanced efficiency, can be developed fast enough to replace the lost power from nuclear plants.

The East German scientist who came to politics only after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 seemed to echo some of the fervor of those times: Although Germany is not known for tsunamis, or strong quakes, she said the risks of a nuclear accident were just too enormous to be controlled by humans. A Japan-like disaster could happen again, anywhere. Safety and security were paramount.

In contrast to her excessive caution in the step-by-step rescue of the euro zone, she showed no hesitation in reversing her original decision of just last autumn to prolong the life of Germany's nuclear plants. Now, she has committed Europe's largest economy, a leading exporter dependent on keeping industry competitive, to shutting down the source of nearly a quarter of its electric power.

In the view of supporters like R. Andreas Krämer, director of the Ecologic Institute, an independent research organization in Berlin, this decision ''will be seen as historic.''

Whether that is so will not be clear for years. But it does resonate as one of the large leaps that Germany has a tendency to make, often surprising its European and American partners.

Since the near-total destruction of 1945, Germany has pulled off the Wirtschaftswunder, or economic miracle, of the 1950s, weathered protest and terrorism in the 1960s and 1970s while giving birth to what is now Europe's most potent Green party, and in the 1980s witnessed fresh civic protest — this time in East Germany — that felled the Berlin Wall.

In the 1990s, Germany shouldered the huge financial and psychological costs of reunification, calmly rebuilt its capital in Berlin and retooled foreign policy not just to reassure Western allies about reunification but also to support the former Communist countries of the east in their zest to join the European Union.

The decision to end nuclear power is part of this narrative.

Norbert Röttgen, the federal environment minister, said recently that if his country and its 80 million people could make the leap to a nuclear-free economy, then Germany would become the first major industrial nation to make the transition toward efficient renewable energy.

While conceding that there are challenges, he insists that the goals are attainable and that the new technology will win Germany new export markets for decades and make it an even more attractive place to do business.

Innovation, advanced technologies, common sense and cost-efficient measures are the focus of what Mr. Röttgen called a policy ''that is environmentally sound, climate-friendly and in line with market and competition principles.''

''In the best tradition of German engineering,'' he said, ''new technologies and products, new export opportunities and thus employment and growth will be created.''

Mr. Krämer, the Ecologic Institute director, said: ''We trust ourselves to do it. We have mastered the technology and we know what we have to do.''

Ranged against this optimism are Germany's big four power suppliers, a host of doubting analysts and economists who say that the government has failed to calculate the cost. In a country that always had a vocal opposition to nuclear power and now has a strong Greens party, Mrs. Merkel may shore up political support, ''but she has failed to take into account the broader economic and political costs,'' said Matthew Hulbert, an energy expert at Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

Economics Minister Philipp Rösler says switching off nuclear power will increase the cost of a kilowatt hour of electricity by just one euro cent. Mr. Röttgen calculates the cost per household during the transition as roughly one extra cup of coffee latte — €2.50 to €3, or about $3.50 to $4.25 — per month.

But the nuclear industry, led by E.ON, Vattenfall, RWE and EnBW, says that it will be the private sector, particularly energy companies, that will have to pay for the switch to renewables and other energy sources, like natural gas and even a dozen or so new coal plants. ''We are not talking about peanuts here, but hundreds of billions of euros,'' said Jürgen Grossmann, the chief executive of RWE.

On the other side of the equation, the government will no longer pay for nuclear subsidies, which, according to Greenpeace, have totaled about €200 billion, or about $285 billion, since West Germany began research and development of nuclear power in the 1950s. Subsidies last year totaled €4.1 billion, according to a recent study by Green Budget Germany (Forum Ökologisch-Soziale Marktwirtschaft), an independent environmental research organization.

Another factor is the likelihood that Germany, which already gets more than one third of its natural gas from Russia, will grow more dependent. Mrs. Merkel, however, disputed this point when she met President Dmitri A. Medvedev and other top Russian officials in July. When Deputy Prime Minister Viktor A. Zubkov, who is also chairman Gazprom, the state-owned natural gas export monopoly, openly relished the prospect of selling more to Germany, the chancellor coolly responded, ''Let's wait and see.''

Clearly, something big will have to change. Germany imports nearly 60 percent of its energy, according to the International Energy Agency.

Renewable sources like wind and solar power currently make up only 17 percent of the power mix. The government envisions that amount roughly doubling by 2020 and reaching 80 percent by 2050.

It also plans vast expansion of the national grid to move electricity from the north coast, where wind is plentiful, and the south, where solar energy is more abundant, to the key industrial areas where it is most in demand. According to the German Energy Agency, 1,500 kilometers to 3,600 kilometers, or 930 miles to 2,200 miles, of new extra-high voltage power lines will have to be built by 2020, financed by grid operators.

Cost estimates vary widely, depending on the technology used, but the agency estimated basic overhead lines with standard transmission would cost €950 million a year over seven years. High voltage direct current transmission cost more than twice that.

Some big businesses are worried. Industrial production, which is generally energy intensive, accounts for 28 percent of the German economy, compared with 22 percent in the United States. The world's leading chemicals company, BASF, uses as much natural gas in its factories as the entire city of Berlin.

Germany already has high energy costs compared with elsewhere around the world, said Michael Grabicki, spokesman for BASF. ''German industry,'' he said, ''has to remain competitive.''

By contrast, many of the Mittelstand, the small and medium family-owned companies that form the backbone of Germany's economy, are excited at the prospect of developing new technology and perhaps breaking the monopoly of the four big energy companies.

''This is a great chance for us,'' said Christian Albrink, regional director of Soleg, which plans and sells solar heating for homes and industry. ''It needs steady nerves if the government is serious about pushing through its policies.''

The big energy companies are not taking the change lying down. In April, RWE filed a lawsuit against Mrs. Merkel's interim decision to close seven of the oldest nuclear plants immediately.

Mr. Grossmann, the RWE chief, said Mrs. Merkel's move would leave a shortfall of more than 100 terawatt hours of electricity, roughly 17 percent of the total consumption. He said that would have to be made up through imports from places like France and the Czech Republic, and by building new coal- or gas-fired plants, which, in contrast to nuclear power, produce global warming gases.

Claudia Kemfert, energy expert at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) and professor of energy and sustainability at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said coal already accounted for 42 percent of Germany's electricity needs. ''The government has yet to square the circle when it comes to ending nuclear power and reducing CO2 emissions,'' she said.

The government acknowledges that natural gas and coal-fired power plants will continue to play a big role. They are, after all, able to provide large chunks of power at any time — unlike solar or wind energy, at least with current storage technology. The government, through the state-supported bank KfW, has set up a special €5 billion fund to support construction of offshore wind farms. It also intends to build storage facilities for renewable energy — yet another expense.

At the same time, German companies and households are being urged to increase efforts to save energy. Subsidies are planned over the next three years to help modernize housing stock and to wean the automobile industry — a powerful symbol of Germany's engineering and export might — away from petroleum and to develop electric cars.

Part of a series on Germany's changing role in Europe and the world.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Has Germany found its version of Messi?

From The International Herald Tribune:

Has Germany found its version of Messi?

A new star is born in Stuttgart, where Germany beats Brazil for the first time in almost two decades.

A Japanese national team player who died too young is remembered with every goal that Japan scores against South Korea in Sapporo.

A new era opens in Philadelphia, where Jürgen Klinsmann starts his task as head coach of the United States with a 1-1 draw against a Mexico team that beat the Americans heavily just a few weeks ago.

All these games, and many, many more around the world, were played Wednesday. The sport could be enjoyed anywhere, it seems, barring England, where organized soccer first began.

Its national stadium at Wembley, in London, was closed and empty Wednesday. England had been scheduled to meet the Netherlands there. The teams were ready, the fans had bought their tickets, but, quite rightly, the police called off the game. The Premier League game Tottenham versus Everton, scheduled for Saturday, was also called off because Tottenham, where the riots started, remains a crime scene under police investigation. The remaining nine matches will be played.

London, where the Olympic Games are scheduled for next year, had suddenly become a capital city erupting with violence, arson and looting by its own citizens, and too dangerous a place to host a friendly sporting fixture.

Contrast that with Stuttgart, where the capacity home crowd ended the night crooning ''How Sweet It Is'' to their team, which was outplaying Brazil in every aspect of the sport.

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How much connection does a person really need?

From The International Herald Tribune:

How much connection does a person really need?

NEW YORK — When Jessica H. Lawrence left her job with the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council in Redlands, California, to pursue a new life in New York City, she arrived in late January without a job, an apartment or someone to keep her warm through the winter nights.

But in less than six months, she found all three — and all because of Twitter.

The job came after a friend's tweet inspired her to attend NY Tech Meetup, where she applied for a job and became the managing director.

She found her apartment after sending a Twitter message to the founder of the Midnight Brunch supper club. That brought her an invitation and — after she met the owners of the brownstone where the meal was held — the cellar apartment, too.

As for the boyfriend, a founder of the Noble Rot wine club, she discovered him when she began following the Rot's Twitter feed. Next week, they are moving into an apartment in the Williamsburg neighborhood.

''So you can see why I have this undying love for Twitter,'' said Ms. Lawrence, 32. Yet her devotion to one social network is not an act of sentimentality — it is part of a careful strategy for combating social media burnout. In a time when anyone with Internet access is expected to be engaged on multiple networking sites and to keep a day job, Ms. Lawrence decided to focus on a single site rather than spread herself thin among a half-dozen.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Vietnam jails dissident blogger

** Vietnam jails dissident blogger **
French-Vietnamese dissident blogger, Pham Minh Hoang, is jailed in Vietnam for three years for attempted subversion.
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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

World Bank blocks Cambodia loans

** World Bank blocks Cambodia loans **
The World Bank says it will provide no more loans to Cambodia, amid a dispute over the forced evictions of hundreds of people.
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Company logos aim for the personal touch

From The International Herald Tribune:

Company logos aim for the personal touch


LONDON — Anyone braving the hordes of Ayia Napa-bound batchelorette parties and tearful toddlers thronging Gatwick Airport today might find it hard to believe that London's second largest airport was once hailed as a model of modern design. But back in the late 1950s, Gatwick was renowned in design circles for the intelligence and ingenuity of its graphic design.

Every element of Gatwick's late 1950s graphics was designed to be as clear as possible. The signage, developed by the British designer Jock Kinneir, was meticulously planned and positioned to ensure that Gatwick's passengers, many of who were first-time fliers, could always tell where they were and where to go in the labyrinthine, often confusing airport buildings. All of the typefaces chosen for the signs and Gatwick's logo were modernist in style. Each letter and number was clean and uncluttered in shape so that it could be read quickly and easily, even by people who were hurrying to catch their flights.

The system was so effective that you can still spot its influence at airports, railway stations and shopping malls all over the world. But Gatwick itself now sports a logo that could not be more different in style from the one chosen in the late 1950s. The word ''Gatwick'' is depicted in ''handwritten'' letters, as if it were someone's signature, in the new logo, which looks as though it belongs to a 1930s hat shop, not a frenzied modern airport.

Gatwick isn't the only company to have recently adopted a logo in that style. Little Chef, the British chain of roadside restaurants, has done so too. Like Gatwick, it has picked a ''handwritten'' font to replace the spruce, Modernist-style of lettering that has dominated corporate identity design for decades.

Signature logos aren't new. Many of the earliest corporate symbols were handwritten, or looked as though they were, especially ones belonging to companies that dealt directly with the public. Up until the late 19th century, most people bought goods from local suppliers, shopkeepers or artisans whom they knew personally. Even tinkers and traveling salesmen tended to be familiar to their customers because they returned to the same routes.

Once companies started shipping their goods farther afield on the expanding network of roads and railways, they needed to find ways of persuading people they might never meet to trust them. A logical solution was to help their customers to recognize their products by literally branding them with the company's name or symbol.

Some organizations chose emblems in a heraldic style to evoke the power and authority of a coat of arms. Mercedes-Benz's three-pronged star is an example, so is the ''meatball'' motif of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, in which a spacecraft orbits a cluster of planets in the night sky. But others tried to replicate the intimacy of traditional local trading by emblazoning their products with a signature, so it looked as if someone, generally their founders, had personally endorsed them.

In some cases the signature was genuine. When W.K. Kellogg started the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1906, he found himself competing against 42 other local cereal makers. Mr. Kellogg printed his signature on each packet of his Toasted Corn Flakes to distinguish them from the competition. The Kellogg Company (as it was renamed in 1922) has used slightly modified versions of that signature as its logo ever since.

Other companies like Coca-Cola chose fictitious signatures. Its original recipe was concocted in 1886 by Dr. John Pemberton, a wounded army veteran turned pharmacist in Atlanta, who was hoping to sell it as a headache cure. When it went on sale at a local soda fountain, his bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, suggested calling it Coca-Cola, inspired by two of its ingredients, coca leaf extract and cola nuts. He also wrote out the name in the then-fashionable ornate style of lettering called Spencerian Script.

Like Kellogg, Coca-Cola still uses a variation of its original signature logo, but most companies abandoned theirs years ago. By the mid-20th century, ''handwritten'' fonts not only looked old-fashioned, but lacked the clarity of the individual letters in modernist-style logos like those of I.B.M. and American Airlines.

Why have signature logos become popular again? The main reason is that their owners' aspirations have changed. Fifty years ago, companies like I.B.M. and American Airlines wanted to look like powerful, efficient international operations. These days we associate those qualities with bland globalization, and businesses like Gatwick Airport and Little Chef prefer to create the impression of being distinctive, idiosyncratic and sensitive to customers' needs.

Gatwick and Little Chef are pursuing new strategies under new owners, and they briefed their design consultancies — Lewis Moberly for Gatwick and Venturethree for Little Chef — to develop new identities reflecting those qualities. They wanted to convey what Jeremy Fletcher, brand communications manager at Gatwick, called ''the personal touch,'' just as Kellogg and Coca-Cola did over a century ago.

Signature logos tend not to appeal to design purists, who consider them to be sentimental, even cheesy, but they do look friendly and welcoming. There is a downside though: poor legibility. Digital printing technology is so precise that the new ''handwritten'' fonts look clearer than their predecessors, but they are still harder to read than separate characters, especially on computer and phone screens.

Gatwick and Little Chef each tested different forms of their new logos for legibility. Gatwick was particularly concerned about the clarity of its new symbol when stitched into the fabric of staff uniforms, and Little Chef is still trying to make its logo look clearer on the pole signs outside its restaurants.

''Those signs are massively important to the business,'' said Stuart Watson, creative director of Venturethree. ''A lot of people make an instant decision to go to a Little Chef when they see them. But you can't read a signature font like this clearly at distance or speed. We've tested it, and it doesn't work. But it feels so right in every other way that we'll try to solve the problem.''

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Thai parliament elects Yingluck

** Thai parliament elects Yingluck **
Yingluck Shinawatra is elected by Thailand's parliament as the country's first female prime minister following her sweeping election victory.
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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Germane question tagging privacy

** Germans question tagging privacy **
Facebook is being accused of violating German privacy laws with its facial recognition system.
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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cambodia’s Exports to EU Rose 53% for 5 Months of 2011

Cambodia's Exports to EU Rose 53% for 5 Months of 2011

Study Looks at Experiences of Gay Mormons

"Study Looks at Experiences of Gay Mormons"
Like many faiths, Mormonism teaches that any sexual relationship outside of traditional marriage is a sin, and in the past, the church preached that homosexual feelings, alone, were a sin.

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UN call for Liu Xiaobo's release

** UN call for Liu Xiaobo's release **
A UN panel of independent legal experts calls on China to free Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife and pay them compensation.
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tourists hurt in bus smash - Cambodia

Cambodia: Tourists hurt in bus smash -

Shared from PP Post, an iPhone app.

A new crop of keepers with eyes on Europe

From The International Herald Tribune:

A new crop of keepers with eyes on Europe

Two years ago, Park Ji-sung grabbed headlines when he became the first Asian to play in a Champions League final.

But this year, when his Manchester United team returned to European soccer's biggest stage, his appearance seemed more commonplace.

Asian players like Park, a midfielder, and Atsuto Uchida, a Japanese defender with the German team Schalke 04, which United beat in the semifinals, are not the rarity they once were. They can be found playing in all positions in the major leagues of Europe, except one: goalkeeper.

That situation may be starting to change, albeit slowly.

Few goalkeepers from the east have dipped a gloved thumb into the big ponds of England, Spain, Italy or Germany.

In the season just concluded, Ali Al Habsi was the only No. 1 in regular action, with Wigan Athletic in the English Premier league. The Omani's stellar performances helped Wigan avoid relegation and got him named player of the year for the club.

With outfield players heading from Asia to Europe in any kind of numbers only relatively recently, it is perhaps not surprising that Asian goalkeepers are still rare.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Roaming fees that won’t be matched elsewhere very soon

From The International Herald Tribune:

Roaming fees that won't be matched elsewhere very soon


BERLIN — When Su Xiaoqin, a Chinese translator living in Düsseldorf, calls family and friends back in Shanghai, she does not use the mobile network of her German operator, O2. She pops in the SIM card for China Mobile.

As a result, Ms. Su's calls home cost as little as 2.86 renminbi, or 44 cents, a minute, a small fraction of what a call using the German SIM card would run. That is because China Mobile, the world's largest operator, with 617 million customers, recently cut its international roaming rates, following similar cuts by its domestic rivals, China Unicom and China Telecom.

''The word has gotten around that the Chinese operators now have the best rates to China,'' Ms. Su said.

While Europeans and Americans traveling abroad still face steep roaming charges, travelers from mainland China can call home for as little as it costs to make a local call in that market.

In part, that reflects the growing global clout of the Chinese mobile phone industry, where the three big operators, with a combined 889 million customers, are able to negotiate less expensive roaming deals for their users with international operators.

As a result, one should not expect the lower roaming prices paid by travelers from the mainland to come soon to consumers in Europe, the United States or other parts of the world. In part, that is because European and U.S. operators do not compete directly with their counterparts in China for mobile customers, so they have little financial incentive to match the lower prices.

David Dyson, the chief executive of Three U.K., a British mobile phone operator owned by Hutchison Whampoa, the Hong Kong company, cited another reason. He said that high roaming prices in Europe, especially for downloading data, reflected the operators' profit expectations, not the true costs of service.

Mr. Dyson said that smaller operators, especially, could not lower roaming rates because of what it costs them to connect calls using the networks of larger operators, whose rates are driven by those profit demands.

In 2007, the European Union stepped in to limit the price of mobile roaming charges in the 27-nation bloc, but those retail price caps — 35 euro cents, or 50 U.S. cents, a minute for making a call — are higher than those paid by consumers from mainland China. In the United States, the level of roaming charges is not regulated by the government but set by American and international operators through private agreements on the costs of using each other's networks to connect calls.

For travelers from the United States, the roaming charges can still be startlingly high.

In May, Paul O'Brien, the general legal counsel of an international maker of industrial sealants based near Philadelphia, returned home after a business trip to Milan and Rome to a $2,300 roaming bill, which he had incurred in two days of normal calling and surfing.

Mr. O'Brien described his iPhone activity during his Italy trip as moderate — making and receiving calls to the United States through Telecom Italia, and downloading and reading e-mail.

Just two days into what was a four-day trip, his U.S. operator, which he declined to name, shut off his service, citing his company's policy.

''I was blindsided,'' Mr. O'Brien said, adding that he did not know what the limit was that he had exceeded.

Local operators — in Mr. O'Brien's case, Telecom Italia — tend to reap the most profit from roaming charges, said Deep Basu, the vice president for product strategies and consumer products at Roamware, a software maker in San Jose, California, that helps operators manage roaming traffic. But the U.S. operator, which has more customers than Telecom Italia and thus more clout in negotiating deals on roaming rates, would have received a sizable slice as well.

Customers of China Unicom, the country's No.2 operator after China Mobile, with 182 million mobile users, pay about 2.8 renminbi, or 44 cents, a minute to call China from most countries in Europe, and as little as 1.5 renminbi from the United States.

The operator makes its low rates possible by running a huge phone callback program, called **100 Program, which assigns local land line phone numbers to its mobile customers while they are abroad and then has a company computer in China call them back over less-expensive land lines to complete their long-distance calls.

China Unicom introduced the service in May, effectively cutting its roaming rates as much as 90 percent. Sophia Tso, a spokeswoman for China Unicom in Hong Kong, said the decision to reduce roaming prices drastically had been made to serve the company's customers, who are among the 100 million Chinese citizens who travel abroad each year.

''Decreasing the price is not merely marketing, it is to meet the user's needs and to meet business development and the inherent requirement for developing the telecom industry,'' Ms. Tso said. She added that despite the price cuts, China Unicom was still covering its costs.

China Unicom's low international roaming charges, she said, were ''able to cover all the cost that is agreed between China Unicom and the international operators.''

Sam Paltridge, a communications analyst in Paris at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the association of free market democracies, said the availability of inexpensive Chinese roaming prices raised an obvious question: Why can mobile operators in O.E.C.D. countries not negotiate similar rates and offer similar prices?

Daniel Yu, an analyst in Hong Kong at Pyramid Research, said American and European operators, largely protected from outside competitors, had no incentive to reduce their roaming profits.

''I don't think it will do much damage in Europe,'' Mr. Yu said, referring to the Chinese price cuts. ''E.U. operators can adopt the same technique, but with the E.U. commission continuing to reduce roaming rates across the Continent, the incentive to provide the service will be minimized.''

Mr. Dyson, the Three U.K. chief, has urged the European Commission, which is considering a proposal to impose the first retail roaming caps on mobile data, instead to cut the existing wholesale price cap, which limits the prices that operators can charge each other, from 50 euro cents to just 3 euro cents per megabyte. The commission is considering imposing a retail data roaming cap, which would limit what consumers pay, of 90 euro cents per megabyte starting July 1.

But that cap would still make the cost of using roaming data 100 times as much as downloading data in a home market, Mr. Dyson said.

''High wholesale data rates are the problem,'' he said.

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