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Pieces Together

CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?

"At an exclusive soiree tomorrow evening at an upmarket London bar, an elite circle of VIPs will sprawl on velvet beds as they receive relaxing, complimentary massages. Around the corner at an equally glamorous event, guests will be entertained by circus performers and big-name DJs as they sip champagne. Most of Britain may be in cost-cutting mode as the recession worsens, but it seems that someone forgot to tell the fashion industry. London Fashion Week kicked off its 25th anniversary celebrations by popping bottles of Moet et Chandon before 10am yesterday, and fashion labels promised a weekend of opulent and expensive parties." (Times, 21 February)

A FREE SOCIETY?

"A jobless Taiwan man released from prison two years ago asked police to send him back so he could eat, police and local media said Tuesday, a grim sign of hard economic times on the island. When police found the 45-year-old convicted arsonist lying on a street in a popular Taipei shopping district, he requested a return to life behind bars, nostalgic for the 10 years he had already served, the China Post newspaper reported. Wang had also contacted police separately with his request, a spokesman said. Officers who found him bought him a boxed lunch but declined to send him back to prison, the police spokesman said. ‘We advised him to keep looking for work,’ he said. ‘I don't know why he can't find a job. Maybe employers think he's not suitable or that he's too old.’ Taiwan is in recession, with a slump in exports leading a record economic contraction in the fourth quarter of last year." (Yahoo News, 24 February)

PREPARING FOR WAR?

"China is aggressively accelerating the pace of its manned space program by developing a 17,000 lb. man-tended military space laboratory planned for launch by late 2010. The mission will coincide with a halt in U.S. manned flight with phase-out of the shuttle. The project is being led by the General Armaments Department of the People's Liberation Army, and gives the Chinese two separate station development programs. Shenzhou 8, the first mission to the outpost in early 2011 will be flown unmanned to test robotic docking systems. Subsequent missions will be manned to utilize the new pressurized module capabilities of the Tiangong outpost. Importantly, China is openly acknowledging that the new Tiangong outpost will involve military space operations and technology development. (Spaceflight News, 2 March)

IT'S A MAD, MAD WORLD

"Supertankers that once raced around the world to satisfy an unquenchable thirst for oil are now parked offshore, fully loaded, anchors down, their crews killing time. In the United States, vast storage farms for oil are almost out of room. As demand for crude has plummeted, the world suddenly finds itself awash in oil that has nowhere to go. It's been less than a year since oil prices hit record highs. But now producers and traders are struggling with the new reality: The world wants less oil, not more. And turning off the spigot is about as easy as turning around one of those tankers. So oil companies and investors are stashing crude, waiting for demand to rise and the bear market to end so they can turn a profit later. Meanwhile, oil-producing countries such as Iran have pumped millions of barrels of their own crude into idle tankers, effectively taking crude off the market to halt declining prices that are devastating their economies." (International Herald Tribune, 3 March)