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Why does time pass?        Video        The Economist        3 September 2015


The equations of physics suggest time

should be able to go backwards as well as forwards.


Experience suggests, though, that it cannot.


Why? And is time travel really possible?













































time        USA















the passing of time        UK



Video - The Economist - Sep. 3, 2015










pastime        UK






modern time        USA






geologic time        USA






spare time        USA






daylight saving time    DST        UK






real time        USA






borrowed time        USA






in the time of Covid-19        UK































screen time        USA






























decision time        USA







boom time        USA











timeless        USA






Earth seen from International Space Station – timelapse video        UK        10 December 2013


A series of timelapse images

show the view of Earth taken

from the International Space Station.


Called The World Outside My Window,

the video is made up

of stills taken

from the space station

during three expeditions

between September 2011

and July 2012.


The ISS orbits Earth

at a speed of five miles per second,

240 miles above our planet's surface.


The final frames

show astronaut Don Pettit,

suspended upside down

at work on the ISS






quality time        USA






quality family time        UK






good times        USA






It's been a long time coming        UK






as time goes on        UK






all the time        UK






downtime        USA






crunch time        USA










no time to lose





stall for time        USA






going back in time        UK






over the course of time





time-consuming        USA






ephemeral        UK






transient        UK






anachronistic        USA






11.11 on 11/11/11:

are you going to mark

the palindromic moment in time?        UK


From dressing up

as the 11th Doctor to getting married

- will you be taking any notice of 11:11am, or even 11.11pm,

on the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of the 21st century?






1950s > the best of times        UK






in difficult times        UK






in difficult economic times





at times





old-timer        USA






part time        USA






part-time worker        USA






full-time work        UK






privileged times        UK






it's about time        USA






lost time



















Ross MacDonald

 Time Out of Mind        NYT        7.3.2008
















Poverty in America: Hard Times in Inland Empire        NYT        12 May 2014




Poverty in America: Hard Times in Inland Empire        Video        The New York Times        12 May 2014


California's Inland Empire, east of Los Angeles,

has attracted people expecting to live out

the American dream.


But with jobs and services scarce,

the region has a high poverty rate.


Produced by: Sean Patrick Farrell

Read the story here: http://nyti.ms/1oILEiL

Watch more videos at: http://nytimes.com/video


















at an uneasy time        USA






an awful time






a hard time        USA






hard times        USA









worn by hard times        USA






tight times        USA






in lean times        USA






in these scary times        UK






scary times        USA






in these bleak times        UK






a grieving time        USA





at this most difficult time        UK
















wartime        USA








wartime        UK






during wartime        UK        2009

















Gasoline Alley

by Jim Scancarelli


January 02, 2014















such a short period of time





short-time working        UK        2009






The Queen's annual Christmas message > 'sombre' times        UK






History of legal time in Britain        UK






timeline        UK / USA

https://www.nytimes.com/article/george-floyd-protests-timeline.html - May 2020














timekeepers        UK






terrestrial timekeeping











the time now ten minutes past eight





time traveler (USA) / traveller (UK)        UK / USA









BBC > In Our Time > History of ideas        UK











What time is it?





most of the time





time and again





for the second time in seven days





from time to time





this time around





for the time being





for a second time





for the third time this year





for the third time since January last year





in the meantime





in the nick of time        UK






at the time of N





at the time





at any time





at a crucial time





one last time        UK






once upon a time





a once-in-a- lifetime       USA





once a week





once every year





at once











a lifetime of N        USA






be a long time coming        USA






in just three years' time





a matter of time





at the same time





raise interest rates for a sixth straight time





the greatest comedian of all time





the worst movie remakes of all time        UK






work against time        USA







be engaged in a race against time





the last time





in my own time        UK






stand the test of time        USA








untimely        UK






timing        USA








coincidence        UK






timetable / timetable        UK







time bomb





play for time





modern times





behind the times














Mandrake        Fred Fredericks        Created by Lee Falk        28.8.2004






Spiderman        Stan Lee        14.3.2005
















time machine





time capsule        UK






time warp        USA








frozen in time






lost in time        USA

















Steve Greenberg

The Ventura County Star



6 October 2009
















extra time




























time is on my side





time is money





time is of the essence        USA






time is running short





time is (fast) running out










time's up







































unfold        USA


https://www.nytimes.com/article/george-floyd-protests-timeline.html - May 2020



















the two prior months

















after (prep + GN) > after two years





a week after (conj + SVO)

a week after walls of water left millions struggling to survive





afterwards (adv)





on (adv)





one year on        UK






thirty years on        UK






five years on




















at present


















Peter Till


Tony Blair's time is over

The middle England magician has lost his touch

and put the election at risk. He must go – and soon

The Guardian        p. 25        4 May 2005



















The Guardian        p. 30        11 September 2004















in late December





of late





late 19th and early 20th-century ceramics





in latter years















age        USA






in the age of screen time        USA






space age        USA






age discrimination





coming-of-age        USA







digital age        UK






digital age        USA








In the age of information        USA






in this age of information...        USA






nuclear age        USA






in this day and age





through the ages





golden age        UK






Gilded Age        USA
























eons        USA





















down centuries





for much of the 20th century





in the early 4th century























































for a whole hour





for a whole year





for a long time- at least six decades





for a third successive night















in as little as ten years





in March





in 1968





in the first half of 2005





In October 1981





in the nineteenth century





in a short while





in the sixth minute





in the last few years















later        USA






later on in the afternoon





a few days later





half an hour later





eighteen years later





a decade later






two decades later


















The Meaning of Lila

by John Forgetta and L.A. Rose


November 20, 2011















instant        USA


















August / my holiday / the war / his speech / Monday's match / your working day / Monday





during the Civil War





during the press conference




















as of now        USA











now and ever





every now and then






then and now        UK










in a fortnight from now





right away















in the weekend





late in the weekend





over again and again





yet again





after (conj / prép)

































in the aftermath of...



























next week





next year





within the next fortnight





in a fortnight from now





so far





as yet





as recently as early summer





from then on










then and there






in the meantime















for a while




















be on time





right on time





don't do the crime don't do the time











































milestone        UK












milestone        USA

























grim milestone        USA










date back





a tradition that dates back more than 300 years





date back as far as 1998 and 1999





business update































deadline        USA

















sell-by date        UK






by the end of the week





by the end of the 1940s





by the end of next September





at the end of the decade





countdown        UK








eleventh-hour N





at the eleventh hour





further to...





in the wake of...        UK






right now        UK











anytime soon        USA






as soon as 2013        USA






as soon as possible





be adjourned for a month





until...        USA






with less than seven weeks until...





less than a week later        USA
















in a row        UK








successive        UK






consecutive        UK
















over the next 24 to 48 hours





over the next ten years





over the summer










over the weekend
















at the next election





the November 2 Presidential election















fate        USA






end of the world        USA






zombie apocalypse        USA



















Guardian    web frontpage













when the first world war came, ...












during wartime        2009













pushing the Dow





to its biggest percentage gain in about a month












over the bank holiday weekend





over the course of 10 months        USA











over the course of time












by night, by day, by clock










a couple of N


a couple of hours





in a couple of minutes










as ... as


as far back as 1970





as early as Friday        UK






as early as the middle of next year        UK


















every day        UK






everyday    (adj)        UK






every time





every so often        UK






every time so often





once every year





every three or four years        USA


















with just months to go,



























for the second month running        UK











as early as the middle of next year        UK






early in the day





earlier in the day















The Guardian        p. 8        5 July 2007













































It's been nearly a year since... + preterite

















The Guardian        p. 4        14 March 2005
















The Guardian        Weekend        p. 84        10 June 2006






























all too often        USA











On Modern Time


January 1, 2012

5:00 pm

The New York Times



The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers

on issues both timely and timeless.


We live in time. On days like this one, when we find ourselves carried without any effort or intent from the end of one calendar year to the next, this observation is perhaps especially clear.

Our lives are temporal. Time passes, and with that our lives. Dissolving into things, processes, and events as the mode of their becoming, time is a medium within which every being is able to exist and develop. Time is, however, also destructive. Its power means that everything, including ourselves, is transient, provisional and bound to come to an irreversible end.

Many philosophers have tried to articulate what it means to be not only temporal but aware of oneself as such. How should we interpret the fact of our own temporality? One response would be that the question is uninteresting or even banal. It simply involves living with clock time, the kind of time that scientists take for granted when they study nature and that we continuously keep track of via our watches and calendars.

So time has passed? You are getting older? It just means that a certain number of homogenous moments (seconds, minutes, hours, and so on) have succeeded one another in a linear fashion: tick, tack, tick, tack… Now look in the mirror!

At least since the introduction of the pocket watch in the 16th century brought exact time measurement into everyday life, modern agents have found themselves increasingly encased in a calculable and measurable temporal environment. We measure and organize time as never before, and we worry about not “losing” or “wasting” time, as though time was a finite substance or a container into which we should try to stuff as many good experiences as possible.

Clock time is the time of our modern, busy and highly coordinated and interconnected lives. It is the time of planning and control, of setting goals and achieving them in the most efficient manner. We move through such time in the same way we drive a car: calculating the distance passed while coordinating our movement with that of other drivers, passing through an environment that can never be particularly significant and which will soon be observable in the mirror.

Modern society is unimaginable without clock time. With the rise of the chronometer came a vast increase in discipline, efficiency and social speed, transforming every institution and human endeavor. The factory, the office, transportation, business, the flow of information, indeed almost everything we do and relate to is to a greater or lesser extent controlled by the clock.

It was not always like this. In a medieval village, the day started not with the beep of the alarm clock but with birds gradually beginning to twitter, the light slowly starting to shine through the windows. When the observation of natural cycles played a greater role in people’s awareness of temporality, change was “softer,” less precisely calculable, and intimately tied to a more fluid and large-scale sense of rhythm. In all likelihood, the inhabitant of a medieval village could also contrast sublunar time with some vision of eternity or “higher time” in which the soul was allowed to participate in a higher order of being.

So what of all this? This yoking of our lives to clock time? Despite our increasing reliance on the mechanical measurement of time to structure our lives, many of us find some part of us resisting it. We find it confining, too rigid perhaps to suit our natural states, and long for that looser structure of the medieval village (while retaining our modern comforts and medical advances, of course).

What is behind this resistance? The modern time frame brings about two fundamental forms of dissatisfaction. For one thing, it exacerbates and intensifies our sense of transience. If time is understood as a succession of discrete moments, then, strictly speaking, our experience will be one of perpetual loss: every instant, every unit of time, is a mere passing from that which has not yet been to that which will never again be, and the passing itself will not endure but simply be a boundary between future and present. “In time,” the philosopher Schopenhauer put it, “each moment is, only in so far as it has effaced its father the preceding moment, to be again effaced just as quickly itself. Past and future (…) are as empty and unreal as any dream; but present is only the boundary between the two, having neither extension nor duration.”

Responding to this sense of transience, Schopenhauer rather desperately throws in a salvific conception of beauty as being capable of suspending our normal temporal awareness. Aesthetic experience, he claims, pulls us beyond our normal subjection to temporal sequentiality. The sunset or the Beethoven string quartet can be so ravishing that we find ourselves lost in the unchanging essentiality they present to us. Whatever merits this view has, it only promises temporary respite. When, from an observer’s standpoint, the act of transcendence comes to an end, we necessarily have to return to everyday life.

The modern time frame also generates a problem of existential meaning. The “now” of clock time is contingent. It is neutral with regard to the kind of established, historical meaning that historians and social theorists think was important in pre-modern societies. Why me now? What am I to do with myself in a world apparently bereft of deep, collective meaning? From the idea that what was done was right by some sacred authorization, a divine order perhaps, the modern agent turns to the future, cut loose from tradition. The moment is there to be seized upon. We are entrepreneurs and consumers in a liquid, fast-moving society. We look forward rather than backward, to the new rather than the old, and while a huge space of innovation and possible change is then opened up, we seem to have lost a sense of the unquestionable meaning that those who came before us seemed to have had in abundance.

Modern philosophy, especially in the European tradition, contains plenty of attempts both to diagnose and remedy this situation. Some thinkers — Schopenhauer among them — have hoped that philosophy could identify ways in which we may escape the modern time frame altogether. Others, like Heidegger, have tried to show that clock time is not as fundamental as we often think it is. In addition to the objective time of the clock, they argue, there are temporalities of human experience and engagement that, while often ignored, deserve to be explored and analyzed. Perhaps clock time is one mode of temporality among others. If so, then it is not obvious that clock time should always be our preferred mode of temporal self-interpretation. Perhaps we have to recognize a tension in human life between the demands of clock time and those other temporalities, between the clock or the calendar and life as it is truly experienced.

For several reasons the notion of escape seems the least promising. How could we ever escape clock time? Where would we go? If the answer is to a pre- or non-modern society where people live happily without clocks, then surely we could not envision this as a plan for society as a whole. Few or any such societies still exist, and the changes necessary would not be acceptable in light of the interests we have in enjoying the benefits of a well-organized, industrial civilization. If the answer hinges on some sort of individual escape — perhaps, as in Schopenhauer, to the timeless realm of pure essence — then one needs to show that something like this is actually possible. Does it make sense to conceive of a perfectly timeless experience? Probably not. Experience is necessarily temporal. Can there be false sanctuaries from clock time? Perhaps. Heroin and video game addiction spring to mind.

We thus fall back on the first alternative — the one involving a rethinking of temporality. Yes, there is clock time, but in addition to that there are other and more unruly temporalities. There are, no doubt, temporalities of the human body, of nature and of the psyche. At least they follow certain biological, cosmological, and psychological rhythms, often involving perceived patterns of birth or creation, growth, decay and regeneration. Equally significant, however, the way we interpret ourselves and our relations to other human beings is deeply shaped by its own forms of temporality. We don’t simply live in Schopenhauer’s fluctuating “now.” Rather, human life is a continuous and highly complex negotiation of existing commitments and remembrances with future demands and expectations.

My friend returns the car he borrowed yesterday. I understand and interpret his action by viewing it as the fulfillment of a promise. The sense I make of it will be based on the memory I have of the promise as well as on knowledge of the manner in which promises both create commitments and constrain people’s future plans and actions. There is an interplay between recollections and anticipations, and between beliefs and inferences — all of which both opens up and presupposes a temporal space.

Even direct forms of awareness involve such an interplay. We see the blooming flowers as manifestations of spring and situate them temporally by invoking the sequences associated by the annual changes in nature from winter to spring and summer, and all of this while viewing the whole process in terms of concepts like regeneration, life, or perhaps the fleetingness of beauty. We bring certain inferences to bear on what we experience such as to transform mere succession into meaning and form.

In these ways, human beings structure their lives around narratives. Some narratives will tend to remain in the foreground of one’s engagements and orientations. These will include things like our self-conception and our relationships with others. Others, such as how we organize our day, will be more rarely reflected upon. I could give an account of how I organize my day, but that would typically be to a child or someone with scant knowledge of my own culture. By contrast, stories about our relationships almost always tend to be matters of reflection, rethinking and revision.

Most of our narratives are socially constituted. Becoming an investment banker is possible because such occupations exist in our society, and because there are socially constituted routes to obtaining that status. The investment banker is in possession of and identifies with the banker narrative: it largely determines this person’s identity.

Some narratives, however, are intimate and personal, based on experiences and commitments made by individuals independently of social expectation. These are the kinds of narratives that novelists often use. These are the ones that not only point beyond the deadening sequentiality of mere clock time but have the capacity to open new territories and vistas for human growth and authenticity. Discontinuity is the key here: the pregnant moment outside the regular flow of time when some unexpected yet promising or individually challenging event occurs.

We need these moments, and we need to be attentive to them. They are the moments when new possibilities emerge. The narratives that frame such forms of exposure to the sudden and unexpected will tend to deviate from the standard, causal “this because of that”-structure. They will have cracks and breaks, intimating how we genuinely come to experience something as opposed to merely “moving through” it. Falling in love is one such narrative context. While we can tell when it happens to us, the involvement it demands is open, promissory, risky, possibly life-changing, and sometimes deeply disappointing.

Experiences like this, which explode the empty repetition of standard clock time, offer glimpses of a different and deeply intriguing type of temporality that has the power to invest our lives with greater meaning, possibility and excitement than a life merely measured on a grid could ever provide.


Espen Hammer is a professor of philosophy at Temple University.

His most recent book is “Philosophy and Temporality

from Kant to Critical Theory,”

published by Cambridge University Press.

On Modern Time,






The Clock Is Ticking


September 5, 2011

The New York Times

A minimally successful end to the Afghan war depends on weakening the Taliban militarily and helping Afghanistan build up a government that won’t implode as soon as American troops are gone.

President George W. Bush gave the war — and the rebuilding — shockingly short shrift. President Obama has devoted far more troops and resources, and the United States and NATO have made progress in clearing militants from southern strongholds and building up Afghan security forces. Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place. While overall violence is down, August was the deadliest month of the war for American troops, including several Navy Seal commandos who were killed when their helicopter was shot down.

At this point, we are skeptical that the administration has a comprehensive strategy to help build up a government that Afghans would be willing to fight for.

Mr. Obama has ordered home 33,000 of 100,000 troops by the end of next summer, with Afghans to take full responsibility for their security in 2014. We support that decision. After a decade of fighting, 1,700 American lives lost and $450 billion spent, it is time for the troops to start coming home. But no one should minimize the risks.

Afghans have no love for the Taliban’s brutality. They show extraordinary courage every day when they send 2.5 million of their daughters to school. Still, if the president’s withdrawal timetable has any chance at all, Washington will have to do a lot more to try to build up a government that can deliver basic services and minimal security; one that doesn’t steal its people blind and offers all Afghans — including women — a real opportunity to participate in the country’s political life.

And while the State Department this year finally tripled the number of civilians in the field — there are now more than 1,100 — to oversee aid and development, there is already talk of bringing some of them home.

There isn’t a lot of time left. Here are some of the major issues that must be addressed:


GOVERNANCE President Hamid Karzai is more difficult to work with than ever. The government was paralyzed for months after he named a special court to review last year’s fraud-tainted parliamentary election, which gave his Pashtun clan far fewer seats than expected. Under Western pressure, Mr. Karzai recently agreed to a compromise. But his unchecked power and frictions with Washington are serious problems.

Some ministries, like health, perform reasonably well because competent people were found to run them and the Americans provided technical advice. But that is the exception. The truth is that Afghanistan still lacks a functioning government, Parliament or banking system.

Washington has a chance to set a fresh tone with the new American team in Kabul — Ambassador Ryan Crocker; Gen. John Allen, the commander for the war; and Marc Grossman, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan — respected veterans who don’t have the same history of tensions with Mr. Karzai as their predecessors.

To clear the way for a new generation of politicians, and break the lock of cronyism, Mr. Karzai has to step down in 2014, as the Afghan Constitution demands. He says he will. The Americans should use all of the levers they have to make sure that he keeps his word. The Americans must also press him to make political reforms that will help develop credible candidates and make it harder to tamper with the 2014 vote.

There are some competent officials at the local and provincial levels, many encouraged by the Americans and assisted by military and technical advisers. But many have been targets of Taliban violence. There must be more effort on building this level of governance, including providing more security for officials.


RECONCILIATION In February, after much resistance, American officials publicly endorsed the idea of negotiations with the Taliban on a political settlement. Washington held several preliminary meetings with a representative of Mullah Muhammad Omar. While there was little apparent progress, in a statement issued Tuesday, the Taliban leader acknowledged the contacts and left open the door for more.

We are skeptical that there is a deal to be had, but the Americans should keep looking for openings. At a minimum, talks with Taliban leaders may make it easier for lower-level fighters to decide to come in from the cold, especially if NATO continues to pound away at them. Washington should consider supporting the appointment of an international mediator who might be better able to bring more insurgent groups to the table.


ECONOMIC SUPPORT According to the World Bank, an estimated 97 percent of Afghanistan’s roughly $28 billion gross domestic product comes from military and development aid and the in-country spending of foreign troops.

An awful lot of that money has been stolen or wasted, but not all of it. Sixty-four percent or more of Afghans now have some access to health care, up from 9 percent under the last year of Taliban rule; eight million children are in school, up from one million in 2001; infant mortality is down; adult longevity is up; half of all Afghan families have cellphones.

What the aid has not built is a stable and viable country. The Afghan government is still struggling to develop the capacity to run — and finance — programs on its own. Revenues cover only one-third of the government’s $4.5 billion budget. Officials fear the economy could contract by 40 percent as the troops leave.

International donors will need to keep underwriting Afghanistan for years to come. But self-sufficiency has to be the goal.

The most immediate question is where will Afghanistan get the $6 billion to $8 billion per year that it needs to maintain a planned 379,000-man security force that is now paid for by foreign donors? Or keep countless other projects and jobs afloat? What will happen if thousands of armed young men are unemployed?

Washington needs a plan to address these challenges. It also needs to spend smarter by investing in projects that are achievable and sustainable but will still strengthen governance and services. One success story: the National Solidarity Program that pays for local projects developed and managed by Afghans themselves.

Over the long term, the country’s huge mineral resources, if developed right, could produce significant jobs and revenue. One short-term idea worth considering: channeling billions of dollars in remittances — sent home by Afghans working in the gulf and in Iran — into Afghan banks to underwrite loans. Afghanistan will first need to build a functioning banking system; the corruption and near-collapse of the Kabul Bank is a reminder of how much effort that will take.


PAKISTAN Afghanistan will never have a chance at lasting stability if Pakistan continues to harbor and support the Taliban and other extremist groups. If negotiations with the Taliban ever get real traction, Pakistan will have leverage — for good or ill.

The biggest problem, for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, is that Pakistan’s military leadership still sees the Taliban as a proxy for ensuring its influence in Afghanistan, and any move it makes against the extremists as a favor to Washington — rather than also a fight for its own survival.

Relations between Washington and Islamabad have not recovered since the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The administration needs to keep searching for ways to revive a working relationship and change the self-destructive mind-set of Pakistan’s leaders. Ending all aid would be a serious mistake, but withholding certain military aid, as the administration has done, could help.


INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY The withdrawal of American troops must not be an invitation for a revival of the 19th century’s “Great Game.” For the sake of their own stability, Pakistan, India, Iran and others need to agree to respect Afghanistan’s (and each other’s) sovereignty and forswear interference and conflict.

Turkey will test its leadership skills when it holds a regional conference in November aimed at producing some agreement along those lines. In December, a bigger international meeting in Bonn is supposed to lay out economic initiatives that could help stabilize Afghanistan. Ideas include new investments as well as a broad vision for a “new silk road” that would create jobs and foster economic integration through trade and energy projects.

The United States and its allies have to marshal their best arguments and diplomatic skills to ensure that those meetings produce real results and a persuasive message that is heard by all people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As we said, there is not a lot of time.

The Clock Is Ticking,






It’s Still the 9/11 Era


September 4, 2011

The New York Times



Osama bin Laden is dead. So is Saddam Hussein, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and too many Qaeda No. 3’s to count. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is awaiting his military tribunal. George W. Bush is home on the ranch, Dick Cheney is on book tour, and even Gen. David Petraeus is a general no more, having traded in his stars for a civilian position atop the Central Intelligence Agency.

But 10 years to the week after the twin towers fell, we are still living in the 9/11 era. The names and faces are different, the White House has changed hands, and the country has turned its gaze from our distant wars to the economic crisis on the home front. But American foreign policy is still defined by the choices our leaders made while ground zero smoldered, and the objectives they set. Our approach to the world was fundamentally altered by 9/11, and nothing that’s happened since has undone that transformation.

Part of this transformation was tactical: a shift from a criminal justice approach to counterterrorism that emphasized investigations, arrests and successful prosecutions, to a wartime approach that emphasized detention, interrogation and assassination. The other part was strategic: a decision that America’s national security required promoting democracy across the Muslim world — by force of arms, if necessary — rather than accepting the kind of stability that various dictators had promised to supply.

Taken together, these two shifts gave us the Bush administration’s most controversial policies, from Guantánamo Bay and “extraordinary rendition” to the invasion of Iraq and the nation-building effort that followed. Some of those policies were walked back in the second Bush term. (The waterboard vanished from our interrogation repertoire, and there were no further wars of choice.) But the overall transformation endured.

It has endured under Barack Obama as well, his campaign promises notwithstanding. We are still fighting a war on terrorist groups, complete with the indefinite detention, drone attacks and covert warfare that infuriated civil libertarians during the Bush presidency. Meanwhile, Obama’s first term has featured an expanded nation-building effort in Afghanistan, a regime-change operation in Libya, a possibly permanent military footprint in Iraq — and the gradual adoption, amid the ferment of the Arab Spring, of Bush’s freedom agenda rhetoric as well.

The question is whether this continuity is evidence of success or an example of the stay-the-course bias to which all governments are prone. Here it’s worth asking a version of Ronald Reagan’s famous question: Are we better off than we were 10 years ago?

The case for answering yes is strongest on the counterterrorism front, where our shadow war has clearly diminished our enemies’ capacity to do us harm in ways that our pre-9/11 efforts never did.

There are significant moral costs to a policy that depends on routinized assassination and detention without trial. But 10 years without a major attack, the death of Osama bin Laden and the steady degradation of Al Qaeda and its affiliates are not achievements to be taken lightly. The United States will always be vulnerable to terrorists, but in the decade since we were blindsided by Mohammed Atta’s team of hijackers, our spies and SEALs and interrogators have dramatically improved our odds.

On the strategic front, though, it is extremely difficult to argue that America’s geopolitical position is stronger today than it was 10 years ago.

Some of this weakening was inevitable: Our extraordinary post-cold-war dominance couldn’t last forever, and the rise of rival powers is a phenomenon to be managed rather than resisted. But our post-9/11 attempts to transform the Muslim world have cost trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, and won us — well, what? A liberated Iraq that’s more in Iran’s sphere of influence than ours, an Afghan war in which American casualties keep rising, an Arab Spring that threatens to encircle Israel with enemies, a Middle East where our list of reliable allies grows thin ...

This list doesn’t account for various counterfactuals (how much worse off we might be with Saddam Hussein in power, for instance). Nor does it account for democracy promotion’s long-term benefits.

But after 10 years of conflict, we aren’t exactly in short-term territory anymore. And pointing out that things could have been worse doesn’t change the fact that our post-9/11 grand strategy has been associated with a steady erosion of America’s position in the world.

In this context, the fact that President Obama has kept the United States enmeshed in occupations and interventions across the Muslim world isn’t evidence that our strategy is working. It’s a sign that he doesn’t know how to get us out.

In my Aug. 22 column,

I should have said that the Texas-Mexico border

is 1,250 miles, not 1,969 miles.

Also, Texas’s black eighth graders

were tied with their peers in Massachusetts for best score

on the 2009 National Assessment

of Educational Progress math exam.

They did not beat all other states.

It’s Still the 9/11 Era,






Digital Devices Deprive Brain

of Needed Downtime


August 24, 2010

THe New York Times



SAN FRANCISCO — It’s 1 p.m. on a Thursday and Dianne Bates, 40, juggles three screens. She listens to a few songs on her iPod, then taps out a quick e-mail on her iPhone and turns her attention to the high-definition television.

Just another day at the gym.

As Ms. Bates multitasks, she is also churning her legs in fast loops on an elliptical machine in a downtown fitness center. She is in good company. In gyms and elsewhere, people use phones and other electronic devices to get work done — and as a reliable antidote to boredom.

Cellphones, which in the last few years have become full-fledged computers with high-speed Internet connections, let people relieve the tedium of exercising, the grocery store line, stoplights or lulls in the dinner conversation.

The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.

Ms. Bates, for example, might be clearer-headed if she went for a run outside, away from her devices, research suggests.

At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory of the experience.

The researchers suspect that the findings also apply to how humans learn.

“Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories,” said Loren Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university, where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believed that when the brain was constantly stimulated, “you prevent this learning process.”

At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.

Even though people feel entertained, even relaxed, when they multitask while exercising, or pass a moment at the bus stop by catching a quick video clip, they might be taxing their brains, scientists say.

“People think they’re refreshing themselves, but they’re fatiguing themselves,” said Marc Berman, a University of Michigan neuroscientist.

Regardless, there is now a whole industry of mobile software developers competing to help people scratch the entertainment itch. Flurry, a company that tracks the use of apps, has found that mobile games are typically played for 6.3 minutes, but that many are played for much shorter intervals. One popular game that involves stacking blocks gets played for 2.2 minutes on average.

Today’s game makers are trying to fill small bits of free time, said Sebastien de Halleux, a co-founder of PlayFish, a game company owned by the industry giant Electronic Arts.

“Instead of having long relaxing breaks, like taking two hours for lunch, we have a lot of these micro-moments,” he said. Game makers like Electronic Arts, he added, “have reinvented the game experience to fit into micro-moments.”

Many business people, of course, have good reason to be constantly checking their phones. But this can take a mental toll. Henry Chen, 26, a self-employed auto mechanic in San Francisco, has mixed feelings about his BlackBerry habits.

“I check it a lot, whenever there is downtime,” Mr. Chen said. Moments earlier, he was texting with a friend while he stood in line at a bagel shop; he stopped only when the woman behind the counter interrupted him to ask for his order.

Mr. Chen, who recently started his business, doesn’t want to miss a potential customer. Yet he says that since he upgraded his phone a year ago to a feature-rich BlackBerry, he can feel stressed out by what he described as internal pressure to constantly stay in contact.

“It’s become a demand. Not necessarily a demand of the customer, but a demand of my head,” he said. “I told my girlfriend that I’m more tired since I got this thing.”

In the parking lot outside the bagel shop, others were filling up moments with their phones. While Eddie Umadhay, 59, a construction inspector, sat in his car waiting for his wife to grocery shop, he deleted old e-mail while listening to news on the radio. On a bench outside a coffee house, Ossie Gabriel, 44, a nurse practitioner, waited for a friend and checked e-mail “to kill time.”

Crossing the street from the grocery store to his car, David Alvarado pushed his 2-year-old daughter in a cart filled with shopping bags, his phone pressed to his ear.

He was talking to a colleague about work scheduling, noting that he wanted to steal a moment to make the call between paying for the groceries and driving.

“I wanted to take advantage of the little gap,” said Mr. Alvarado, 30, a facilities manager at a community center.

For many such people, the little digital asides come on top of heavy use of computers during the day. Take Ms. Bates, the exercising multitasker at the expansive Bakar Fitness and Recreation Center. She wakes up and peeks at her iPhone before she gets out of bed. At her job in advertising, she spends all day in front of her laptop.

But, far from wanting a break from screens when she exercises, she says she couldn’t possibly spend 55 minutes on the elliptical machine without “lots of things to do.” This includes relentless channel surfing.

“I switch constantly,” she said. “I can’t stand commercials. I have to flip around unless I’m watching ‘Project Runway’ or something I’m really into.”

Some researchers say that whatever downside there is to not resting the brain, it pales in comparison to the benefits technology can bring in motivating people to sweat.

“Exercise needs to be part of our lives in the sedentary world we’re immersed in. Anything that helps us move is beneficial,” said John J. Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and author of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.”

But all things being equal, Mr. Ratey said, he would prefer to see people do their workouts away from their devices: “There is more bang for your buck doing it outside, for your mood and working memory.”

Of the 70 cardio machines on the main floor at Bakar Fitness, 67 have televisions attached. Most of them also have iPod docks and displays showing workout performance, and a few have games, like a rope-climbing machine that shows an animated character climbing the rope while the live human does so too.

A few months ago, the cable TV went out and some patrons were apoplectic. “It was an uproar. People said: ‘That’s what we’re paying for,’ ” said Leeane Jensen, 28, the fitness manager.

At least one exerciser has a different take. Two stories up from the main floor, Peter Colley, 23, churns away on one of the several dozen elliptical machines without a TV. Instead, they are bathed in sunlight, looking out onto the pool and palm trees.

“I look at the wind on the trees. I watch the swimmers go back and forth,” Mr. Colley said. “I usually come here to clear my head.”

    Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime, NYT, 24.8.2010,






Op-Ed Columnist

The Testing Time


October 7, 2008
The New York Time


Every few years, the world seems to face a new testing time. After Sept. 11, leaders had to figure out how to respond to Islamic extremism. Now we face another test. Today, leaders around the world have to figure out how to stabilize economies amid volatile global capital flows.

This test is rooted in a global shift in economic power. The rise of China, the vast wealth of the petro-powers and easy monetary policies created an ocean of excess savings that had no obvious place to go.

This money was entrusted to a few thousand traders who sloshed it around the world in search of the highest returns. These traders live in a high-tech version of Plato’s cave. They do not see reality directly. Instead they see the shadow of reality as it dances around in numbers on their computer screens. They form perceptions about other people’s perceptions of where the smart money is going next, so they’re three or four psychological levels removed from normal economic activity.

These traders are driven to take big risks because the glory goes to the biggest stars. And because they are human, they assuage their ensuing uncertainty with self-deceptions. They develop an excessive faith in “value at risk” computer models, which seem to calculate their exposure in soothingly rigorous terms. They adopt accounting techniques that tell them they’re on firm footing. They go in for complicated financial instruments that promise “riskless risk” by dispersing risk into a million small pieces and casting them into the ether.

The economists talk about “mispriced risk” and “illiquidity” in the system. But many economists are trained to downplay emotion, social psychology and moral norms, and so produce bloodless and incomplete descriptions of what’s going on. The truth is, decision-making is an inherently emotional process, and the traders in charge of these trillions become bipolar as a result of their uncertainty.

When things are going well, they don’t think they’re just lucky and riding a wave. They’re infused with a sense that they have it all figured out. When these traders are in their manic phase, they flood countries and economic sectors with capital. Without meaning to, they dissolve the moral fabric and spoil their own profit zones.

Easy money severs actions from their consequences. National leaders find they can run up huge deficits with no negative effects. Congressmen lean on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to acquire more and more risk. Highly regulated banks find they have money to lend far and wide, and everyone else finds credit is easy. Families decide they can afford homes and lifestyles beyond their means.

It all feels great until it doesn’t. Then when things go bad, the social contagion sweeps the other way (the computer risk models never quite get this). One minute there’s an ocean of credit, the next minute there’s barely a drop. Once ebullient traders become paranoid, realizing how little they know about their trading partners. They refuse to acknowledge the true value of their portfolios. Everything stops.

At these moments, central bankers and Treasury officials leap in to try to make the traders feel better. Officials pretend they’re coming up with policy responses, but much of what they do is political theater. In reality, they’re trying to cajole, bluff and calm their audience of global money-sloshers.

This is more than a mortgage problem. We live in a world in which trillions of dollars can move instantly, but they are in the hands of human beings who are, by nature, limited in knowledge, and subject to self-deceptions and social contagions. By one count, financial crises are twice as prevalent now as they were 100 years ago.

In his astonishingly prescient book, “The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy,” David M. Smick argues that we have inherited an impressive global economic system. It, with the U.S. as the hub, has produced unprecedented levels of global prosperity. But it has now spun wildly out of control. It can’t be fixed with the shock and awe of a $700 billion rescue package, Smick says. The fundamental architecture needs to be reformed.

It will take, he suggests, a global leadership class that can answer essential questions: How much leverage should be allowed? Can we preserve the development model in which certain nations pile up giant reserves and park them in the U.S.?

Until these and other issues are addressed, the global markets will lack confidence in asset values. Bankers will cower, afraid to lend. America’s role as the global hub will be threatened. Europeans will drift toward nationalization. Neomercantilists will fill the vacuum.

This is the test. This is the problem that will consume the next president. Meanwhile, the two candidates for that office are talking about Bill Ayers and Charles Keating.

    The Testing Time, NYT, 7.10.2008,






New Yorkers Reflect in a Time of Less


September 28, 2008
The New York Times


A small-business owner in Brooklyn worries about making the payroll. A homeowner in Queens faces foreclosure. A suburban stay-at-home mother cuts back on luxuries. A retiree watches rent, food and cable bills rise while her income stays flat. An aspiring musician chooses between recording fees and a trip to see his family at Christmas. A head of a nonprofit group sees grants disappear.

Six New Yorkers anxiously watch the Wall Street roller coaster and wonder how it will affect them.

Making Drinks and Song, But Not Enough of Either

Rescalla Cury, 22, an aspiring musician, lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and tends bar at a restaurant in Chelsea:

I came to study music. I am taking private lessons, which made things a little bit harder. I also wanted to take a sound engineering course, but since I’m a foreigner, I would have had to pay the whole course up front, like $15,000. I play solo. I sing and play the guitar. My music is like Brazilian jazz with rock and blues. Hopefully I’m not going to be a bartender for the rest of my life.

What I can see from last year to this year is that the season is definitely slower. I’m making less money because less people are going out. And when they go out, they spend less than what they used to. I’ve been doing the same, I’ve been having friends together in my house, to drink bottles of wine, instead of going out to bars. It’s kind of like a chain. I make less money, and I stop going out too.

The rent is so absurd, and everything is so expensive. How can people afford $2,200 for an apartment? I want to stay in the apartment I’m in; hopefully my building won’t get sold.

I was planning to start recording a track by the end of the year, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen or not. Because I may have to choose between recording a track and going home for Christmas with my family.

Income Is Unchanged, Costs and Worries Rise

Betty Jones, 79, a retired social work administrator, lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan:

I live on a fixed income to the extent that I get Social Security and then I get a small federal pension from my husband, who died in 1999. Then I get a monthly check from my retirement plan.

Those three checks add up to about $5,000 a month — about $2,000 a month short for covering my expenses. My basic yearly expenses are $60,000 to $65,000 but other things come up. I fortunately have some other savings my husband and I put aside, and that’s how I make up the difference.

Rent has gone up. The cost of food is up. I have RCN for cable and phone and that’s gone up. So I really have to budget more carefully now.

I just came back from Rwanda. It cost about $5,000, for 10 days. I went with People to People, to volunteer in orphanages and vocational training programs for young people. I came back wondering what’s happening to my money. It was right in the middle of the week when the market crisis was happening. I was worrying, “What about my money-market at Citibank?” I get my statements and I’m getting poorer and poorer. I’ve lost about $40,000 or $50,000 in the past few months.

The money has to last a long time. I expect to keep ticking.

I’m not nearly as frightened as some of my friends. But I won’t spend $5,000 for another trip right away. Having been a part of the Depression as a child, I worry about what happens on Wall Street. I wonder, “My God, are we going to live through that again? Is everything going to collapse around me?”

I haven’t taken any of my money out of the market yet. Where do I put it, under the mattress?

An American Dream Slowly Evaporates

Rico Lumaban, 49, immigrated from the Philippines in 1982 and lives with his wife, a nurse, and three children, ages 21, 19 and 13, in Bellerose, Queens:

We bought our house in 1989. I had a 30-year fixed mortgage. But in the year 2001, I had difficulties. I bought the right to run a gas station in Astoria, Queens. They had all these accounts with people who work at the embassies. It was supposed to change everything. But the guy I bought it from built another shop and took all the customers with him. I lost close to $200,000; it was all my savings.

In 2006, I had the house refinanced, and I got into a very bad subprime loan. I needed to pay some debts. My son was starting college. I had used all his college savings; that was a very sad thing for him.

I got two kinds of loans, an adjustable-rate mortgage over three years and a home-equity loan. After three years, the mortgage will go to $4,000 a month. I didn’t know that the mortgage payments would also increase every six months.

I was relying on the representative that was helping me to help me do the right thing. Sometimes you trust people. The worst thing was, after it’s all said and done, I never heard anything from the representative. It’s like they got away.

I’m trying to get a permanent job. I just do, like, moonlighting as a handyman and mechanic but it doesn’t pay.

We are in the foreclosure process. I got the court summons and I answered it last week. I haven’t been paying for the last five months, because I can’t.

I don’t want to think about it, with my three kids. I’m so stressed out thinking about where we’re going to be next year. I’m just closing my eyes, and seeing if things change. It’s really scary; it’s hard to sleep.

Stay-at-Home Mother Ponders a Paycheck

Jennifer Manthei, 40, worked in museums but now stays at home in Pelham, N.Y., with her two sons, ages 4 and 1 ½:

I don’t know anybody who’s had to go back to work out of necessity yet, but in our community of stay-at-home moms, it’s certainly something we talk about.

I’m an art historian, so my earning potential in the field is low even in a good market. I used to work at the Met. Curatorial jobs without a master’s degree — well, it was 10 years ago, but I made not even $30,000 a year. At the Museum of Natural History, where I worked after that, I was making more, but I was in an administrative job. But in a bad market, jobs in the arts are probably the first to get cut.

So I would end up doing something like secretarial work, something just for the money, something that is not as fulfilling. I imagine if I were working I could make around $50,000 now, and I imagine a great percentage of that would go toward providing the basic care for my children — a baby sitter and day care, plus nursery school for our oldest. So it would be a lose-lose situation, basically.

My husband co-owns a small recruiting boutique and he specializes in information-technology placement. Because he places people for both temporary and permanent jobs, his business can weather some of the employment ups and downs, but I think he’s felt the change in the economy in his business. And he anticipates he might feel it more.

Our family’s economic certainty is something we’ve been talking about more than in the past. We’re already cutting back on things that I consider luxuries. I’d sound silly if I considered this a real sacrifice, but we’re not redoing all of the first floor like we’d wanted to, just some rooms. We wonder about how much money we’ll be able to set aside for our children’s college fund this year.

Restoring Hot Lunches, At the Expense of Jobs

Stanley Richards, 47, is chief operating officer of the Fortune Society, a nonprofit organization in Long Island City, Queens, which helps former convicts find jobs and housing:

Our budget is about $14 million. Ninety percent of our contributions come from government funding and the rest is mostly foundations. We’re already feeling the pinch. We’ve talked about the worst-case scenario and what programs we absolutely can’t cut. The cuts will come down on the drug treatment side, on the housing side, for the next few years.

This year for the first time, the city gave us a 50 percent cut in a contract that had started in January. It was already August — the year was more than half over — so we had to end the program immediately and go through a series of steps to recoup the money we’d already spent past July 1.

Also, we had a discharge-planning program — for prisoners who are going to be released soon. The Department of Corrections stopped funding it, so we’ve canceled that.

We’re looking at a minimum of a 5 percent cut from the city. State contracts will be cut worse. We expect notification any day now. A funder at the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told us to be prepared for our AIDS housing funding to be cut by two-thirds, from about $1.6 million a year to $600,000.

Two foundations have told us that their portfolio is in trouble. One is cutting back their contribution this year and the other told us to reapply and ask for less.

We wiped out our hot lunches earlier this year, but we’ve decided that has to stay, and so we’re going to bring it back and have layoffs. The food program, for some of these people who come in — some of them have kids — it’s the only meal of the day. Right now we’re serving peanut butter and jelly and what they call “jail soup,” which is dry packets.

Earlier this year, we laid off 21 people — about 10 percent of our staff. It’s very personal for me. A lot of people who work here are former inmates. This is the first place they come when no one else wants to hire them. I started here in 1991 as a counselor. Prior to that, I’d been in prison several times, for robbery the last time, a four-and-a-half year term.

Success Breeds Growth And an Element of Caution

Tricialee Riley, 34, owns the Polish Bar of Brooklyn, a nail and beauty salon on Myrtle Avenue in Clinton Hill, and she just signed a lease to open a second location in neighboring Prospect Heights:

I’ve been in the beauty business since college, since I was 19, and I’ve been in New York for 10 years. For seven years, I was working and earning and saving. There was never a day without me planning my small business. I always saved, and knew it was going to happen. And I opened in July 2006.

It’s a small business, but I had a very big opening, and business has been tremendous. So much so that we’re expanding and opening a much larger space. I just signed my lease 15 minutes ago. We’ll be opening in December 2008.

Securing a loan for the second business was a lot more challenging that I anticipated. We had been successful. I have a good credit score. All my i’s are dotted and my t’s are crossed. I literally have in the savings almost the equivalent of what I needed to secure the second store. But my own personal bank denied me the loan, so I went to a microlender to do the financing. That was shocking.

All my profits are in savings, liquid cash. Because that might have to be the payroll for a while. We anticipated on hiring 14 people for the second store, but will probably hire 8 and take on people as needed.

We’re in the middle of something that’s so extremely exciting for us, but worried about how the economy will affect us. Everybody’s being suggested to watch their money and cut their spending and we’re at the top of the list of what to cut.

I think there may be a drastic change in the habits and behaviors of women over the next season. I am fearful of the change, I am. But I can’t work off of fear.

There is a doubt that creeps in now that I really haven’t had to deal with a lot. On Saturday (Sept. 20) in particular. I came into work, early in the morning. And I said ‘God, if I’m doing too much too soon, I can wait a year and a half.’ I’d rather wait a year and a half and give up a wonderful location than to fail. I had so much doubt. And he sent me a sign. I opened the store and we had our second largest day ever, after a week when Myrtle Avenue looked like a ghost town.

Interviews were conducted by Cara Buckley and Eric Konigsberg

and then condensed.

    New Yorkers Reflect in a Time of Less, NYT, 28.9.2008,






A Hidden Toll on Employment:

Cut to Part Time


July 31, 2008
The New York Times


The number of Americans who have seen their full-time jobs chopped to part time because of weak business has swelled to more than 3.7 million — the largest figure since the government began tracking such data more than half a century ago.

The loss of pay has become a primary source of pain for millions of American families, reinforcing the downturn gripping the economy. Paychecks are shrinking just as home prices plunge and gas prices soar, furthering the austerity across the nation.

“I either stop eating, or stop using anything I can,” said Marvin L. Zinn, a clerk at a Walgreens drugstore in St. Joseph, Mich., who has seen his take-home pay drop to about $550 every two weeks from about $650, as his weekly hours have dropped to 37.5 from 44 in recent months.

Mr. Zinn has run up nearly $2,000 in credit card debt to buy food. He has put off dental work. He no longer attends church, he said, “because I can’t afford to drive.”

On the surface, the job market is weak but hardly desperate. Layoffs remain less frequent than in many economic downturns, and the unemployment rate is a relatively modest 5.5 percent. But that figure masks the strains of those who are losing hours or working part time because they cannot find full-time work — a stealth force that is eroding American spending power.

All told, people the government classifies as working part time involuntarily — predominantly those who have lost hours or cannot find full-time work — swelled to 5.3 million last month, a jump of greater than 1 million over the last year.

These workers now amount to 3.7 percent of all those employed, up from 3 percent a year ago, and the highest level since 1995.

“This increase is startling,” said Steve Hipple, an economist at the Labor Department.

The loss of hours has been affecting men in particular — and Hispanic men more so. Among those who were forced into part-time work from the spring of 2007 to the spring of 2008, 73 percent were men and 35 percent were Hispanic.

Some 28 percent of the jobs affected were in construction, 14 percent in retail and 13 percent in professional and business services, according an analysis by Mr. Hipple.

“The unemployment rate is giving you a misleading impression of some of the adjustments that are taking place,” said John E. Silvia, chief economist of Wachovia in Charlotte. “Hours cut is a big deal. People still have a job, but they are losing income.”

Many experts see the swift cutback in hours as a precursor of a more painful chapter to come: broader layoffs. Some struggling companies are holding on to workers and cutting shifts while hoping to ride out hard times. If business does not improve, more extreme measures could follow.

“The change in working hours is the canary in the coal mine,” said Susan J. Lambert of the University of Chicago, a professor of social service administration and an expert in low-wage employment. “First you see hours get short, and eventually more people will get laid off.”

For the last decade, Ron Temple has loaded and unloaded bags for United Airlines in Denver, earning more than $20 an hour, plus generous health and flight benefits. On July 6, as management grappled with the rising cost of fuel, Mr. Temple and 150 other people in Denver were offered an unpalatable set of options: they could transfer to another city, go on furlough without pay and hope to be rehired, or stay on at reduced hours.

Mr. Temple and his wife say they cannot envision living outside Colorado, and they probably could not sell their house. Similar homes are now selling for about $180,000, while they owe the bank $203,000.

So Mr. Temple took the third option. He reluctantly traded in his old shift — 3 p.m. to midnight — for a shorter stint from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. He gave up benefits like paid lunches and overtime. His take-home pay shrunk to $570 every two weeks from about $1,350, he said.

Mr. Temple’s wife, Ali, works as an aide at a cancer clinic, bringing home nearly $1,000 every two weeks, he said. But collectively, they earn less than half of what they did.

Suddenly, they are having trouble making their $1,753 monthly mortgage payment, he said. They are relying on credit cards to pay the bills, running up balances of $2,700 so far. Gone are their dinners at the Outback Steakhouse. Mr. Temple recently bought cheap, generic groceries from a church that sells them to people in need.

“That’s the first time in my life I’ve had to do that,” he said. “We are cutting back in every way.”

Mr. Temple has been searching for another job, applying for a cashier’s position at Safeway and a clerk’s job at Home Depot, among others. But the market is lean.

“I’ve applied more than 20 times, and I haven’t had a single call back,” he said.

His search is constrained by the high price of gas. “I can’t afford to go drive my truck around and look for a job,” he said.

So Mr. Temple has done his search online — until he fell behind on the bills, and the local telephone company cut off Internet service. On a recent day, he bicycled to a Starbucks coffee shop with his laptop for the free connection.

The growing ranks of involuntary part-timers reflect the sophisticated fashion through which many American employers have come to manage their payrolls, say experts.

In decades past, when business soured, companies tended to resort to mass layoffs, hiring people back when better times returned. But as high technology came to permeate American business, companies have grown reluctant to shed workers. Even the lowest-wage positions in retail, fast food, banking or manufacturing require computer skills and a grasp of a company’s systems. Several months of training may be needed to get a new employee up to speed.

“Companies today would rather not go through the process of dumping someone and hiring them back,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “Firms are going to short shifts rather than just laying people off.”

More part-time and fewer full-time workers also allows companies to save on health care costs. Only 16 percent of retail workers receive health insurance through their employer, while more than half of full-time workers are covered, according to an analysis by Ms. Lambert, the University of Chicago employment expert.

The trend toward cutting hours in a downturn lessens the pain for workers in one regard: it moderates layoffs. Many companies now strive to keep payrolls large enough to allow them to easily adjust to swings in demand, adding working hours without having to hire when business grows.

But that also sows vulnerability, heightening the possibility that hours are cut when the economy slows and demand for goods and services dries up.

“There’s a lot of people at risk in the economy when they keep the headcount high and they only have so many hours to distribute,” Ms. Lambert said. “It really is a trade-off for society.”

Goodyear Tire has in recent months idled work for a few days at a time at many of it factories, as the company adjusts to weakening demand. At one plant in Gadsden, Ala., workers expect they will soon lose a week’s wages to another slowdown — something Goodyear would neither confirm nor deny.

“People are scared,” said Dennis Battles, president of the local branch of the United Steelworkers union, which represents about 1,350 workers there. “The cost of gas, the cost of food and everything else is extremely high. It takes every penny you make. And once it starts, when’s it going to quit? What’s going to happen next month?”

    A Hidden Toll on Employment: Cut to Part Time, NYT, 31.7.2008,






Working Long Hours,

and Paying a Price


July 27, 2008
The New York Times


DO you ever mutter under your breath at a dry cleaner with the temerity to open as late as 7 a.m.? Have you snapped at a neighbor who asks if you plan to attend the 7:30 p.m. town council meeting? Does your child have trouble remembering which country you are in this week?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, chances are you have been working the long hours that are increasingly common for many salaried employees.

Officially, the average workweek has changed little in the last two decades. But those figures mask a shift in who works the most. In 1983, the lowest-paid workers were more likely to work long hours, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. But by 2002, the most highly paid workers were twice as likely to work long hours as the lowest paid.

After my last column, on obesity as a workplace issue, my inbox was full of messages describing long days of sedentary work — along with lunches gulped down in the office, frequent travel and BlackBerrys that never seem to quit.

Is all this work a bad thing?

Truth be told, as a society we have been ambivalent about work hours as long as — well, as long as we have been a society. There have been demands for shorter work hours since the late 18th century, when it was not uncommon to spend 70 or more hours each week performing some kind of manual labor. In 1791, for example, Philadelphia carpenters went on strike, demanding a 10-hour workday. And in the 1840s, the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for a 10-hour workday for mill workers. (Both efforts failed.)

But our Puritan work ethic has been part of our culture for just as long. Some employees are drawn to challenging, demanding work and the outsize financial rewards that can follow. A survey of highly paid American workers published in 2006 by the Center for Work-Life Policy found that 21 percent of them — mostly men, it should be noted — said they worked at least 60 hours a week under highly stressful conditions. Two-thirds of those respondents said they loved their work.

“Americans do seem to want to work longer, and you ask them, ‘Do you like your job?’ and we like our jobs more than other people do,” said Robert Whaples, a professor of economics at Wake Forest University who has studied work hours.

Professor Whaples theorized that when most people were working 12 hours a day or more, obtaining any amount of leisure time was more of a priority. But the general reduction in work hours has helped ease the need for downtime for at least some workers.

Alternatively, he said, “Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves this is what we should be doing” in a world of conspicuous consumption.

Still, long days at work take a serious toll. For starters, it is very hard for employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle when work and commuting consume 60 or more hours a week. It is probably not a coincidence that obesity has become more prevalent as work hours have expanded for some.

Too many hours at the office can also wind up being counterproductive. Employees who are overtired or preoccupied with neglected personal issues are unlikely to perform at their peak. They fall behind, spend more unproductive time at work to catch up, and so on.

It is in managers’ interests to help employees find ways to get more done in less time, and some are trying.

Sprint Nextel, for example, offers its employees time-saving services like the ability to fill prescriptions at work and help with travel planning, said Collier Case, Sprint’s director of health and productivity. There are also incentives to stay active at work: the headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., has covered pathways between buildings, and stairwells are designed to be inviting. (Also, some elevators operate at deliberately slow speeds.)

Other companies are addressing the problems of long hours head on. About a year ago, the financial services asset management group at Ernst & Young began trying to cope better with its busy season, roughly February to May, when long stretches of 11- and 12-hour days and weekend work are the norm. Arthur Tully, the partner in charge of the group, went to his manager, who offered to pay for consultants who could help change the group’s work style.

The consultants emphasized the inefficiency of multitasking (nothing gets done very well); the need for adequate sleep, exercise and a healthy diet; and the importance of scheduling time for restorative personal priorities.

Things changed. Free fruit was supplied twice daily, and bagels and cream cheese were replaced with granola and fruit. Employees were also urged to limit weekend work to one day when feasible, and get home to their families on Friday nights.

“There’s a view that the longer you work, the better you are,” Mr. Tully said. “But that’s not true at all.”

It was the group’s busiest season ever, Mr. Tully said, but employees’ hours declined over all. He does not yet know what effect the program had on turnover, but at least one part of it has been made permanent. The fruit deliveries ended after the busy season, and employees objected immediately. The fruit, Mr. Tully said, is back.

    Working Long Hours, and Paying a Price, NYT, 27.7.2008,






Op-Ed Contributor

The Accidental Rebel


April 23, 2008
The New York Times


IT was the year of years, the year of craziness, the year of fire, blood and death. I had just turned 21, and I was as crazy as everyone else.

There were half a million American soldiers in Vietnam, Martin Luther King had just been assassinated, cities were burning across America, and the world seemed headed for an apocalyptic breakdown.

Being crazy struck me as a perfectly sane response to the hand I had been dealt — the hand that all young men had been dealt in 1968. The instant I graduated from college, I would be drafted to fight in a war I despised to the depths of my being, and because I had already made up my mind to refuse to fight in that war, I knew that my future held only two options: prison or exile.

I was not a violent person. Looking back on those days now, I see myself as a quiet, bookish young man, struggling to teach myself how to become a writer, immersed in my courses in literature and philosophy at Columbia. I had marched in demonstrations against the war, but I was not an active member of any political organization on campus. I felt sympathetic to the aims of S.D.S. (one of several radical student groups, but by no means the most radical), and yet I never attended its meetings and not once had I handed out a broadside or leaflet. I wanted to read my books, write my poems and drink with my friends at the West End bar.

Forty years ago today, a protest rally was held on the Columbia campus. The issue had nothing to do with the war, but rather a gymnasium the university was about to build in Morningside Park. The park was public property, and because Columbia intended to create a separate entrance for the local residents (mostly black), the building plan was deemed to be both unjust and racist. I was in accord with this assessment, but I didn’t attend the rally because of the gym.

I went because I was crazy, crazy with the poison of Vietnam in my lungs, and the many hundreds of students who gathered around the sundial in the center of campus that afternoon were not there to protest the construction of the gym so much as to vent their craziness, to lash out at something, anything, and since we were all students at Columbia, why not throw bricks at Columbia, since it was engaged in lucrative research projects for military contractors and thus was contributing to the war effort in Vietnam?

Speech followed tempestuous speech, the enraged crowd roared with approval, and then someone suggested that we all go to the construction site and tear down the chain-link fence that had been erected to keep out trespassers. The crowd thought that was an excellent idea, and so off it went, a throng of crazy, shouting students charging off the Columbia campus toward Morningside Park. Much to my astonishment, I was with them. What had happened to the gentle boy who planned to spend the rest of his life sitting alone in a room writing books? He was helping to tear down the fence. He tugged and pulled and pushed along with several dozen others and, truth be told, found much satisfaction in this crazy, destructive act.

After the outburst in the park, campus buildings were stormed, occupied and held for a week. I wound up in Mathematics Hall and stayed for the duration of the sit-in. The students of Columbia were on strike. As we calmly held our meetings indoors, the campus was roiling with belligerent shouting matches and slugfests as those for and against the strike went at one another with abandon. By the night of April 30, the Columbia administration had had enough, and the police were called in. A bloody riot ensued. Along with more than 700 other people, I was arrested — pulled by my hair to the police van by one officer as another officer stomped on my hand with his boot. But no regrets. I was proud to have done my bit for the cause. Both crazy and proud.

What did we accomplish? Not much of anything. It’s true that the gymnasium project was scrapped, but the real issue was Vietnam, and the war dragged on for seven more horrible years. You can’t change government policy by attacking a private institution. When French students erupted in May of that year of years, they were directly confronting the national government — because their universities were public, under the control of the Ministry of Education, and what they did initiated changes in French life. We at Columbia were powerless, and our little revolution was no more than a symbolic gesture. But symbolic gestures are not empty gestures, and given the nature of those times, we did what we could.

I hesitate to draw any comparisons with the present — and therefore will not end this memory-piece with the word “Iraq.” I am 61 now, but my thinking has not changed much since that year of fire and blood, and as I sit alone in this room with a pen in my hand, I realize that I am still crazy, perhaps crazier than ever.

Paul Auster is the author of the forthcoming “Man in the Dark.”

    The Accidental Rebel, NYT, 23.4.2008,






Op-Ed Contributor

Time Out of Mind


March 7, 2008
The New York Times



IN 1784, Benjamin Franklin composed a satire, “Essay on Daylight Saving,” proposing a law that would oblige Parisians to get up an hour earlier in summer. By putting the daylight to better use, he reasoned, they’d save a good deal of money — 96 million livres tournois — that might otherwise go to buying candles. Now this switch to daylight saving time (which occurs early Sunday in the United States) is an annual ritual in Western countries.

Even more influential has been something else Franklin said about time in the same year: time is money. He meant this only as a gentle reminder not to “sit idle” for half the day. He might be dismayed if he could see how literally, and self-destructively, we take his metaphor today. Our society is obsessed as never before with making every single minute count. People even apply the language of banking: We speak of “having” and “saving” and “investing” and “wasting” it.

But the quest to spend time the way we do money is doomed to failure, because the time we experience bears little relation to time as read on a clock. The brain creates its own time, and it is this inner time, not clock time, that guides our actions. In the space of an hour, we can accomplish a great deal — or very little.

Inner time is linked to activity. When we do nothing, and nothing happens around us, we’re unable to track time. In 1962, Michel Siffre, a French geologist, confined himself in a dark cave and discovered that he lost his sense of time. Emerging after what he had calculated were 45 days, he was startled to find that a full 61 days had elapsed.

To measure time, the brain uses circuits that are designed to monitor physical movement. Neuroscientists have observed this phenomenon using computer-assisted functional magnetic resonance imaging tomography. When subjects are asked to indicate the time it takes to view a series of pictures, heightened activity is measured in the centers that control muscular movement, primarily the cerebellum, the basal ganglia and the supplementary motor area. That explains why inner time can run faster or slower depending upon how we move our bodies — as any Tai Chi master knows.

Time seems to expand when our senses are aroused. Peter Tse, a neuropsychologist at Dartmouth, demonstrated this in an experiment in which subjects were shown a sequence of flashing dots on a computer screen. The dots were timed to occur once a second, with five black dots in a row followed by one moving, colored one. Because the colored dot appeared so infrequently, it grabbed subjects’ attention and they perceived it as lasting twice as long as the others did.

Another ingenious bit of research, conducted in Germany, demonstrated that within a brief time frame the brain can shift events forward or backward. Subjects were asked to play a video game that involved steering airplanes, but the joystick was programmed to react only after a brief delay. After playing a while, the players stopped being aware of the time lag. But when the scientists eliminated the delay, the subjects suddenly felt as though they were staring into the future. It was as though the airplanes were moving on their own before the subjects had directed them to do so.

The brain’s inclination to distort time is one reason we so often feel we have too little of it. One in three Americans feels rushed all the time, according to one survey. Even the cleverest use of time-management techniques is powerless to augment the sum of minutes in our life (some 52 million, optimistically assuming a life expectancy of 100 years), so we squeeze as much as we can into each one.

Believing time is money to lose, we perceive our shortage of time as stressful. Thus, our fight-or-flight instinct is engaged, and the regions of the brain we use to calmly and sensibly plan our time get switched off. We become fidgety, erratic and rash.

Tasks take longer. We make mistakes — which take still more time to iron out. Who among us has not been locked out of an apartment or lost a wallet when in a great hurry? The perceived lack of time becomes real: We are not stressed because we have no time, but rather, we have no time because we are stressed.

Studies have shown the alarming extent of the problem: office workers are no longer able to stay focused on one specific task for more than about three minutes, which means a great loss of productivity. The misguided notion that time is money actually costs us money.

And it costs us time. People in industrial nations lose more years from disability and premature death due to stress-related illnesses like heart disease and depression than from other ailments. In scrambling to use time to the hilt, we wind up with less of it.

The remedy is to liberate ourselves from Franklin’s equation. Time is not money but “the element in which we exist,” as Joyce Carol Oates put it more than two decades ago (in a relatively leisurely era). “We are either borne along by it or drowned in it.”

Stefan Klein is the author, most recently,

of “The Secret Pulse of Time:

Making Sense of Life’s Scarcest Commodity.”

This article was translated by Shelley Frisch from the German.

    Time Out of Mind, NYT, 7.3.2008,






Hard Times Heighten Long - Felt Unease


February 17, 2008
Filed at 12:21 p.m. ET
The New York Times


Even when experts were declaring the economy healthy, many Americans voiced a vague, but persistent dissatisfaction.

True, jobs were relatively plentiful over the last few years. It was easy to borrow and very cheap. The sharp rise in the value of homes and plentiful credit cards encouraged a nation of consumers to get out and buy. But to many people, something didn't feel right, even if they couldn't quite explain why.

Now the economic tide is receding, and the undertow that was there all along is getting stronger.

Take away the easy credit and consumers are left with paychecks that, for most, haven't nearly kept pace with their need and propensity to spend.

The frustration of $3 gas and $4 milk, the worries about health care costs that have risen four times the rate of pay, become much more real. The retirement security that is only as good as the increasingly volatile stock market seems much less certain.

Americans' declining confidence in their economy is triggered by a storm of very recent pressures, including plunging home prices, tightening credit, and heavy debt. But it is compounded by anxiety that was there all along, the result of a long, slow drip of worries and vulnerabilities.

''The economy is currently in recession or arguably close to recession and that's certainly weighing on the collective psyche,'' says Mark Zandi, chief economist of forecaster Moody's Economy.com. ''But ... I do think there is an increasing level of angst that is more fundamental and is not going to go away even when the economy improves.''

Much of that anxiety is the uncomfortable, but expected jolt of the economic roller coaster. During a downturn, people become less confident about keeping their jobs or being able to find new ones, meeting household expenses and about the prospects for the future.

But there may be more to it than just cyclical ups and downs.

What does the economic future hold? Many Americans feel increasingly unable to answer that question with assurance, and they appraise it with a sense that they are less in control of the outcome.

In Westminster, Colo., a Denver suburb, George Apodaca hears that uncertainty from the maintenance workers, drivers and others enrolled in the home budgeting class he teaches. Most have steady jobs, but are just getting by. They talk about challenges like the rising cost of getting to work or medical bills, not as new problems but as a continuing struggle.

''People in my class, they don't know what a recession means or what a boom means,'' says Apodaca, a counselor for Colorado Housing Enterprises. ''They're worried about buying the groceries, buying the gas.''

A year ago -- months before economic alarms went off -- nearly two of three Americans polled by The Rockefeller Foundation said that they felt somewhat or a lot less economically secure then they did a decade ago. Half said they expected their children to face an economy even more shaky.

Other polls have registered similar unease in the past few years, showing large numbers of Americans dissatisfied with the economy, and worried about retirement security, health care costs, and a declining standard of living.

The surprising thing about many of these readings isn't that they've recently skyrocketed. It's that in recent years they've registered consistently high levels of worry without ever seeming to ease.

''This has just been a period of great disconnect between what the aggregate economic statistics show and what leading politicians talk about and what ordinary Americans are feeling,'' said Jacob Hacker, a Yale University professor and author of ''The Great Risk Shift,'' which charts increased economic insecurity. ''I think people are saying, where did the gains go? Where did the boom go? And now that it's gone, what are we going to do?''

Those uncertainties have been submerged for the past few years. The war in Iraq and the threat of terrorism dominated, drawing attention away from day-to-day economic concerns. With employers adding workers, people's appraisal of the economy focused less on jobs, the long-standing measure of financial security.

Many people gauged their well-being in wealth -- looking at the stock market, and much more broadly, the rise of real estate prices, said Susan Sterne, president of Economic Analysis Associates.

Americans borrowed freely against the value of their homes. But now there is nothing left to shield them from the insecurities rooted in the old measures of economic prosperity.

Except for the late 1990s, pay has been stagnant for more than a generation, barely keeping pace with inflation. In 1973, the median male worker earned $16.88 an hour, adjusted for inflation. In 2007, he earned $16.85.

For many families, the stagnation has been moderated by the addition of a second paycheck as more women went to work, and their pay rose over the same period.

But the largest gains went to workers at the top of the pay scale. Now, economic worries are rising fastest in households with smaller paychecks, and that chasm is widening.

''Over the past decades, whether inflation was much higher or lower, or incomes grew faster or more slowly, there has never been such a wide divergence in the experiences'' separating richer households from poorer ones, Richard Curtin, the director of the University of Michigan's consumer survey said in summing up the most recent figures.

That insecurity shows in small, but telling ways. Shoppers at drug store chain Walgreens Inc. are increasingly bypassing name-brand cough syrups and pain relievers and choosing cheaper store brands. Wal-Mart Stores Inc noticed that many people who received its gift cards for the holidays used them in January to buy food and other necessities instead of extras.

The pullback by consumers contrasts with years of continued spending that long seemed to contradict mounting worries.

Worker optimism, which soared in the late 1990s, never fully rebounded after the last, brief recession. Although jobs again were plentiful, it became clear the new economy's opportunities came with few of the old assurances.

Rennie Sawade, the son of a Michigan auto worker, majored in computer science because he saw no future on the assembly line. He was rewarded with a job at Oracle Corp., but lost it in late 2005 when the company shifted his department's work to India. Sawade, who lives in Woodinville, Wash. near Seattle, has been unable to find a full-time replacement, instead jumping from contract job to contract job.

The contractor offers a 401(k), but contributions are entirely up to workers. When Sawade's wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last year he missed the equivalent of two weeks work -- and pay -- to take care of her. The job has health insurance but still left the family with a bill for more than $2,000. Contractors call to offer other jobs, but the pay is frequently disappointing, he says.

''It was pretty well known when I was working on my bachelor's degree that the auto industry was going to move overseas,'' he says. ''Everybody said get into technology because you'll have a career. Now it looks like the same thing is happening to technology.''

Cutbacks and changes by employers also have pushed heavy responsibilities on to workers, many who find themselves unprepared.

In the past decade, scores of companies have frozen or eliminated benefit plans providing a guaranteed pension. Many have replaced them with 401(k) plans whose future worth depends on workers' investment skill. Almost half of all households are at risk of coming up short in retirement, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Worry also grew about the cost of health care, with good reason. Since 2001, the cost of health insurance has gone up 78 percent -- about $1,500 more per year for the average family, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Over the same period, wages rose about 19 percent, and inflation about 17 percent. About four in 10 people polled by the group say they are worried about paying more for health care or insurance.

Even the consumption made possible by easy credit has helped turn up the financial pressure. The number of products -- from air conditioners to cell phones -- that Americans say they can't live without has grown substantially in recent years, according to the Pew Research Center. About 6 in 10 working Americans polled by the group say they don't earn enough to lead the life they want.

Economic confidence is, largely, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more consumers believe the economy is heading downhill, the more likely they'll rein in spending that will contribute to a downturn.

''I think if people were generally more satisfied and less anxious perhaps they would be more resistant to thinking things were deteriorating rapidly,'' says Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.

Maybe the downturn in optimism is temporary. Americans are voracious consumers and persistent optimists.

But some believe a fundamental change in behavior and mind-set is taking place. Since the early 1980s, consumers' contribution to the economy has risen from 63 percent, near where it had long hovered, to 70 percent. Baby boomers spent generously on growing families. Interest rates and inflation dropped, making homes and other assets worth more and cutting borrowing costs. The spread of easy credit promoted spending.

Now, those are drying up and the population is aging. Older households don't spend as much, and often assess the economy more conservatively. Over the next generation, that could drive consumers' contribution to the economy back down to the low-60 percent range, Zandi said.

''There were tail winds behind'' the growth in consumer spending over the last 25 years, he says. ''Now there are headwinds.''

    Hard Times Heighten Long - Felt Unease, NYT, 17.2.2008,







a Year of Frustration in the News


December 30, 2007

Filed at 9:50 a.m. ET

The New York Times



A war winds on, but lawmakers are seemingly powerless to do anything about it. The wrenching sorrow of tragedies on a Virginia campus, a Minnesota highway bridge and deep inside a Utah coal mine is compounded by a question that echoes: Could this have been prevented?

Thousands lose their homes in a mortgage and credit crisis that worsened -- despite repeated assurances that the worst had passed.

Every year has grim headlines. But the story of 2007 was the frustration that wound through so much of the news. Americans repeatedly confronted the same images and the same misgivings in many of the year's biggest stories.

The frustration factor was personified by former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, at the vortex of criticism over the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors. When the story began around the New Year, most would have figured it as a mildly sensational, fairly routine political brouhaha.

Then it stretched into the spring and summer, with an endless loop of Gonzales' vaguely apologetic denials. Called before Congress in April, he found more than 70 ways to say he could not remember what had happened. Any day now, pundits speculated, Gonzales could take the fall.

By the time Gonzales finally did resign effective in September, the focus on right or wrong had largely been replaced by a grinding frustration over why resolution -- any resolution -- had taken so long. Even when it ended, it did so without clarity.

That story was hardly unique. After a while it became difficult to separate the frustration built into many of the year's biggest news stories from a public mood of resigned exasperation.

Were we frustrated by the events themselves, or was our frustration reflected in our reaction to them?

That frustration made it difficult to recall that 2007 had started with a mix of uncertainty and possibility.

Voters deeply dissatisfied with the Bush administration had signaled a strong desire for a new direction and invested those hopes in opposition Democrats.

''The election of 2006 was a call to change,'' Rep. Nancy Pelosi proclaimed as she led her party into leadership of the House in January. ''The American people rejected an open-ended obligation to a war without end.''

But the war has stretched well into a fifth year, with troops no closer to an exit. And in early November, troop deaths made 2007 the deadliest year for American troops since the war began.

The number of attacks, deaths and injuries dropped off sharply in recent months, but the improvement did little to revise the public perceptions.

Opinion polls reflected public frustration with the inability of lawmakers to bring the war any nearer to an end, a feeling acknowledged by Pelosi.

''If you asked me in a phone call, as ardent a Democrat as I am, I would disapprove of Congress as well,'' she told reporters.

The year's frustrations were hardly limited to politics.

In April, the deadliest shooting rampage in the nation's history provoked a national outpouring of grief for the people of Virginia Tech. But the initial horror turned to grim consternation when it became clear that university officials and others knew gunman Seung-Hui Cho was deeply troubled, yet they had missed any opportunity to prevent the killings of his 32 victims.

That futility lasted long after the massacre, with investigators stymied in their search for a motive and with continued hand-wringing over where or whether to place blame.

''This is a story of recrimination, or a story of redemption, which will just take us into the past,'' one Tech professor said, addressing calls for the university's president to resign months after the massacre. ''The story of redemption is how we move on.''

Late in the year, the nation confronted still other violent tragedies. In early December, a 19-year-old who wrote that he ''just snapped'' fatally wounded eight people and killed himself at an Omaha mall; days later, a 24-year-old gunman killed two staffers at a Colorado missionary training center, then two young women at a megachurch before turning a gun on himself.

In August, the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River during rush hour. Thirteen people died and more than 100 others were injured. The miracle was that it wasn't worse.

The curse was the nagging doubts about whether the disaster might have been preventable. Minnesota officials were warned as early as 1990 that the bridge was ''structurally deficient,'' but had relied on small-scale repairs and inspections rather than reinforcement or replacement.

Then attention turned to a disaster in a place that seemed all too familiar. Fully a year and a half after West Virginia's Sago Mine tragedy prompted widespread calls for tougher oversight of the mining industry, an accident in Utah provided an indelible reminder of those dangers.

At first, efforts to rescue six workers trapped inside the Crandall Canyon Mine appeared to offer reason for hope. But the deaths of three would-be rescuers compounded sorrow with futility. In November, investigators reported that despite the public's focus on mine safety, federal regulators had failed to inspect one of every seven underground coal mines in the year following Sago -- and that their inspections of the Utah mine were seriously flawed.

The year also saw greatly increased attention to global warming. But acknowledging the issue was one thing, finding solutions was another.

''We seek your leadership,'' a delegate from Papua New Guinea told U.S. officials at international climate talks in December. ''But if for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.''

The talks ended with a U.S. agreeing to negotiations for a new climate treaty on condition that, for now, plans will not include specific emission reduction targets. At home, it took until well into December for the federal government to mandate the first increase in auto fuel economy in 32 years along with stepped up use of ethanol.

Across the South, dry weather extended a parching drought that some blamed partially on climate change.

As officials battled for precious water, and belatedly began focusing on conservation, the drought's persistence convinced some to try more extraordinary measures.

''We come here very reverently and respectfully to pray up a storm,'' Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue told a crowd of people who gathered outside the Capitol to seek divine intervention.

Meanwhile, the headlines offered more than enough to confound any consumer.

First came the recall of cat and dog food linked to the death of more than 100 pets, blamed on ingredients provided by a Chinese manufacturer. That lead to broad concerns about the safety of food products made in Chinese factories, but tighter import restrictions seemed fruitless. The pet food scare was followed by the Chinese toothpaste scare, then worries about seafood and lipstick.

But nothing unsettled the public as much as a series of recalls of Chinese-made toys, starting with Thomas the Tank Engine wooden train sets found to contain lead paint. That was in June, but more recalls of toys tainted with lead or other hazards continued well into November.

At the same time, energy prices rattled the public. Oil began the year at near $60 a barrel, but began climbing in the spring and just kept on going. By year's end, the price regularly flirted with $100 a barrel. The question was how much that would cut into consumers' ability to keep up spending. The answer was complicated by the fact that buying power was simultaneously curbed by a drop in the value of the dollar.

But the frustration of higher prices at the pump seemed minor compared to the fears and uncertainty that accompanied a crisis in the housing and mortgage lending sector.

It began as the story of what sounded like a marginal niche of the economy -- subprime loans. But concerns rippled. Maybe it was about more than thousands of people losing their homes. Maybe it was a sign of deeper troubles with the credit markets that sustain businesses, and a premonition of more serious woes that would could cut into the consumer spending that has long been the economy's mainstay.

Or maybe not. Month after month, federal economic officials offered calm reassurances that the problems were ''contained,'' and did not pose a danger to the rest of the economy.

But by year's end, even optimists were sounding doubtful, the stock market had fallen sharply from record highs, and the questions about subprime had morphed into a debate over whether a recession was in store in the new year.

No wonder, then, that polls showed the majority of Americans frustrated with the status quo and with deep misgivings about the nation's direction. And little in the news seemed to reassure us.

''Do you understand our frustration?'' Maryland Sen. Benjamin Cardin asked Gonzales, in a July hearing.

''I do understand your frustration,'' Gonzales replied.

The answer sounded simultaneously empathetic and empty. And at the end of the exchange, anyone craving resolution or relief probably was more frustrated than ever.

2007: a Year of Frustration in the News,






Slavery shame of Easter eggs


Friday April 6, 2007

6:13 AM

The Guardian

Press Association


Thousands of children are being forced to work as slave labour on cocoa farms in west Africa to help produce the chocolate British youngsters will be enjoying this Easter, campaigners warned.

According to International Labour Organisation figures, 12,000 children have been trafficked from countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso to the Ivory Coast, where they work long hours for no pay and little food on the cocoa plantations.

Hundreds of thousands more help out on family farms in west Africa, in often hazardous conditions which put their health at risk and keeps them out of school, charities said.

Stop the Traffik, an anti-slavery coalition which is backed by Amnesty International, World Vision and Tearfund, is demanding the major chocolate manufacturers certify chocolate with a "traffick-free" guarantee so consumers can eat chocolate without unwittingly supporting child slave labour.

Stop the Traffik believes the root of the problem is the abject poverty of the farmers - which drives them to seek cheap or free labour - and is demanding more money from the multibillion-pound industry to protect children.

But British chocolate manufacturers said they believed trafficking was "unacceptable" and the industry was investing in a region-wide certification scheme to tackle the issue.

Stop the Traffik chairman Steve Chalke said: "These youngsters come from a background of poverty, and are even knowingly sold by their parents sometimes.

"Often what will happen is the parents are starving, they're poor, they have nothing and somebody comes along and says 'I'll take your son, he'll work on my farm and I'll give you some money.

"They think 'we'll get money so we can eat and our son gets a job'. They don't know what he's going to is a living hell.

"They are being hit, they have been taken from their mothers, they effectively have no freedom, no escape, there's no pay, little food, no education - and we sit here munching through our chocolate bars."


© Copyright Press Association Ltd 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Slavery shame of Easter eggs, G, 6.4.2007,
- broken link






On This Day - March 26, 1925


From The Times Archive


British Summer Time was introduced in 1916

and there has been much debate since

about how it affects different regions.

This parliamentary debate

highlights the key arguments


THE Bill to provide for the permanent adoption of Summer Time was again considered in Standing Committee at the House of Commons yesterday, Mr E.R. Turton (Thirsk and Malton, U.) presiding.

Attempts were made to alter the dates in the proposed measure, and also to make it not applicable to Scotland, but they were unsuccessful, and it was decided that the Bill should be reported without amendment.

Sir Henry Cautley (East Grinstead, U.) moved an amendment to make Summer Time begin as at present instead of the first Saturday in April or the last Saturday in March, as proposed in the Bill. He said while people in the towns desired to have Summer Time for September, they did not get any substantial benefit out of the fortnight in the early part of April. In that month there were constantly early frosts and the measure would be a real hardship to a vast number of people.

He suggested that the Committee should show some practical sympathy with early risers, who would be made to suffer by the Bill.

Major Colfox (Dorset U.) proposed that the second Saturday in September should be substituted for the first Saturday in October. He said they had not had any expression of opinion from the committee as to what was the appropriate date for the closing of summer time.

Since the promoters of the Bill had not agreed to that concession it was necessary to have a definite decision from the committee as the appropriate date of closing.

The amendment was defeated.

Captain A.H. Moreing (Camborne, Const.) proposed that a clause should be inserted stating that the Act should not apply to Scotland. He said the conditions in Scotland and England were very different. The day was much longer in Scotland, especially in the north, and they did not need summer time.

Mr. Locker-Lampson (Under-Secretary, Home Office) said to have a different time on one side of the border to that on the other would result in confusion in regard to the railways and postal and business arrangements.

Apart from that, there was no evidence that Scotland did not want the Bill. They had evidence that a great many people in Scotland wanted it. In 1923, 52 Scottish boroughs were in favour of the longer period. So far as he knew they had no representations against the Bill from Scottish agriculturists.

On This Day: March 26, 1925, Times, 26.3.2005.










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