joi, 2 februarie 2012

Europe freeze

Heavy snow has left at least 11,000 villagers cut off in remote areas of Serbia amid a European cold snap that has claimed more than 130 lives.
At least six people have died in Serbia, with emergency services expressing concern for the health of the sick and the elderly in particular.
Temperatures are below -30C (-22F) in parts of Europe and 63 people have died in Ukraine and 29 in Poland.
In Italy, weather experts say it is the coldest week for 27 years.
Emergency services in Serbia have described the situation, close to the country's south-western borders with Kosovo and Montenegro, as very serious.
In places, the snow has reached a depth of 2m (6ft 6in). Fourteen municipalities are affected, emergency official Predrag Maric told the BBC.
Helicopters have helped move several people to safety, and food and medicines have been airlifted to isolated areas.
Snow began falling in Serbia on 7 January and has hardly stopped since, says BBC correspondent Nick Thorpe. Serbian media say further snow is expected in the coming days.
Ukraine has seen the highest number of fatalities, many of them homeless. Over a 24-hour period, as many as 20 people died.
Food shortages have been reported in the capital, Kiev, because lorries have been unable to transport supplies.
Trapped overnight
Heavy snow has also caused widespread disruption in northern and central Italy.
More than 600 passengers were trapped on an unheated train in the Apennine mountains for seven hours on Wednesday night, when the brakes and electrical cables froze.
The coldest temperatures have been recorded in Russia and Kazakhstan. 
In the Urals and Siberia, the temperature fell to -40C (-40F) while in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, a forecaster told Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency the wind-chill factor meant the real temperature was down to -52C, even though the air temperature was -35C.
In southern Russia, cars and lorries became stuck in snow drifts between Novorossiisk and Krasnodar.
Heavy snow has also hit Turkey, with 50cm falling in Istanbul on Wednesday. An avalanche in the south-east of the country killed a woman in her home, reports say.
Another avalanche blocked a main road connecting the provinces of Bitlis and Diyarbakir.
Rescuers in Germany were unable to save an elderly woman after she had gone swimming in the frozen waters of a gravel pit in Lower Saxony. Reports said she had often swum in the lake.

Papua New Guinea ferry sinks with up to 350 aboard; more than 230 rescued

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — Rescuers plucked more than 230 survivors from the sea off Papua New Guinea’s east coast after a ferry sank Thursday with as many as 350 people on board, officials said.
An airplane from Australia, three helicopters and eight ships scoured the area after the MV Rabaul Queen went down while traveling from Kimbe on the island of New Britain to the coastal city of Lae on the main island, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
The ferry sank 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Lae, the South Pacific country’s second-largest city, and 10 miles (16 kilometers) from shore, it said in a statement.
Australian Broadcasting Corp. quoted police in Kimbe as saying that most of the passengers were students and trainee teachers.
An official at the scene said the ferry capsized in rough seas and sank four hours later, Papua New Guinea’s Post-Courier newspaper reported.
National Weather Service chief Sam Maiha said shipping agencies had been warned to keep ships moored this week because of strong winds, the newspaper said.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said the cause of the accident was unknown, but acknowledged that safety in the shipping industry was lax.
“We need to bring some safety measures back into this industry,” O’Neill told reporters.
He said more than 300 people were aboard the ship, although the precise number had not been confirmed.
An Australian search and rescue airplane based in the northern city of Cairns reached the scene by afternoon and two other Australian airplanes were on their way.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Carly Lusk said the crew of the first plane threw several life rafts to survivors in the water. She said 238 survivors had been recovered by late in the day.
She said 350 people were believed to be on board the ferry, but Papua New Guinea’s National Maritime Safety Authority said the figure was likely lower.
“I cannot confirm or deny the 350 missing number. It is hearsay,” said Captain Nurur Rahman, the authority’s rescue coordinator. “I have not seen the manifest as yet, but it is likely around 300.”
Rahman said the search would likely be suspended until dawn Friday due to rough weather.
He said there had been no reports of bodies being found and that he remained hopeful of finding more survivors in the tropical waters.
“I’m always hopeful,” he said. “People have survived up to two days in these waters.”
Most of the survivors were uninjured, although one had a dislocated shoulder, he said.
Ship operator Star Ships could not immediately be contacted for comment.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Encouraging a degree of saving in higher education

HIGHER EDUCATION IS both crucial to America’s economic competitiveness and hard for many students and their families to afford. Annual tuition and fees rose $1,800 over the past five years at public four-year institutions and $3,730 at private schools, according to the College Board. Net tuition, after factoring in financial aid, held steady over that period, but that shows only that rising costs ate up most of the additional federal, state and private scholarships.
As President Obama quite rightly insisted in his State of the Union address, institutions of higher learning must do more to hold down their costs if college education is to remain affordable for the next generation of young people. What’s more, he’s talking about using the federal government’s financial clout to encourage cost containment.
Mr. Obama is hardly the first politician to make this point. In 2003, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) proposed linking tuition increases to the rate of inflation, with violators risking the loss of federal student aid. The idea went nowhere amid cries of “price controls” from the higher ed lobby.
Indeed, Mr. McKeon’s bill was a blunt instrument — too blunt, in a world where colleges must cope with rising costs for health care, energy and personnel, just like other large organizations. Many tuition increases in the past couple of years were forced on public universities by state budget cuts.
Still, federal aid has had the perverse effect of enabling tuition hikes, and there is plenty of room for savings that would not affect educational quality. The State of Connecticut’s Board of Regents for Higher Education, for example, has just identified and cut 24 redundant administrative positions that paid an average salary of $141,000. Nor have institutions remotely exhausted the possibilities for savings from the creative use of technology, flexible scheduling or more intensive use of existing facilities.
Mr. Obama is proposing long-overdue reforms to existing formulas for distributing hundreds of millions of dollars in campus-based aid, such as Perkins loans and work-study funds. Current policy skews in favor of better-off students at relatively pricier colleges. The president wants to shift dollars in favor of schools that restrain tuition and graduate more low-income students. Meanwhile, he would establish a $1 billion fund to encourage cost-saving innovations, complemented by $55 million for research, evaluation and dissemination of the best practices. (Disclosure: The Washington Post Co. owns Kaplan University, which provides higher education on campuses and online.)
Needless to say, a lot depends on how the president and Congress would end up defining what constitutes a good value in higher education. The task is no less challenging than establishing valid “metrics” for K-12 schools. But it is also no less necessary. What’s important is that the president has put the prestige and power of his office behind this effort.

China quietly shelves new diesel emission standards

The government has quietly postponed plans to clean the fumes from truck and bus exhaust pipes.
It ought to have been a centrepiece of China's efforts to reduce smog, but the government has quietly postponed plans to clean the fumes from truck and bus exhaust pipes.
The 18-month delay of new diesel emission standards, which was announced this month, runs contrary to the authorities' promises to tighten controls on air pollution.
Environmental scientists say the move shows public health concerns remain far less of a priority for China's leaders than the economic interests of state-owned petrol companies, PetroChina and Sinopec.
It was not supposed to be this way. China is trying to shake the notoriously filthy hazes that envelop many of its cities and result in hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year.
After years of obfuscation and inaction, the government has taken a series of high-profile steps recently to show that it is serious about addressing the problem.
Last year, state planners announced a new goal to reduce emissions of Nitrogen Oxides by 10%. Last month, Beijing began releasing hourly data on fine particulates, known as PM2.5, that cause smog and can enter the bloodstream.
But even as it announced ambitious new targets and improved transparency, the central government has repeatedly delayed one of the most important policies for clearing the air.
The China IV Standard for diesel emissions was issued in 2005 and was originally supposed to have been introduced nationwide on 1 January 2011. Similar to the Euro IV Standard, it would force truck manufacturers to install cleaner engines. But to be effective, it requires petrol stations to sell higher-grade fuel with lower levels of sulphur, which is currently not the case.
This is crucial because traffic – particularly heavy trucks that burn diesel – is increasingly more significant than coal burning as a source of air pollution. Studies suggest vehicle exhaust pipes contribute more than 70% of the nitrogen oxides in downtown Beijing and are the dominant source of roadside PM2.5 levels – and the biggest threat to health.
But it has proved difficult for the relatively weak environment ministry to impose the extra costs on the state's biggest petrol companies, which have an equal political rank and considerably greater lobbying resources.
The oil firms are technically capable of improving the fuel quality – as they have shown in Beijing, which has higher standards than elsewhere – but they are reluctant to bear the costs. In other countries these would be passed on to drivers, but in China, pump prices are determined by the government rather than the market.
Last year, the government announced a one-year delay in introducing the tighter controls. In January this year, that was further extended to July 2013.
To the frustration of many of those involved in drafting the new controls, there appeared to be no fresh pressure from the ministry to overcome the logjam. The notice posted online simply stated the problem – "The current supply of diesel in China is still incapable of meeting the China IV standard" – rather than indicating how it might be overcome in the next 18 months.
Without the new rules, environment officials lack a vital tool for achieving pollution reduction targets. Truck and bus makers and fleet operators also have a weaker impetus to offset the impact of this setback.
Michael Walsh, who chairs the International Council on Clean Transportation, which has been working with the environment ministry for several years on the project, said the delay threatened the effort that China has made in dealing with air pollution.
"The irresponsible failure of the oil industry to respond to the serious environmental problems by providing the necessary low sulfur fuels is seriously hampering further progress especially with diesel trucks and buses, jeopardising public health and undercutting the government's efforts to substantially reduce nitrogen oxide emissions as called for in the 12th five year plan."
Walsh, a winner of the government's "friendship award" last year, said the government now has to work harder to ensure the policy is next year.

Top 10 literary believers

From Dostoevsky to Zadie Smith, the novelist picks his favourite portrayals of characters struggling with faith.

1. Franny in Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger

Marcus and Abby Glass, two of the heroes of The Revelations, take their surname from Salinger's precocious family. Franny's breakdown in the second story perfectly captures the headrush of adolescent spirituality (and its resultant comedown). I have always been a little bit in love with her which is, I suppose, creepy, now I'm over 30 and she's still at college.

2. Alyosha Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Alyosha is a novitiate Russian Orthodox monk, Jesus-like, compassionate but totally powerless. He clashes with his brother Ivan, a rationalist and an atheist. Alyosha isn't divorced from the real world, though; he is a realist. As Dostoevsky says: "Faith, in the realist, does not spring from the miracle. But the miracle from faith."

3. Samad Iqbal in White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Literary grandees from Updike to DeLillo tried (and mostly failed) to represent the east/west cultural clash in the post-9/11 years. The most nuanced and sympathetic portrait of the experience of British Muslims comes earlier, in the form of Samad Iqbal, a devout believer attempting to fit his faith to his adopted nation. When tempted by his children's music teacher "he felt a cold thing land on his heart and knew it was the fear of his God". A character funny, touching and tragic in equal measure, through Samad Iqbal we understand the burden of the comfort of faith.

4. Sir William Gull in From Hell by Alan Moore

A high-ranking Freemason who suffers an extraordinary theophanic episode when the god Jahbulon is revealed to him in a vision, Sir William Gull uses the prostitutes he kills in the East End of London to satisfy an ancient religious blood rite. The image of the future in which a vast City skyscraper rears up above the crazed royal physician seems strikingly relevant as we survey the wreckage of the post-crash financial system: Gull's mystical cult seeks to perpetuate male dominance of society. Written at the start of the bubble that just burst, testosterone-fuelled derivatives traders were the offspring of Sir William Gull's gruesome satanic rituals.

5. Herr Naphtha in The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

A Marxist Jesuit practicing a kind of religious fascism, Naphtha is one half of the dialectic duo that will bring Hans Castorp to his Bildung. The dark mirror of Settembrini's rational humanism, for Naphtha piety and cruelty are inseparable. Naphtha struggles with his inability to achieve the "graveyard peace" which he sees on the faces of his fellow believers. His death, like his life, is shockingly uncompromising.

6. Oscar in Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

Brought up by a fundamentalist father from the Plymouth Brethren, Oscar sees "God's hand everywhere about", whether in gambling dens, at the racecourse or in the fate that brings him to Lucinda. "Our whole faith is a wager," he tells her. "We bet that there is a God. We bet our life on it."

7. Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix in By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño

A Chilean priest and member of Opus Dei, Lacroix is the narrator of this deathbed novella of religious compromise and hypocrisy. A priest for the ease of lifestyle it offers, Lacroix's real calling is literature. He meets Pablo Neruda and Ernst Jünger, gives lessons in Marxist theory to General Pinochet, and then, in a brutal final scene, realises that Santiago's principal literary salon has been held above a torture chamber. As he slips towards death, a hesitant truth begins to reveal itself …

8. Esti Kuperman in Disobedience by Naomi Alderman

Esti is the barren, lesbian wife of an Orthodox Jew, Dovid. Although only a foil (and lover) to the ballsy heroine, Ronit, this frail, silent character carries the heart of the novel with her. Esti is trapped with a paunchy, neurotic husband she doesn't love by her devotion to her religious belief. A book about a world that is at once bafflingly alien and surprisingly familiar.

9. Maurice Bendrix in The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

While his lover Sarah's faith is stronger, Bendrix's tentative, stumbling epiphany brings the novel to its breathtaking end. Greene pits the jealous lover against a jealous God; there will only ever be one winner. Bendrix's lament of "I hate You as though You exist" finally, reluctantly, becomes a prayer: "O God, You've done enough, You've robbed me of enough, I'm too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever."

10. Margery Kempe in The Book of Margery Kempe

Kempe's autobiography, dictated to an amanuensis, is the occasionally hilarious record of her attempts to relive Jesus's life. Her visions are full of male genitalia and gore, but they are also surprisingly touching (particularly the scene in which she makes a hot drink for the Virgin Mary to comfort her after the crucifixion). We read of Kempe's meeting with that other great medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich. Julian's Revelation of Divine Love is more spiritual and pious; The Book of Margery Kempe is more fun.

T-Mobile launches "unlimited" phone deal

The Full Monty tariff, offering 'all you can eat' calls, texts and internet useage, could spark price war among networks.
T-Mobile has thrown down the gauntlet to the other mobile providers after launching a phone tariff offering unlimited calls, texts and internet access.
Prices for the Full Monty tariff start at £36 a month, although customers have to sign a two-year contract. Those taking out the plan can take their pick of all the handsets in the T-Mobile range, including iPhone, Android and BlackBerry phones. The firm insists the tariff will not be subjected to a fair use policy, meaning those who sign up really will have unlimited internet, texts and calls.
The deal reverses the trend of recent years. The original iPhone came with free internet access, but more recent tariffs have set data download limits, often as low as 500MB a month.
T-Mobile UK's Ben Fritsch said the mobile network developed the plan on the back of increased sales and demand for data-hungry smartphones. "Over the past two years we have seen a rise in mobile internet use of over 250%, which reflects the consumer trend of being 'always on' wherever they are. However, consumers also want to retain a more personal level of communication by calling or sending a text," he said.
Customers on the plan will also be able to use their phone for tethering (using it as an internet connection for a laptop or tablet) at no extra cost.
The tariff will be available, including on a 16GB iPhone 4S for £99 upfront, from £36 a month for two years with unlimited internet access, texts and calls to other T-Mobile customers, but a limit of 2,000 minutes for calls to other networks. If you think you will exceed that you can go completely unlimited across all networks for £41 a month.
The same iPhone from O2 on a two-year contract would also cost £99.99 upfront, but comes with 600 minutes, unlimited texts and just 500MB of data a month. The only other operator to offer unlimited internet data at a similar price is Three.
The Full Monty will also be available on the Samsung Galaxy SII and HTC Sensation XE with no upfront cost on the £36-a-month plan.
Before you sign up, be aware there are still a few things for which you will be charged: calls to international numbers and those beginning 08 (including 0870) or 070 are charged at 40p a minute; and picture messages are not included in the text allowance.
Dominic Baliszewski from says smartphone users should check their usage before rushing to switch.
"The plan will provide excellent value for customers who make a lot of calls, send a lot of texts and do a lot of downloading. Chewing through 500MB to 1GB of data in a month is easy to do with an iPhone," he said.
"However, anyone who sends 300 texts and makes 100 minutes of calls a month will almost certainly be wasting their money. Also remember that other providers may follow suit and launch their own 'all you can eat' tariff to compete with T-Mobile, so it could be worth waiting to see if a price war erupts, lowering costs even more for consumers."

Neil Young: Steve Jobs and I were working on new iPod

Singer tells technology conference he and the late Apple boss planned audiophile successor to iPod with high-resolution audio.
Neil Young has claimed he was working with the late Apple boss Steve Jobs on a follow-up to the iPod. Young said he and Jobs were developing a new device for listening to "high-resolution audio", which would download content "while you're sleeping".
"Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music, but when he went home he listened to vinyl," Young said during an interview at the D: Dive Into Media technology conference. He and Jobs were apparently both concerned with the dearth of high-quality listening formats for audiophiles, and the two men met to work on new hardware that could store the large music files Young prefers. Since Jobs's death in October, Young complained, there is "not much going on".
Young is a notorious opponent of MP3s and other compressed music formats. He even criticises CDs, which he claims offer only 15% of the audio information contained on master recordings. "What everybody gets [on an MP3] is 5% of what we originally make in the studio," he said. "We live in the digital age, and unfortunately it's degrading our music, not improving."
The 66-year-old singer called on his audience to improve standards for high-fidelity audio and new consumer-friendly playback devices. The main obstacle to better quality recordings is file size: audiophile-quality songs can take as long as 30 minutes to download, Young said, and current players can store no more than about 30 albums. "I have to believe if [Jobs] lived long enough he would have tried to do what I'm trying to do."
While Young attacked the internet's effect on audio standards, he acknowledged its utility as a promotional tool. "I look at [the] internet as the new radio," he explained. "Radio [is] gone. Piracy is the new radio; it's how music gets around."
Young is currently working on two new albums with his long-time on-off backing band Crazy Horse. He recently updated his website with an epic, 37-minute jam, thought to be taken from these sessions.