June 30, 2008

A Danish community's victory over carbon emissions

Jørgen Tranberg is a farmer who lives on the Danish island of Samsø. He is a beefy man with a mop of brown hair and an unpredictable sense of humor. When I arrived at his house, one gray morning this spring, he was sitting in his kitchen, smoking a cigarette and watching grainy images on a black-and-white TV. The images turned out to be closed-circuit shots from his barn. One of his cows, he told me, was about to give birth, and he was keeping an eye on her. We talked for a few minutes, and then, laughing, he asked me if I wanted to climb his wind turbine. I was pretty sure I didn't, but I said yes anyway.

We got into Tranberg's car and bounced along a rutted dirt road. The turbine loomed up in front of us. When we reached it, Tranberg stubbed out his cigarette and opened a small door in the base of the tower. Inside were eight ladders, each about twenty feet tall, attached one above the other. We started up, and were soon huffing. Above the last ladder, there was a trapdoor, which led to a sort of engine room. We scrambled into it, at which point we were standing on top of the generator. Tranberg pressed a button, and the roof slid open to reveal the gray sky and a patchwork of green and brown fields stretching toward the sea. He pressed another button. The rotors, which he had switched off during our climb, started to turn, at first sluggishly and then much more rapidly. It felt as if we were about to take off. I'd like to say the feeling was exhilarating; in fact, I found it sickening. Tranberg looked at me and started to laugh.


June 29, 2008

No Babies

IT WAS A SPECTACULAR LATE-MAY AFTERNOON IN SOUTHERN ITALY,but the streets of Laviano — a gloriously situated hamlet ranged across a few folds in the mountains of the Campania region — were deserted. There were no day-trippers from Naples, no tourists to take in the views up the steep slopes, the olive trees on terraces, the ruins of the 11th-century fortress with wild poppies spotting its grassy flanks like flecks of blood. And there were no locals in sight either. The town has housing enough to support a population of 3,000, but fewer than 1,600 live here, and every year the number drops. Rocco Falivena, Laviano's 56-year-old mayor, strolled down the middle of the street, outlining for me the town's demographics and explaining why, although the place is more than a thousand years old, its buildings all look so new. In 1980 an earthquake struck, taking out nearly every structure and killing 300 people, including Falivena's own parents. Then from tragedy arose the scent of possibility, of a future. Money came from the national government in Rome, and from former residents who had emigrated to the U.S. and elsewhere. The locals found jobs rebuilding their town. But when the construction ended, so did the work, and the exodus of residents continued as before.

June 17, 2008

The Bubble

Washpost has published a 3 part series on the housing bubble. An interesting and simple explanation of all the financial monkey business that went on for a while. A partially similar series, published by the wsj on the demise of Bear Stears, search for "wsj bear stearns".

The black-tie party at Washington's swank Mayflower Hotel seemed a fitting celebration of the biggest American housing boom since the 1950s: filet mignon and lobster, a champagne room and hundreds of mortgage brokers, real estate agents and their customers gyrating to a Latin band.

On that winter night in 2005, the company hosting the gala honored itself with an ice sculpture of its logo. Pinnacle Financial had grown from a single office to a national behemoth generating $6.5 billion in mortgages that year. The $100,000-plus party celebrated the booming division that made loans largely to Hispanic immigrants with little savings. The company even booked rooms for those who imbibed too much.

Kevin Connelly, a loan officer who attended the affair, now marvels at those gilded times. At his Pinnacle office in Virginia, colleagues were filling the parking lot with BMWs and at least one Lotus sports car. In its hiring frenzy, the mortgage company turned a busboy into a loan officer whose income zoomed to six figures in a matter of months.

"It was the peak. It was the embodiment of business success," Connelly said. "We underestimated the bubble, even though deep down, we knew it couldn't last forever."

Indeed, Pinnacle's party would soon end, along with the nation's housing euphoria. The company has all but disappeared, along with dozens of other mortgage firms, tens of thousands of jobs on Wall Street and the dreams of about 1 million proud new homeowners who lost their houses.


June 12, 2008

The Reign of Thuggery

The blood boils when one hears the words mugabe or mbeki. Certainly wish the US would bomb Mugabe to kingdom come.. F&*%ing bastards.

On a clea r spring afternoon in Harare in mid-May, South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, paid a call on Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's beleaguered dictator, six weeks after Zimbabwe's tumultuous elections on March 29 in which opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai claimed a clear victory over Mugabe. Mbeki had been largely silent as Zimbabwe descended into chaos. In mid-April, while Mugabe's handpicked Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) refused to release the final vote count, and Mugabe's War Veterans marched through the streets in an intimidating display of force, Mbeki had stood hand in hand with Mugabe outside the presidential residence in Harare and denied that the country was in "crisis."

In recent days, however, as evidence grew of widespread beatings and killings of supporters of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Mbeki had found himself under attack in the press and at odds with members of his own party leadership. Jacob Zuma, the chairman of the African National Congress and Mbeki's likely successor to the presidency of South Africa, had criticized the delayed vote count and said that an April raid on MDC headquarters made the country look like "a police state." The Johannesburg newspaper Business Day revealed that Mbeki had several years earlier ignored a report by two South African judges describing widespread cheating by Mugabe's ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU- PF), in the 2002 parliamentary election. Now, with the electoral commission's official results showing that Tsvangirai had defeated Mugabe by 47.9 percent to 42.3 percent—necessitating a runoff election—Mbeki faced mounting pressure to support a free and fair second round.


June 2, 2008

Cracking Open

ON HIS 18TH DAY OF FREEDOM, Michael Short awakened before dawn. In prison, corrections officers had paced the halls at night, jingling keys and shining flashlights. Now Mike slept fitfully, even in a king-size bed.

It was a damp, gray Tuesday late in February. He slipped on a pinstriped shirt that hid his tattoos, slid his feet into shiny new loafers and rubbed coconut oil into his hair, cut razor-straight at the temples and flecked with gray. He was 36, with a basketball player's long-legged gait and the lined brow of a man well acquainted with consequences. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, he nervously knotted a silver-and-white tie that his girlfriend had bought him at Macy's.

On days like this, he wished the past were a room with a door you could close, a place you could walk away from, as he had walked away from prison after President Bush commuted his sentence. But the past wasn't like that, at least not for him. Over breakfast, he practiced the testimony he was scheduled to deliver that afternoon before a congressional subcommittee: My name is Michael Short. I am here because in 1992 I was sentenced for selling crack cocaine. Before that, I had never spent a day in prison. I came from a good family. I had no criminal history. I was not a violent offender. But I was sentenced to serve nearly 20 years. I was 21 years old.

June 1, 2008

The Lawyers' Crusade

In April, on the highway outside the little Punjabi town of Renala Khurd, Aitzaz Ahsan was waylaid by a crowd of seemingly deranged lawyers. The advocates, who wore black suits, white shirts and black ties, were not actually insane; they just seemed that way because they were so overcome with excitement at greeting the mastermind of Pakistan's lawyers' movement, perhaps the most consequential outpouring of liberal, democratic energy in the Islamic world in recent years. The 62-year-old Ahsan was on his way to address the bar association of Okara, 10 miles away, but the lawyers, and the farmers and shopkeepers gathered with them, were not about to let him leave. They boiled around the car, shouting slogans. "Who should our leaders be like?" they cried. "Like Aitzaz!" And, "How many are prepared to die for you?" "Countless! Countless!"