Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Apple legal headache in China.

Framework Level 3 Unit 10

Social Expressions in English - Elementary Part 1

Summary of business headlines

The invitations have been sent out and now the anticipation escalates. Many are betting Apple's invitation to a March 7th "special event" will be the unveiling of the iPad3. Details were scarce besides the tease "we have something you really have to see. And touch." Since the release of the last iPad, several challengers have stepped up including the Kindle Fire by Amazon, which at half the price of an iPad, is nibbling away at some of Apple's dominance. Speaking of tech gadgets - Sony says it has sold 1.2 million of its PlayStation Vita mobile gaming system since going worldwide last week. Jia Wu of Strategy Analytics described Vita's inauguration as a "decent start." Yahoo says Facebook is using its technology and should pay for it, according to both companies. Yahoo, in an email statement, said it would not hesitate to sue Facebook for licensing fees. Such a lawsuit would introduce the new social networking sector to the old world of patent battles engulfing other parts of the tech sector. On Wall Street, investors had consumer, factory, and housing data to consider. Consumer confidence hit a one-year high in February, but orders for big ticket items saw their biggest drop in three years in January, and home prices in December slumped to a 9-year low on a seasonally adjusted basis. A second-day drop in the price of oil to less than $107 a barrel boosted investor sentiment. As for the reaction: The Dow finally closed above 13,000 for the first time since before the collapse of Lehman Brothers back in 2008. European investors were in a joyful mood as well - lifting stocks in Germany, France, and the U.K.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Measures of well-being

Chilled out

A poll contradicts what we thought we knew about income and happiness

Feb 25th 2012
from the print edition

DESPITE global economic gloom, the world is a happier place than it was before the financial crisis began. That is the conclusion of a poll of 19,000 adults in 24 countries by Ipsos, a research company. Some 77% of respondents now describe themselves as happy, up three points on 2007, the last year before the crisis. Fully 22% (up from 20%) describe themselves as very happy—a more important measure, says Ipsos’s John Wright.

All such polls come with a health warning. The level of happiness is self-reported—and the term means different things to different people. The Ipsos poll, measuring degrees of happiness, is not strictly comparable with those that ask about “well-being” (such as Gallup) or “life satisfaction” (the World Values survey), so it is hard to test the validity of the conclusions against other efforts.

Two conclusions emerge. Large, fast-growing emerging markets do not share rich industrialised countries’ pessimism. The already large “very happy” rose 16 points in Turkey, ten points in Mexico and five points in India. Even rich-country pessimism is uneven. The share of “very happy” people rose six points in—of all places—Japan, defying tsunami and nuclear accidents. But growth amid global misery does not explain everything: the biggest falls in happiness also occurred in large emerging markets, in Indonesia, Brazil and Russia.

The second conclusion challenges the received notions of mankind’s moods. Happiness levels rise with wealth and then plateau, usually when a country’s national income per head reaches around $25,000 a year. “The richer a country gets,” argued Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in “The Spirit Level”, an influential book of 2009, “the less getting still richer adds to the population’s happiness.” Many on the left have concluded that pursuing further economic growth is pointless. Even right-wing politicians such as Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, have set up projects to study “gross national happiness”.

But the Ipsos study shows the highest levels of self-reported happiness not in rich countries, as one would expect, but in poor and middle-income ones, notably Indonesia, India and Mexico. In rich countries, happiness scores range from above-average—28% of Australians and Americans say they are very happy. The figures for Italy and Spain were 13% and 11% (Greece was not in the sample). Most Europeans are gloomier than the world average. So levels of income are related to felicity. Perceived happiness depends on a lot more than material welfare.

Monday, 27 February 2012

The largest migration in history.

Clicks and bricks

Retailers and the internet

Clicks and bricks

Many retailers are being too slow in reinventing themselves for the age of online shopping

Feb 25th 2012
from the print edition

“WE TEND to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run,” observed Roy Amara, an American futurologist. This is certainly proving true of retailers and their attitude to the internet. After a panic at the turn of the millennium about the impact on their industry of online shopping, bricks-and-mortar stores settled into making only modest alterations to their business model or, ostrich-like, trying to ignore it. Few have so far made the radical changes needed to meet the threats from, and tap the enormous potential of, e-commerce.

Such inaction threatens retailers’ survival. Online sales are now approaching $200 billion a year in America. People in their 20s and 30s do about a quarter of their shopping online. True, few ladies who lunch will buy their Christian Dior dresses online; and bargain-hunters will still enjoy rummaging in discount stores like Dollar General. But to attract everyone in between, retailers will have to build a strong online offering while making their shops nicer, more conveniently located and, in the case of many big-box retailers, smaller. Otherwise they are likely to go under, as United Retail Group, an American clothing chain, did this month.

To build a profitable online business retailers must integrate it with their bricks-and-mortar operations. Many keep them separate, increasing the risk that they fail to communicate or work together properly. Walmart’s online operations are in Silicon Valley, far from its Arkansas headquarters. Target, another supermarket giant, until recently outsourced its e-commerce to Amazon, the biggest online retailer, and is only now building its own e-business. Both Walmart and Target still have a puny online presence relative to their size.

Stores have to become more fun to visit, so shoppers feel it is worth the trip to the mall or high street. Apple’s shops thrive not only because they contain cool products; they are beautifully designed, with helpful staff. Disney stores may be an ordeal for parents but they often succeed in giving their pint-sized clients “the best 30 minutes of a child’s day”. But too many retailers think only of getting a quick sale, neglecting to build relationships with customers. They are the most at risk from “showrooming”: shoppers trying products in physical stores before sneaking off to buy them more cheaply online.

To survive in the new world of retail shopkeepers will need large amounts of imagination—and money. Macy’s is investing $400m in the renovation of its flagship store in New York. The losers will include those (like Borders, an extinct chain of bookshops) that keep selling things people are happy to buy online. The biggest winners will be consumers. They can look forward not only to ever-greater convenience thanks to the internet. They will also find a growing number of physical stores that compete to make shopping a pleasure.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The cost of living across the globe.

Feb 13th 2012, by The Economist online

The cost of living across the globe

ZURICH has become the world’s most expensive city to live in, according to the latest Worldwide Cost of Living Survey from the Economist Intelligence Unit, our sister company. The strengthening of the Swiss franc in the past year helped lift the city four places up the table to displace Tokyo at the top. The index measures the cost of an expatriate lifestyle in over 130 cities using a weighted average of the prices of 160 products and services. New York's figure is set to 100 to provide a base for comparisons. The relative strengths of currencies and economies are reflected in changes to the rankings. Thus Sydney has moved from 71st to 7th since 2001, while New York has fallen from 7th to joint 47th.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Cartoon: Sitting On Their Hands

This cartoon by Schrank from The Independent uses a visual metaphor to comment on the situation in Syria, where opposition groups are being brutally repressed by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Barack Obama, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, are shown sitting on their hands as they watch TV images of Assad raising his blood-covered fists.


If you sit on your hands, you do nothing about a problem or a situation that needs dealing with. • Every day the crisis worsens and yet the government seems content to sit on its hands.


Easing the U.S. Visa Hassle for Tourists Who Shop.

Retailers have successfully lobbied to get travel rules relaxed for the Chinese and Brazilians.

For the past decade, Michael Gould says he’s watched with envy as a “stupefying” number of Chinese tourists lined up outside the doors of high-end boutiques in Paris, Rome, and other European cities. “We find it frustrating to see business going elsewhere,” says the chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s. Luring more foreign shoppers to New York is more complicated than just decorating store windows, though. Post-Sept. 11 security policies mean some wealthy foreign shoppers have to wait months for travel visas to the U.S.

So last May, Gould and his counterparts at Macy’s and Saks began lobbying the federal government to make it easier for tourists to enter the U.S. from China and Brazil; retailers say shoppers from both countries have become big spenders when they visit, and demand for visas among Chinese and Brazilians has increased. The average Chinese tourist spends $6,000 while in the U.S., according to the Commerce Dept. In January, President Barack Obama gave the State Dept. 60 days to come up with a way to decrease the time that Chinese and Brazilian tourists have to wait for a visa from four months to three weeks. “We have the kind of brands that are highly respected by these visitors,” says Gould, “and the faster they can get here the better.”

Despite the long wait for travel papers, the sagging dollar had would-be tourists from China and Brazil lining up at American embassies last year, with officials issuing 34 percent more visas to Chinese and 42 percent more to Brazilians than in 2010. “This is a winning situation for retailers because a key reason overseas visitors want to come is to shop, not to work as they used to,” says David French, chief lobbyist for the Washington-based National Retail Federation. The President also ordered State to issue 40 percent more visas for Chinese and Brazilian tourists in 2012. “The more folks who visit America, the more Americans we get back to work,” Obama said.

With roughly 1.4 million Chinese and more than 1 million Brazilians expected to come to the U.S. this year under the new program, Bloomingdale’s is prepping for the influx by hiring more multilingual sales staff, planning overseas ad campaigns, and increasing orders of iconic American brands with prominently placed logos—think Ralph Lauren —that store managers say foreign tourists like to show off back at home.

Catholics, contraception and Barack Obama

Feb 10th 2012 The Economist

THE Obama administration's decision to compel Catholic universities, hospitals and charities to pay for insurance that covers contraception provides a good opportunity to discuss the issue. It seems that many Americans hold an immutable belief that the policy was wrong. And they hold this view in the face of data which show that women, men and society in general are better off when contraception is easily accessible.

Nearly all sexually-active women (which is to say the majority of women) use contraception. Even among Catholics and Evangelicals, contraception use is the norm. Many would consider this reason enough to compel employers to provide coverage. But there are also reasons that may appeal more to a churchgoing conscience. As Adam Sonfield at the Guttmacher Insitute points out, there is a large body of evidence that shows contraception use has helped women avoid unintended pregnancies, which in turn has led to lower abotion rates, healthier babies, stronger marriages and improved social and economic conditions for women.

For example, Charles Westoff of Princeton University found that as Central Asian and eastern European countries embraced the use of modern contraception their abortion rates substantially declined. Closer to home, a study by a group of doctors published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the decline in pregnancy rates amongst American teens "appears to be following the patterns observed in other developed countries, where improved contraceptive use has been the primary determinant of declining rates." (Teen pregnancy is now at a 30-year low, thanks in large part to increased contraception use. Studies have also shown that greater availability of contraception doesn't lead to an increase in sexual activity.) Another study in California found that the state's family-planning programme, which provided contraception to nearly 1m women in 2007, averted about 300,000 unintended pregnancies, over 100,000 abortions, and 38,000 miscarriages.

All of this research, and much, much more, is out there. Most all of it points to the benefits of making contraception easily accessible.

US President Barack Obama said the policy "saves lives and saves money".

Catholic leaders have been angered by the new rule, which required Church-linked institutions to offer health insurance including birth control.

Greece backs bailout as Athens burns

The Greek capital resembled something like a war zone after a night of street battles, burning buildings and looted shops. The rioting was a backlash against government cutbacks needed to avert bankruptcy. The trouble is also a taste of what may be to come. In a midnight ballot the Greek parliament voted by a wide majority to back the 170 billion dollar package of measures. They include deep pay, pension and job cuts. The minimum wage alone will be cut by more than a fifth. Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos is defending the plans. SOUNDBITE: (English) Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos saying (English): "Most of the people see the vote as the measures, and that is why they are reacting to it, and rightly so, but the reality is that it puts Greece on a completely new footing in order to develop its economy again that is what we should all be focussed on right now." Forty-three lawmakers who rebelled by voting against were immediately expelled from their parties but many were unrepentant. SOUNDBITE: Socialist member of parliament (PASOK PARTY), Vasso Papandreou, saying (Greek): "After a long time, I voted with my conscience, and I feel happy with my conscience. I was expelled from PASOK but they cannot expel my opinions or my history." The bailout package was demanded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund in exchange for funds to meet debt repayments. The alternative for Greece was a chaotic default which could shake the entire euro zone. But many Greeks believe their living standards are collapsing already and the new measures will only add to their misery. Greek state television reported violent scenes in other cities including Thessaloniki in the north, and the tourist islands of Corfu and Crete. Sunday's scenes of violence may be only the start before the new cutbacks begin to bite.

Paul Chapman, Reuters

Sunday, 12 February 2012

BBC documentary: the human animal- language of the body

Ipsos Global Poll: World Is Happier Place Than 2007.

Framework Level 3 - Unit 10 - Cultural differences.

NEW YORK, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Despite economic concerns, wars, conflicts and natural disasters the world is a happier place today than it was four years ago and Indonesians, Indians and Mexicans seem to be the most contented people on the planet.

More than three-quarters of people around the globe who were questioned in an international poll said they were happy with their lives and nearly a quarter described themselves as very happy.

"The world is a happier place today and we can actually measure it because we have been tracking it," said John Wright, senior vice president of Ipsos Global, which has surveyed the happiness of more than 18,000 people in 24 countries since 2007.

But he added that expectations of why people are happy should be carefully weighed.

"It is not just about the economy and their well being. It is about a whole series of other factors that make them who they are today."

Brazil and Turkey rounded out the top five happiest nations, while Hungary, South Korea, Russia, Spain and Italy had the fewest number of happy people.

Perhaps proving that money can't buy happiness, residents of some of the world biggest economic powers, including the United States, Canada and Britain, fell in the middle of the happiness scale.

"There is a pattern that suggests that there are many other factors beyond the economy that make people happy, so it does provide one element but it is not the whole story," said Wright.

"Sometimes in some countries, the greatest happiness is a cooked meal or a roof over your head while in other countries, financial stability and social status are the factors for their happiness," he explained. "However, relationships remain the No. 1 reason around the world where people say they have invested happiness and maybe in those cultures family has a much greater degree of impact."

Regionally Latin America had the highest number of happy people, followed by North America, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East and Africa. Unsurprisingly, only 15 percent of Europeans said they were very happy.

On a more personal note, married couples tended to be happier than singles but men seemed to be as content as women. Single men were happier than single women.
Surprisingly, older people in general are happier than younger people in most parts of the world.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Not quite party time.

Signs of recovery have multiplied, but the West’s economies are not yet out of danger.

Feb 11th 2012
from the print edition

A NEW self-assurance has spread through financial markets.

Why the exuberance? In part it reflects genuinely good economic news, especially in America, where January’s far stronger-than-expected employment figures, along with upbeat statistics from manufacturing and services, suggest that recovery in the world’s biggest economy really is gaining momentum. Calamities that seemed all too plausible a couple of months ago, such as the collapse of a big European bank or a series of failed bond auctions leading to the imminent fracturing of the single currency itself, now seem highly unlikely.

Will the good news last? Recent history suggests caution. A year ago America’s economy was widely expected to accelerate, boosted by the Fed’s second round of bond-buying. Instead growth slumped, pulled down by a combination of outside shocks (higher oil prices as a result of the Arab spring, disrupted supply chains after the Japanese earthquake) and policy errors at home and abroad (America’s debt ceiling and the ever-deepening euro mess).

America’s economy is in better shape this time, not least because households have reduced their debt further. But the euro zone’s debts are bigger than ever; many of its economies are in recession. And the list of potential spoilers is uncomfortably similar to that of a year ago. Tensions with Iran could cause a 2012 oil shock. Meanwhile, the risk of policy mistakes remains worryingly high on both sides of the Atlantic: central bankers may have saved the day, but politicians could still mess things up.

Sadly, based on the recent past, it’s plain prudent. This newspaper will be ready to celebrate only when politicians, and not just central bankers, start making the right choices.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

When did the middle finger become offensive?

When did the middle finger become offensive?

An American television network has apologised after pop star M.I.A. extended her middle finger during Sunday night's Super Bowl halftime show. What does the gesture mean, and when did it become offensive?

A public intellectual, expressing his contempt for a politician, reaches for a familiar gesture. He extends his middle finger and declares: "This is the great demagogue".

The episode occurred neither on a chat show nor in the salons of New York or London, but in Fourth Century BC Athens, when the philosopher Diogenes told a group of visitors exactly what he thought about the orator Demosthenes, according to a later Greek historian.

The middle finger, extended with the other fingers held beneath the thumb, is thus documented to have expressed insult for more than two millennia.

Ancient Greek philosophers, Latin poets hoping to sell copies of their works, soldiers, athletes and pop stars, school children, policemen and network executives have all been aware of the gesture's particular power to insult and enflame.

"It's one of the most ancient insult gestures known," says anthropologist Desmond Morris.

"The middle finger is the penis and the curled fingers on either side are the testicles. By doing it, you are offering someone a phallic gesture. It is saying, 'this is a phallus' that you're offering to people, which is a very primeval display."

During Sunday night's broadcast of the Super Bowl, America's most-watched television programme of the year, British singer M.I.A. extended the finger during a performance of Madonna's Give Me All Your Luvin'.

The NFL and NBC television, which broadcast the game and the halftime show, apologised.

"The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate," said Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL.

The gesture is widely known to Americans as flipping the bird, or just giving someone the finger.

The middle finger, which Mr Morris says probably arrived in the US with Italian immigrants, is documented in the US as early as 1886, when a pitcher for the Boston Beaneaters gave it in a joint team photograph with the rival New York Giants.

The French have their own phallic salute, says Mr Morris.

In performing the "bras d'honneur" (arm of honour), one raises the forearm with the back of the hand facing outward, while slapping or gripping the inside of the elbow with the other hand.

The British gesture - the two-fingered 'v' with the palm facing inward - is a "double phallus", Mr Morris says.

The middle finger's offensive meaning seems to have overtaken cultural, linguistic and national boundaries and can now be seen at protests, on football pitches, and at rock concerts across the world.

While the middle finger may historically have symbolised a phallus, it has lost that distinctive meaning and is no longer even obscene, says Ira Robbins, a law professor at American University in Washington DC, who has studied the gesture's place in criminal jurisprudence.

"This gesture is so well engrained in everyday life in this country and others. It means so many other things, like protest or rage or excitement, it's not just a phallus."

And he rejects an Associated Press journalist's characterisation of the gesture as "indecent".

"What is indecent about it? Maybe the dancing of the artist MIA was indecent, but the finger? I just don't see it."

Test your English - Grammar Check

Intermediate to Upper-Intermediate

The coming retail boom.

Europe’s dozy retailers are about to be rudely awoken.

Feb 4th 2012.  The Economist Print Edition.

A COUPLE of years ago the Obamas visited Paris. One Sunday morning Michelle and her daughters decided to sample the city’s famous shops. There was only one problem: the shops were all closed. Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s ever-helpful president, had to call a few places personally and ask them to open.

Europe’s greatest achievement is supposed to be its single market. But actually taking advantage of that market can be frustrating. Retailing is a mess of restrictive practices and cultural oddities. Continental Europe boasts plenty of charming boulangeries and confiterías. But charm costs time and money. You may have to visit six or seven shops to fill your shopping bag—and one or two will inevitably be closed. Parisian butchers close on Tuesday afternoons and Thursdays—and whenever else the proprietor decides to put a “fermeture exceptionelle” sign in the window.

Europe has some mighty supermarkets, to be sure. But they are often built in the middle of nowhere, due to restrictive planning laws. Many appear to have been built from Soviet-era blueprints, and to have staff who go out of their way to demonstrate that they hate you.

Restrictive practices are everywhere you look. Food and soft drinks cost 28% more in Belgium than in the Netherlands. Over-the-counter drugs can cost five times as much in one European country as in another (if you can buy them at all: Germany and Italy bar the sale of pharmaceuticals by non-pharmacies). Shoes cost 30% more in Montenegro, a relatively poor country, than in Britain, a relatively rich one.

European shoppers are starting to revolt. On January 30th Carrefour, Europe’s biggest retailer, announced that it is replacing its boss, Lars Olofsson, with Georges Plassat, an outsider. This comes after years of stagnant sales. Mr Olofsson had tried to revive Carrefour with beauty zones and organic food, but nothing worked: the company’s share price fell by 37% last year.

E-commerce will do to shops what it did to music and media (minus the piracy). It will make a reality of the single market by giving consumers the power to browse across a club of 500m people. This will be hugely disruptive: those boulangeries and hypermarchés are collectively one of the biggest employers in Europe.

So far Europeans have been slow to grasp the potential of e-commerce. A mere 3.4% of Europe’s products and services are sold via the web, compared with 4.6% in the United States, and only 8.8% of European e-commerce flows across borders.

But things are changing. E-commerce has been growing much faster than the rest of the industry. The European Commission calculates that the proportion of Europeans who bought something online in the past year increased from 20% to 40% between 2004 and 2010. Britain’s Centre for Retail Research predicts that Europe’s online market will grow by 16% this year. Popular attitudes are evolving: hard times are making Europeans more price-conscious. And familiarity with the internet is soothing old fears about how trustworthy e-commerce is.

Europeans are well-equipped to take advantage of new forms of e-commerce, such as shopping by mobile phone. Europe is a smartphone superpower: 48% of Spaniards have the gadgets, as do nearly as many Britons and Italians. Bricks-and-mortar stores are furiously adapting. Marks & Spencer, a traditional British store, now sells knickers and superior cakes by smartphone. John Lewis, another British chain, shifts tonnes of furniture online and is known for good service.

On January 11th the European Commission announced that creating a “digital single market” and reducing barriers to cross-border e-commerce is one of its priorities. The commission says it wants e-commerce to double its share of retail sales to 6.8% by 2015. More importantly, the biggest e-tailers are investing huge sums to grab market share. Amazon’s poor results this week reflect its willingness to sacrifice short-term profits for growth.

There will be losers. Retailers employ 17.4m Europeans, many of them young, unskilled and unlikely to find other work. A fifth of small businesses in Europe are shops, and many Europeans treasure the culture of the little corner store. It cannot be long before the anti-Walmart crowd turn their fire on eBay and Amazon.

But the winners will outnumber the losers. When you shop online, it costs less and someone else delivers it all to your door. This is more agreeable than pushing a trolley round Tesco while your children knock over the soup display. The commission calculates that if obstacles to e-commerce are removed and it grows to 15% of the retail sector, the gains in “consumer welfare” could amount to €204 billion ($267 billion), or 1.7% of GDP. Some of Europe’s small shops will give up the battle with giant supermarkets and reinvent themselves as stylish showcases for e-commerce. Oddly enough, the old continent’s best chance of preserving its cultural traditions lies with embracing new technology, not ignoring it.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Sleep matters.

The science of sleep is more than 50 years old, but much remains a mystery. We still don't really know exactly what sleep is for or why we dream, but there are some interesting theories.

Most scientists agree that we have periods of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. Although previously scientists believed that all dreaming happened during REM sleep, recent research shows that we have different kinds of dreams, with non-REM dreams being short and dull and REM dreams being long and vivid. Some scientists believe that one function of dreaming is probably to process information and find meaning. There is some experimental evidence that REM sleep promotes creative thinking.

The idea that sleep plays an important role in learning and memory isn’t new. But there is now considerable evidence that REM sleep is strongly connected with learning how to do something, for example how to play an instrument. This contrasts with non-REM sleep, which seems to be connected with spatial memories, for instance learning to find your way around a new city.

How you feel when you wake up depends on what stage of sleep you’re in. If you wake up feeling wide awake and refreshed, you probably woke up during a phase of light sleep. On the other hand, if you wake up feeling groggy, this is probably because you’ve woken up during a deeper phase of sleep, so you’re still half asleep. Fortunately, research shows a short nap of 10–15 minutes could help you catch up, but avoid a longer siesta as it could leave you feeling groggy. Some sleep researchers believe that a 10-minute snooze can improve your overall performance and could prevent accidents for overtired drivers and nurses.

Researchers agree we need between about 6 and 8 hours’ sleep a night for good mental and physical health, but studies show about 1 in 10 people have problems sleeping. To avoid insomnia and get a good night’s sleep, it’s important to go to bed at about the same time every night. Avoid watching TV, using a computer or doing exercise shortly before going to bed and make sure you’re neither too hot nor too cold. If you’re worrying about something when you go to bed, there’s no point in telling yourself not to think about it. Instead, think about a pleasant, relaxing scene, which should soon help you to fall asleep.

Global  Pre-Intermediate

Floating cities proposed as havens of future happiness

From Russia and the Middle East to western Europe and the United States, dissatisfaction with politics and politicians has led to protest, conflict and, in many cases, violence. But it doesn't have to be that way, according to a U.S. think-tank called The Seasteading Institute. Backed by wealthy donors, the non-profit group believes future peace and prosperity lies far out at sea.

California's Seasteading Institute believes countries of the future will be built on the ocean. These nations will be fully sustainable, self-governing floating cities designed as havens for research and innovation. The institute's president Michael Keenan, says the most successful will become thriving new societies. It's an idea he says, whose time has come. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MICHAEL KEENAN, PRESIDENT OF THE SEASTEADING INSTITUTE, SAYING: "There is no one kind of government for everyone. There is no one ideology for everyone and so if there was a new space to start governments we would see an ideal society for everyone. But there is no more land, however, seventy percent of the world's surface is covered by ocean and it is unclaimed, it's international waters. So the Seasteading Institute strives to create to new countries floating in international waters." Keenan says this is no idealistic pipedream. Paypal's billionaire founder Peter Theil has donated more than 1.5 million dollars to the Institute and other wealthy donors are following suit. The design of these off shore communities is led by Institute engineer in George Petrie. He says much of the technology to build floating cities already exists. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GEORGE PETRIE, HEAD OF ENGINEERING, SEASTEADING INSTITUTE, SAYING: "Why don't we just utilise what is so readily available to us by colonising the surface of the sea and positioning ourselves to intelligently take advantage of the resources that the open oceans, the bounty of the open oceans offer us." Petrie says the first floating cities will be modelled after semi-submersible oil platforms. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GEORGE PETRIE, HEAD OF ENGINEERING, SEASTEADING INSTITUTE, SAYING: "So even in very inhospitable, even in very stormy sea conditions, the platform will remain very stable, very minimal motion. One would hardly know that they are on a floating body." He says the cities will be able to expand by linking on new, modular parts - much like Lego pieces. Petrie says solar power, wind turbines, and other cutting edge technology will supply the floating cities with power. (SOUNDBITE) ( English) MICHAEL KEENAN, PRESIDENT OF THE SEASTEADING INSTITUTE, SAYING: "In a decade you will start to see custom built semisubmersible platforms resembling oil rigs and in a few decades - huge cities the size of Hong Kong with millions of people living in very diverse, very effective and efficient societies on the ocean." And the institute's ideas are already taking off. A company called Blueseed is converting an ocean liner into what it says will be a floating version of Silicon Valley. With no visa requirement, it's designed to attract foreign talent to develop new technologies. The ship is is scheduled for launch late next year, the first of what Michael Keenan hopes will be hundreds of seasteads created over the next several decades. Keenan admits it's an ambitious idea…but one that will eventually offer millions of people the opportunity to choose a country that suits them best.

Ben Gruber, Reuters

A literary deficit

Brazil apart, publishers are struggling to persuade the growing middle class to read more books.

Illiteracy and poverty once denied the pleasure of reading to many Latin Americans. That should no longer be the case: a quarter of Mexicans born before 1950 are officially classed illiterate but only 2% of those under 30. And less than a third of Latin Americans now live below the poverty line, compared with half in 1990.

The newspaper business has taken note. Paid-for daily newspaper circulation in Latin America rose by 5% (21% in Brazil and 16% in Mexico) between 2005 and 2009, according to Larry Kilman of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. Newspapers have won over young readers, says Mr Kilman.

In books, the picture is more mixed. Publishers are releasing more new titles than ever. Sales in (Portuguese-speaking) Brazil, the biggest market, are rising. On December 5th Britain’s Pearson (which owns 50% of The Economist) announced the purchase by its Penguin subsidiary of 45% of Companhia das Letras, Brazil’s most innovative literary publisher.

Things are less bright in the Spanish-speaking world. In Mexico and Argentina, Latin America’s second and third markets, book sales have been falling. The stagnation has deeper roots. International tests show that almost half the region’s secondary-school pupils fail to reach the “minimum acceptable level” of literacy, according to the OECD, a mainly rich-country think-tank.

One answer to fix that problem is to make books more widely available. Mexico has 7,000 public libraries and 4,100 “reading rooms” in which volunteers are given a set of 100 books to lend at churches or workplaces. The government has installed mini-libraries in bus stops and even has a fleet of emergency “book bikes” which dispatch novels to places where Mexicans are at risk of boredom, including in long queues to cross the United States border. “We have to tell people that putting a book on the table is as important as putting bread on the table,” says Soccoro Venegas of Conaculta, the state cultural agency. Colombia, too, has a large network of public libraries.

The small size of the market means that books have traditionally been sold like luxury goods in Latin America. Spain has one bookshop for every 10,000 people. By contrast, Argentina has one for every 20,000, Brazil one for every 50,000, and Mexico one for every 70,000. Modern book superstores, with cafés and comfortable chairs, are marching across the region’s bigger cities, especially in Brazil. But they co-exist with old-fashioned shops, where books must be requested by name from a counter staff.

Publishers explain the high price of books as a consequence of short print-runs and the high cost of imported paper. Absurdly, in Mexico the English version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, a popular thriller, can be bought more cheaply than its Spanish translation. Shopkeepers complain of piracy, which stalks the book market as it does that for DVDs. The shift from paying in cash to credit cards has squeezed margins further.

Technology has been slow to disrupt this low-volume, high-margin business. Internet bookselling has been hampered by relatively low levels of broadband penetration and poor postal services. Amazon (and its Kindle e-reader) set up shop in Spain only this year; it has plans to enter Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Some 4,000 e-book titles are already available in Portuguese in Brazil, according to O’Reilly Media, a consultancy. Roberto Feith of Editora Objetiva, a publisher, has forecast that e-books will make up 7% of the Brazilian book market by 2015.

Time for Spanish-language publishers to wake up.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Vocabulary Review - Framework 3 - Part 1

Social Expressions in English - Elementary

"Smart E-book" turns the page on reading technology

The ability to flip pages is lost on the typical electronic book. But that's about to change. A team led by Lee Howan, from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, has reproduced the centuries-old experience of turning the page. SOUNDBITE: (Korean) LEE HOWON, KOREA ADVANCED INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "Our version of e-book has four functions. First, it can flip the pages. Second, it can bookmark. Third, the number of pages turned over can be different according to the number of fingers (touching the touchpad). Fourth, the number of pages turned over can be also differed according to a number written by a user on touchpad." The Smart E-book combines two technologies - one that responds to finger movements on the screen and another that recognises pressure on the frame surrounding the screen. Together they allow a user to turn pages as though the E-book was a paper- back, infusing an old world experience into new world technology...and with luck says Howon, South Korea's classrooms as well. SOUNDBITE: (Korean) LEE HOWON, KOREA ADVANCED INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "The education ministry is planning to propagate e-books to elementary schools by 2015. I hope our e-book can be used in the area. And then internationally, we would like to see our technology to be commercialized by companies producing e-books or tablet PC." And one added benefit - while it recreates the experience of flipping pages, it doesn't recreate the experience of the papercut. Andrew Schmertz, Reuters

A yawn as good as a kiss between friends and family

Yawning is infectious. When someone else yawns, you might yawn too, even if you're not tired. Now Italian researchers Elisabetta Palagi and Ivan Norscia believe they've solved the mystery of yawn contagion. They say it's a form of emotional transmission - and that the closer you are genetically or empathically with the person yawning, the more likely it will be that you'll do the same. SOUNDBITE (English) ELISABETTA PALAGI, PISA UNIVERSITY TECHNICIAN AND FELLOW AUTHOR OF THE PAPER ON YAWN CONTAGION, SAYING: "Through the face animals can be connected to each other socially and emotionally. In fact there are evidence that emotional contagion pass through facial expression......Yawning is a good candidate to understand such emotional transmission between two different subjects." Palagi and Norscia, from the Natural History Museum in Calvi, studied more than 100 adults for more than a year, watching their subjects in a variety of settings. They also studied primates such as gelada baboons, bonobos, and lemurs in Madagascar. Their observations suggest that empathy plays a part in controlling contagious yawning. SOUNDBITE (English) IVAN NORSCIA, SCIENTIST AND CO-AUTHOR OF THE PAPER ON YAWN CONTAGION, SAYING: "What we didn't expect is to find an exact match between the empathic trend, which in humans is known to go from strangers to acquaintances to friends to kin in yawn contagion as well. So we didn't expect that exact matching, so that is the most interesting part, I think, of our study. And also that yawn latency, so the time gap between the yawn trigger, the triggering yawn, the response also it is shorter in friends and kin." Norscia believes the activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in the brain is associated with the urge to yawn by contagion, especially when in response to yawning by friends or relatives. (SOUNDBITE) (English) IVAN NORSCIA, SCIENTIST AND CO-AUTHOR OF THE PAPER ON YAWN CONTAGION, SAYING: "A wider brain area may be involved when we're talking about friends or kin, so that the neuro process can be different. So maybe there's a more direct way we processed yawns coming from loved ones. I don't know, maybe because we use memory, maybe we are more capable to match their face expression to our face expression or maybe because we can anticipate that expression." The pair believe the phenomenon could become useful in assessing people suffering from empathy deficit disorders, such as autism which hinders normal human interaction. Counting the minutes between the yawns of our loved ones and ourselves might also become a test of the state of the relationship...whether or not we're simply tired of one another.
by Jim Drury, Reuters

Deadly cold in Europe

A deadly cold front across Europe. In Berlin, ice clogs rivers as temperatures drop below freezing. The cold snap also freezes over Ukraine's capital Kiev, where fishermen make do on this iced-over river. In small villlages througout Ukraine, people are trying to keep warm in any way that they can, here burning firewood in stoves. This in the country hardest hit by the cold -- where at least 101 people have now died. Further south in Rome, the winter blast turned the heart of the Vatican white. Heavy snow has fallen over much of Italy this week causing severe disruptions to many forms of transportation. But in Germany some are trying to make the best of the bad weather, taking advantage of frozen lakes to enjoy winter sports.
by Deborah Lutterbeck, Reuters.




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