Periscope

The long-running Japan-U.S. alliance--focused by the specter of a rising China--is stronger than ever. Or is it? Though officials in Washington and Tokyo won't admit it publicly, growing tensions at the local level in Japan are putting unprecedented strain on the relationship. The issue: where to station the 50,000 American troops that have been in Japan for decades. The soldiers help keep the peace in Asia, particularly as a deterrent to China. But Japan, not always happily, foots a large chunk of the bill, and big American military bases have long annoyed local communities. The situation reached a boiling point last month, after negotiators from the two countries failed to reach an agreement on U.S. troop realignment by a March 31 deadline. There were too many differences over issues connected with the transfer of 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam. Originally, U.S. planners informed Tokyo that the move would cost about $3 billion. But recently the Pentagon told Japan the switch would in fact cost $7.5 billion. Japanese officials reacted with an unusual public display of disgust.

Matters haven't been helped by Japanese municipalities that are more aggressively resisting the presence of U.S. troops or ships. In March, in an unprecedented (albeit nonbinding) referendum, 90 percent of the citizens of the city of Iwakuni voted against a U.S.-Japanese agreement to restation a wing of carrier-based aircraft there. What's more, in early February, municipal officials in the Hokkaido city of Muroran asked that U.S. Navy ships not enter their port, citing instances of American sailors committing violent crimes elsewhere in Japan. The ships came anyway--but it was still the first time that a local government had ever registered such a protest. To be sure, none of this will scuttle the two countries' military alliance. But at a time when Washington has precious few other reliable friends around the world, a recalcitrant Japan could prove to be a growing strategic headache.

Charles Taylor's extradition to Sierra Leone's war-crimes tribunal on March 29, after a brief escape from his villa in Calabar, Nigeria, has made life a little less secure for other former despots in exile. In Zimbabwe, one of the world's most wanted war criminals, former Ethiopian ruler Haile Mengistu Mariam, has enjoyed a pampered existence since 1995, when Robert Mugabe gave him asylum. Mengistu, whose brutal Marxist dictatorship tortured and murdered thousands of dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s, lives in a rent-free villa in an affluent Harare neighborhood, owns a fleet of luxury cars and trucks, and gets free fuel and other privileges from the government. But the Movement for Democratic Change, which will challenge Mugabe or a successor in the 2008 presidential election, has put Mengistu on notice that "mass murderers will not be welcome here under an MDC government," says Welshman Ncube, an MDC leader.

Though Taylor's arrest was hailed by human-rights groups, it also raised concern that an unwelcome precedent may have been set. Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, promised Taylor immunity from prosecution in 2003 as part of a deal to get him out of Liberia. But Obasanjo was forced to back down under intense U.S. pressure. In Zimbabwe opponents of the regime fear that Mugabe and other dictators accused of human-rights abuses will be more inclined to dig in their heels in the future. "Dictators like Mugabe will be reluctant to relinquish power in any negotiated arrangement," Ncube says, "because there's no guarantee that [such a deal] will be honored."

Will the Germans die out? Screamed a recent headline in the tabloid Bild. It aptly summed up the nation's current obsession: a dramatically low birthrate, now fewer than 8.5 births per 1,000 residents--lower than every country in Europe except Vatican City (hardly known as a haven for procreation).

While dire demographic warnings have echoed throughout Germany before, the striking numbers have inspired a novel backlash against those failing to do their patriotic duty by procreating. Economists and politicians--arguing that childless Germans are undermining the welfare state by not producing enough work-ers--have called on the state to punish them; suggestions include cutting social-security benefits by 50 percent and confiscating their inheritance to pay financial support for families. Serious business journals have taken the heartless "career woman" to task for not having kids. A tome berating parents to procreate topped best-seller lists in early April.

Critics of the new "procreation patriotism" say this is Germany's version of America's sometimes shrill 1990s "family values" debate. Only slowly the country is focusing on sensible policies like better child care and increased immigration. These will require hard decisions, not just fearmongering.

After five years as President George W. Bush's chief of staff--twice the tenure of most of his predecessors--Andy Card resigned on March 28. He left after what Bush's aides gingerly refer to as a "culmination of things"--among them Katrina, Harriet Miers's failed Supreme Court pick and the Dubai ports deal. But Card's successor, Josh Bolten, may not be the new face critics have been calling for--he's been with Bush since 1999. Bolten endeared himself to Bush in the early days of the 2000 campaign, simplifying complex policies for the candidate. Still, even though his job as budget director during a time of massive deficits would appear to make him a tempting target for fiscal conservatives, he's managed to stay surprisingly popular. "People really like him," says one senior leadership aide, who declined to be named when talking about private meetings with Bolten.

Nobody expects an overhaul of the West Wing. Bush was happy with the house that Card built and, after all, Bolten served as Card's deputy in the first term. Still, further changes are sure to come. Staffers from the troubled Legislative Affairs Office (in charge of lobbying a rebellious Congress) may be among the first to go.

In 2000, politically conscious Spanish artists Sergio Bollain, Jordi Claramonte and David Rodriguez were interviewing teenage gang members in Los Angeles. "My life is like a videogame," one of the gangsters told them. Six years later, the trio has brought a videogame for troubled European immigrant teens to life. In Bordergames, freely available on the Web at bordergames.org, the player can take on the role of a young North African immigrant. Having entered Spain illegally and settled in Madrid, he must find work, avoid deportation, choose friends wisely and sidestep potential enemies. Social workers can help him integrate or find a job, but telling them his real name and hometown could lead to deportation. Drug dealers may be the wrong types to associate with, but they can procure papers in order to find work. "It's a simulator for young immigrants," says Bollain. "You have to strike a balance between all of [the characters], but without compromising yourself too much."

Having based the game on interviews with North Africans currently living in Spain, the creators hope that young immigrants will be able to identify with it--and that others will be able to learn about their predicament. So far, professionals seem to approve. "The game meshes together their stories and problems, and shows what these kids have to go through to get by," says Madrid social worker Tarik Elidrissi.

Julie Scheving, a 46-year-old resident of Holland, Michigan, doesn't believe the decision to open "The Da Vinci Code" on May 19 happened by chance--she believes it was an act of God. The movie opens on her birthday, and Scheving, a born-again Christian, is planning on using the occasion to buy tickets for at least a dozen of her "unchurched" friends. Though the movie's claims about Christianity run contrary to Scheving's beliefs, she's looking forward to initiating a discussion about the true nature of Jesus Christ. Many other U.S. Christians are looking to use the film as a tool for evangelism. Campus Crusade for Christ has created a 20-page magazine disputing the movie's claims and professing Christian beliefs. The organization's printing more than a million copies, which will be given free to unbelievers.

This is an unusual response from a community that has, in the past, reacted defensively to movies they found demeaning to the faith. Mike Licona, director of apologetics at the North American Mission Board, was at the forefront of boycott efforts against "The Last Temptation of Christ" in 1988. "I think it was a mistake," he says. "It created the impression that we weren't interested in truth or critical discussion." He's encouraging Christians to take unbelievers to "Code." The film's being marketed, after all, with the tagline "Seek the Truth."

This image isn't an award-winning shot by a trained photojournalist. It's part of a new book, "This Is Our War," a cache of casual snapshots taken by U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The book's 68 photographers originally took the pictures to show friends and family what life is like in the desert. GQ writer Devin Friedman got the idea to compile them while hanging out with the soldiers serving their tours.

The best part is that the photographer-soldiers' voices also emerge in extended captions and narratives. Some are playful: in the picture above, three Army medics leap into one of Saddam Hussein's swimming pools (against orders). The caption explains that they told their commander that they were just "taking water samples." Others capture fleeting moments of beauty in the midst of violence: one photograph shows an orange ladybug resting on a soldier's helmet. "Nothing lives out there in the desert," the photographer wrote. "I thought, This will never happen again."

And then there's just ugliness: there is a single grainy photograph from Abu Ghraib, in which Cpl. Charles Graner half-kneels on the floor over a detainee, about to punch a hooded prisoner in the head. The closing chapter displays the last snapshots ever taken of 14 young soldiers. The first is a 20-year-old Marine sitting on a cot. He's glancing over his right shoulder at the camera with a half smile. The flash lights up only his face--the rest of the room is dark.