News & Current Affairs

November 11, 2010

Developing world warned of ‘obesity epidemic’

Filed under: Health and Fitness — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:31 pm
Obesity Developing countries are catching up industrialised nations

Developing countries should act now to head off their own “obesity epidemic”, says a global policy group.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says obesity levels are rising fast.

In a report in the Lancet medical journal, it says low-income countries cannot cope with the health consequences of wide scale obesity.

Rates in Brazil and South Africa already outstrip the OECD average.

Increasing obesity in industrialised countries such as the UK and US has brought with it rises in heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

However, increasing prosperity in some developing countries has led to a rise in “Western” lifestyles.

Now the OECD warns that they are catching up fast in terms of obesity rates.

Across all the countries represented in the OECD, 50% of adults are overweight or obese.

Childhood obesity

Rates in the Russian Federation are only just below this, and while fewer than 20% of Indians are classed this way, and fewer than 30% of Chinese people, the body says things are worsening fast.

graph

The report recommends that these countries act now to slow the increase, with media campaigns promoting healthier lifestyles, taxes and subsidies to improve diets, tighter government regulation of food labelling and restrictions on food advertising.

Its authors calculate that doing this would add one million years of “life in good health” to India’s population, and four million to China over the next 20 years.

The cost would be considerable but the OECD insists that the strategy would pay for itself in terms of reduced health care costs, becoming cost-effective at worst within 15 years.

Michele Cecchini, one of the report’s authors, said: “A multiple intervention strategy would achieve substantially larger health gains than individual programmes, with better cost-effectiveness.”

She suggested that specific action be taken to target childhood obesity.

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August 9, 2009

Jackson friend claims paternity

Filed under: Business News, Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 2:09 pm

Jackson friend claims paternity

Mark Lester, a former child star and long-time friend of Michael Jackson, says he could be the father of one of the late pop star’s children.

Speaking to the News Of The World, Lester said he had donated sperm to the King of Pop and was willing to take a paternity test.

“I believe Paris could be my daughter,” he said, and noted she bore a physical resemblance to his daughter, Harriet.

Calls to Lester’s home in Cheltenham were not immediately returned.

The 51-year-old, who rose to fame playing Oliver Twist in the 1968 film of the stage musical, had been friends with Jackson for nearly 30 years.

He is godfather to Paris, 11, and Jackson’s two other children, 12-year-old Prince, and Prince Michael II, seven.

The star suffered a cardiac arrest at his Los Angeles home on 25 June at the age of 50.

His mother, Katherine, became the permanent guardian of his three children last week.

Welfare concerns

In a video on the News Of The World website, Lester said he had come forward at this time “because I have concerns about the welfare and upbringing of the children”.

“There’s a contact issue,” he added. “I dearly want to remain in contact with those kids and I feel now this is the only way that I can ensure that.”

The former actor, who now works as an osteopath, also detailed how the arrangement with Jackson had come to pass.

Michael Jackson's children

Paris (left) made an emotional speech at her father’s memorial concert

“Michael Jackson asked me in a private conversation if I would be willing to donate sperm on his behalf,” he said.

“I was phoned up by a London clinic and I was asked what would be a convenient time for me to attend. I made an appointment to go along.”

Lester said he assumed the mother of the child would be Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s then-wife.

There has previously been speculation that Jackson’s dermatologist, Arnold Klein, was the father to his two children with Rowe.

The star’s third child was born to a surrogate mother, whose identity was never revealed.

“Of all of Michael’s children, I would assume that the one who looks most like me is Paris,” Lester said.

“Paris has blue eyes, pale complexion and high cheekbones. My girls all have very similar features.”

There has been no comment on Lester’s claims from the Jackson family.

July 17, 2009

Tiny lizard falls like a feather

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:07 pm
Tiny lizard falls like a feather

The lacertid lizard Holaspis guentheri

Not one to free fall

A tiny species of lizard is so light that it falls to the ground like a feather, scientists have discovered.

Outwardly, little of the animal’s body seems adapted to flying, gliding or moving through the air in any way.

But a slow-motion camera has revealed that when the lizard jumps from a height, it can slow the rate of its descent and land gently on the ground.

The lizard’s surprising aerial ability might help explain how some animals became true gliders.

Details of the little lizard’s talents are published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Controlled descent

Active flight, powered by the flapping of wings, has evolved in three living lineages of animals: birds, bats and insects.

But at least 30 different types of animal have evolved the ability to control their aerial descent, by parachuting or gliding to ground.

For example, gliding frogs use huge webbed feet, flying squirrels use long flaps of skin between their legs, and flying fish use their fins to glide.

Other animals have less obvious morphological adaptations.

Gliding snakes flatten and undulate their bodies, which helps to slow their fall while some species of ant are so tiny they can jump out of trees and freefall gently to lower on the trunk without hurting themselves.

So Bieke Vanhooydonck of the University of Antwerp became extremely interested when she read some old scientific papers reporting anecdotal evidence that a relatively ordinary species of lizard might also be able to glide from tree to tree.

Holaspis guentheri belongs to a group of lizards known as lacertids, which live in the Old World.

The lacertid lizard Holaspis guentheri

A slender, flat build helps

Though colourful, they do not stand out in terms of their behaviour, morphology or ecology.

“Also, compared to other gliding lizard species, it does not have any conspicuous morphological adaptations to an aerial lifestyle, ie no cutaneous flaps, webbed feet etc,” says Vanhooydonck.

“It made me very curious about whether these animals were really able to ‘glide’ and if so, how they were accomplishing it.”

Leaping platform

So Vanhooydonck and colleagues in Belgium and France filmed individual lizards leaping from a platform two metres above ground.

They compared the performance of H.guentheri with a rock-dwelling lizard (Podarcis muralis) that never takes to the air, and a highly specialised leaping gecko (Ptychozoon kuhli) that has a range of skin flaps that it uses to parachute to the ground.

For each, they examined the duration of each species’ descent, the horizontal distance it covered and at what speed.

Both the rock-dwelling lizard and H.guentheri landed 50 centimetres from the base of the platform, while the gecko landed up to 1m away. But H.guentheri fell for longer, and more slowly than its rock-dwelling competitor.

“Much to our surprise, H. guentheri is able to slow down its descent and has low impact forces upon landing,” says Vanhooydonck.

In fact, the lizard weighs just 1.5g, which is one third of the rock-dwelling lizard’s weight and one-tenth of the gecko’s.

Once weight was factored in, the researchers found that H.guentheri landed 20cm further away that it should have done had it fallen like a stone.

Leaping gecko (Ptychozoon kuhli)

The leaping gecko P. kuhli is a true glider

“Also its wing loading, the ratio of mass to surface area, is extremely low and in the same range as that of the gekko.”

However, the two species achieve this aerial ability in different ways. As a result of its webbed feet and body flaps, the gecko achieves a low wing loading by having a large surface area.

H. guentheri has a low wing loading too, but by being so light.

X-ray scans of the lizard’s body revealed its bones are packed full of air spaces.

Although the lizard’s light weight and ability to fall gently are linked, it is still unclear whether its air-filled bones are an adaptation for parachuting, or whether they evolved for another reason.

It is also unclear whether H.guentheri glides from tree to tree to escape predators or move about more efficiently.

“Because of [the lizards’] secretive lifestyle, it is very hard to observe them in the wild, but it seems plausible they use it as an escape response,” says Vanhooydonck.

And that could be just how other gliding animals took the first evolutionary steps towards an aerial lifestyle, she says.

July 16, 2009

Chicago’s Sears Tower is renamed

Filed under: Business News, Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:43 pm

Chicago’s Sears Tower is renamed

Sears Tower

No longer the Sears Tower – but will the new name catch on?

The Sears Tower in Chicago – one of the most famous skyscrapers in the world – is being renamed.

The 110-storey structure, which opened in 1973, is being rechristened the Willis Tower on Thursday.

London-based insurance brokerage Willis Group Holdings has secured the naming rights as part of an agreement to lease space.

But the name change has angered some protesters, who have launched a website called http://www.itsthesearstower.com.

The Sears Tower is not just a Chicago landmark, it’s a national landmark that’s known around the world
Aaron Perlut
PR agency Elasticity

Tourists from around the world have visited the tower’s gallery to see views of Chicago.

Chicago teacher Marianne Turk, 46, told the Associated Press news agency that she was firmly against the change, as she waited to go up.

“It’s always going to be the Sears Tower. It’s part of Chicago and I won’t call it Willis Tower. In Chicago we hold fast,” she said.

Chicago landmark

The Willis Tower will be introduced to Chicago by the city’s mayor, Richard Daley, during a public renaming ceremony hosted by Willis Group Holdings.

The company is hopeful that the name change will catch on.

“Everybody knows that tower,” chief executive Joe Plumeri said ahead of the ceremony.

“If we’re good corporate citizens and do what we should, hopefully Willis and the tower and Chicago will all become synonymous.”

Other well-known buildings have undergone name changes – New York City’s Pan Am Building became the MetLife Building, and Chicago’s Standard Oil Building is now the Aon Center.

But people have not always taken to them.

Public relations experts said it could take decades for the new name of the Chicago skyscraper to take its place in the public consciousness.

“The Sears Tower is not just a Chicago landmark, it’s a national landmark that’s known around the world,” Aaron Perlut, a managing partner at St Louis-based PR agency Elasticity, told Reuters news agency.

“We see it on our TVs, in movies and magazines, so it is part of pop culture.”

“Gaining public acceptance of renaming the Sears Tower will be extremely challenging. Even with a very long, integrated marketing campaign we could be looking at a 20-to-30-year period,” he said.

The building’s original tenant, Sears Roebuck and Co, moved out in 1992 but its sign stayed on.

A real estate investment group, American Landmark Properties of Skokie, Illinois, now owns the building.

July 12, 2009

Overcoming MS to scale Everest

Filed under: Latest, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:00 am

Overcoming MS to scale Everest

Ten years after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), Lori Schneider decided she wanted to scale the highest peak on every continent.

She achieved this last month by making it to the summit of the world’s most famous mountain, Mount Everest.

Climbing Mt Everest is a challenge for anyone – even if they are young and in the peak of health – but the 53-year-old from Wisconsin is the first person with MS ever to reach the summit.

Ms Schneider, an avid climber, first dreamed of climbing Everest 16 years ago.

But a diagnosis of MS in 1999 was a blow for the former school teacher.

When she first got the news, her initial reaction was to run, rather than climb.

“I ran away, I was fearful of what I thought I was losing in my life,” she said.

“I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me. I was doing plenty of that for myself at that point, I was feeling like my physical life was over.”

Diagnosis

Ms Schneider first noticed something was wrong when she woke up one morning with numbness in the leg and arm on one side of her body.

Lori Schneider on Everest
I think the real hardship on Everest is maintaining a positive attitude for two months
Lori Schneider

The condition progressed to the side of her face, and eventually both sides of her body.

Doctors initial thought she might have had a stroke or be suffering from brain cancer.

It took several months before she was correctly diagnosed.

After overcoming her initial fear and panic, she says the diagnosis actually empowered her to reach for her dreams.

“For 20 years I taught children: ‘Don’t be afraid, take a chance, try’, and when I was doing these climbs trying to climb the highest peak on each continent, I thought I’ll do them all but Everest, because that’s too hard for me.”

“When I got diagnosed I thought: ‘Just don’t be afraid to try, do the things in your life that maybe you dreamed about’.”

Her aspiration has not been without its costs. Following her dreams meant leaving behind a 20-year teaching career and a 22-year marriage.

Three years ago she climbed the highest peak in North America – Mount McKinley (also known by its native American name of Denali) in Alaska.

For those in the mountaineering know, it is considered the coldest mountain in the world with temperatures overnight capable of dropping to -50C.

After Everest, Asia’s highest peak, and Aconcagua, South America’s highest peak, it is the third highest of the so-called “Seven Summits”.

After coming back down she started to lose some of her vision, another symptom of MS. But that did not deter her.

To climb Everest, the cost was financial, rather than physical – she used all her savings, sold her home and took out a loan.

“I’ve been very, very fortunate the last several years. My MS has been pretty stable and quiet in my system,” she said.

“I think the real hardship on Everest is maintaining a positive attitude for two months.”

The summit

Climbers of Everest face some of the most treacherous conditions imaginable; along with battling hypothermia, there is also altitude sickness, physical exhaustion, and the isolation of being up the mountain for so long.

The Seven Summits
Mt Everest
Asia – Everest, 8848m
South America – Aconcagua, 6959m
North America – McKinley, 6194m
Africa – Kilimanjaro, 5895m
Europe – Elbrus, 5642m
Antarctica – Mt Vinson, 4897m
Australasia – Carstensz Pyramid, 4884m

But with the help of letters and photos of friends, family and supporters, she kept herself positive and after more than eight weeks, fighting through a blizzard, she made it to the top.

In achieving her goal, she has joined some of the world’s most accomplished climbers and bested many others.

“It was very surreal, you couldn’t see anything [because of the blizzard], so I couldn’t see the beauty that surrounded me.”

“We had to rush down so fast, but I did get a chance to give my father a call and yell: ‘I made it, I made it’.”

“It wasn’t until the next morning when I woke up in my tent after climbing for 17 hours the day before, and then all of the sudden I thought: ‘Oh my gosh, I just climbed Mt Everest yesterday!’.”

But she says making it to the summit is just a bonus.

The real achievement, she says, is that in coming to terms with MS and the possibility that she may one day lose her mobility, she has been able to face down her fears.

“Who you are inside… that’s what’s important. That will always be there,” she said.

“Whether my legs carry me up a mountain or not, I’m still who I am deep inside.”

A return to the heart of Mumbai

Filed under: Latest, Politics News, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:58 am

A return to the heart of Mumbai

Despite India’s economic success, it is still home to millions of the world’s poorest people. Martin Buckley lived in Bombay, as it was known, in the 1980s. He recently went back and found, as he walked about after sunset, that the essential character of the city remains unchanged.

Mumbai at night

Mumbai: Twenty million people live in India’s most populated city

Bombay by night. It is hard to think of three words more expressive of history, exoticism, and empire.

And I do not begrudge the “new” name, Mumbai (the city was renamed in 1995).

The city’s presiding goddess is Mumba-Ai, and I spent a chunk of the 1980s living close to her temple in the heart of the city.

It was my first job after university, working on a magazine called Business India. Very few foreigners worked in Bombay then.

Pre-boom India was still locked into its Soviet-style command economy.

Paid local rates, I lived in a succession of seedy rooms in downtown Bombay.

We sometimes put the magazine to bed at 0300 local time, and I would walk home.

On the pavements were string beds, where men lay, totally abandoned in sleep.

I never felt threatened for an instant.

Slum living

We have heard a lot lately about Mumbai’s slums, so I thought it would be interesting to revisit my old haunts.

Dharavi slum

Dharavi is Asia’s largest slum spanning more than 500 acres

Mumbai is a long, thin city, and on its northern fringes, residential suburbs are mushrooming.

I went to visit Dharavi, the slum made famous by the film Slumdog Millionaire, which is nearer the city centre on land the developers would love to get their hands on.

This “slum” has electricity, workplaces, temples and mosques.

I asked a street trader selling school exercise books if he had heard of Slumdog Millionaire.

“Of course,” he said, adding that tourists had been turning up in droves to see where the film was shot.

But he said they should go home, as no-one wanted them there.

I felt no danger in Dharavi, at least, not from people.

Stepping on a sleeping dog – an actual “slum-dog” – was far more of a worry.

‘Light beatings’

The next night, a hot, sticky evening, my first stop was at a downtown police station in central Mumbai, to interview a police inspector.

Child actor Azharuddin Ismail in his Mumbai slum

The Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire highlighted the city’s slums

He was a sleek character, with manicured nails, dyed hair and an expensive-looking Swiss watch.

Sipping sweet tea from an improbably refined china cup, I sheepishly asked about the brutal police torture shown in Slumdog Millionaire.

“Ridiculous,” he replied, though he did admit that what he called “light beatings” were routine. And no, I could not visit the cells.

He moved hastily on to more comfortable territory, showing me his CCTV screens, and declaring how modern forensics had transformed criminal investigation.

His biggest task, he stressed, was managing tensions between Hindus and Muslims.

Doggedly, I asked about police corruption and drugs mafia, but received peremptory replies.

Prostitution he claimed, was sharply down, but not through policing. Rather, he claimed it was because people were terrified of catching Aids.

Decomposing facades

Physically, central Mumbai has changed far less than I expected.

There are some elevated highways from which, I am told, motorcyclists periodically plunge.

A market in Mumbai

The markets and dockyards of Mumbai are still thriving

But the great tenements still rise in terraces draped with washing, their Victorian or art deco facades slowly decomposing.

Few of the 1960s-style Fiat taxis have been replaced by newer cars.

There are bullock carts toting jute bales, tiny shops with colonial interiors, hawkers selling fruit from trolleys, men sitting cross-legged in the street selling shoes, basket-weavers working and living on the pavements.

Markets sell everything from metal ware to fresh fish, and as 2200 approached, I could still see live mullet writhing in baskets.

Nearby were the entrepots of Mumbai’s thriving dockyards, with the seedy, raffish air of a Conrad novel. And it is much easier to buy a beer in contemporary Mumbai than it was in my day.

Religious tensions have worsened, but I passed Hindu and Muslim traders working side by side.

Decay and ambition

In Bhuleshwar, in the old heart of Mumbai, I visited the city’s presiding Hindu goddess.

The pillars of Mumba-Ai’s tiny temple were entwined with flowers to resemble an indoor forest, and people urgently jostled for a glimpse of the deity.

By midnight I had reached Falkland Road, Mumbai’s infamous red light district.

Women stood around gloomily, their faces showing none of the flirtation that is supposed to be their profession’s stock in trade.

Mumbai’s sex industry caters to millions of poor men, and its squalor and joylessness are all too evident.

A pimp was hanging onto my arm. I asked him if it was true that client numbers were down. He became aggressive. Was I there to spend money or ask nosy questions?

I flagged down a taxi, and slid on to the back seat. Through the open window, the air was now pleasantly cool.

The essential character of the great city I had known and loved 25 years ago, seemed to me unchanged, and it was still a Dickensian canvas of decay, ambition, and exploitation.

But Mumbai is pragmatic. It looks chaotic, but it works.

July 11, 2009

Obama speaks of hopes for Africa

Obama speaks of hopes for Africa

US President Barack Obama, on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, has said Africa must take charge of its own destiny in the world.

Mr Obama told parliament in Ghana during his one-day stay that good governance was vital for development.

Major challenges awaited Africans in the new century, he said, but vowed that the US would help the continent.

The US president’s trip comes at the end of a summit of eight of the world’s most powerful nations, held in Italy.

Ghana was chosen as the destination for the president’s visit because of its strong democratic record.

Mr Obama headed from parliament to Cape Coast Castle, a seaside fortress converted to the slave trade by the British in the 17th Century. He was accompanied by his wife, Michelle, a descendant of African slaves, and both of his young daughters.

People crowded into a public area outside the fort to greet Mr Obama, with those unable to get a place in the throng climbing onto nearby roofs and filling balconies just to catch a glimpse of the US leader.

Africa’s choice

Mr Obama spoke to parliament shortly after a breakfast meeting with Ghanaian President John Atta Mills.

He wore a broad grin as he was greeted at the podium by a series of rousing horn blasts from within the chamber.

US President Barack Obama speaks to the Ghanaian parliament
Development depends upon good governance. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans
US President Barack Obama

“Congress needs one of them,” Mr Obama joked, before turning to more serious matters.

“I have come here to Ghana for a simple reason,” the US president said: “The 21st Century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Ghana as well.”

Delivering a message that “Africa’s future is up to Africans”, Mr Obama conceded that the legacy of colonialism had helped breed conflict on the continent.

“But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants,” he added.

He praised Ghana’s own progress, governance and economic growth, saying Ghana’s achievements were less dramatic than the liberation struggles of the 20th Century but would ultimately be more significant.

“Development depends upon good governance,” Mr Obama told legislators. “That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long.

“And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.”

‘Yes you can’

Expanding on his message, Mr Obama said four key areas were critical to the future of Africa and of the entire developing world, citing democracy, opportunity, health and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

ANALYSIS
Andrew Harding, BBC News, Accra
Andrew Harding, BBC News, Accra

The speech has gone down extremely well. This is a country that has been enormously proud to play host to Mr Obama and referred to him as a brother. People say endlessly that he is part of the family and they are expecting a great deal of him.

It was a very broad-ranging speech but Mr Obama has an ability because of his heritage, his Kenyan father, to reach out and speak to Africans in a way that I think most foreign leaders would find very difficult.

There are very few barriers for Mr Obama in this conversation that he is trying to initiate with Africans and I think that this speech will have ticked many, many boxes.

This is Mr Obama trying to link Africa into the international community.

He hailed Ghana’s democratic society, calling for strong parliaments, honest police, independent judges and a free press across Africa.

However, there were some blunt words directed at other countries, many of which have been undermined by despotic leaders and corrupt politicians.

“Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions,” Mr Obama told his audience.

“No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny.”

He pledged to continue strong US support for public healthcare initiatives in Africa, and called for sensible use of natural resources such as oil in the face of the threat of climate change.

“Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at war,” Mr Obama added. “But for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. He described wars as a “millstone around Africa’s neck”.

“You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people,” Mr Obama said, describing freedom as Africa’s “inheritance” and urging the continent to beat disease, end conflict and bring long-lasting change.

In an echo of his presidential election campaign, he drew his speech to a close with a version of his trademark slogan: “Yes you can,” he told the gathered legislators.

Tight security

On the streets of Accra, many billboards welcoming Barack Obama have been erected, including one showing an image of the president and wife with the words: “Ghana loves you”.

A young supporter listens to Barack Obama's speech

Barack Obama’s speech was welcomed by Ghanaians of all ages

People have poured into Accra for a glimpse of the president during his 24-hour stay in Ghana.

But security is tight for the president’s visit, and few ordinary Ghanaians will have the chance to glimpse the first African-American President of the United States.

Mr Obama arrived in the capital late on Friday, fresh from the G8 summit in Italy where heads of state agreed on a $20bn (£12.3bn) fund to bolster agriculture – the main source of income for many sub-Saharan Africans.

Most of Xinjiang dead ‘Chinese’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:29 pm

Most of Xinjiang dead ‘Chinese’

Chinese security forces line uop on a square in Urumqi, 11 July

Security forces continued to patrol Urumqi on Saturday

Some three-quarters of the victims of the violence in China’s western Xinjiang region were ethnic Han Chinese, the official death toll shows.

Of 184 people known to have died, 137 were Han Chinese, 46 were from the indigenous Uighur community and one was an ethnic Hui, local officials said.

Beijing flooded the regional capital Urumqi with security forces to stem the violence which erupted last Sunday.

Correspondents say some Uighurs believe their own death toll was much higher.

“I’ve heard that more than 100 Uighurs have died but nobody wants to talk about it in public,” one Uighur man in Urumqi who did not want to give his name told the Associated Press news agency.

Uighurs living in exile outside China have also disputed the Chinese figures. Rebiya Kadeer, the US-based head of the World Uighur Congress, said she believed about 500 people had died.

According to the Chinese death toll released by state media, 26 of the 137 Han Chinese victims were female, while all but one of the 45 Uighurs killed were male.

The single death recorded in the Hui community, which is similar to the Uighurs ethnically and religiously, was that of a male.

September 14, 2008

How to be a good president

How to be a good president

Barack Obama says the most important quality is vision for the future. No, says John McCain, the key requirement is experience – or at least that’s what he said until he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Ronald Reagan

A former film star, Ronald Reagan was an excellent communicator

Both want the most powerful job in the world – but neither they, nor anyone else, can agree on what, precisely, are the qualities needed to serve as president of the United States.

Indeed, there is not even a job description – only an oath of office demanding the president defend the US constitution.

What’s more, the job keeps changing, evolving constantly in the 230 years since the founding of the republic.

Still, an understanding has gradually emerged of the key qualities required of a president.

The trouble is, they are so many and various, it’s almost impossible to imagine any normal human being matching up.

Preacher and protector

Ever since Theodore Roosevelt described the presidency as a “bully pulpit,” Americans have expected first-class rhetorical skills from their leaders.

Barack Obama and Bill Clinton

Mr Obama’s camp hopes to capitalise on Bill Clinton’s lasting popularity

A president must be able to inspire, to preach, to stir the American people to greater things.

In the modern era, Roosevelt, John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan all had a great talent for communication; so too did Bill Clinton, though in a different style.

The presidents who have struggled – both George Bushes and Jimmy Carter come to mind – were those who lacked oratorical gifts.

But the job requires more than that. Americans look to their president as a protector, someone who will keep the country strong and ward off its enemies.

Roosevelt was a great war leader. As the former Allied commander during World War II, Dwight Eisenhower made Americans feel similarly secure.

Rightly or wrongly, Americans still revere Reagan for winning the Cold War.

Minimum mendacity

Foreign policy acumen is a related and essential element in the presidential kit of parts.

Richard Nixon meets John McCain in 1973

Nixon and John McCain could both claim foreign policy expertise

It’s why Mr McCain makes so much of his own experience in international affairs – and why the Obama camp equally emphasizes Sarah Palin’s lack of a foreign policy record.

The first George Bush’s reputation rests on his skillful handling of the post-Cold War world, while his son will have to persuade future historians that he did not make terrible blunders abroad.

Yet skill on the world stage is not enough to guarantee the respect of posterity.

Richard Nixon regarded himself as a geo-strategic sage, thanks to his opening to China, but he is still known by a single word: Watergate.

Domestic scandal trumps international accomplishments. Put that down as another lesson for those keen to learn how to be a good president: you need to be, if not saint-like in your honesty, at least not so mendacious that you get tangled up in your own deceptions.

It helps if you’re someone who can get things done. Lyndon Johnson will forever be saddled with the disaster of the Vietnam war, but he retains respect for passing a canon of social legislation – from civil rights to his war on poverty – that genuinely improved millions of lives.

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter was seen as a decent but aloof president

That was largely down to his mastery of the often arcane ways of the senate, which he had once dominated as majority leader.

That hard-headed, practical ability to get results is often underestimated.

In the words of British journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Johnson “pushed through so much legislation which has changed the way we think about equality, equal rights and human dignity, and I think that is a huge accolade”.

Star quality

It’s good if you’re a palpably decent man, as Jimmy Carter was – but less good if that makes you seem lofty, prissy or aloof, as Carter often seemed.

It’s good if you can keep the country at peace and the economy in rosy health – as Bill Clinton did – but less good if you let that get overshadowed by personal indiscipline, as he did.

Finally, in the modern era, the president needs a compelling personal story, great charisma and as much screen presence as a movie star.

As I discovered making “President Hollywood”, the demands of Washington DC and Tinsel Town are remarkably similar.

Which man matches up to this impossible checklist, Barack Obama or John McCain? Well, the American people will decide that on 4 November.

But they had better get used to one thing right away: the president with every one of these essential qualities simply does not exist.

September 12, 2008

Japan’s economy sees a sharp fall

Japan’s economy sees a sharp fall

Japanese shoppers

Japan now seems at real risk of recession

Japan’s economic output has recorded its sharpest quarterly fall in almost seven years as the country appears to be falling into recession.

The world’s second largest economy contracted at an annualized rate of 3% in the April to June quarter, as both domestic demand and exports weakened.

It was the first decline in more than a year, and the biggest since the third quarter of 2001.

The government has called on firms to raises wages to help boost spending.

The Japanese economy, like most around the world, has also been affected by higher energy and food prices.

“It is desirable that income for employed people increases,” said Economy and Fiscal Policy Minister Kaoru Yosano.

“We want company managers to recognize that pay rises would compensate for price rises.”

Last month the Japanese government announced an economic stimulus package worth 11.7 trillion yen ($107bn; £61bn).

A country is generally considered to be in recession when it sees two consecutive quarters of declining economic output.

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