Archive for November, 2009

J?rg Haider’s museum: Chameleon at rest

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Commemorating a populist with shades of truth and memory

“OF COURSE I knew Mr Haider personally!” says Mr Berger, taking a break from his singing. He had been accompanying a melancholy Alpine choir at the opening of a museum commemorating Jorg Haider, an Austrian far-right politician who died in a drunken car crash on October 11th 2008.

Mr Berger pulls a collection of photos from his jacket pocket to prove his point. They show him in lively conversation with Haider at some kind of party. Mr Berger is not especially famous or politically active, he explains, but in Carinthia, Haider made it his business to know everybody. He had an irrepressible bonhomie, a shrewd networking sense and an uncanny memory for names and faces. For a party trick he sometimes surprised people by knowing their names even before being introduced to them. …

Fenger Academy: First day jitters

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

A troubled school before the cameras arrived

A FEW weeks after I visited Fenger Academy, on Chicago’s far south side, television cameras swarmed the school. The incident at Fenger was so alarming that the White House dispatched two cabinet secretaries to quell anxiety. I came for happier reasons. The Fenger was still in the heady first days of school, exciting not only because every new year brings new opportunities, but because this year seemed particularly ripe with them.

Fenger is closer to Indiana’s belching mills than to downtown Chicago. It has struggled for decades. From 2006 to 2008 less than 3% of students met Illinois’s pathetic standards of achievement. But this meagre record had one good outcome: Fenger’s district chose it as a “turnaround” school. …

Kyrgyzstan: Tripolar disorder

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

The new Great Game, from the ground up

KYRGYZSTAN is the only country that hosts both American and Russian military bases. Economically, it depends on remittances sent home by workers in Russia, and on its burgeoning trade with China. The country’s rulers are skilled at balancing these three superpowers against each other, but ordinary Kyrgyzstanis feel the push and pull keenly. …

The Valdai club: Eastward bound

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Our Europe editor joins an annual talk shop in Russia

THE Valdai club, which brings around 50 journalists, academics and other experts to Russia, is now in its sixth year. Each year it takes the group to a remote part of the country. It would be hard to find anywhere less accessible than Yakutia, in eastern Siberia, where this year’s Valdai starts.

Yakutia is Russia’s biggest region, with an area almost as big as India. Most of it consists of permafrost, but temperatures range from 40 degrees Celsius to 70 degrees below zero: the widest range on earth. The population is less than 1m. …

The Playwright Tavern: Bear bar

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Lehman one year on, from the bottom of a glass

THE Playwright Tavern is across the street from the Barclays Capital building, on 49th St and 7th Avenue in Manhattan. Barclays’ building used to belong to Lehman Brothers; when Lehman filed for bankruptcy and Barclays purchased the company last September, the animated LED screens that wrap the building adopted their new owner’s name and colours.

The Playwright, 75 metres from the bank’s front door, was a time-honoured gathering place for Lehman’s employees. Its restaurant was often completely full at lunch, and after five o’clock the bar would crowd to capacity. …

The Canadian Arctic: Slush fund

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Canada’s armed forces wave the flag up north

EVERY summer Canada’s armed forces conduct military exercises in the Arctic, allowing them to test their abilities far from southern supply centres. This year they have chosen Iqaluit, the capital of the territory of Nunavut, as the jumping off point for what they are calling Operation Nanook. …

Chilies in Britain: Capsaicinshire

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

A stiff upper lip conceals a burning tongue

IT’S a rainy British summer’s day and I need my endorphins. Thus begins a family day out in deepest, muddiest Bedfordshire at Britain’s first pick-your-own chili farm. Despite the clouds, I am joined by a curious stream of pickers. …

Chiapas: Smells just like a percolator

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Your morning beverage from tree to cup

I’M STARTING to think that Mexico has an image problem. Every time I plan a trip there concerned friends warn me against it. Earlier this summer it was swine flu, and before that it was the cartels. More recently, when I decided to spend a few days in Chiapas, it was the Zapatistas—that is, the Zapatista National Liberation Army, a group of ski-masked guerillas who took over a handful of towns in the state’s mountainous highlands on January 1st, 1994. That was the day that the North American Free-Trade Agreement took effect. The Zapatistas seized the highlands towns to protest poverty, globalisation and racism against indigenous people. …

A town hall in Baltimore: Riot and reason

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Storms, inside and out

THE afternoon air is heavy with the threat of rain. I’m pining for an air-conditioned room, but Jan Hedblom has ventured out wearing a thick sandwich board over her clothes. This is her first town hall, she tells me. Ben Cardin, Maryland’s junior Democratic senator, is holding a meeting in suburban Baltimore. She, for one, is fired up and ready to go at him.

The Democrats have had a tough August. In Missouri, protesters were arrested at a town hall. In Maryland, protesters hung a junior congressman in effigy. Democrats are now trying to fight back. This morning Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, leaders of the House, called shouting down opposing viewpoints “un-American.” The White House has created a “reality check” website and scheduled town halls for the president. Organising for America, an arm of the Democratic National Committee, is urging supporters to visit the offices of their congressmen. The group even supplies flyers to print out and distribute. The flyer written for Maryland claims that delaying health-care reform is forcing 740 Marylanders to lose their coverage each day. Supporters can fit their own opinions in a neat box entitled, “Why it matters to me”. …

China’s currency: A yuan-sided argument

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Why China resists foreign demands to revalue its currency

PRESIDENT Barack Obama, on his first visit to China this week, urged the government to allow its currency to rise. President Hu Jintao politely chose to ignore him. In recent weeks Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, have also called for a stronger yuan. But China will adjust its currency only when it sees fit, not in response to foreign pressure.

China allowed the yuan to rise by 21% against the dollar in the three years to July 2008, but since then it has more or less kept the rate fixed. As a result, the yuan’s trade-weighted value has been dragged down this year by the sickly dollar, while many other currencies have soared. Since March the Brazilian real and the South Korean won have gained 42% and 36% respectively against the yuan, seriously eroding those countries’ competitiveness. …

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