Oct 11, 2008

Tech - Sony unveils world's thinnest TV

LONDON: Electronic giant Sony has launched the world's thinnest television, which has a screen as slim as a CD case.

The ultra thin TV, called the Sony Bravia ZX1, will hit the market in the coming January. The extraordinary creation was unveiled at the NEC's Grand Designs show.

"It really has a beautiful look to it. It's hard to believe that something so slim can produce such crystal clear picture," The Telegraph quoted Craig Bolton, from West Bromwich, West Midlands, who visited the show, as saying.

"It's amazing and I would love to see it hanging on my bedroom wall," he added.

The exceptional product is priced at a whopping 3,500 pounds. Christian Brown, senior product manager at Bravia LCD, Sony UK, said, "There is nothing else like this. It was conceived as a unique product, a true step forward, something that the most discerning consumer would instantly recognise as exclusive and desirable. Once you have seen it, other televisions no longer look the same."

Business - GM,Chrysler in merger talks

DETROIT/NEW YORK: General Motors has had talks with smaller rival Chrysler LLC about a merger that would combine the No 1 and No 3 American automaker
s at a time when both are struggling to cut costs and shore up cash, according to a source briefed on the matter.

Separately, Ford Motor Co, plans to sell its shares from its controlling stake in Japan's Mazda Motor Co, a second source said.

Finally, Barron's reported that GM was preparing to approach the US Federal Reserve about borrowing money from the central bank's discount window because of the logjam in credit markets that has shut it out of other kinds of borrowing.

The moves come as all three Detroit-based automakers are struggling with a plunge in US sales to 15-year lows and facing tough questions from investors and creditors about whether they have the cash to ride out a deepening downturn.

Representatives of Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm that owns an 80.1-per cent stake in Chrysler, were not immediately available for comment. Chrysler and GM declined comment.

Ford representatives could also not be immediately reached. Cerberus is also in exploratory talks with other parties, including Renault-Nissan, to sell Chrysler, the source said.

But any deal would hinge on the completion of the sale of Daimler AG's remaining 19.9-per cent stake in Chrysler to Cerberus, the source said.

Cerberus last month said it had approached Daimler to buy that remaining stake. Chrysler's private owners and GM have had "very early" and "very exploratory" talks about a merger, the source said.

The talks between GM and Cerberus, first reported by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, began more than a month ago and are not certain to produce a deal.

The Journal said that Cerberus had proposed a swap of assets with GM that would give the private equity firm full ownership of finance company GMAC.

In exchange, GM would get the loss-making auto operations of Chrysler, the newspaper said.

Cerberus currently owns 51 per cent of GMAC, GM's former captive finance company which has been hobbled by its exposure to the US mortgage market. GM owns the remainder of GMAC.


The reported talks between the two sides would revive discussions between Chrysler and GM about a potential merger in early 2007 when Germany's Daimler AG began the process of selling off Chrysler that culminated in a deal later that year to sell the automaker to Cerberus.

GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner also said last year that he saw some potential for Cerberus to combine GMAC with Chrysler Financial, the finance company affiliated with the No 3 automaker.

Analysts have questioned Chrysler's ability to survive as a a stand-alone automaker, given its reliance on sales to North America for some 90 per cent of its revenue.

But a combination with GM would match two companies with overlapping weaknesses, analysts said when merger talks first emerged.

For one thing, both GM and Chrysler have been hurt by their reliance on sales of trucks and SUVs.

For another, both have been struggling to cut union-represented production jobs in reaction to weaker sales.

Chrysler has also had discussions about a tie-up with India's Tata Motors and Italy's Fiat in recent months.

GM shares fell to near a 60-year low this week on fears the global financial crisis could derail its turnaround plans. GM and Ford both ruled out on Friday seeking bankruptcy protection.

NHK, Japan's public broadcaster, first reported that Ford, which has 33.4 per cent of Mazda, plans to sell about most of its stake and has already approached Japanese companies on the sale. GM shares fell as low as $4 early on Friday, the lowest price for the stock since 1949, but recovered and ended up 13 cents, or 2.7 per cent higher, at $4.89 on the New York Stock Exchange. Credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's said on Thursday that both GM and Ford had adequate liquidity for 2008, but deteriorating industry fundamentals would make liquidity a serious challenge in 2009.

Also on Thursday, industry forecaster JD Power and Associates said the global auto markets could be in danger of an "outright collapse" in 2009 as a slowdown that began in North America spills over to other markets.

US auto sales have fallen for three consecutive years to hit 15-year lows in recent months.

Many analysts now expect further declines in 2009 and some slowing in other regions around the world, adding pressure on GM and other US automakers that have been restructuring. GM, which posted a second-quarter net loss of $15.5 billion, announced plans in July to improve its liquidity by about $15 billion by the end of 2009, about two-thirds through cost cuts and the rest through asset sales and new borrowing.

Ford, which posted a $2.7 billion net loss in the second quarter, went to capital markets to raise more than $23 billion in late 2006.

Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally said earlier on Friday that the company was watching its cash flow carefully.

Lifestyle - Liplock is latest fad

On the party scene, lip-to-lip kissing is fast replacing the air kiss as a form of greeting. Hollywood actors Thandie Newton (R) and Gerard Butler greet each others as they arrive for the premiere of RocknRolla in Los Angeles

According to a British daily, London Fashion Week and awards ceremony functions were rife with the highly intimate kisses. “On the party scene, air kissing – that horrible ‘ mwaah, mwaah’ used by the kind of people who know your job title and dress size but forget your name – is out,” the paper said.

“Instead, there’s a far worse social plague doing the rounds: being kissed on the mouth,” the paper added. Australian body language expert Allan Pease, who has been lip-kissed by a stranger twice in recent weeks, said that the new trend was fast catching on. “I don’t know where it started but it’s certainly catching on. It’s big in Britain and it’s filtering through here too,” an Australian newspaper quoted Pease as saying.

Pease, who wrote The Definitive Book Of Body Language with his wife Barbara, said: “We’re definitely becoming more comfortable with our sexuality. While the origin of human mouth kissing was for force feeding your babies – whereby the mother would masticate her food and put it into her baby’s mouth with her tongue – the primary purpose these days of kissing on the lips is to stimulate the libido. Lip kissers might deny it, but it has to be sexual,” he added.

However, British behavioural expert Judi James disagrees with Pease’s views. “It’s not a sexual thing: there is increasing evidence of it between parents and sons and daughters, as well as heterosexual men,” she said. “It’s more about fast-tracking bonding and empathy,” she added.

Australian social etiquette coach June Dally-Watkins is horrified with the latest fad. “No. No. No. I’m not for that,” she said. “It’s far too intimate. I think it’s wrong. And I don’t think it’s healthy. My lips are special. Precious. Not even my children or grandchildren do I kiss on the lips. It should be reserved absolutely for that one special person.”

Sport -F1;Hamilton takes Pole

FUJI SPEEDWAY: World championship leader Lewis Hamilton secured pole position on Saturday for the Japanese Grand Prix with a dazzling last-gasp lap in qualifying, leaving rival Felipe Massa in fifth.

The 23-year-old Englishman in his McLaren Mercedes car was lightening quick in the final seconds with a best lap that gives him a perfect opportunity to build on his seven points lead over Massa with three races remaining.

He will share the front row of the grid with Finland's defending champion Kimi Rakkkonen of Ferrari with his McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, another Finn, behind him in third.

Two times world champion Fernando Alonso of Spain was fourth for Renault ahead of Brazilian Massa, in the second Ferrari.

Poland's Robert Kubica was sixth for BMW Sauber ahead of Italian Jarno Trulli in a Toyota, his team-mate German Timo Glock, German Sebastian Vettel and his Toro Rosso team-mate Sebastien Bourdais of France.

The final part of session, Q3, saw the Ferraris take command with Raikkonen producing a fast lap in 1:18.890 after appearing to be languishing among the chasing pack.

Massa was second behind him and Hamilton a fraction adrift in third in a closely-fought battle with Kovalainen fourth before Hamilton pitted in readiness for his bid for pole.

Raikkonen clocked an improved 1:18.644 but Hamilton blitzed through in 1:18.404 to take the prime starting spot.

The opening part of qualifying was run on a drying circuit and the times improved steadily as Hamilton set the pace. In the end, however, it was the talented Glock who raised a smile for hosts Toyota with the fastest lap.

The session saw the elimination of the bottom five runners - Greman Nick Heidfeld in his BMW Sauber, the two Hondas of Briton Jenson Button and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, and both Force India men, Italian Giancarlo Fisichella and German Adrian Sutil.

In Q2, it was much the same story with Hamilton out quickly and then this time outpaced by a determined Massa while the drop zone was the scene of a final scramble for top 10 survival.

In the end, the dropouts were German Nico Rosberg, who finished second for Williams in Singapore, his team-mate Kazuki Nakajima of Japan, Australian Mark Webber and his Red Bull team-mate Briton David Coulthard, along with Brazilian Nelson Piquet of Renault.

Columnists - Barkha Dutt;Polls Apart

For all of us used to the bombastic rhetoric and carnival-like chaos of Indian elections, the American presidential race has been an otherworldly treat to watch. It isn’t just because their big guns are willing to face off on TV while our studio debates often smack of the worst sort of déjà vu. The most compelling thing about US elections is how much the campaign has been fuelled by the power of ideas.

As Barack Obama and John McCain slug it out in televised confrontations, they are being judged how they articulate their positions on everything from Iraq, Iran and Pakistan to the economy, health-care and climate change. The media has made acerbic computations of how many times either candidate has voted on an issue in Congress; websites are dedicated to measuring the truth quotient of every utterance and bloggers write not just on intonation and inflection, but on the intellectual integrity of either side. Perhaps that is what has caught our imagination: this is an election where there is space for nuance and a campaign in which policy will determine performance.

An inordinate time was spent in one of the debates, for example, on what Obama really meant when he said diplomatic contact with Iran should resume. Both men ended up in a smarmy confrontation on what Henry Kissinger, a policy adviser for the Republicans, had advocated on doing business with Iran. An equivalent Indian concern — let’s say the issue of strategic depth in Afghanistan — could have found happy space on our TV channels, but would have been privately dismissed by our politicians as a non-issue. In fact, every ideological or policy debate here suffers from the tag of being little more than a liberal lament.

Of course, you could argue that a contentious and self-destructive war in Iraq and the shadow of 9/11 has ensured that US elections can never be contested in the same way again. For the US, the distinctions between foreign policy and domestic discourse have blurred. And yes, unlike America, India isn’t sitting on the debris of a Bush presidential tenure, where much has to be built from scratch. So, while America and India may be apples and oranges, the contrast is still dramatic.

Think about it. Can you imagine our national elections being determined by the Congress’ Kashmir policy or the BJP’s refusal to endorse the nuclear deal? The Indian economy is beginning to seriously crack under the weight of the global financial crisis. But do you think the 2009 polls will ever be defined by how the NDA and the UPA enunciate their ideologies on capitalism and the role of government in market regulation? Will the present finance minister agree to a take on the BJP nominee to hammer out which way the battleship should be steered? And if they did agree to such a face-off, would we vote on the basis of what they said, and how they said it?

In any case, much too often, populism has pushed our ruling and Opposition on to the same side — whether on issues of fuel subsidies or affirmative action. Caste-based quota policies could have been a definitive ideological argument except that, in the end, no party dared to be that different. And so, now, calculations of caste arithmetic have created an artificial sameness of articulation on quotas, no matter, which politician you talk to.

Perhaps, the only issue that could be genuinely ideologically contested in 2009 is the challenge of terrorism, and the off-shoot debates of secularism and minority politics. But here too, it’s my hunch — that once the TV-savvy spokespersons of both sides have spewed enough venom — Indians may not actually vote on the basis of whether The Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002, should be brought back or not. Not because we don’t care about terrorism — we do. It’s because we tend to vote with our hearts, instead of our minds, in some approximate, instinctive response to issues, rather than a well-calibrated, academic framework of ideas.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that India is anything but a monolith. The multitude of identities within one nation makes it tough for any single ideology to have a pan-Indian following. Our early years of independence may have been powered by the educated and often-esoteric ideas of a political elite. But recent years have propelled a churning of caste and class to throw up an new political hegemony. The liberals may long for an era gone by, but then how often do they even get out and vote? And in any case, there is a certain democratisation that is driving New India, and that needs to be embraced, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

Even America is dealing with its own democracy diva: Sarah Palin. American liberals are huffing and puffing about a woman who had never met a foreign Head of State until recently and didn’t get a passport till as late as 2007. Her gaffes on the Bush doctrine and marching into Iraq are now the stuff of satire. Columnists want to know how a woman who stands for style instead of substance can have the audacity to run for office. But Middle America loves her; they see themselves reflected both in her ordinariness and her aspiration for more and better.

India’s thinking classes have been forced to learn a similar lesson as they watch the contours of Bharat take shape well outside the world of editorials.

The truth is, in India, politics and ideas have stood far apart, with both sides contemptuous of the other. It’s when you blend the two that the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest one may learn something from each other.

(Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV)

Columnists - Khuswant Singh;My Hometown is changing

The second half of September 2008 will go down in the history of our country, for reasons good and bad. Good was finalising the nuclear deals with France and America. Its benefits will accrue soon and silence their critics for ever.

The bad took place in Delhi: the encounter between the police and students of Jamia Millia University, followed by bomb blasts in Mehrauli a few days later. They poisoned the cordial atmosphere that had prevailed in the city. Hindus and Sikhs began to eye Muslims with suspicion and use hurtful language.

I also had the experience of the deteriorating law and order situation in my hometown. My daughter had her pocket picked at the Delhi Railway Station and had to return home. I have begun to believe that pickpockets operate with the help of the police. I also found the change that had taken place in identity verification by the police. I had to go to the Parliamentary Annexe to receive an award from Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee. I had to go through three barricades set up by the police to prove my identity before I was allowed to enter. It was like a city under siege. I could well understand the general feeling that if you have to go out to buy vegetables in the market, you can’t be sure if you will get back home in one piece.

I’m particularly worried about the change in atmosphere at Jamia Millia. It is one of the three major institutions for higher education for Muslims. The first was Aligarh Muslim University set up by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. It was pro-British, anti-Congress and in favour of a separate Muslim State — till the separate Muslim State became a reality.

Jamia Millia Islamia was set up by nationalist Muslims who were pro-Congress and against Partition. It has had many eminent men associated with it, including Zakir Hussain, Saiyidain, Prof. Mujeeb, Jamal Kidwai and others. The historian and scholar Mushirul Hasan is its Vice-Chancellor. The third is Osmania University in Hyderabad which has been, and is, free of political overtones.

What causes me anguish is the way the media, both print and electronic, accepted the police version that, as usual, depicts Muslims as subversive and links them with militant outfits. Jamia, which has a proud record of patriotism, has been tarred with the same brush. I am glad Mushirul Hasan has undertaken to defend students of his university against this calumny.

Nizamuddin Auliya, patron saint of Delhi, is said to have prophesied, ‘Hinooz Dilli Door Ast’ (Delhi is a long way away), referring to a ruler who intended to take him to task when he returned to the capital. He was killed before he could get to the city. I invoke his blessings to protect us from evil-doers.

‘Who has Tejpal gone for this time?’

“How many cases are there going against you?” I asked Tarun Tejpal. I had not met him for two years. He raised both his hands in a gesture of resignation and replied, “I have no idea. Quite a few all over the country. Every time I expose some skulduggery, the fellows involved file a criminal case against me. Nothing comes of them because I have solid evidence to back my charges.”

That is true. Tejpal is one of the most daring of the tribe of journalists in the country. When he launched Tehelka, he did it in grand style with Nobel-laureate Vidya Naipaul and mega-star Amitabh Bachchan on his board of advisors. He rented a swanky office in a leafy suburb and hired a large staff of investigators, reporters and sub-editors. But he soon came to grief. He took on too many of the so-called VIPs.

Tejpal was the father of sting investigation. Whatever his staff investigated was recorded by spy cameras and hidden tape-recorders. His victims included Cabinet Ministers, police commissioners, army officers and others who granted licences in exchange of hard cash. They did their worst to ruin him. Business houses were scared to place ads in his journal. He had to close down.

Tejpal took to writing. His first novel, The Alchemy of Desire (Picador), sold over 300,000 copies worldwide. Naipaul wrote: ‘At least — a new and brilliantly original novel from India.’ He found a champion in Ram Jethmalani and re-launched Tehelka. He also took on book publishing — three selections of the best of Tehelka are out.

Tejpal’s recent exposés have been the State-sponsored anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat. He got not only accounts of victims but also photographs and voices of perpetrators of diabolical crimes to prove his allegations. In a recent issue, he exposed the oft-repeated slanders against the Students of Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) made by Home Ministry officials at the time of LK Advani, when he was Home and Deputy Prime Minister of India. Scores of young Muslims were arrested and charged with crimes they had not committed. The only incriminating evidence was of recoveries made by the police and confessions made under torture. The courts refused to convict the accused on such fabricated evidence.

It needs a lot of courage to take on the police and people in power. Tejpal has the guts to do so. Every week as I open the pages of his Tehelka, I ask myself, “I wonder who he has gone in for this time.”

World - Post-Cold War era over,but not U.S primacy

Ramesh Thakur

Even while American dominance may have come to an end, American pre-eminence is likely to endure for some time yet.

The end of the Cold War had a triple significance for world affairs: the defeat of one power by another, the triumph of one political ideology over another, and the discrediting of one economic model in favour of another. All three have now been attenuated.

The Cold War was a global and transcendental struggle centred on and led by the Soviet Union and the United States. They were able to structure the pattern of international relations because of the qualitative discrepancy between their power, capacity and influence, on the one hand, and that of everyone else, on the other. The struggle for power and influence between them was global, leaving no corner of the world untouched or uncontested. And it was transcendental because of competing ideologies that could not tolerate each other’s existence but were committed to the eventual destruction of the other.

Between 1989-91, the Soviet Union imploded and collapsed as a major power, leaving the United States as the only remaining superpower. The commanding position of the U.S. as a power was quite astonishing and heady and indeed it went to the head of the neocons. They proclaimed quite openly, unencumbered by any inhibition or embarrassment, their desire to keep the U.S. not only as the No. 1 power, but as one that would not permit any potential opponent to acquire the means to be the dominant power in its own region or even to defend itself against U.S. attack. Iraq was meant to demonstrate both unlimited American power and limitless American willpower to enforce U.S. military superiority. Not just Saddam Hussein, but the world was to be shocked and awed into unquestioning submission to U.S. will.

Instead, Iraq ended up demonstrating the limits to American power and influence, with a rag tag cadre of insurgents thwarting every effort to convert battlefield victory into lasting military victory or political influence. Russia’s invasion of U.S. ally Georgia earlier this year might well mark the bookend of post-Cold War U.S. military dominance. The response of the neocons to having their grandiose ambitions frustrated in Iraq was interesting, and is best captured in the French phrase “fuite en avant,” which roughly translated means that when a venture goes wrong, instead of retreating and regrouping, we advance still farther in the initial direction: forge ahead or “Foreward, Ho.” So, if Afghanistan is not succeeding, let’s attack targets inside Pakistan without observing the niceties of Pakistani sovereignty and seeking its government’s consent. The insurgency is still alive and kicking in Iraq? Well then, let’s attack Iran, and all our problems will be solved. The imperial mindset of the neocons posited the U.S. as the indispensable, virtuous and exceptional nation. To their minds, only the unpatriotic could possibly question policies based in these delusional self-beliefs.

Triumph of liberal democracy

The second dimension of the U.S. victory in the Cold War was the triumph of the ideology of liberal democracy and political pluralism over communism. Intoxicated by this success, the neocons not only declared history to be at an end (although Francis Fukuyama later recanted on Iraq), they decided also to export democracy riding tank turrets and helicopter gunships. Iraq marks the graveyard of this democratic enterprise as well. When lectured by President George W. Bush at the St. Petersburg G8 summit, Vladimir Putin commented caustically that Russia could do without Iraq-style democracy, thank you very much.

The push for democracy was undermined also in two other respects. Contrary to his repeated rhetoric, Bush continued the decades old U.S. policy of ignoring the democratic shortcomings of allies (Saudi Arabia, Central Asian stans, Pakistan), coddling tyrants and dictators who kowtowed to Washington, and rejecting the outcomes of democratic elections that were not to U.S. liking, as with Hamas in Palestine.

Even more disastrously, for the Bush administration “exporting democracy” in practice translated into exporting it out of America. This too took several forms. First, Bush became president against the preference of most Americans, courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court rather than citizens’ votes. Second, the administration systematically and substantially subverted the carefully constructed and painstakingly nurtured separation of powers that had limited executive power as a way of protecting U.S. democracy and safeguarding its citizens’ liberties. Third, the administration did indeed substantially curtail many liberties and freedoms that were the bedrock of the U.S. version of liberal democracy, tilting the balance hugely towards the government and away from people. Fourth, it resorted to torture, the ultimate sacrifice of democracy on the altar of state security. Not victory in Iraq or in the war on terror, but the memories of Guantanamo Bay and the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison — the pornography of torture — will be the defining icons of this administration’s legacy.

Militarily contained in Iraq and increasingly checkmated also in Afghanistan, politically discredited by abusive practices at home and rank double standards abroad, morally compromised in Guantanamo and soiled in Iraq, the U.S. still chugged along on the back of its powerful economy. Yet the historian Paul Kennedy’s decades old thesis, about empires falling as they become militarily overstretched to protect the economic and political spoils of empire, was waiting for the right opportunity to be validated. The Nobel Laureate Jospeh Stiglitz has calculated the true cost of the Iraq War to exceed three trillion dollars. The U.S. was courting bankruptcy, and its courtship has been rewarded.

Where at the end of the Second World War the U.S. accounted for more than half the world’s economic output, today it accounts for a quarter of it; and yet it accounts for half the world’s military expenditure. Overseas military adventurism has been made possible by a reckless combination of domestic deficit financing and overseas borrowing. That has come to a crashing halt with the humungous crisis on Wall Street. The third aspect of the Cold War victory, the triumph of market capitalism over the command economy, must also now be severely qualified. The crisis vindicates Winston Churchill’s pithy assessment that if socialism suffers from the vice of an equal sharing of misery, then capitalism is afflicted with the vice of an unequal sharing of affluence. Where the Asian financial crisis of 1997 proved the perils of crony capitalism, the 2008 crisis on Wall Street shows the pitfalls of unbridled capitalism. Governments may be fallible, but markets too are imperfect. Both the Asian crisis of a decade ago and the current U.S. market collapse demonstrate the need for efficient, effective and transparent regulatory and surveillance instruments and institutions. Unchecked greed is not good. The state has an essential role to play. Those countries where the state has not abandoned the market to its own supposedly self-regulating devices are the better placed to weather the current crisis of confidence in capitalism.

The threefold decline of U.S. power, prestige and influence was in clear evidence during the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly session. Yet rumours of the death of American supremacy may be much exaggerated. Even while American dominance may have come to an end, American pre-eminence is likely to endure for some time yet. The fundamentals, to paraphrase Senator John McCain, are indeed strong. The U.S. military remains unchallengeable for the foreseeable future in its core tasks of asserting itself on the battlefield, particularly in the defence of genuinely vital U.S. interests. The U.S. economy is still the world’s biggest by far and the best balanced, most productive and most innovative in the world. And, if Senator Barack Obama should become president, as seems likely on current opinion polls, much of America’s lost international lustre would see a rapid recovery and the city on the hill would once again shine a beacon to the rest of the world. It will need to work harder than ever before to regain its former reputation as a benign and benevolent rather than a self-aggrandising hegemon. Still, America has proven many critics wrong before who saw in temporary setbacks, no matter how severe, the signs of a terminal decline. No one has yet lost money overestimating U.S. capacity to bounce back.

Science - Shark in 'virgin birth'

RICHMOND: Scientists have confirmed the second case of a “virgin birth” in a shark.

In a study reported on Friday in the Journal of Fish Biology, scientists said DNA testing proved that a pup carried by a female Atlantic blacktip shark in the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Centre contained no genetic material from a male.

The first documented case of asexual reproduction, or parthenogenesis, among sharks involved a pup born to a hammerhead at an Omaha, Nebraska, zoo.

The aquarium sharks that reproduced without mates each carried only one pup, while some shark species can produce litters numbering in the dozen or more. The scientists cautioned that the rare asexual births should not be viewed as a solution to declining global shark populations.

“It is very unlikely that a small number of female survivors could build their numbers up very quickly by undergoing virgin birth,” Mr. Chapman said.

The medical mystery began 16 months ago after the death of the Atlantic blacktip shark named Tidbit at the Virginia Beach aquarium. No male blacktip sharks were present during her eight years at the aquarium. In May 2007, the 152-cm, 43-kg shark died of stress-related complications related to her unknown pregnancy after undergoing a yearly checkup. The 25.4-cm shark pup was found during a necropsy of Tidbit, surprising aquarium officials. They initially thought the embryonic pup was either a product of a virgin birth or a cross between the blacktip and a male of another shark species — which has never been documented, Chapman said. Tidbit’s pup was nearly full term, and likely would have been quickly eaten by “really big sand tiger sharks,” he said.

The scientists said the new pups acquired one set of chromosomes when the mother’s chromosomes split during egg development, then united anew. Without the chromosomes present in the male sperm, the offspring of an asexual conception have less genetic diversity and, the scientists said, may be at a disadvantage for surviving in the wild. — AP

India - Kerala,Where have Hijras gone ?

K.P.M. Basheer

KOCHI: After a quarter century of tortured life as a woman trapped in a man’s body in a Kerala village, Geeta had fled to Chennai 16 years ago.

There, a small group of Hijras took her in. They sheltered her, burned her shirt and trousers, dressed her up in a sari and blouse and gave her the present name. Eventually, they nudged her into prostitution, at that time the easiest job available to a Hijra. She hated it initially, but found comfort in the identity as a Hijra (pronounced Hijda, meaning a transsexual person) and felt secure in sari-blouse and in the company of people of her own gender.

“Life in my village, near Thiruvananthapuram, was horrible,” Geeta recalls. “I was taunted, insulted and physically harassed at school, home and on the street, just because I talked and behaved like a woman.” Raised as a male and given a male name and male clothes, she yearned to be a woman though. She was more comfortable with cooking and housework at home than going out and doing the guy things.

“People in Kerala only accept males and females and not us, the trans-gendered people who are humans too,” she says in her Tamil-blended Malayalam. “It was my own family that insulted and harassed me the most, as they considered me as a curse.” Finally, when the family found a bride for her and the wedding date was fixed, Geeta tried to commit suicide, but ended up in hospital. One night, she left home and took a train to Chennai. Sixteen years on, Geeta is now an activist of a Chennai-based NGO that works for the welfare of trans-gendered people.

Speaking to The Hindu, Geeta, who was in Kerala recently, says: “My family never allowed me to visit them for fear of damage to the family honour. They did not even inform me of my father’s death.”

Geeta’s experience is typical of most transsexual people born in Kerala. (A transsexual person, according to Wikipedia, “identifies as, or desire to live and be accepted as, a member of the sex opposite to that assigned at birth.”) Because of the socio-cultural taboos, they migrate to Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad or up north where, in spite of a rough life, they are allowed an existence as transsexuals. “A number of `M2F’s (male-to-female transsexuals, or Hijras) living in the ‘Hamams’ in Bangalore and other parts of Karnataka are Malayalis who had fled from social persecution,” an activist of Sangama, a Bangalore-based NGO for minority sexual groups, says.

Worse in the State

Though transsexual people face harassment and ridicule everywhere in the country, in Kerala it is worse. Because of the stigmatisation, there are no Hijra communities in Kerala as in other States. “Most Keralites do not even recognise that there could be transsexual people in Kerala’s population like in any human population in any part of the world,” says Sunil Menon, founder of the Chennai-based NGO, Sahodaran.

“The State has a stiff upper lip when it comes to sexual minorities and it is a really stifling place for transsexuals.” As a result, he points out, transsexual people either migrated to other States where there are social spaces for them, or lived anonymously and invisibly in their personal hells in Kerala.

Asserting one’s sexual identity could be quite traumatic in Kerala. For instance, Nandini (name changed) of Alappuzha, who underwent an SRS (sex reassignment surgery) at a Kochi hospital 10 years ago, said she was thrown out of home after the surgery. “My family threatened to kill me if I ever dared to return home,” she says. However, following a media exposure of her woes, the panchayat recently assigned her three cents of land.

Fearing social ostracism, Saleem (name changed) has always tried to hide his (he wears shirt and trousers in public, though he considers himself a woman) M2F character in his village in Kozhikode district, though his parents are aware of it. Previously, he used to visit Kozhikode city in the evenings by putting on a ‘nightie’ bangles and anklets. “When I get off the bus at Kozhikode bus stand, I would transform into a woman,” he says. Back in his village, he would return to his male role. Despite his protests, his parents forced him into marriage a few years back and his wife has now learned to live with his M2F character. Saleem says he has a ‘husband’ in Kozhikode with whom he is deeply in love.

M. Shilujas of Kozhikode, a former anti-HIV campaigner, says since there was no space for M2Fs in Kerala, they are forced to migrate, mainly to Bangalore, where many of them got SRS done. Sunil Menon says the anti-AIDS campaign over the past 15 years had a positive impact on the lives of Hijras—it focussed public attention on their woes and led to the launch of several welfare measures for them. There were also more career options for them now. In Tamil Nadu, the government issued ration cards to transsexuals, mentioning their gender, and there was even a housing scheme for them.

“But in Kerala, society does not even recognise transsexuals’ existence,” he says.

Small wonder then, transsexuals are not visible in Kerala.

Entertainment - Q&A Harsha Bhogle

Priyanka Pereira

India’s most popular Cricket host is now etching out travel plans for you

Television channels are dishing out travel shows by the dozen. What is so different about Travel India?
Honestly, I don’t know because I haven’t been watching too many travel shows. But what I can say about the show is I am not the quintessential anchor, I’m just a visitor. I go to a particular city and discover it myself. And I think, unlike many shows this one doesn’t focus too much on the anchor. It is the voiceover that plays in the background. And the show does not target a particular section of society.

How did the transition happen from cricket to travel?
It wasn’t planned at all. BBC came up with this offer and I thought I should take it up. Shooting for it was a different experience as compared to being a commentator on a sports channel. One needs a lot of patience, because you may have to wait hours to get a particular shot right. For a 30-minute show, we end up shooting for eight to 10 hours per day. I concentrated hard, read up a lot but enjoyed every bit of working on the show.

What are the various cities you have focused on? Does the show follow a certain pattern?
We started off with Bhuj and other parts of Gujarat and then moved towards the North-Delhi and Amritsar. For the rest of the episodes we shot in various parts of North East, Central India and South India. The show is a free-flowing one and at most times we innovated on the spot.

Travel shows are big on food these days. What about this one?
Isn’t it strange that there is so much focus on food these days? Even this show has a whole lot of food element involved where we eat langar at the Golden Temple, Amritsar. In one of the episodes I try out the Hyderabadi murgh biryani and in another one, I try out food from a tribal village in Gujarat.

What are the essentials of a good host?
No matter what you are doing, you need to be well-read on that subject. Patience is a virtue when you are hosting a travel show, while live television calls for presence of mind and in-depth knowledge.

What’s next on the agenda?
For the moment, it is the Champions League in December.

World - Perils of Thrift

George Wehrfritz

The subprime-mortgage crisis laid bare America's decadence. The world's largest economy is rife with overconsumption of everything from McMansions to tchotchkes from Target, cursed by negative real savings rates and weighed down by debt that has spilled from Wall Street to Main Street. Yet China's role in the binge is less understood. As America's primary enabler, the world's fastest-growing major economy furnishes massive capital infusions that keep the U.S. financial system afloat, and its factories make most of the stuff Americans buy. The relationship is symbiotic and mutually intoxicating, argues Tom Holland, a Hong Kong-based financial columnist. He calls the two giants "drunkards reeling crazily down the pavement in a tight embrace."
As such, one of them can't do a face plant in the gutter without the other toppling too. That, at least, is the risk Beijing policymakers run today unless they sober up and execute a delicate industrial pirouette economists call "rebalancing." It entails consuming much more of national output at home, relying less on exports and slowly weaning the American financial system off cheap Chinese credit. The problem: China's economy is as thoroughly hard-wired against consumption-led growth as America's is for it. And all the money in the world—even the $1.8 trillion in China's foreign reserves—can't buy a quick fix. Here's why:
China's domestic consumption was an anorexic 38 percent of its GDP (a third less than India's) in 2007. The other 62 percent came from investment, much of it spent on export-oriented infrastructure, plus net exports. Consumption as weak as China's is unprecedented even for a developing industrial economy, and it makes the shift to a domestic demand-led growth model following the 20th-century pattern set elsewhere in East Asia extremely tricky. The idea that China can make this transition smoothly from such a "skewed position … is rather naive," says Hugh Young, managing director of Aberdeen Asset Management Asia.
The problems begin with China's national savings, which are as hard to trace as America's subprime debts. China has accumulated huge cash hordes of indeterminate size and ownership. World Bank economists Bert Hofman and Louis Kuss estimate that China's gross savings reached a staggering 50.6 percent of GDP in 2006, up from 40.7 percent a decade earlier. Yet they calculate that household savings dropped from 20.1 to 15.3 percent of GDP during the same period, while savings by enterprises nearly doubled to 28.3 percent of GDP. Behind this growth chart is a deeply troubling truth: China Inc., not the Chinese people, has prospered most from the boom.
Nevertheless, some analysts still wrongly assume that rebalancing China's economy is as simple as convincing households to draw down their bank accounts and spend, spend, spend. In fact, China's households saving rate, estimated at 25 percent of disposable income, "is actually fairly normal in Asia," wrote Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff last year. The figure is not excessive, given the country's utter lack of a social safety net and resultant need for households to plan for rainy days. At the same time, "we've seen a sharp increase in nonhousehold savings in China since 2000," says Charles Adams, visiting professor at the National University of Singapore and a former economist for the International Monetary Fund in Asia. "And this is a black hole because the ownership structure of the state-owned enterprises that control this money is not well-defined."
Many of these companies are linked to provincial or local governments, and they prefer to spend their wealth expanding old businesses or branching into new areas (the perennial favorite: property development). Such behavior merely reinforces the export-led structure and drives down consumption as a percentage of GDP. According to new data from JPMorgan Chase, investment contributed 4.9 percent of China's 11.9 percent growth in 2007, compared to 4.3 and 2.7 percent for consumption and net exports, respectively. While many Asian countries need to reduce their reliance on investment and exports for growth, says Adams, "quantitatively, the transition in China matters most because it's just so big."
The IMF and other development agencies say Beijing could boost consumer spending power by transferring wealth held by state-linked enterprises to households by taxing businesses and either reducing taxes on households or expanding free social services. That strategy would address China's underlying imbalance, but only after a tough interim. "The fact that over the next five years China may be able to move in the right direction is great," says Michael Pettis, a professor of finance at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management. "But crises don't require five-year solutions, they require five-week solutions."
Whenever the solution comes, Chinese industry faces a painful retooling process during which the country's vast nonfarm workforce will experience a sensation largely absent since the days of Chairman Mao: systemic uncertainty. Only then will China's immoderations, like those of its favorite drinking buddy, be visible for all to see.

World - Q&A Iran's Foreign Minister

Lally Weymouth

In New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Iran's tough-talking Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki sat down with NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth to discuss how he sees U.S.-Iranian relations and Iran's growing power. Excerpts:
WEYMOUTH: Do you believe there will be an Israeli or an American attack on your nuclear facilities?
If there were such an attack by Israel, would you regard it as an attack by the United States?
In the Middle East, [no one] makes a distinction between the U.S. and Israel.
Reportedly, officials in your administration have talked about shutting down the Strait of Hormuz in the event of an attack.
A number of American and Israeli officials express military comments and take military positions. Naturally, they will get military responses.
President Bush called Iran part of the Axis of Evil. Then, last July he sent one of the top U.S. State Department officials, William Burns, to attend negotiations with Iran. That was a pretty big change …
We welcomed the participation by Mr. Burns in the Geneva talks. We feel that if this is the real approach taken by the U.S. right now vis-à-vis the nuclear issue, they must continue with such efforts.
So you ' re happy with the U.S. approach?
The American administration has taken the first realistic step.
Just in sending Burns or in what Burns said?
Previously, the U.S. administration attached certain provisos to their presence in the talks. [Burns's] presence in Geneva meant that those were no longer in play. An effort has started and if it is to succeed in resolving the nuclear issue, we have to take it to the next step.
But you are not going to abandon your nuclear program?
What we are doing is completely legal … For us to arrive at a mutual confidence, we need to negotiate.
But Iran is the only member of the United Nations that has talked about wiping another charter member off the face of the earth — Israel. Pakistan has the bomb, India has the bomb, but they have not threatened to annihilate another country. How do you gain confidence in a country if it says it intends to wipe another country off the face of the earth?
We do not officially recognize this regime … Going back to the nuclear issue, I will continue by saying that our activities are completely legal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says that Iran has not reported a lot of what it has been asked for and that it is continuing its uranium enrichment.
We are continuing with enrichment, which we have every right to do.
What about the other charges in the IAEA report?
The resolutions of the U.N. Security Council [against Iran] are unlawful and illegal. Last year we responded to all the questions that were given to us by the agency. Later, it became quite clear that the questions were given to the agency by the Americans. After we were through with one set of questions, the Americans came back with new claims that they gave the agency to look into.
The U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has said that Iran is applying heavy pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki not to sign the Status of Forces Agreement [governing the presence of U.S. troops]. Is this so?
Whenever the U.S. fails in imposing their policies, they say Iran is to blame.
So you do oppose the Status of Forces Agreement?
At the end of the day, the points of view and the wishes of the [local] people have to be respected.
Do you think that Iran and the United States share any common interests in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and do you see any basis for the two countries working together in those areas?
Our position when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan [is] we want security and stability for those countries. We are calling for the determination of the fate of those two countries to be handed over to the people and to the legally elected governments of those countries. If the U.S. has the same point of view … [it] has chosen the wrong policies to go about this. Because in six years in Iraq and seven years in Afghanistan, [the United States] has failed to materialize [its] goals. Therefore, [it] needs to fundamentally change such policies. We are saying that the American administration needs to take a correct set of decisions, and one of those decisions has to do with [setting] a timetable for pulling out the troops.
Do you think Senator Obama would be better for Iran since he has called for a withdrawal from Iraq?
Whatever candidate becomes president will have to bring about fundamental changes in U.S. policy regarding its relations with different parts of the world, including the Middle East.
I get the impression that Iran owes the Bush administration a big favor — that Iran ' s power has increased immensely thanks to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The difference between us and some others is that they like to interpret everything through a lens of might and power. What we like to do is to look at issues through the perspective of justice and our principled ideas and positions. We feel that perceived power in today's world cannot be the only device utilized in playing a role and being influential. The American military might has not become weakened. What is lacking on the side of the American administration … has to do with their logic. They have failed to persuade the international public opinion to see matters through their perspective.

World - How credit defauly swaps became a timebomb

Mathew Philips

They're called "Off-Site Weekends"—rituals of the high-finance world in which teams of bankers gather someplace sunny to blow off steam and celebrate their successes as Masters of the Universe. Think yacht parties, bikini models, $1,000 bottles of Cristal. One 1994 trip by a group of JPMorgan bankers to the tony Boca Raton Resort & Club in Florida has become the stuff of Wall Street legend—though not for the raucous partying (although there was plenty of that, too). Holed up for most of the weekend in a conference room at the pink, Spanish-style resort, the JPMorgan bankers were trying to get their heads around a question as old as banking itself: how do you mitigate your risk when you loan money to someone? By the mid-'90s, JPMorgan's books were loaded with tens of billions of dollars in loans to corporations and foreign governments, and by federal law it had to keep huge amounts of capital in reserve in case any of them went bad. But what if JPMorgan could create a device that would protect it if those loans defaulted, and free up that capital?
What the bankers hit on was a sort of insurance policy: a third party would assume the risk of the debt going sour, and in exchange would receive regular payments from the bank, similar to insurance premiums. JPMorgan would then get to remove the risk from its books and free up the reserves. The scheme was called a "credit default swap," and it was a twist on something bankers had been doing for a while to hedge against fluctuations in interest rates and commodity prices. While the concept had been floating around the markets for a couple of years, JPMorgan was the first bank to make a big bet on credit default swaps. It built up a "swaps" desk in the mid-'90s and hired young math and science grads from schools like MIT and Cambridge to create a market for the complex instruments. Within a few years, the credit default swap (CDS) became the hot financial instrument, the safest way to parse out risk while maintaining a steady return. "I've known people who worked on the Manhattan Project," says Mark Brickell, who at the time was a 40-year-old managing director at JPMorgan. "And for those of us on that trip, there was the same kind of feeling of being present at the creation of something incredibly important."
Like Robert Oppenheimer and his team of nuclear physicists in the 1940s, Brickell and his JPMorgan colleagues didn't realize they were creating a monster. Today, the economy is teetering and Wall Street is in ruins, thanks in no small part to the beast they unleashed 14 years ago. The country's biggest insurance company, AIG, had to be bailed out by American taxpayers after it defaulted on $14 billion worth of credit default swaps it had made to investment banks, insurance companies and scores of other entities. So much of what's gone wrong with the financial system in the past year can be traced back to credit default swaps, which ballooned into a $62 trillion market before ratcheting down to $55 trillion last week—nearly four times the value of all stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange. There's a reason Warren Buffett called these instruments "financial weapons of mass destruction." Since credit default swaps are privately negotiated contracts between two parties and aren't regulated by the government, there's no central reporting mechanism to determine their value. That has clouded up the markets with billions of dollars' worth of opaque "dark matter," as some economists like to say. Like rogue nukes, they've proliferated around the world and now lie hiding, waiting to blow up the balance sheets of countless other financial institutions.
It didn't start out that way. One of the earliest CDS deals came out of JPMorgan in December 1997, when the firm put into place the idea hatched in Boca Raton. It essentially took 300 different loans, totaling $9.7 billion, that had been made to a variety of big companies like Ford, Wal-Mart and IBM, and cut them up into pieces known as "tranches" (that's French for "slices"). The bank then identified the riskiest 10 percent tranche and sold it to investors in what was called the Broad Index Securitized Trust Offering, or Bistro for short. The Bistro was put together by Terri Duhon, at the time a 25-year-old MIT graduate working on JPMorgan's credit swaps desk in New York—a division that would eventually earn the name the Morgan Mafia for the number of former members who went on to senior positions at global banks and hedge funds. "We made it possible for banks to get their credit risk off their books and into nonfinancial institutions like insurance companies and pension funds," says Duhon, who now heads her own derivatives consulting business in London.
Before long, credit default swaps were being used to encourage investors to buy into risky emerging markets such as Latin America and Russia by insuring the debt of developing countries. Later, after corporate blowouts like Enron and WorldCom, it became clear there was a big need for protection against company implosions, and credit default swaps proved just the tool. By then, the CDS market was more than doubling every year, surpassing $100 billion in 2000 and totaling $6.4 trillion by 2004.
And then came the housing boom. As the Federal Reserve cut interest rates and Americans started buying homes in record numbers, mortgage-backed securities became the hot new investment. Mortgages were pooled together, and sliced and diced into bonds that were bought by just about every financial institution imaginable: investment banks, commercial banks, hedge funds, pension funds. For many of those mortgage-backed securities, credit default swaps were taken out to protect against default. "These structures were such a great deal, everyone and their dog decided to jump in, which led to massive growth in the CDS market," says Rohan Douglas, who ran Salomon Brothers and Citigroup's global credit swaps research division through the 1990s.
Soon, companies like AIG weren't just insuring houses. They were also insuring the mortgages on those houses by issuing credit default swaps. By the time AIG was bailed out, it held $440 billion of credit default swaps. AIG's fatal flaw appears to have been applying traditional insurance methods to the CDS market. There is no correlation between traditional insurance events; if your neighbor gets into a car wreck, it doesn't necessarily increase your risk of getting into one. But with bonds, it's a different story: when one defaults, it starts a chain reaction that increases the risk of others going bust. Investors get skittish, worrying that the issues plaguing one big player will affect another. So they start to bail, the markets freak out and lenders pull back credit.
The problem was exacerbated by the fact that so many institutions were tethered to one another through these deals. For example, Lehman Brothers had itself made more than $700 billion worth of swaps, and many of them were backed by AIG. And when mortgage-backed securities started going bad, AIG had to make good on billions of dollars of credit default swaps. Soon it became clear it wasn't going to be able to cover its losses. And since AIG's stock was one of the components of the Dow Jones industrial average, the plunge in its share price pulled down the entire average, contributing to the panic.
The reason the federal government stepped in and bailed out AIG was that the insurer was something of a last backstop in the CDS market. While banks and hedge funds were playing both sides of the CDS business—buying and trading them and thus offsetting whatever losses they took—AIG was simply providing the swaps and holding onto them. Had it been allowed to default, everyone who'd bought a CDS contract from the company would have suffered huge losses in the value of the insurance contracts they hadpurchased, causing them their own credit problems.
Given the CDSs' role in this mess, it's likely that the federal government will start regulating them; New York state has already said it will begin doing so in January. "Sadly, they've been vilified," says Duhon, who helped get the whole thing started with that Bistro deal a decade ago. "It's like saying it's the gun's fault when someone gets shot." But just as one might want to regulate street sales of AK-47s, there's an argument to be made that credit default swaps can be dangerous in the wrong hands. "It made it a lot easier for some people to get into trouble," says Darrell Duffie, an economist at Stanford. Although he believes credit default swaps have been "dramatically misused," Duffie says he still believes they're a very effective tool and shouldn't be done away with entirely. Besides, he says, "if you outlaw them, then the financial engineers will just come up with something else that gets around the regulation." As Wall Street and Washington wring their hands over how to prevent future financial crises, we can only hope they re-read Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein."

World - Saving the World for a Latte (G.Read)

Keith Naughton and Daniel McGinn
It's trash day in Everett, Mass., and the streets are lined with garbage cans. But as a white truck rumbles through this working-class suburb of Boston, there's something overshadowing the roadside cans: huge 96-gallon maroon recycling containers. At each stop, workers wheel the bins onto hydraulic lifts on the back of the truck. They pull a lever and a clanging mix of beer bottles, soup cans, milk jugs and newspapers spills into the truck. Before swallowing up that waste, the high-tech system scans radio-frequency ID tags embedded in the containers and weighs how much each household recycled that week. That data is instantly transmitted to a Web site, where it's converted into points that homeowners can redeem for discounts at stores like CVS or on national brands like Coke. Basically, it's like a frequent-flier program for recyclers.
Turning trash into treasure is the premise behind RecycleBank, a four-year-old green-tech startup out of New York that runs the Everett program. The brainchild of two high-school science partners, RecycleBank hopes to be serving 1 million U.S. homes by the end of 2009. The logo on those bins—a piggy bank with a garbage can stuck to its rump—gets at the company's simple proposition: What if you could be rewarded for recycling? The answer: soaring recycling rates in the East Coast markets where the company has rolled out. Wilmington, Del., has seen its recycling rate jump from 3 percent to 32 percent since RecycleBank arrived a year ago. In Everett, where the program launched citywide in July, the average household now recycles the equivalent of 830 pounds a year, up tenfold since the program launched. "The recycling buzz is out there," says Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria. "It's fun filling that thing up to the top."
Perhaps it's a commentary on the woes of Wall Street, but investors are seeing gold in garbage. With rising demand from markets like China and India, prices for scrap material like aluminum and paper have soared, which makes the economics of recycling more compelling than ever. That's why venture capitalists dumped a record $161 million into recycling firms last year, up from just $17 million in 2001, according to Cleantech Group, a green-investing consultant. And RecycleBank is one of the hottest plays, attracting $40 million from backers like Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, former American Express CEO James Robinson III and Coca-Cola.
The company was conceived six years ago when Fordham law student Patrick FitzGerald became transfixed by a New York Times story describing how Gotham was considering ditching recycling because it wasn't working economically. FitzGerald wondered: Would people recycle more if you gave them a financial incentive? He took that idea to his old high-school chum Ron Gonen, then an MBA student at Columbia University. Gonen worked up a Web-based business plan and convinced Columbia to kick in $100,000 to incubate the idea. Today, RecycleBank has 80 employees and operates in nine states, mostly on the East Coast. (FitzGerald left RecycleBank last year to start up two other green ventures).
Now, though, RecycleBank is testing its appeal by expanding into unfamiliar territory—the South and Midwest, where recycling rates are the lowest in the country. This fall, RecycleBank bins are wheeling into Texas, Ohio, Minnesota and South Dakota. Nationally, Americans recycle 32.5 percent of the mess we make, double the rate we recycled in 1990. Fueling that growth lately has been the move to "single-stream" recycling, where you throw all your recyclables into a single bin, rather than separating them, a convenience that made RecycleBank possible.
But recycling is most prevalent on the coasts. In the Midwest and South, recycling rates are often in the single digits to nonexistent. That's not driven by some regional lack of virtue. It's all about economics. In the wide-open spaces in the country's interior, building a landfill is a cheaper proposition—and so are the fees cities pay to dump there. So there's less motivation to fill those blue bins. "Technically, everybody is supposed to recycle," says Bob Novak, a Sioux Falls, S.D., waste hauler who's bringing RecycleBank to town this month. "But very few are doing everything they could. There's lots of room for growth."
Gonen, 33, remains undaunted by the lack of conservation culture in the center of the country. His company's appeal has never been solely about doing the right thing. It's a pocketbook play: Households get 2.5 points for every pound they recycle and can earn a maximum of 450 points a month. Each point is worth a dime, so the monthly max is $45. You can redeem those points for a Latte at Dunkin' Donuts or to cut your grocery bill. "I don't think culturally it's a tough sell," says Gonen. "Our customer is anyone who lives in a home and buys stuff. Anyone I've met in the Midwest lives in a home and is a consumer."
RecycleBank makes its money from fees paid by its retail partners for online advertising and other marketing support. It also can make millions splitting the savings cities realize from diverting trash from the dump to "materials recovery facilities" that sort it, crush it and ship it out for reuse. Take Everett, which pays $76 for every ton of garbage it tips into landfills. Since RecycleBank arrived, garbage trucks are picking up 14 tons of recycling a day, instead of 3 tons. That's 11 tons of trash no longer going to the dump daily. RecycleBank also is compiling a vast database of green consumers it can sell to marketers; the company hopes to service 10 million homes within five years. "RecycleBank doesn't run the trucks," says Scott Vitters, a recycling exec at Coke, which has invested $2 million. "They are a marketing tool."
Green as it is, RecycleBank is still running in the red. SEC documents from RecycleBank's only publicly traded investor, Casella Waste Systems, indicate the company lost about $2.5 million in the three months ended July 31, suggesting an annual burn rate of $10 million. RecycleBank says those numbers are outdated, and Gonen promises profits by the first quarter of 2010. That's just fine with his investors. "If we wanted it to be a smaller, more profitable company, we could do that right now," says Stuart Ellman of RRE Ventures. "We'd rather build out the company and lose some money early on."
To RecycleBank customers, the goal is to build up the points as quickly as possible. Sure, some have tried gaming the system, hiding bowling balls in the bottom of the bin, but many are simply confused about what you can toss. The waste haulers are trained to spot "contaminated loads" and can reject them by pushing a red button on the truck, which automatically generates a letter to that home on what can be recycled. On Winslow Street, the workers reject a container weighed down with wood. As they head off, the elderly homeowner comes hobbling after them on a cane. "Wood is not recyclable?" he asks. Told it's not, he scurries back, removes the wood and wheels his bin back to the truck to be weighed and dumped. And most important, so he can earn his points. After all, saving the planet is fine. But saving a buck is even better.

Columnists - Fareed Zakaria;Future of Energy

It sometimes seems as if the days of ambitious government science programs, like the Apollo space missions or the Manhattan Project, have ended. But Rep. Bart Gordon, a Democratic congressman from Tennessee and chair of the Science & Technology committee, believes the United States faces a new challenge in need of government support: finding the fuel of the future. He's proposed a new government entity, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, with the mandate to invest in revolutionary technologies. NEWSWEEK's Fareed Zakaria spoke with him about ARPA-E and why the private sector alone isn't up to the challenge. Excerpts:
ZAKARIA: You ' ve talked about the need for " revolutionary breakthroughs, not just incremental change, " to solve the energy crisis. What kind of breakthroughs are you talking about?
GORDON: We may not know [what they are] right now. Combining solar and nanotechnology could make [solar panels] easier to implement or easier to deploy. Energy storage, too, is a good example. Batteries are monumental in terms of the renewable industry: you're never going to be able to fully use renewables until batteries can store energy for times when the wind's not blowing and the sun's not shining. That's one example, but we often don't know what we're going to get from basic research. I think we could get an entirely new fuel.
And to make those advances, you ' ve proposed a new government program.
ARPA-E is an advanced research agency that would be set up in the Department of Energy … with a program director that will have the ability to go to the best and brightest of the country to pick out folks that can crash on different research areas.
There are people who are skeptical, who say this is something the market should do.
These are areas of basic research that we're not seeing the private sector move forward on. It's also a unique opportunity to bring together the public sector, the private sector, industry, the national labs, the universities. By doing that, not only do you make breakthroughs, but you already have this community involved, so they can take it to the next step, to the market.
But Silicon Valley is throwing money at this problem, is it not?
Not at the basic research level. You're seeing them by and large trying to take existing solar research, or whatever the technology might be, and make incremental improvements, not transformational ones. And the other thing that Silicon Valley and private investors can't do is they can't pull in the national labs, the universities. The government has that unique ability. This is what DARPA, an advanced research agency within the Department of Defense, has done.
Why do you think DARPA is a good model for energy research?
DARPA was where the Internet was developed—and when they developed the Internet, they didn't really know all its uses. But they developed this concept and with that basic research, it flourished. GPS was developed at DARPA—again, not knowing at the time how it would blossom and be used for so many commercial purposes.
The Abu Dhabi government has proposed a project similar to ARPA-E, hoping to make itself a hub for alternative-energy research. It has allocated $15 billion. Your allocation is $15 million . Are we taking this seriously enough?
Well, the $15 million is what you might call stopgap funding to get up and going. The authorization has a $300 million initial funding followed by $1 billion a year. We set that on the recommendation of experts that have seen these kinds of startups before.
You ' re a Democrat, so maybe this isn ' t a fair question, but which presidential candidate would better support alternative-energy research?
Well, they both have better plans than the current one. We win in that regard. Senator Obama seems to put the biggest emphasis on alternative-energy research, but I think Senator McCain also understands the need. Being from Arizona, he has seen firsthand the benefits of solar energy there. This legislation has bipartisan support, and because of that I think you're going to see it's acceptable to either candidate. This is not a partisan issue.
The European Union has much stronger requirements in terms of its use of alternative energy. Are we losing the race?
Currently we are. But I don't think we're so far behind we can't catch up. The next step is really an international collaboration. If you look at carbon capture and sequestration, it's going to be very expensive [to develop it]. If we pool our resources and our minds, then we can work together to make this breakthrough, which would benefit all of us. And then we need to make it available to China and India and other countries that are large coal users.
You ' ve said we ' re on " the cusp of another Sputnik moment. " Do you think the American government will respond the way it responded then, by making massive investments in science and technology?
I would like to see us do that. We're looking at a multibillion-dollar bailout [for financial firms], we're looking at a large national deficit—but I certainly think that we can invest $1 billion a year. A few years ago we gave tax incentives to the oil companies, back when the price of oil was $50 a barrel. Since the price has doubled, those incentives are no longer needed. We can take the approximately $20 billion over 10 years in tax breaks [for oil companies] and shift them into alternative-energy research. That way we're not adding to the deficit, but rather we're shifting the incentives.
What happens if we don ' t commit ourselves to finding new types of energy?
I helped write a bipartisan letter to the National Academies three years ago, asking them to do a report on the competitiveness of America in the 21st century. Their bottom line was that my 7-year-old daughter and her generation are going to inherit a national standard of living that's less than their parents unless we make some changes. Part of the reason for that is [the lack of] energy independence—this is a very important area and we can't have incremental change. We need to make a major, out-of-the-box breakthrough.

World - Designed to Chill;Cold War

Ginanne Brownell

In hindsight, it was one of the more fitting locales for a cold-war standoff. While touring a mock-up of a gleaming General Electric kitchen, American Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev debated the merits of communism versus capitalism. The year was 1959, and the two leaders were in a Moscow hall attending the American National Exhibition, part of a U.S.-U.S.S.R. cultural exchange. While standing in one of the four kitchens brought over for the show (at a cost of $3.6 million), Nixon began boasting about things like TV dinners, Cadillac convertibles and lawn mowers. Khrushchev countered that at least Soviets concentrated on things that really mattered. "Would it not be better to compete in the relative merits of washing machines than in the strength of rockets?" Nixon asked the Soviet leader.
The "Kitchen Debate," as it became known, was significant because it not only opened dialogue between the two superpowers but also demonstrated that the cold war was a competition over more than space and arms. In "Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970," London's V & A museum argues that the hegemonic struggles between the Soviets and the Americans were as much about landscape, design and architecture as about weapons. The show (through Jan. 2009, then traveling to Italy and Lithuania), explores how the Soviet Union and the West competed for technological, social and aesthetic dominance. "The absolute magnetic power about architecture and design is that it is about human experience, [so] the idea that the home might be a battleground had this very powerful way of capturing the imagination," says cocurator David Crowley.
In the period following World War II, there were high hopes for peace and prosperity, but also the challenges of rebuilding a demolished Europe and the nagging nuclear threat. Artists, designers and architects took these concerns onboard. In "$he" (1958-61), an oil-and-paint collage on wood by British pop artist Richard Hamilton, a surrealist housewife stands beside her refrigerator amid a kitchen apocalypse: an appliance resembling a cross between a toaster and a vacuum cleaner has shot off projectiles and appears to be leaking blood, which the fridge is sopping up. The work is a witty riposte to the sanitized image of Western suburban life.
The growing use of malleable plastics captured the drama as both sides raced "to fashion the world in new shapes," says Crowley. A 1960 Viktor Koretsky poster shows oil pipelines and a superimposed hand spilling out particles that become Soviet-designed spoons, a telephone, glasses and plates. The Western answers show up in a plastic West German record player (1963), and a 1951 Vespa scooter from Italy. Superpower architecture was also a duel: there is a drawing of the never constructed Zaryadye skyscraper, meant to be the eighth and final of the Stalin skyscrapers erected to celebrate Moscow's 800th anniversary in 1947. The seven that were completed forever changed the city's skyline. Telecommunication towers that sprang up from London to East Berlin gave the cities a futuristic look.
The engaging exhibit veers away from its main design thesis in sections on space travel and revolution. And it peters out at the end, as if the curators weren't sure how to wrap it up. But given the current state of relations between Russia and the West, this show is a relevant reminder of how much—and how little—the world has moved on.

World - Titanic's Last Secret

Jeneen Interlandi

The Titanic sank into the North Atlantic 97 years ago. Since then, as Harvard historian Steven Biel quipped, "Only Jesus and the Civil War have been written about more." In close to 200 books, documentaries and movies—and the highest-grossing film of all time—historians, scientists and Titanic buffs have fervently debated what really caused the biggest passenger ship of her day to sink just two hours and 40 minutes after hitting an iceberg, carrying 1,522 people to their deaths.
It turns out they needn't have bothered. As Brad Matsen explains in his new book "Titanic's Last Secrets," those questions were answered long ago, in a confidential investigation by the ship's builders. To date, experts have amassed enough evidence to demonstrate that the ship broke into three pieces, not two—before sinking, not after—and she went down faster and at a much lower angle than James Cameron would have ever guessed—all thanks to skimpy rivets and a flimsy hull. But a trove of documents from Harland and Wolff—the Belfast, Ireland, shipyard where the Titanic and her sisters were born—reveal that the problem was not just one of incompetence and poor construction. It was negligence: the ship's builders suspected that the ship's hull was too flimsy, but they overrode the concerns of their engineer in a bid to get the Titanic on the seas in time. An investigation held after the ship sank was not made public; the heads of Harland and Wolff allowed two formal government inquiries to lay blame for the wreck on the shoulders of the ship's captain. The lawsuits of so many victims would have bankrupted the Titanic's owners—J. P. Morgan among them.
In an era when hundreds of liners bore millions of people across the Atlantic every year, shipwrecks were not unusual. Even as the Titanic was being built, a crash near Nantucket, Mass., between the luxury liners Republic and Florida made headlines globally. Both vessels sustained far greater damage than would ultimately sink the Unsinkable. But the Florida made it to New York on its own power and the Republic stayed afloat for 38 hours—all 750 passengers were rescued. Why the Titanic fared so much worse has remained a mystery. Not until 2005 did divers working with Matsen find two large sections of the ship's bottom—enough for forensic scientists to determine that the flimsy hull and skimpy rivets were, in fact, responsible for the ship's fate.
But we did not know, until now, that the shipbuilders knew that too. When Tom McCluskie, a retired Harland and Wolf archivist, got wind of Matsen's findings, he forked over details of the company's 1912 investigation, which had been hidden until then. "What we figured by doing forensic analysis on the extra pieces of hull matched exactly with what Harland and Wolff calculated based on their detailed knowledge of the ship's construction," says Matsen. "McCluskie said he had been waiting for someone to piece it together before he turned the documents over." Both Matsen's team of divers and scientists and Harland and Wolff's engineers concluded that a stronger hull and rivets would have kept the ship afloat much longer, resulting in a dramatically lower death toll. (Harland and Wolff then retrofitted the hull of Titanic's older sister with extra steel. They also built Britannic—the sister ship that was under construction when the Titanic sank—to the original specifications.)
The Titanic had been the product of a colossal rivalry spurred by the growth in shipping profits from the Spanish American War. In the hopes of controlling the North Atlantic, J. P. Morgan bought controlling interests in a handful of British and American shipping companies. The federal government supported him with subsidies and tax breaks. The British government then subsidized Cunard Shipping, one of the only companies to resist Morgan's takeover. "There was all this money being thrown at an industry that was virtually unregulated," Matsen says.
Making the hull plating a quarter of an inch thinner and the rivets an eighth of an inch thinner than the original designs called for would reduce the ship's weight by 2,500 tons, enabling her to cross the English Channel faster than the competition. Because shipbuilding regulations had not kept pace with the push toward larger vessels, the thinner specifications still met the standards of the day. "It was a matter of keeping the customer happy," says Matsen. "If J. P. Morgan wanted a boat made out of papier-mâché, they would have made him a boat out of papier-mâché." Happily, he didn't ask.

World - Pakistan;Fight to Death

Fasih Ahmed

The security guard on the CCTV screen cut a lone, heroic figure. It was Sept. 20, and the guard stood at the barricaded entrance of Islamabad's Marriott Hotel trying to douse the explosives-laden truck while others around him ran for cover. Seconds later, the screen went white—the bomb had gone off, destroying the hotel and leaving more than 250 injured and 53 dead, including the Czech ambassador and two U.S. marines.
Less than two weeks later, Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, has also begun to seem something of a lonely figure. So far Zardari, who was elected president earlier this month, has managed to face down the lawyers' movement that weakened predecessor Pervez Musharraf's hold on power, and keep a step ahead of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his big political rival. But he is increasingly isolated and besieged. He faces a hostile local media, jittery allies and an increasingly unhappy population roiled by inflation and power outages and deeply distrustful of the United States. Zardari's visit to New York last week to attend the United Nations General Assembly—particularly his meeting with Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin—has been assailed by politicians and pundits as evidence of some unholy alliance with the U.S. political establishment.
All this has weakened whatever meager support Zardari might have had for resisting an increasingly emboldened militancy. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif remains conspicuously non-committal to the war against terrorism. Speaking to reporters before leaving for Saudi Arabia two days after the attack, Sharif skirted the issue, instead calling on the government to address his party's constitutional concerns. Sharif's party has called for closer ties with Tehran and for rejection of international economic support, which many fear could be linked to anti-terrorism efforts. For Sharif, that fear is personal: he has received death threats from the militants, according to Pakistan's Ministry of Interior. "Pakistani politicians and media have become apologists for terrorists, not because they believe all this is right but because they hate America and because they fear themselves being targeted," Mansoor Hussain, a columnist for the Daily Times, told NEWSWEEK. "They do not want to admit or understand that this is a fight to the death for us as a nation."
When it comes to terrorism, the press has mainly kept to anti-Americanism. (The incursion of unmanned drones and, more recently, U.S. troops into eastern Pakistan hasn't helped.) Ayaz Amir, a columnist and member of parliament from Sharif's party, repeated the popular refrain that terrorism is not Pakistan's problem in his weekly column for an English-language daily following the Islamabad bombing. "Our leadership is working overtime to convince a fed-up nation, which has lapped up more than its share of lies, that this is our war too and we are under a moral obligation to fight it," he wrote. Zardari is "more of America's man than even [his predecessor] Pervez Musharraf." Popular Urdu-language newspapers have been more vociferous, downplaying the attack as one that only targeted U.S. spies and Pakistan's misguided, Westernized liberal elite that heartlessly supports army action against fellow Muslims in Pakistan's tribal badlands.
For Zardari, like other Pakistani politicians, any link to the United States is toxic. According to a recent Pew survey, 64 percent of Pakistanis believe the United States is the greatest threat facing the country, and 73 percent fear U.S. military action against Pakistan. Several opposition members, talk show hosts and columnists have accused the United States and India of staging the Marriot bombing, despite the claim of responsibility by Fidayeen-e-Islam, a hitherto unknown militant group. (Fidayeen claimed the hotel was "full of U.S., NATO and FBI agents.) Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a religio-political party, claimed that "important government officials" told him the Marriot attack had been "planned in Washington and [New] Delhi." Government officials dismiss the claim, blaming Al Qaeda-affiliated outfits for the bombing.
For its part, Al Qaeda, in its recent video message, has again urged its acolytes to step up the fight inside Pakistan. Zardari's coalition partner in the North-West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan, has ceded to the demands of extremists and agreed to impose Shariah laws by year's end in Malakand, an area in the sway of militant groups. Bomb threats have twice led to evacuations at Lahore International Airport, and once at Islamabad's Faisal Mosque. Security pickets surround popular franchises like McDonald's and KFC. Terrorist attacks during the upcoming Eid holidays, which mark the end of Ramadan, remain a concern. Abductions of foreign dignitaries, which are used as coin for prisoner exchange, are on the rise. The government is falling into the irresistible trap of negotiating and compromising with militants. The government has launched a media campaign against terrorism to complement ongoing army operations in the semi-autonomous tribal belt, but there is little evidence that this is influencing public opinion.
Pakistanis may distrust the United States, but they're not necessarily wild about the militants either. The latest BBC World Service poll released on Sunday shows that 19 percent of Pakistanis held negative feelings toward Al Qaeda, 19 percent felt positive toward it, and 22 percent had mixed feelings (40 percent offered no response). The Pew Global Attitudes Project survey conducted last year showed ambivalence: although support for suicide-bombings in Pakistan had diminished from 41 percent in 2004 to 9 percent in 2007, 61 percent of those polled held a favorable opinion of religious leaders and 38 percent of Osama bin Laden.
Whether or not Zardari can win these hearts and minds, he seems determined to wage the battle to the bitter end. Speaking to the nation in a televised address, shortly after the Marriott bombing, Zardari spoke more forcefully than ever before against terrorism. "I know what it's like to lose a loved one to terrorism," he said. "We are not afraid of death... but we are determined to clear this cancer from Pakistan."

Personality - Tyra Banks;Model to Mogul

Tyra Banks

My mom was a medical photographer. After hours, she would sometimes take pictures of me and my brother in her studio. When I look at those pictures, I realize I am posing. I have my hand on my chin and I'm looking right at the camera. When I was about 9, my mom started a business photographing women in our living room who wanted a glamorous picture of themselves. I held her light meters and her reflectors. My mom would bring me into the darkroom, which was on our back porch, and develop the film. I was fascinated watching the pictures appear with that red light shining. It's so funny that the little assistant holding the lights was a supermodel in the making.
Growing up, I didn't think I was pretty, but I didn't think I was unattractive. Then I hit a stage where I definitely felt very unattractive. I grew three inches and lost 40 pounds in 90 days. It was just this crazy growth spurt. I felt like a freak: people would stare at me in the grocery store. Eventually, my face and body started to change. On my first day of high school, a girl came up to me and said, "Have you ever thought about modeling?" I thought she was crazy, but I decided to try it. My first modeling job was for a magazine called Black Collegiate. I was so excited because there was a little picture of me on the cover, above the title.
I didn't think I was modeling because I was beautiful; I thought it was because I looked like a model. There's a difference. I try to explain that on "America's Next Top Model." Models are tall, they have a big forehead, their chin is small, they have full lips—I knew I had that look.
I applied to college because I wanted to be a film/television producer and writer. I was accepted everywhere and was ready to go to Loyola Marymount. But a model scout from Paris came to the modeling agency in L.A., saw my picture and said, "That's the only girl I want." So I decided to defer college for a year.
Paris was weird and confusing for me.
I felt overwhelmed by all that was happening. I was 17, and I didn't know how to take care of myself. I asked my mom to send care packages of Fiddle Faddle and Oreos. I ended up eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So I got sick. When my mom came to visit me, she saw all of that and refused to send me any more packages. She taught me how to shop and cook.
Modeling is very lonely. Actresses or singers travel with entourages, with their hair and makeup people and tour managers. Models are alone. Even when you're the biggest supermodel in the world, you're alone. I tried to get to L.A. and hang out with my high-school friends as often as I could.
I never lost the dream of being in TV. When I hit 32, I said, "Let me leave this industry before it leaves me." I didn't want to be like those boxers who continue to get beat up and say they're going to retire, but they don't, and then their legacy is marred. I wanted to leave on top.
I've had my glory in the modeling world. I want to use the power I have now to cultivate new talent in front of the camera and behind the scenes. I don't think I'm a mogul, but I have a lot of television shows. There's "America's Next Top Model" and the talk show. I have a new show, "Stylista," that premieres Oct. 22—it's a reality competition-based series in search of the next fashion editor at Elle magazine. I'm also executive-producing a series of direct-to-DVD movies based on The New York Times best-selling novel series "The Clique."
If you have entrepreneurial dreams, you have to live it and breathe it. You have to treat the idea like a baby, like your child. You don't sleep when you have a new baby. I didn't sleep. I didn't have weekends. I worked nonstop. You wouldn't let just anybody baby-sit your child. When I hire someone, I have to feel that I connect with them as a person. I'm looking for honest people. I'm looking for loyalty. I'm looking for people who respect people at all levels, from the people who clean the building to the people who own the building. Those are the values that my mother instilled in me

Lifestyle - Surprising Reasons we buy what we buy

Wray Herbert

Think of life as one long afternoon at the mall, shopping. I know, I know. Some of you will squeal that you hate shopping, indeed that you're appalled by the whole consumer culture. But protest all you want, there's no way around it. We all spend a good amount of time contemplating value. Is that mocha latte really worth four bucks? Will you finally write a $200 check to your chosen candidate? How about that $100,000 college education for your kid? Not a day goes by that we don't ask ourselves the question "So, what's it worth?"
Such questions have no absolute and universal answers, of course. That's what makes it so hard. Judgments of worth and value are a complex meld of attitudes and feelings about both money and thousands of commodities that defy comparison. How can you say if hiring a plumber is worth more than buying a radio or a pet cat? Or if any of those things is worth the money in your wallet? Yet we make these market choices every day, confidently exchanging one thing for another.
A lot of people are very interested in how we value stuff, including psychologists. If these are not rational decisions, what are they? How does the brain sort through the impossible confusion of life's marketplace and arrive at a choice? Two Princeton University scientists have been exploring this problem in the laboratory and may have some clues to the subtle and surprising nature of these everyday decisions.
Psychologists Daniel Oppenheimer and Adam Alter believe that many of the economic decisions we make have little to do with objective value. Market choices have much more to do with the brain's basic, internal perceptions of the world and the way those perceptions shape our feelings of comfort and ease. In this view, even currency has no clear and absolute value; regardless of those numbers on bills and coins, they derive their true value from the individual mind. In a series of experiments, these psychologists have been studying the marketplace cues that trigger psychological comfort or discomfort, and thus shape us as economic beings.
The basic idea is that it's human nature to get anxious and wary when the world is strange or challenging. We're more at ease around the familiar and comprehensible. But the cues that signal us to be on guard may not be obvious; indeed, they may be almost undetectable at times. It's these nuanced signals that the psychologists have been exploring in the lab.
Here's an example of their work. Oppenheimer and Alter asked a group of volunteers to estimate how much of various commodities they could buy with a dollar. They were given choices such as paper clips and gumballs and paper napkins. Some of the volunteers were given a regular old dollar bill with George Washington on it, while others were given less-familiar currency of the same value: a Susan B. Anthony $1 coin, for example, or a dollar bill that had been ever-so-slightly tinkered with. Invariably, the volunteers believed that the familiar dollar bill was worth more—that it had more buying power—than the stranger currency.
That doesn't make sense, of course. But it was not a fluke. They got the same result when they gave some people a rare $2 bill and others two singles. It's not as though people never see a $2 bill, and it does have Thomas Jefferson on it after all, but just the slight unfamiliarity of the denomination was enough to make people devalue it.
Why would this be? Oppenheimer and Alter believe this irrational behavior is rooted in our most fundamental mental processes: The world is full of stimuli of various kinds, some more familiar than others, and the brain is tuned to process the familiar ones rapidly, effortlessly and intuitively. More difficult or alien cues require more mental work, more plodding deliberation, and the brain switches to its more cautious and calculating style to be on the safe side.
This is humbling to know. But there's more. The psychologists wanted to see if the same cognitive bias shapes our perceptions and attitudes toward goods themselves, and they came up with a clever way to find out. In this experiment, they gave everyone the same currency—the familiar dollar bill—but they made the commodities more or less accessible in a very subtle way. Some of the "consumers" purchased the gumballs and paper clips from a form that was printed in a clear black font while others had to select from a form printed in a difficult-to-read grey italic font. The idea was to make the strangeness as subtle as possible, to reduce it to basic perception. Even at this most fundamental level, the differences shaped economic judgment: Volunteers consistently rated identical goods as less valuable when they came in an unfamiliar, cognitively challenging form.
These findings echo some earlier, provocative studies of the stock market. In those studies, Oppenheimer and Alter looked at new stock offerings and found that companies with easy-to-read names were valued more highly by investors, at least in the short run. That is, companies with names like Barnings Incorporated consistently outperformed companies with names like Aegeadux Incorporated, simply because the names are more cognitively palatable.
So what do all these odd findings add up to? Well, the cognitive biases are not a bad thing, even if they are a bit irrational. In fact, they are essential to our everyday economic decision-making. We'd be paralyzed if we tried to make every market choice logically and the economic world would grind to a halt. But they should raise a cautionary flag about the very subtle ways marketers might manipulate our choices. Something to think about as we head off to the mall, not just this holiday weekend, but every day.

Lifestyle - Love Lab

Susanna Schrobsdorff
Apparently there are fleets of researchers out there investigating things we didn't even know we wanted to know about mating and dating. Like whether men are aroused by the smell of pumpkin pie and lavender. (Yes.) Or whether good dancers are better in bed. (Yes.) The public appetite for even the smallest tidbit about the biology of attraction is insatiable. Jena Pincott, a young, single writer in New York, was no exception. She began doing research to answers questions about her own love life, and wound up writing a compact and witty compendium of all the latest science: "Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?" (Delacourte, 2008). And yes, she does answer the title question: Blondes are more rare in most cultures, and do get more sexual attention, partially because they stand out. Light hair can also be a sign of youth—women's hair tends to get darker as they get older. But that's just one very small part of the complex biology of human sexuality. NEWSWEEK's Susanna Schrobsdorff talked to the now newly-wed Pincott about the mysterious factors that make for great chemistry, and whether her new-found knowledge was a factor in her choice of husband. Excerpts:
What surprised you most about our dating and mating habits?
I was really surprised by the importance of smell. It's almost taboo to talk about smell, yet it's so critical. Actually, smell was my inspiration for writing the book. I was single and I was dating this great guy. Everything was great about him. He had a good career and a sense of humor. But I hated the way he smelled. I'm a self-described science geek, so I decided to research why this guy's smell was so unappealing to me-even right out of the shower. No one else thought it was unappealing. Then I started to ask other questions about the science of attraction, and thought: this would make a fascinating topic for a book.
So what was the reason that he didn't smell right to you?
It probably had to do with pheromones, which are chemical signals that can influence how others react to you. They're found in sweat saliva and bodily fluids. It's possible that my date and I had very similar immune system genes, which are linked to pheromones found in his sweat, and we were possibly a genetic mismatch because our immune systems were too much alike.
Did that relationship end?
Yes. And a few months later I met a guy whose smell I really liked and eight months later we got married. [laughs]
Was your husband's smell a factor?
I tell people this isn't really a tips book, but I guess you could use this information as a first filter when you're dating. You should trust your genes, your hormones and your instincts, to an extent. It's a first filter; I'm not saying it's everything.
So this book isn't a dating guide.
For short-term relationships, biology is important, but for long-term relationships there are a lot of other factors. For long-term relationships, women make completely different decisions. After writing this book I see men in three different categories. There's the short-term fling type, the Marlboro man type, the socially aggressive guy. Then there's the long-term relationship guy, who has a softer face or the daddy face. I was fascinated by that study that showed that women are uncannily accurate when looking at men's faces—they can tell if men like infants, if they're a daddy type. Interestingly, the daddy face wasn't just the softer face more nurturing face; they found that some high testosterone guys also liked kids. That's why I have a third category too; the best of both breeds guy who has some manly dominant qualities, but is also nurturing and emotionally supportive. Of course, those guys are hard to come by.
You devote a section to hair. Why is that so important?
Darwin was really into this question too. Hair is a track record of your health. It's a record of the medicines you've taken, the diet you've had, the care you've given it. It takes years of good health to grow long, thick hair. So if you don't know anything about that person, you would learn a lot just by looking at that person's hair.
In almost every era hair is talked about as one of a woman's best assets.
Darwin thought that [attracting a mate] was the reason we evolved to grow long hair on our heads. Long hair on the head hasn't been around forever; they think it's only been around for about 15,000 years.
But what about men, it's not the custom now for men to have long hair, but you'd think it'd be the same kind of health indicator for men.
Well, women do find men with hair much more attractive than bald guys, probably for similar reasons—it's an indicator of age and fertility.
You have a really interesting section on the famous female waist-to-hip ratio. Marilyn Monroe and Kate Moss had similar a similar waist-to-hip ratio though they obviously are of very different body types. Why is that ratio attractive to men?
They found that women men look at figures of women, they pick women whose waist is 7/10ths the size of the hip-which is much more of an hourglass than what you'd see on a runway. That's the ideal ratio for Western men. Men from poor rural backgrounds in other parts of the world prefer women whose ratio is 8/10th, so a little thicker waist, but still an hourglass which is a sign of fertility and youth.
One study in the book showed a connection between being liked and respected and being considered attractive, so it's not all superficial biology.
That was really fascinating. They asked a group of people to judge each other's attractiveness the day they met, then again after they'd worked together on an archeological dig for a summer. And the people who were most liked and respected were given higher ratings than they originally got and the people who weren't liked actually got lower ratings than they originally got. They did other studies that showed the same result. They took yearbook photos and showed that people who knew that person from school and liked them gave the person higher attractiveness ratings than strangers would looking at the same picture.
Are there issues you still want to explore?
The vasopressin gene study hit my desk not long ago-too late for the book. Everyone's calling it the cheating gene. It regulates vasopressin, a hormone that has been associated with bonding. They discovered it in some classic prairie vole [a rodent] studies. Prairie voles are monogamous because of the way this gene is expressed and how they react to vasopressin. Their cousin the montane vole do not have this gene and they're playboys. Recently they found evidence that human men also have variability in their vassopressin gene which means some are more inclined to monogamy than others. [Men with the "cheater" variant were less likely to be married and, if married, were were more likely to report marital problems. Approximately 40 percent of all men have the less monogamous variant, according to a recent report by Swedish researchers.]
So does that mean we'll some day have a test to see which man is predisposed to cheating?
Actually, I have an informal poll on my blog for women only, that asks would you want him tested? And about two thirds said yes, they'd test them.
Then maybe cheaters would have a hard time getting girlfriends.
[laughs] It could change our whole society. Women would only breed with the monogamous guys.
So how do you feel about romance now that you know all this?
Well, I'm still in the honeymoon phase, I've been married about a year, and I actually say my husband is the best of both breeds.