Periscope

Trade: Happy Together

Americans have taken sledgehammers to Peugeots. Germans have boycotted McDonald's. The Iraq war may be over, but the transatlantic rancor it inspired has yet to fade. Washington has hinted at commercial punishment against France for opposing the war, while some French officials talk almost gleefully of how George W. Bush's behavior is turning the world away from the American model--in business as in all things. To counter the vitriol, Washington has launched a charm offensive to repair commercial ties to Europe. In Paris last week, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick reassured a group of worried French business leaders that there will be no trade sanctions and reminded everyone that transatlantic --trade has shot up to $1.5 trillion per year: "At the economic level, the United States and Europe are joined at the hip."

Yes, the Bush administration appears to be rediscovering its financial friends in Europe. Last Monday, U.S. Under Secretary for Commerce Grant Aldonis came to Brussels to try to re-energize the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, a regular gathering of government and private-sector leaders that has fizzled out since its last meeting in November. Two days later Zoellick told a gathering of trade ministers that he and EU counterpart Pascal Lamy, a friend and sometime running partner, had agreed to find ways to reduce tariffs on manufactured goods, in part just to "make a positive statement about relations between the U.S. and Europe." This comes after months of battles over steel, drugs and farm goods. "The Lamy-Zoellick show is back on track," says a pleased European trade official in Geneva.

So has the collateral damage to transatlantic commerce been undone? Truth is there wasn't much in the first place. For every story about an American tossing Dom Perignon into the toilet, there was a much bigger deal that got less press attention: Procter & Gamble agreed to pay ¤3.2 billion for a controlling stake in German hair-care company Wella in March; a Hollywood billionaire agreed to buy a TV broadcaster from Kirch Media of Munich the same month; Deutsche Post is trying to buy U.S. delivery company Airborne... the list goes on. Below the level of government ministers, "people are getting on with making money," says Cambridge University political economist Geoffrey Lee Williams. As for the high-level political damage, he says, that could take a few years to repair.

--Karen Lowry Miller

Mothers: It's a Dirty Job...

Flowers are nice, but a new report from Save the Children suggests that schooling and basic health care would make better Mother's Day gifts for many of the world's women. In its fourth annual "State of the World's Mothers" report, due out this week, the group documents disparities among the 117 countries it surveyed. In the lowest-ranking countries, women die in childbirth at roughly 600 times the rate of women in the most developed countries, and their babies are 27 times more likely to perish during the first year of life. African countries crowd the bottom end of the "Mothers' Index," while Scandinavia and Northern Europe dominate the top. The United States, with its wide disparities in access to health care, ranks 11th. Maternal and infant mortality are higher there than in any of the top 10 countries. American women are also significantly less likely to hold national office.

BEST COUNTRIES TO BE A MOTHER

1. Sweden

2. Denmark*

3. Norway*

4. Switzerland

5. Finland

6. Canada*

7. Netherlands*

8. Australia

9. Austria*

10. United Kingdom*

WORST COUNTRIES TOBE A MOTHER

108. Angola

109. Chad*

110. Mali*

111. Guinea*

112. Sierra Leone*

113. Yemen*

114. Guinea-Bissau

115. Ethiopia

116. Burkina Faso

117. Niger

* asterisks denote tie scores

--Geoffrey Cowley

Turkey: The Kurdish Question

Iran enraged the United States last month when undercover Revolutionary Guards were spotted stirring up trouble in Shiite areas of southern Iraq. Now another of Iraq's neighbors seems to be trying to influence post-Saddam politics by infiltrating agents across its borders. Turkey, a U.S. ally and NATO member, has sent "at least a hundred" Special Forces troops into the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, says Col. William Mayville, who leads U.S. forces in Kirkuk. The United States isn't pleased with these developments. "The Turks have seen this area as their sandbox for a while now," Mayville says of Kirkuk, an oil-rich city disputed among Kurds, Arabs and Turkomans. "We're telling them--get out."

The United States is concerned that Turkish troops may be offering covert military support to ethnic Turkomans, who form a significant minority in northern Iraq. On April 25 Mayville's men detained a dozen Turkish Special Forces soldiers carrying automatic weapons, radios and night-vision equipment concealed as humanitarian aid. More worryingly, the undercover Turks were also carrying freshly printed flags and other insignia of the Iraqi Turkoman Front (ITF), the most radical of several Turkoman groups. It's also the one group that is backed by hard-line nationalists in Ankara, who hate the idea of a Kurdish-dominated federal state in northern Iraq.

In recent weeks the ITF has been working overtime to show the world that Turkomans are currently being persecuted, maligned and intimidated by Kurds. The ITF's Falah Kara Altun says that more than 300 have been forcibly "dispossessed" by Kurds over the past month--a claim discounted by mainstream Kurdish leaders and U.S. commanders--and that six people have been murdered in interethnic violence. So far the only verified case is that of an 8-year-old Turkoman boy who was fatally shot in the head while fleeing the scene of a dispute between Kurdish militiamen and members of the ITF in mid-April. The boy's body was paraded in front of foreign journalists.

U.S. forces have so far had considerable success in keeping the peace in Kirkuk. But an armed bid for power from one faction could send things out of control. "Violence is the default setting here," says Mayville. "We could lose this all very quickly." Officially, Ankara wants only to send aid, protect Turkomans from discrimination and ensure they have a fair say in Iraq's future. But disorder in northern Iraq could give Ankara's hawkish military an excuse to go a step further, sending "peacekeeping" troops into a "security zone" deep inside Iraq. That's something Washington insists Turkey must not do--for fear Iraq's other neighbors could follow suit.

--Owen Matthews, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Sami Kohen

Al Qaeda: Dwindling Numbers

The arrests of a half dozen Qaeda operatives in Pakistan last week could bring U.S. intelligence officials a giant stride closer to unraveling the inner workings of the 9-11 terrorist plot--and possibly even locating Osama bin Laden, officials tell NEWSWEEK. One of those apprehended, Ali Abd al-Aziz--a nephew of 9-11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed--was a key, if largely mysterious, financial figure in the plot. Between April and September 2000, al-Aziz wired $119,500 to the hijackers from the United Arab Emirates. But officials discount the idea that al-Aziz, believed to be in his mid-20s, was the ultimate source of the funds. If he cooperates, investigators say, it --could allow them to piece together one of the enduring mysteries of 9-11: who put up the money? Some officials were even more ecstatic about another terrorist picked up in the Pakistani roundup, Tawfiq bin Attash. A one-legged former Afghan fighter, bin Attash--a.k.a. Khalled--was present at the January 2000 Malaysia summit where, officials believe, the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and possibly 9-11 was hatched. More important, bin Attash is a former bin Laden bodyguard who is likely to have the freshest and most reliable information yet about the Qaeda leader's current whereabouts. "Ooh, baby!" crowed one top U.S. counter terrorism official when asked about bin Attash.

Although they are reluctant to publicly admit it, some officials say the latest arrests are strong evidence that the U.S. campaign against Al Qaeda may have finally broken the organization's back, seriously undermining the group's ability to launch sophisticated "spectacular" attacks such as 9-11. But smaller strikes are still feared: at the time of their arrests last week, the Qaeda operatives had just received a delivery of hundreds of pounds of explosives for what was believed to be a planned airborne assault on the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.

--Michael Isikoff

Science: Get GABA or Go Gaga

Fifty-one-year-old neurobiologist Audie Leventhal has just published research that indicates we're all getting stupider with age. And for the first time, it hints at why. As years go by, the brain's capacity for higher thought declines. So do its levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that filters out "noise" in the brain and directs the activity of neurons involved in vision, hearing, memory and other cognitive skills. As shown in Leventhal's research, published recently in Science, neurons fire at whim when deprived of GABA, unable to make sense of incoming signals.

Based on his findings, Leventhal has come up with a remarkably simple solution to keeping the brain sharp: just add GABA. Working with the oldest monkeys in the world, Leventhal discovered that regular doses of either GABA or muscimol, a more potent chemical cousin, perked up neurons, giving the monkeys back the brain power of their youth by stopping their random firing. A similar regimen could someday be used to treat people, he figures. In fact, there's already a class of human drugs that increase GABA levels: benzodiazepines, like Valium and Xanax. Says Leventhal: "You may actually make Grandpa a little faster by tranquilizing him."

--Mary Carmichael

Exhibits: Osama's Casa Es Su Casa

You grab the Microsoft joystick and maneuver your way toward the concrete house set above a lake outside Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Swiveling furiously, you punch buttons to check out a half-ruined mosque, camouflaged jeep, rucked-up tribal carpet, cheap sandals and scattered wooden bed frames. Someone sure left in a hurry. Scan as you might across the scrubby Afghan mountains behind, you won't find Osama bin Laden.

That's the joke, of course, of "The House of Osama Bin Laden," a virtual-reality artwork by Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell for London's Imperial War Museum. Commissioned as the venerable institution's official war artists, their brief was to chronicle the aftermath of 9-11 and the conflict in Afghanistan. To make the spooky computerized model of bin Laden's late '90s abode, they used technology from the videogame Quake to turn hundreds of photos into a 3-D interactive environment. Across the white room devoted to the exhibit plays a film the two artists made of a local thug's Kabul trial. The judge wears a turban, the mullah chants before the charges are read and the soldiers finger their Kalashnikovs--scenes, the wall caption excitedly informs us, "that seem to have come straight from Biblical times." Sitting in a neat white room in London, losing a videogame that's not a game at all and listening to a trial play over and over, is what living through an asymmetrical war might feel like: baffling, lonely and bleak.

--Carla Power

Books: Don't Shrug at This Atlas

Anyone yearning for an illustrated version of Tolstoy's masterpiece will likely be disappointed by "The Atlas of War and Peace." But for those interested in precisely where and how the 47 current conflicts the world over are being fought, it makes for a colorful reference. With striking maps and graphics, British historian Dan Smith lays out the themes and locales of modern warfare. Fifteen or so world maps focus on starkly labeled trends like "death," "U.S. power" and "young soldiers." Other sections map global hot spots, like the Caucasus and the Gulf.

Easy-to-read statistics on everything from arms sales to terrorism provide sharp commentary. One bar graph on West Africa shows that in Sierra Leone, the average person lives to just 39 years of age, half the lifespan of a Norwegian.

The 128-page volume does include some irksome oversimplifications: Smith argues that the reason the West tends to attack the Gulf is to secure oil. But his atlas does a fine job of boiling down complex conflicts to digestible concepts. The last chapter, "Peace Building," ranks the likeliness of peace in war-torn areas, from a "minimal" in Chechnya to a "solid" for South Africa. One hopes the latter category will expand in future editions.

--Emily Flynn

Italy: Pizza and Prejudice

Calling all pizzaioli. The city of Naples is desperately seeking the learned professionals who alone can be trusted to make a true Italian pizza. In spite of an average regional unemployment rate of 20 percent, Neapolitan pizzerias cannot find anyone to continue the art of making "real" pizzas. They've all gone abroad, laments Antonio Pace, president of the Association of the Real Neapolitan Pizza, seeking work at modern American-style pizzerias.

True pizzaioli are licensed as artisans, a task that entails an intense four-week certification process. They must be able to choose everything from the right type of wood to burn in the pizza ovens to the precise mixture of flour and water based on daily humidity levels. According to Pace, over the past five years Naples has gone from an overflow of pizza pros in the marketplace to a painful shortage. "Being a real pizzaioli is such hard work, young men are afraid to try it," he says.

The outlook has become so dismal that a Neapolitan temp agency, Gevi, whose nationwide recruitment effort to fill just 20 vacancies failed miserably, has persuaded the government to intervene and offer incentives like tax breaks for those choosing the profession. The government has acknowledged the crisis--Rosario Lopa, who will head the pizza project for the Ministry of Agriculture, admits "the situation is urgent." Apparently not urgent enough, though, to double the number of potential pizzaioli by allowing women to be certified; there are no plans to allow female chefs yet, says Pace. Perhaps if pizza's macho makers took a little of the pene out of their profession, they'd have themselves a cooking industry--and a proper piece of pie.

--Barbie Nadeau

Rick de Oliveira

Like it or not, reality programming has moved to the big screen. "The Real Cancun," the first full-length reality flick about American college kids on spring break, recently hit theaters across the United States. NEWSWEEK's Malcolm Beith spoke to director Rick de Oliveira about the reality of real movies:

What is it about reality programming that grips us?

People like to know that it could be them. Whether [or not] they're a person who goes out and has sex with 10 girls, the thing is, it could be them. It's like watching your neighbor versus watching Courteney Cox, who you'll never be. You'll never be Brad Pitt.

But the casts are selected and the reality is staged.

Not really. In our casting of "The Real Cancun," we have a bunch of different people.

Different, maybe, but they sure are all more beautiful than average.

We have to have telegenic people. Telegenic is not pretty, telegenic is not skinny. As long as you don't have a big boil on your face...

How is reality programming affecting television and film?

The economics of doing a reality show are always going to be less than the economics of doing "The West Wing." "The Matrix" is going to be out there, but now we can do three or four of these movies [at the same time].

Why should people see this film?

Join the Discussion