Lifting the A320 – New York Plane Crash – US Airways Airbus

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New York plane crash Airbus lifted from Hudson River by salvage teams.

The sunken Airbus jet that crashed into New York’s Hudson River apparently after hitting a flock of birds has been lifted out of the water by salvage teams.

The operation to lift the US Airways plane was hampered by swirling river currents and icy waters, but finally was completed overnight.

Lifting straps from a huge crane were placed around the submerged plane, which was moored to a Manhattan dock soon after ditching in the Hudson on Thursday.

Because the fuselage was flooded the lifting was conducted slowly, allowing water to drain.

All 150 passengers and five crew escaped alive from the plane, which ditched when both engines halted, apparently after birds, possibly geese, were sucked into the turbines minutes into the flight from LaGuardia Airport.

Investigators need to get into the plane to recover the black box flight recorders, a crucial piece of evidence as to what went wrong.

Launched in 1988, the A320 is one of the best-selling jet airliner families of all time.

There are currently 3,200 of the medium-range planes in operation for a range of carriers including British Airways, easyJet and Air France.

Each A320 holds 150 passengers and costs around £40 million. The are constructed by Airbus, formerly a conglomerate of European aerospace manufacturers but now French owned, at its factories in Toulouse and Hamburg.

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Iceland – When an entire Country goes Bankrupt

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Stunned Icelanders Struggle After Economy’s Fall
By SARAH LYALL
November 9, 2008

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – The collapse came so fast it seemed unreal, impossible. One woman here compared it to being hit by a train. Another said she felt as if she were watching it through a window. Another said, “It feels like you’ve been put in a prison, and you don’t know what you did wrong.”

This country, as modern and sophisticated as it is geographically isolated, still seems to be in shock. But if the events of last month – the failure of Iceland’s banks; the plummeting of its currency; the first wave of layoffs; the loss of reputation abroad – felt like a bad dream, Iceland has now awakened to find that it is all coming true.

It is not as if Reykjavik, where about two-thirds of the country’s 300,000 people live, is filled with bread lines or homeless shanties or looters smashing store windows. But this city, until recently the center of one of the world’s fastest economic booms, is now the unhappy site of one of its great crashes. It is impossible to meet anyone here who has not been profoundly affected by the financial crisis.

Overnight, people lost their savings. Prices are soaring. Once-crowded restaurants are almost empty. Banks are rationing foreign currency, and companies are finding it dauntingly difficult to do business abroad. Inflation is at 16 percent and rising. People have stopped traveling overseas. The local currency, the krona, was 65 to the dollar a year ago; now it is 130. Companies are slashing salaries, reducing workers’ hours and, in some instances, embarking on mass layoffs.

“No country has ever crashed as quickly and as badly in peacetime,” said Jon Danielsson, an economist with the London School of Economics.

The loss goes beyond the personal, shattering a proud country’s sense of itself.

“Years ago, I would say that I was Icelandic and people might say, ‘Oh, where’s that?’ ” said Katrin Runolfsdottir, 49, who was fired from her secretarial job on Oct. 31. “That was fine. But now there’s this image of us being overspenders, thieves.”

Aldis Nordfjord, a 53-year-old architect, also lost her job last month. So did all 44 of her co-workers – everyone in the company except its owners. As many as 75 percent of Iceland’s private-sector architects have probably been fired in the past few weeks, she said.

In a strange way, she said, it is comforting to be one in a crowd. “Everyone is in the same situation,” she said. “If you can imagine, if only 10 out of 40 people had been fired, it would have been different; you would have felt, ‘Why me? Why not him?’ ”

Until last spring, Iceland’s economy seemed white-hot. It had the fourth-highest gross domestic product per capita in the world. Unemployment hovered between 0 and 1 percent (while forecasts for next spring are as high as 10 percent). A 2007 United Nations report measuring life expectancy, real per-capita income and educational levels identified Iceland as the world’s best country in which to live.

Emboldened by the strong krona, once-frugal Icelanders took regular shopping weekends in Europe, bought fancy cars and built bigger houses paid for with low-interest loans in foreign currencies.

Like the Vikings of old, Icelandic bankers were roaming the world and aggressively seizing business, pumping debt into a soufflé of a system. The banks are the ones that cannot repay tens of billions of dollars in foreign debt, and “they’re the ones who ruined our reputation,” said Adalheidur Hedinsdottir, who runs a small chain of coffee shops called Kaffitar and sells coffee wholesale to stores.

There was so much work, employers had to import workers from abroad. Ms. Nordfjord, the architect, worked so much overtime last year that she doubled her salary. She was featured on a Swedish radio program as an expert on Iceland’s extraordinary building boom.

Two months ago, her company canceled all overtime. Two weeks ago, it acknowledged that work was slowing. But it promised that there would be enough to last through next summer.

The next day, everyone was herded into a conference room and fired.

Employers are hurting just as much as employees. Ms. Hedinsdottir has laid off seven part-time employees, cut full-time workers’ hours and raised prices. The Kaffitar branch on Reykjavik’s central shopping street was perhaps half full; in normal times, it would have been bursting at its seams.

While business is dwindling, costs are soaring. When the government took over the country’s failing banks in October, Ms. Hedinsdottir’s latest shipment of coffee – more than 109,000 pounds – was already on the water, en route from Nicaragua. She had the money to pay for it, but because the crisis made foreign banks leery of doing business with Iceland, she said, she was unable to convert enough cash into foreign currency.

“They were calling me every day and asking me what the situation was, and they got really nervous,” Ms. Hedinsdottir said of her creditors. They got so nervous that they sent the coffee to a warehouse in Hamburg, Germany, where it now sits while she tries to find the foreign currency to pay for it.

Her fixed costs are no longer fixed. Five years ago, the company built a new factory, borrowing the 120 million kronur – about $1.5 million – in foreign currencies. But the currency’s fall has increased her debt to 200 million kronur. This summer, her monthly payments were 2.5 million kronur; now they may be double that – the equivalent of $38,500 in Iceland’s debased currency.

“My financial manager is talking to the banks every day, and we don’t know how much we’re supposed to pay,” Ms. Hedinsdottir said.

In a recent survey, one-third of Icelanders said they would consider emigrating. Foreigners are already abandoning Iceland.

Anthony Restivo, an American who worked this fall for a potato farm in eastern Iceland and was heading home, said all of the farm’s foreign workers abruptly left last month because their salaries had fallen so much. One man arrived from Poland, he said, then realized how little the krona was worth and went home the next day.

At the Kringlan shopping center on the edge of Reykjavik, Hronn Helgadottir, who works at the Aveda beauty store, said she could no longer afford to travel abroad. But the previous weekend, she said, she and her husband had gone for a last trip to Amsterdam, a holiday they had paid for months ago, when the krona was still strong.

They ate as cheaply as they could and bought nothing. “It was strange to stand in a store and look at a bag or a pair of shoes and see that they cost 100,000 kronur, when last year they cost only 40,000,” she said.

In Kopavogur, a suburb of Reykjavik, Ms. Runolfsdottir, the recently fired secretary, said she had worried for some time that Iceland would collapse under the weight of inflated expectations.

“If you drive through Reykjavik, you see all these new houses, and I’ve been thinking for the longest time, ‘Where are we going to get people to live in all these homes?'” she said.

The real estate firm that used to employ Ms. Runolfsdottir built about 800 houses two years ago, she said; only 40 percent have been sold.

By Icelandic law, Ms. Runolfsdottir and other fired employees have three months before they have to leave their jobs. At the end of that period, she will start drawing unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, her husband’s modest investment in several now-failed Icelandic banks is worthless. “They were encouraging us to buy shares in their firms until the last minute,” she said.

She feels angry at the government, which in her view has mishandled everything, and angry at the banks that have tarnished Iceland’s reputation. And while she has every sympathy with the hundreds of thousands of foreign depositors who may have lost their money, she wonders why the Icelandic government – and, in essence, the Icelandic people – should have to suffer more than they already have.

“We didn’t ask anyone to put their money in the banks,” she said. “These are private companies and private banks, and they went abroad and did business there.”

Despite all this, Icelanders are naturally optimistic, a trait born, perhaps, of living in one of the world’s most punishing landscapes and depending for so much of their history on the fickle fishing industry. The weak krona will make exports more attractive, they point out. Also, Iceland has a highly educated, young and flexible population, and has triumphed after hardship before.

Ragna Sara Jonsdottir, who runs a small business consultancy, said she had met for the first time with other businesses in her office building. “We sat down and said, ‘We all have ideas, and we can help each other through difficult times,’ ” she said.

But she said she was just as shocked as everyone else by the suddenness, and the severity, of the downturn. When the prime minister, Geir H. Haarde, addressed the nation at the beginning of October, she said, her 6-year-old daughter asked her to explain what he had said.

She answered that there was a crisis, but that the prime minister had not told the country how the government planned to address it. Her daughter said, “Maybe he didn’t know what to say.”

Spain’s drought a glimpse of our future?

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The Independent (London), May 24, 2008 Saturday

Barcelona is a dry city. It is dry in a way that two days of showers can do nothing to alleviate. The Catalan capital’s weather can change from one day to the next, but its climate, like that of the whole Mediterranean region, is inexorably warming up and drying out. And in the process this most modern of cities is living through a crisis that offers a disturbing glimpse of metropolitan futures everywhere.

Its fountains and beach showers are dry, its ornamental lakes and private swimming pools drained and hosepipes banned. Children are now being taught how to save water as part of their school day. This iconic, avant-garde city is in the grip of the worst drought since records began and is bringing the climate crisis that has blighted cities in Australia and throughout the Third World to Europe. A resource that most Europeans have grown up taking for granted now dominates conversation. Nearly half of Catalans say water is the region’s main problem, more worrying than terrorism, economic slowdown or even the populists’ favourite – immigration.

The political battles now breaking out here could be a foretaste of the water wars that scientists and policymakers have warned us will be commonplace in the coming decades. The emergency water-saving measures Barcelona adopted after winter rains failed for a second year running have not been enough. The city has had to set up a “water bridge” and is shipping in water for the first time in the history of this great maritime city.

A tanker from Marseilles with 36 million litres of drinking water unloaded its first cargo this week, one of a mini-fleet contracted to bring water from the Rhone every few days for at least the next three months. So humbled was Barcelona when prolonged drought forced it to ship in domestic water from Tarragona, 50 miles south along the Catalan coast, 12 days ago, that city hall almost delayed shipment and considered an upbeat publicity campaign to lift morale and international prestige.

The whole country is suffering from its worst drought in 40 years and the shipments from Tarragona prompted an outcry from regions who insist they need it more. For now the clashes are being soothed by intervention from Madrid, and plans to ship water from desalination plants in parched Almeria in Andalusia are shelved until October. But there is little indication of a strategy to deal not just with an immediate emergency but an ongoing crisis. Buying water on an epic scale from France has given the controversy an international aspect as French environmentalists question whether such a scarce natural resource should be sold as a commodity to another country.

“It would be a mistake to consider this water bridge between Marseilles and Catalonia as simply an operation of solidarity,” said a group of ecologists calling themselves Robin des Bois (Robin Hood). They said the commercial deal struck between private contractors failed to consider the environmental impact on France. The organisation blamed Barcelona’s water shortage on “wasted resources and … lack of foresight by Catalan and Spanish authorities”.

What Barcelona authorities are fast discovering is that chronic water shortages are not a problem that money alone can solve.

Its 5.5 million inhabitants need a lot of the stuff: the 20 million litres/20,000 tonnes/five million gallons of water brought from Tarragona on 13 May were enough for barely 180,000 people and were consumed within minutes of being channelled through the city’s taps. Wednesday’s shipment from Marseilles was bigger, 36 million litres, but similarly short lived.

Barcelona has churned up a whirlpool of controversy over its handling of the water crisis, causing just the spray of negative publicity it hoped to avoid.

Even the arrival of rain has only made things worse. Catalonia’s regional environment minister, Francesc Baltasar, rushed to announce last week that the hosepipe ban and swimming pool restrictions imposed in February would be lifted. Tarragona – whose wells supply shipped-in water – protested furiously. “Barcelona fills its swimming pools with water from Tarragona,” local headlines screamed, and the water authority demanded a halt to pumping Tarragona’s water for the Catalan capital.

Jose Montilla, Catalonia’s regional prime minister, countermanded Mr Baltasar and insisted water-saving measures remain. “Obviously it makes little sense to lift certain measures when, if it stops raining, we’ll have to re-impose them in three weeks’ time,” he said. But Tarragona re-opened the tap only after Mr Montilla visited, and insisted that “this effort of solidarity will supply only our basic needs”.

Barcelona’s daily El Periodico called Mr Baltasar’s proposal to end unpopular water-saving measures “irresponsible and demagogic”, increasing resentments in regions supplying water to Barcelona. The shipments themselves came under fire. Importing water gives the city a “lamentable, depressing image” and spreads “alarmism”, Miguel Angel Fraile, secretary of the Catalan Trade Confederation, said.

With reservoirs now filled to 30 per cent, authorities should scrap the plan and ship in water only as a last resort, he said. But reservoirs remain two-thirds empty, half the national average and far lower than usual for May. These are dangerously low in anticipation of another dry summer, raising the ghastly prospect of water rationing – painful for residents and offputting for summer visitors.

Extreme short-term measures might have been averted had Barcelona mended leaky old pipes and filtered polluted aquifers, critics grumble. But Barcelona is among Europe’s most careful water users, better than Madrid, Milan or Paris, La Vanguardia newspaper argues. Residents adapt their loos to flush less, shower rather than bath and brush their teeth without the tap running, but such individual measures are swamped by industrial usage, and waste in the infrastructure. La Vanguardia urges an immediate public works programme to improve the creaking system.

“People are much more aware of the need to save water,” says Bridget King, a South African who settled in Barcelona 20 years ago to teach English. “We put a bucket under the shower to catch water before it heats up, and have stopped buying petunias that need a lot of watering. It’s a constant topic of conversation and we worry it’s a long-term thing. But as a South African I’m appalled to see people wash dishes under the running tap. I was brought up to be very careful with water. And although we feel relieved it’s started raining, everyone knows it’s only short term and probably not enough.”

Recent rains have sharpened conflicts, offering a foretaste of water wars to come. Aragon straddles the mighty Ebro river but is a parched desert, cultivable only by sophisticated irrigation systems managed by an Association of Irrigators. This ancient brotherhood agreed to sell the surplus from its irrigation quota, which usually flows back into the Ebro, to Barcelona as a short-term emergency measure. If rains lift reservoirs from their emergency levels, Aragon warns it will halt supplies. But Mr Montilla tweaked Catalona’s definition of “emergency” so it didn’t rely solely on reservoir levels. Then Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, ordered Aragon to keep the water flowing “because conditions aren’t sufficient to guarantee Barcelona’s water supplies”.

Water is now Catalans’ principle worry: 43 per cent considered shortage the country’s main problem. Authorities promise the crisis will ease when a huge desalination plant comes on stream next year. But they say little about how to tackle the long-term problem of water shortage afflicting the whole Mediterranean region. Catalan winemakers recognise that the change is permanent; some are planting new vineyards further north as traditional terrain becomes hotter and dryer.

Other entrepreneurs, including swimming pool manufacturers, have less room for manoeuvre. “The authorities are criminalising us,” complained Josep Sadurni, of Catalonia’s association of swimming pool manufacturers, which predicts losses of up to Euro 200m (£160m) this year. “Who’ll buy a pool if they can’t fill it?” Mr Sadurni asked.

A striking image of the seriousness of the drought is provided by the emergence of a church from the waters of a drying reservoir. For 40 years, all you could see of the drowned village of Sant Roma was the belltower of its stone church, which peeped from time to time above the surface of the artificial lake in a valley flooded in the 1960s to supply Catalonia with water. This year falling water levels have revealed the 11th-century church in its entirety for the first time, attracting curious onlookers who walk round it on the reservoir’s dusty bed. Spain’s Socialist government recognises that climate change will intensify water shortages, and favours desalination plants. One such plant, among the biggest in Europe – and 75 per cent EU funded – is being built on the outskirts of Barcelona and will supply 20 per cent of the city’s water. But it will not be ready until next year.

“It was already very important when it was planned, but now with the urgent drought, it has become indispensable,” said Tomas Azurra, the chief engineer at the plant.

Ecologists warn that desalination plants are costly in energy use, and damage the environment with high CO2 emissions. But developed European regions can afford them, and they’re preferable to diverting water from rivers, which critics say is even more damaging.

More than 70 per cent of Spain’s water goes on agriculture, much of it wasted on antiquated irrigation systems and the cultivation of thirsty crops unsuitable for arid lands. But few politicians seek confrontation with farmers already struggling to scratch a living.

High-density tourist resorts sprinkled with swimming pools, patio showers and golf courses along Spain’s desertified southern coast, especially in Murcia where it rarely rains, are also unsustainable, ecologists say.

Spain needs to capture more rainwater, says Stephanie Blencker of the Stockholm International Water Institute, as climate change will produce alternating extremes of drought and heavy rain. “Rain is the biggest resource we have, and we can make it available all year round if we have sensible storage opportunities,” she said.

Since the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona has enjoyed the reputation of being both cutting edge and user friendly. But now, as climate change overwhelms a crumbling infrastructure, proud, autonomous Catalonia has to seek help from outside.

Did Muslims Visit America Before Columbus?

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Did Muslims Visit America Before Columbus?
By Rebecca Fachner, 5-08-06

Is it possible that there were Muslims in the Americas before Columbus? Some claim that Muslims came to America hundreds of years before Columbus arrived in the New World. Are the claims true?

Every elementary school student knows the story of Christopher Columbus; that he set sail from Spain and mistakenly discovered America in 1492, landing on an island in the Caribbean. Columbus encountered native inhabitants of this new world, and thinking that he had landed in India, he called them Indians. While many of the details have been mythologized or fabricated over the ensuing 500 years, Columbus’s expedition represents the first major discovery of the Americas and the first appearance of non-Native Americans. The conventional wisdom is that Columbus ended tens of thousands of years of near-total isolation for the Native Americans. Since the Americas had been initially populated (probably between 13,000 BC and 11,000 BC) there had been no engagement with populations on any other continent, save small ventures by the Norse into Northeastern Canada.

Now some are suggesting that Muslims came to the Americas, possibly as early as the 700s. These researchers argue that Muslims came from Islamic Spain, particularly the port of Delba (Pelos) during the rule of Caliph Abdullah Ibn Mohammed (888-912). A book by a Muslim historian details the story of a Muslim navigator on a journey across the ocean to an unknown land, where they found much treasure. The historian, Abul-Hassan Al-Masudi, added a map of the world to his book, one that contained “a large area in the ocean of darkness and fog (the Atlantic Ocean) which he referred to as the unknown territory (the Americas).

Columbus landed on a small Bahamian island on Oct. 12, 1492. Although Columbus renamed it, the island was called Guanahani by the native Mandinka islanders. Guanahani is believed to be a corruption of two Arabic words, brought to the island by early Muslim visitors who remained in the Caribbean and intermarried with the Native Americans. Guana means brothers and Hani is a traditional Arab name, giving rise to the idea that the island name meant “Hani Brothers.” Nearby in Honduras lived a tribe of natives known as Almamy, a corruption of the Arabic word Al-Imam, person who leads in prayer. Leo Wiener, founder of Harvard’s Department of Slavic Languages, argued in an early 20th century book that these examples were the result of West African Muslims spreading throughout the New World and intermarrying with the various Indian tribes. There are other, equally fragmented, claims about an early Muslim presence in the Americas, all contained in an article published widely on the Internet by Dr. Youssef Mroueh. Dr. Mroueh; a Muslim author, historian of science and radiation control physicist, wrote this article to commemorate a thousand years of Muslim presence in the Americas in 1996.

Mroueh cited an Australian archeologist, Dr. Barry Fell, a marine biologist who claimed to find extensive archeological evidence of a significant Muslim presence in the New World in his book, Saga America. Fell drew parallels between West African peoples and Native Americans in the southwest, including cultural and linguistic similarities, and the existence of Islamic petroglyphs in the southwestern region. In particular, Fell mentioned a carving that he believed was done centuries before Columbus that states in Arabic: “Yasus bin Maria” (Jesus son of Mary), a phrase commonly found in the Koran.

Fell’s claims though have been ridiculed by professional archaeologists. They were enraged by his claims, deriding not only his findings, but his inflexible and rigid presentation of them, without the usual caution that characterizes academic pronouncements. Fell’s methods came into question, as detractors noted: “His claims for scientific rigour might hold for marine biology, but when it comes to archaeological interpretation, he ignored the usual rules of evidence.” (Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Cult and Fringe)

Other claims have been similarly criticized. In 2002 the Middle East Policy Council published the Arab World Studies Notebook, a teachers guide to understanding and teaching students about Arab culture. The text claims that Arab explorers came to America in advance of Columbus, marrying Algonquin Indians whose descendants eventually became tribal chiefs with names like Adbul-Rahim and Abdallah Ibn Malik. The Notebook and its editor, Audrey Shabbas, came under intense fire for failing to provide corroborating evidence. According to the Washington Times, Shabbas and the Council were slow to respond to concerns from various sources. Peter DiGangi, director of Canada’s Algonquin Nation Secretariat calls her claims “outlandish” and says that “nothing in the tribe’s written or oral history support them.”

Another critique came from William Bennetta, professional editor and President of the Textbook League. Bennetta referred to the text’s “flights of pseudohistorical fakery.” Among other issues, he called the Notebook to task for offering no support for its claim that the Americas were seemingly full of Muslims and Muslim descendants when Columbus arrived. He noted that the Notebook does not even name the English explorers who supposedly found the Algonquin chiefs. Bennetta wrote to Shabbas to inquire about some of the unsubstantiated claims in the Notebook, and while he received a reply, “she didn’t send me [Bennetta] any citation. She made some evasive claims about some published ‘works’.”

In an article featured at David Horowitz’s frontpagemag.com in 2004, David Yeagley, adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma, called the Notebook “intellectual genocide on American Indians,” noting that the authors “simply created an Indian story to suit the purposes of the advocacy group, and published it in a school text manual as fact.” Yeagley believed that Shabbas and the other authors were simply trying to gain acceptance for Arabs, further integrating them into American culture by making them ‘native.’ Shabbas also came under fire from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which published a report called “The Stealth Curriculum: Manipulating America’s History Teachers.” The report was critical of many sources that are used by history teachers, noting that sometimes there is no way to ascertain the accuracy of materials provided for teachers. In particular, the report referred to the Notebook as “propaganda.”

As an end result to the continued criticism, Shabbas promised to give “careful and thoughtful attention” to the issues raised by her detractors, after many issues of the Notebook had already been sent out to teachers.

Sources

Archibald, George. “Textbook on Arabs removes blunder.” ­ The Washington Times. 4 Apr 2004: A2.

Bennetta, William J., “Arab World Studies Notebook lobs Muslim propaganda at teachers.” The Textbook League. (2003): n. pag. Online. Internet. 30 Mar. 2006. Available http://www.textbookleague.org/spwich.htm.

Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keith. “Barry Fell.” Cult and Fringe Archeology. (2006) n. pag. Online. Internet. 28 Mar 2006. Available http://kjmatthews.com.

Mroueh, Dr. Youssef. “Muslims in the Americas before Columbus.” As-Sunnah Foundation of America. (1996). n. pag. Online. Internet. 28 March 2006. Available http://www.sunnah.org/history/precolmb.htm.

Yeagley, David A., “So Muslims Came to America Before Columbus?” History News Network (2004): n. pag. Online. Internet. 30 Mar. 2006. Available http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/4899.html.

UNICEF Awards 2007 Photos of the Year

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UNICEF Awards 2007 Photos of the Year

The United Nation’s Children’s Fund recognized a handful of photographers with honors in their annual Photo of the Year contest. From Afghanistan to the Phillipines, their work exposes horrid conditions facing some of the world’s children.

The image is startling — a 40-year-old groom sitting beside his 11-year-old future bride. Photographer Stephanie Sinclair, who took the photo last year in Afghanistan, asked the pre-teenage bride what she felt on the day of her engagement.

“Nothing,” said the girl, according to Sinclair. “I do not know this man. What am I supposed to feel?”

The sobering image and the story behind it brought Sinclair top honors in the annual Photo of the Year contest sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).Awards were distributed to first through third place winners as well as eight honorable mentions. International judges considered 1,230 entries from 142 photographers in 31 countries.

Sinclair, an American photographer, produced her winning photograph as part of a series of pictures she took about child marriages between 2005 and 2007 in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Nepal. UNICEF estimates that about 50 percent of Afghani women are married before they turn 18.

Second place honors went to GMB Akash, of Bangladesh, whose winning photo shows a 12 year-old boy toiling in a Bangladeshi brickyard. UNICEF studies conclude that 4.7 million children between five and 14 years of age are involved in child labor in that country.

The third-place photograph was taken by German photographer Hartmut Schwarzbach. His picture depicts a nine-year-old girl jumping in glee on her birthday in the midst of a smoldering garbage dump outside of Manila.

Honorable Mentions
In 2007 honorable mentions were given to the following photographers:

  • Jonathan Torgovnik, Israel, Newsweek Magazin
  • Hatem Moussa, Palestine, Associated Press (AP)
  • Wolfram Hahn, Germany, Student FH Potsdam
  • Renée C. Byer, USA, The Sacramento Bee
  • Nir Elias, Israel, Reuters
  • Finbarr O`Reilly, UK & Canada, Reuters
  • Musa Sadulayew, Chechenya, Associated Press (AP)
  • Steven Achiam, Denmark, Student, Danish School of Journalism

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1st Place

This sobering image, showing a 40-year-old groom sitting beside his 11-year-old future bride in Afghanistan, brought Stephanie Sinclair top honors in the annual Photo of the Year contest sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

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2nd Place

Second-place honors went to GMB Akash, of Bangladesh, whose winning photo shows a 12-year-old boy toiling in a Bangladeshi brickyard. UNICEF studies conclude that 4.7 million children between five and 14 years of age are involved in child labor in that country.

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3rd Place

The third-place photograph was taken by German photographer Hartmut Schwarzbach. His picture depicts a nine-year-old girl jumping in glee on her birthday in the midst of a smoldering garbage dump outside of Manila.

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“A Mother’s Journey”: The American photographer Renee C. Byer took this picture as part of a series about a single mother with five children and a son suffering from terminal cancer. He died in 2006.

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Finbarr O’Reilly recieved an honorable mention for his photo “A House of Hope,” an image of Lopez Vidal, right, and Aron Masahuka, both afflicted with polio, languishing in an ill-equipped hospital in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Wolfram Hahn made a series of photos titled “A Disenchanted Playroom” to accompany a study about the television-viewing habits of German children.

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Hatem Moussa won an honorable mention for “Life in Gaza”: Palestinian children were rushed from a car into a hospital after their homes were hit by Israeli shelling in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya in April, 2006. An eight-year-old child was killed in the attack and 13 other children were injured.

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Joseline Ingabire, 37, an HIV-positive Rwandan woman, is pictured with her daughter Leah Batamuliza, 11. This photo by Jonathon Torgovnik accompanied a story in Newsweek magazine about women who were raped during the Rwandan civil war and their children today.

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Musa Sadulayew made this photo as a part of a series called “Chechnya’s Forgotten Children.”

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Boys hang from a bar for five minutes as part of a physical training exercise at the Gymnastics Hall of the Shanghai University of Sports. The photo was part of Nir Elias’s series “Pain Threshold — Sports Education in China.”

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“Sumo Boys in Japan”: Steven Achiam took a series of pictures depicting life in the Hiragaya sumo club, where boys train until they have beaten a strong opponent 10 times.

Zimbabwe inflation breaks 100,000%

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Zimbabwe inflation breaks 100,000%

The official rate of annual inflation in Zimbabwe has rocketed past the 100,000% barrier – by far the highest in the world.

The government statistics office said inflation rose to 100,580% in January, up from 66,212% in December.

The new official figure was still well below the rate calculated by independent analysts who estimate the real rate is closer to 150,000%.

Zimbabwe inflation breaks 100,000%

They give as examples supermarket receipts showing the price of chicken rose more than 236,000% to 15 million Zimbabwe dollars, or about 50p a pound between January 2007 and January 2008. Slightly lower increases in prices of sugar, tea and other basics brought down the overall average inflation to around 150,000%.

Zimbabwe, a former regional breadbasket, is facing acute shortages of food, hard currency, gasoline and most basic goods in an economic meltdown blamed on disruptions in the agriculture-based economy after the often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms began in 2000 accompanied by political violence and turmoil.

Economic hardship is a key issue in national elections scheduled for March 29 in which President Robert Mugabe, who is 84 on Friday, is facing the biggest challenge to his hold on power since he led the nation to independence in 1980.

President Robert Mugabe

Inflation, food shortages and the crumbling of power, water, sanitation, roads, phones and communications and other utilities have fuelled deep divisions in the ruling Zanu-PF party.

In early October, the state central statistical office gave official inflation at just below 8,000%. It then suspended its monthly updates on inflation because there was not enough in the shortage-stricken shops to calculate a regular basket of goods.

November’s already dizzying rate of 24,470% was announced in January and earlier this month the official rate for December was given as 66,212%, a dramatic escalation in the space of a month.

The National Incomes and Prices Commission, the government’s price control body, this month allowed sharp increases in the prices of the corn meal staple, sugar, bread and other basics in a bid to restore viable operations by producers and return the goods to empty shelves. But the new prices were still roughly half the price demanded on the black market and were unlikely to guarantee regular supplies to food stores.

Extremists try to close Mumbai’s open arms

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By Anand Giridharadas, IHT
Monday, February 11, 2008

MUMBAI: It was just another cosmopolitan Sunday in this city by the sea.Tie-clad men and women in floral hats, dressed like English gentry at Ascot, streamed into the race course in Mumbai for the Indian Derby. They air-kissed. They sipped Champagne. They ogled visiting Brazilian samba dancers. Then they settled into their seats to watch a colt named Hotstepper gallop to victory and a $200,000 prize.

But as many of them returned to the suburbs on the afternoon of Feb. 3, they bumped into a traffic jam whose origins could not have been more remote from the glamorous, globalized Mumbai they inhabit. The roads had clogged because squads of local political cadres were beating migrants from northern India in the latest explosion of nativist violence in this city, inspired on this occasion by a rightist politician named Raj Thackeray.

Mumbai is a city of open arms. More than any other South Asian city, it has lured Muslims, Jews, Christians, Parsees and Hindus, aspiring taxi drivers and wannabe actresses, and melted them into an industrious whole. In a certain elite realm, freedom reigns; women dance on tables in nightclubs, and gays and lesbians flock once a month to a rather uncloseted party called Gay Bombay.

But Mumbai is also, today, teetering between its tradition of liberality and new tendencies toward intolerance.

In recent years, activists have driven into exile famous artists who offend them, closed down museum exhibitions and agitated to have movies banned. A minority of upper-caste Hindus has lobbied to cordon off whole sections of Mumbai as vegetarian zones, effectively excluding Muslims. And now politicians have revived a perennial cause: ridding Mumbai of migrants.

“There is increasing evidence that the pluralist foundations of this country, which are guaranteed by the Constitution, are being subverted by narrow-minded, sectarian zealots,” Jug Suraiya, one of the most widely read columnists in India, wrote last week.

In recent weeks, Thackeray, a Hindu nationalist politician, has made a series of inflammatory statements against migrants from northern India, faulting them for not learning the local language of Marathi or adopting the customs of Maharashtra State. “Even if the whole world opposes my stand, I and my party will continue the struggle to protect Marathi culture, Maharashtrian people, and will trample the goondaism of U.P. and Bihar,” Thackeray wrote in an editorial published Saturday in a Marathi-language newspaper. (Goondaism roughly means gangsterism; Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are northern states.)

Thackeray’s message appeals to some young, underemployed “sons of the soil,” as they call themselves, who regard north Indian migrants as depressing their wages and strangling their culture. Many young party activists in Thackeray’s party apparently took his recent statements to heart.

Starting Feb. 3, they went on a rampage in Mumbai for several days, beating up taxi drivers (most of whom are from northern India), roughing up migrant street vendors and attacking a cinema playing films from the north. Some drove past a bungalow owned by Amitabh Bachchan, a Bollywood megastar originally from northern India, and threw glass bottles at it. (Although the party said the activists were acting without its approval, some of its senior officials were arrested, as were several of the activists themselves.)

Politicians in Mumbai and the north have condemned the violence, as have many ordinary citizens of Mumbai.

The Mumbai Mirror, a local English-language newspaper, surveyed Mumbai residents’ opinions and found widespread anxiety that the “city’s composite culture is facing a threat.”

“The pity is, this decimal percent – intolerant, disinterested in dialogue, brazen violators of law – has come to dictate our public life,” Shoma Chaudhury, a well-known journalist, wrote in the Indian magazine Tehelka a few weeks before the Mumbai attacks began.

Chaudhury was writing about the self-imposed exile of M.F. Husain, a painter from Mumbai who many consider the Picasso of India but who lives in Dubai because some Indians are offended by his nude depictions of Hindu goddesses. Hindu religious activists have filed court cases against Husain over his paintings, obtaining warrants for his arrest.

Similar pressures have dogged other celebrities of late. Salman Rushdie, who now moves freely around the West after the lifting of the Iranian bounty on his head, still faces threats in his native India.

Sania Mirza, the highest-ranked Indian tennis player, has stopped playing in tournaments in her own country; extremists, she says, jeopardize her safety every time she does so, objecting to her short skirts, among other alleged sins.

It is increasingly common across India for a movie that offends a single group of people to be banned altogether. “The Da Vinci Code” was banned in some states for offending India’s tiny Christian minority, even though it was screened freely in the overwhelmingly Christian countries of the West.

Here in Mumbai, the rising intolerance is visible in a new segregation by diet. More than ever before, whole buildings and neighborhoods are declaring themselves vegetarian, off-limits to egg sellers, meat-serving restaurants and Muslim tenants, whose cuisine is typically centered on meat. Even Marine Drive, the city’s most popular tourist destination, is virtually free of meat and alcohol.

Gautam Adhikari, the editorial page editor of the influential Times of India newspaper, recalls munching hamburgers and sipping beer with his family overlooking Marine Drive decades ago. That is impossible today.

He worries that a new generation of Indians, while thriving economically, is regressing culturally, obsessed with personal success and unmindful of civic ideals like “live and let live.”

“Unless you get that,” he said, “it’s difficult to create a modern, urban society.”

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