Friday, April 13, 2007

The Case Of The Hot Chocolate

This month, learn about the greenhouse effect

"What a great day to be outside," said Danielle. She dropped an empty soda can into a bulging trash bag. She and her friend Peter were celebrating Earth Day with their science class by picking up trash in a local park.

"It is really warm out today," Peter agreed. "I wonder what the temperature is."

Danielle spotted their teacher walking over. "Maybe Mrs. Woodward knows." she said.

"Mrs. Woodward, do you know what the temperature is today?" asked Peter as their teacher approached.

"I don't know," replied Mrs. Woodward. "But we can check.

I have some thermometers for an experiment we are doing later Let's go and find out."

Danielle and Peter followed their teacher to a nearby picnic table. Mrs. Woodward handed each of them a thermometer.

Peter peered at the thermometer she passed him. "It's 70 degrees out!" he said.

"Wow! That's very warm for this time of year," said Mrs. Woodward. "You two can hang on to those thermometers until later. Now, it's time for lunch."


Peter and Danielle were eating lunch with their classmates.

As they ate, Mrs. Woodward stood in front of the class. "After lunch, we are going to continue our Earth Day celebration by planting trees," she said. "This activity could help prevent global warming."

Danielle raised her hand. Mrs. Woodward called on her. "How does planting trees help fight global warming?" Danielle asked.

"Trees remove carbon dioxide from the air," said Mrs. Woodward.

"That's interesting," said Danielle. "But how does carbon dioxide affect global warming?"

"Carbon dioxide is one of many gases that surround Earth," replied Mrs. Woodward. "This layer of gases is like a blanket that traps the sun's heat. That process is called the greenhouse effect. But if there is too much carbon dioxide in the air, extra heat will be trapped."

"And that can cause global warming?" asked Danielle.

"That's what scientists say," said Mrs. Woodward. "OK. It's time to finish eating and then we can plant some trees."


As Danielle and Peter finished their lunch, they each had a small piece of chocolate left over.

"Are you going to eat that?" asked Peter, eyeing Danielle's chocolate. "If not, I'll take it."

"Sorry, but I am going to save it for later," said Danielle.

"Oh, OK. I'll save mine too" said Peter. "I'm going to put mine in my sandwich container. Do you want to put yours in there?" "That's OK," said

Danielle. "I'll just leave it here." She placed her chocolate candy on the picnic table. Peter placed his in a container and wrapped a piece of plastic wrap over the top.

"Let's go help with the planting of the trees," said Peter.


Read the story below. The use the materials listed at the end to solve the mystery.


"Planting trees is hard work!" said Peter a little later. He wiped sweat from his forehead.

Danielle patted down the dirt around a newly planted tree. "I know. Our chocolate would taste great right now," she said.

"I'll get them," said Peter.

A minute later, Peter returned with the two chocolate candies. He handed one to Danielle.

"Oh no!" said Danielle as she unwrapped her candy. Melted chocolate oozed from the wrapper and dripped onto the dirt. "Our chocolate is ruined!"

She looked over at Peter. He had his back turned to her.

"Hey," she said. "Isn't your chocolate melted too?"

"Um … no," he said, popping the piece of chocolate into his mouth. "Mine must have stayed cool because it was covered with plastic wrap," he said.

Danielle looked at Peter suspiciously. "You took my chocolate, didn't you?" she exclaimed, sounding angry.

"No I didn't!" said Peter. "Why would I do that?"

"It was your chocolate that melted!" said Danielle. "I can prove it." She stomped toward the picnic tables. Peter followed her.

Danielle picked up one of the thermometers from the picnic table. She placed it inside Peter's plastic container and covered it with his plastic wrap. She placed the other thermometer directly on the picnic table next to his container. "We'll know the truth soon," she said.

A half hour later, Danielle peered at the two thermometers. "I know whose chocolate was melted!" she said.
solve the mystery Whose chocolate treat melted?

To solve the mystery, grab these materials:

* plastic wrap
* scissors
* plastic container (large enough to hold a thermometer)
* 2 thermometers
* large rubber band
* lamp or sunny windowsill

Cut a piece of plastic wrap large enough to cover the top of the plastic container. Place one of the thermometers inside the container. Lay the plastic wrap over the container and use the rubber band to hold it in place. Put the container beneath a lamp or on a warm, sunny windowsill. Place the other thermometer next to the container. Position the lamp so that it is equally far away from each of the thermometers. After 30 minutes have passed, check the temperature on each thermometer. The thermometer that is warmer is the one that solves the mystery.

By Britt Norlander, Scholastic SuperScience, Apr2007

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Plum Greek

Dinah was in charge of herself. She did her homework and fixed dinner every day but Sunday--not too much for a nine-year-old going on 10, not if the nine-year-old was Dinah, her father said. At school she was in third grade, reading books with chapters and no pictures, and mastering multiplication. When the afternoon school bus dropped Dinah at the ranch gate, she walked the quarter mile to the low-water bridge across Plum Creek, where Mama's more-or-less terrier, Bird, waited under a live oak, rain or shine. Once Dinah crossed the creek, she was home.

Dinah knew that doing things in a regular way made time pass. The minute she got to the house, she changed her school dress for dungarees, checked that the meat for dinner was truly thawing and that they had their starch, usually rice. Daddy didn't get home until six. His work as a county extension agent took him from one end of the county to the other. His office was all the way in Luling, the next big town.

Because Mama had left them in the spring when the bluebonnets were starting and before the garden amounted to much, the first few months she was gone, Dinah picked their dinner vegetables from the big bags of English peas, green beans, and broccoli in the freezer. Most afternoons, Dinah raced through her homework at the kitchen table with a pair of binoculars by her side to watch for a squirrel they called Notcho because his ear had been cut in a fight. Bird waited with only a small show of impatience--a twitch of her tail, her brown eyes slantwise to check on Dinah. After homework, they'd head out to see what the day had done. They inspected Daddy's flats of seedlings on the big plywood tables on sawhorses. They checked the clematis on the fence, the mountain laurel, and the Mexican plum, the first to bloom each year, and then they took off around the ranch and into the woods, returning in time to cook dinner. In the brief moment after she opened the kitchen door, Dinah couldn't help herself. She looked for her mother.

Dinah had no clear idea of why her mother was gone; she had memories of voices in the night and talk of money, money, money, money. Moira once told Dinah, Your daddy's not the least bit ambitious, so you and I must do our best with second best. Another time, there was a door flung open, a sudden shaft of light in her dark bedroom, and the sound of loud voices when her mother and father thought she slept. Try as she might, Dinah couldn't hear their words. Dinah pictured her mother in the vegetable garden, and when she held the image long enough she heard Moira sighing, but her mother might as easily have sighed from being hot and tired as from yearning for a different life with a man who was ambitious and gave her first best. Whatever her mother's reasons, Dinah's imagination couldn't take her past the irreducible fact that one day she came home from school and her mother was gone.

DINAH'S FATHER DR, claimed that he had little interest in people. The world that held him was botanical. Hybrids and imports inspired his scorn; he only respected the uncultivated natives. If he had his way, he once told Dinah, he'd spend his life wandering and be happy if he saw even half of the species to be found across Texas. DR had graduated from Texas A&M University, his father's alma mater, in the mid-1930s. DR's father had died at an early age, electrocuted in a farm accident. It wasn't a question of whether DR would attend A&M; it was a given. He majored in plants--as he called the science of growing bigger, better, and more bug-resistant crops to feed the increasing numbers of livestock and people--and after graduation he became a county extension agent and worked in one rural area of Texas after another.

David Rangel Warren met Dinah's mother, Moira O'Brien, when he was in Fort Worth for a convention. He married her and took her west, where there were plant-devouring cattle and money-producing oil fields, and then to counties south, where there was so much land, all of it flat, that it was like standing on a great ocean. There, crops tore up the native habitat and cattle overgrazed. Moira's family had not wanted her to marry DR. They had toiled for decades in Fort Worth, selling automobiles for a harvest of cash, and wanted her to have a businessman or a banker for a husband.

In driving from ranch to ranch, small town to small town, Dinah's father became a keen observer of the landscape. Anyone who wasn't blind could see the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes blanketing in spring, but DR's view was keener; he taught Dinah to read the signs the plants gave in their cycle.

DR's longest assignment, the one he said he would retire from, was in Central Texas, Caldwell County, 30 miles south of Austin. In exchange for minimal caretaking duties, he and Moira and Dinah lived on a ranch on Plum Creek. There he conceived the idea of saving at least one Texas wildflower from what he called the three horsemen: cattle, highways, and development. He chose Amoreuxia wrightii, the fragile Yellowshow, and began by gathering seeds and finding the best conditions to propagate them in pots, flats, and beds. He collected the Yellowshow's tiny seeds and distributed them free of charge to whoever would take them. Because of his conviction that the abundant wildflowers of Texas were in grave danger, DR endured the amusement of his fellow citizens, and Dinah went through school as the daughter of a crank.

ONE AFTERNOON, when the school bus pulled up to the ranch gate, Bird wasn't waiting for Dinah under the live oak. Mr. Christie, the bus driver, took a look at the sky and ordered Dinah to get to the house and stay there.

"Go to the center of the house," he told her. "Don't tarry. Tornado possibilities."

Daddy always said that Vernon Christie looked for the cloud and ignored the silver lining, but that afternoon the sky was as green as a lima bean, and it throbbed as if something wanted out.

When Dinah got to the house, Bird was there. The dog wormed inside the kitchen before Dinah opened the door more than a crack. Bird hated thunder, lightning, and rain, and probably wasn't fond of tornadoes. She didn't fear snakes, though, and alerted Dinah to ratters on their walks. Now she was whining. Maybe she could hear the tornado and Dinah couldn't. Dinah noticed at that moment how very still everything was, and then she heard a new noise like a train far off but coming closer, the biggest train the world had ever known, bearing down on them.

Go to the center of the house but where was that?

They had no storm cellar. They had no cellar at all. The house rested on cedar posts.

Not upstairs, which was all Dinah's, all three rooms now that Mama was gone and Daddy had moved downstairs.

Not the porch or the kitchen or Daddy's room.

Bird was whimpering. The house had two windows on each of its four sides. The windows matched, up and down, so many windows, windows all around. Dinah checked the kitchen clock, as if the tornado were a real train, due any minute, and she and Bird might miss it. The fur along the ridge of Bird's spine was standing straight up. Dinah ran into the hall and opened the door of the big closet. Bird pushed past, and Dinah closed the door behind them. The sound of the train was muffled in the dark among the suitcases and cardboard boxes. Dinah found a free place at the back of the closet and sat with her knees to her chin, her head touching the hems of jackets and coats hanging empty above them. Bird leaned into Dinah, shivering like she was cold through and through, and smelling like earth. There was another smell in the closet, a familiar one, sweet and brisk and maybe something sharp beneath the sweetness: Mama in the garden brushing a drop of sweat away and inspecting the row she'd hoed with a look on her face that said her own storm of temper and discontent was coming.

One day, Dinah had arrived home from school and her mother's things were gone. Clothes gone. Bible gone. And gone was the embroidered runner Mama kept on her vanity, along with the jars of Noxema and Jergen's lotion and her bottle of lily of the valley cologne, her silver-backed brush, and the Breck shampoo bottle from the side of the bathtub. Where were all of Mama's things, Dinah had wondered. And where was Mama herself? Dinah's father didn't make it possible to voice either question.

Now, in the wind and the howling of the train, in the pounding of the metal roof trying to free itself, Dinah's first question was answered by the boxes that her father in his fury and misery had shut in the closet. Now, when the sounds were bearing down upon her, Dinah was grateful for her mother's presence even if it was just her things. If she closed her eyes and breathed in as deep as she could, Dinah might catch the train.

THE TORNADO CAME CLOSE, knocking down their mailbox, taking the scrubby trees alongside the road, missing the house, missing Dinah and the dog.

Two years later, Moira's oldest brother telephoned one Thursday night, while DR and Dinah were listening to The Lone Ranger, to say that Moira was dead. Inexplicably, she had been living in Los Angeles, and her car had been hit by a truck on her way to work. Her body was with her parents, and if DR wanted to attend the funeral he'd better get to Fort Worth in a hurry.

The church in Fort Worth had tall white columns in front. DR wouldn't let go of Dinah's hand as he walked her down the aisle and sat her close to the altar. They were just one row behind the family, and the sight of Moira's well-known features on their unsmiling faces--her long nose and the shape of her eyes--was dizzying. As soon as Dinah got settled, her grandmother turned around and called her by name, telling Dinah to go up front to pay her respects to her mother. The top of the casket was closed. Dinah took courage and touched her hand to the polished wooden surface. The coffin looked both too small and too large. Dinah couldn't decide whether or not it was a good fit for Moira, but, then, she wasn't convinced that her mother was inside.

The sermon and the prayers were nothing that couldn't have been said of any human being who'd been born and died.

Dinah and DR rode out to the cemetery in the pickup, following the hearse and the limousines, and after the cemetery, at Dinah's grandmother's invitation, they went to the house, which was grander than the best houses in their town, even though it was the county seat. When the guests left, and the food and drink had been cleared away by a maid in a white apron, the family sat in the living room. Dinah had eaten too many lemon bars, but she knew better than to complain to her father.

"We can offer Dinah things you can't, David," her grandmother was saying. "And we'd like nothing more than to have her with us. We've had this discussion before--"

"I haven't forgotten your kind offers," DR said, in the accepting tone he used for the weather and the failure of an experiment. Dinah wondered when these offers had been made. DR, dressed in his one suit, white shirt, and the red tie he'd ironed that morning, was next to Dinah on a plush couch A strand of enormous pearls curled on her grandmother's bosom. City and country, her grandmother and father might as well have been from separate galaxies.

"We can educate the girl," an uncle said. He was the one closest to Moira in age, the one who looked most like her, and Dinah concentrated on his eyebrows. "Fort Worth has a lot to offer a girl like Dinah. Dancing lessons. Piano. Or another instrument if she prefers. We have the resources. We can send her to college in the East. She'll have real opportunity."

Dinah was in no way musical. Dancing was not her strong suit. She knew they wouldn't let her keep her mother's dog, and in that moment the after-school walks with Bird seemed precious above all else. Besides, who would see that dinner was waiting for her father?

Her grandfather's voice was gravelly, like he hadn't talked in days. "If Dinah doesn't come live with us, that's the end of it. No money from this family, no trust fund, no inheritance. Not a dime."

Dinah's father got up from his chair. "Your offer is generous," he said. "I appreciate it. Still and all, I don't think making a rich orphan of Dinah is any solution."

Only then did DR look at Dinah, but she was already on her feet. She gave a curtsey, the best she could manage, and raised her hand in a wave. She couldn't do what manners dictated and kiss her grandparents and uncles farewell. She walked out beside her father and drove with him home to Plum Creek.

By Laura Furman, American Scholar, Spring2007

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Thursday, February 22, 2007




Sunday, January 14, 2007

New entrants may benefit UK beef trade

Romania and Bulgaria's entry into the EU this year could boost exports of British beef.

The two countries, which brought 30m new citizens to the EU when they joined on 1 January, consumed 93,000t of imported beef last year, according to latest Meat and Livestock Commission figures. About 73,000t of this came from Brazil.

But higher EU import tariffs on low quality beef mean it is no longer economically viable for South American countries to ship cargoes to Bulgaria and Romania. Export restrictions in Brazil and Argentina are also reducing shipments from South America.

Peter Hardwick, MLC international manager, said this meant Bulgaria and Romania would be forced to look elsewhere for supplies, which could offer opportunities for

UK farmers. "Romania and Bulgaria consume high amounts of beef, and while it isn't high quality at the moment, that could change and there could be future opportunities for quality beef. In the short term, offal markets show most potential."

Robert Forster, National Beef Association chief executive, said: "As standards of living rise and their economies develop, Romania and Bulgaria will become massive meat eaters, and there is no way they will produce enough for themselves."

And the eastern European market for our breeding cattle is bottomless. While exporting more pedigree cattle won't compensate for the loss of support in 2012, it will certainly help farmers."

But the accession of the two new countries could mean increased competition for the UK sheep industry. Romania exported 1.2m sheep in the first nine months of last year, a 6% increase on the year.

Mr Hardwick said a lack of EU-approved abattoirs meant the countries would be held back for some time, but they would see greater market presence in future. "Romania is already an active exporter of live animals to neighbouring countries such as Greece," he said.

* Independent consultant Peter Crichton said prospects for UK pig producers after the EU's expansion looked promising. "I don't think this will have any impact initially, but the hope is that pigmeat consumption will increase."

"Meat traders are reporting that new member states are already placing orders, which should help the EU pig market."

Farmers Weekly, 1/12/2007


Saturday, December 16, 2006

How to Read Between the Lines During your Next Whitecoat Conversation

By Ron Geraci, Men's Health

The test result is slightly abnormal, and it could be several things.

This could mean:

"It's definitely one of two things, and I hope it's not the first one."

"We may tell the patient initially that there's a 'slight abnormality' because we don't want to worry them," says Leonid Poretsky, M.D,, an endocrinologist at Beth Israel Medical Center, in New York City. For example, there are blood-test irregularities that could mean cancer, pneumonia, or nothing at all--but be assured your doctor is thinking of the most serious possibilities. If you want to hear them, ask the right question, Dr. Poretsky advises: "I know you can't tell definitively what it may be, but what are the diagnoses you're considering?"

I've performed many of these operations.

This could mean:

"I'd choose a more experienced surgeon."

A good measure of a surgeon's skills is how many times he or she has performed the procedure in question--both the Lifetime total and the number per year. "Thousands" is a comforting answer for the first tally, but the annual number is the critical one to know. Replies such as "Quite a few," "Enough," or "I'm comfortable with this" could mean the surgeon is still on his learning curve, says Dr. Oz. You need a specific number,

Dr. Smiddle? He's a great guy.

This could mean:

"I wouldn't let him touch me."

Asking a doctor to rate another doctor can put him in a delicate position. The weasel words? "He's a nice guy," "He's at one of the better centers" (which means not the best center), and the like. What you want to hear are superlatives about the doctor's specific skills.

Our team decided that it was the best course of action.

This could mean:

"There's a 0.5 percent chance we can sew it back on."

Most patients ask vague questions, such as "How serious is this?" and "Is everything going to be all right?" These elicit vague answers. "Make your question as specific as possible, and ask for facts, not his judgment,' says James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., chairman of the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin.

You need an ESR test.

This could mean:

"I have no clue what's wrong with you."

The ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) test measures inflammation, says Mehmet Oz, M.D., coauthor of You: The Smart Patient. It can be a shot in the dark ordered for patients with fatigue, weird fevers, or symptoms that might be all in their head. A full-body CAT scan may also signal a doctor's befuddlement.

Our team decided that it was the best course of action.

This could mean:

"I don't know what happened during the shift change."

People are more likely to avoid first-person pronouns-"I," "me," and "my"--when lying, according to research by Pennebaker. "One hypothesis is that [deceivers] are psychologically trying to distance themselves from the situation," he says. Reply by asking what he or she specifically did (or failed to do) at the time.

That growth may be nothing, but I want you to see a specialist.

This could mean:

"I'm about 99 percent certain that it's cancer, but I'd rather let another doctor tell you that."

A lump. A mass. A shadow on the x-ray. These can be code words for the C-word and signal that the doctor wants you to hear the news from a specialist who has the "you have cancer" talk 20 times a week. If you want the full story ASAP, say so. "If a patient asks if I think it's cancer, I'll tell them," says Tan Blumer, M.D., author of What Your Doctor Really Thinks.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Hot Tip: Save Energy $$$

Lower your thermostat by a barely noticeable 1°F this winter, and you'll save up to $40 a year on your energy bill, according to the United States Department of Energy. This easy move will also keep 250 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, say experts at the Environmental Defense Fund. That's about the equivalent of driving a car from Boston to New York City.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Merkel as a world star

BERLIN Germany's chancellor wants Europe's economic powerhouse to play a bigger role on the world stage. But how many Germans are ready for that?

WITH more than 80m people and the world's third biggest economy, Germany squats like a giant in the centre of Europe. For most of the six decades since the second world war, it has been a giant in chains. The desire to tie it down was one of the chief motives of the German and French politicians who founded what has become the European Union. Memory has added fetters, too. The horrors of the Nazi period have imbued today's Germans with a profound antipathy to war and foreign entanglements.

At the beginning of this decade, however, the giant stirred. Under the chancellorship of Gerhard Schröder, Germany began cautiously to use military power outside its borders, in the Balkans. When America and Britain embarked on their Iraq adventure, Mr Schröder made a dramatic break with the United States, vigorously opposing the war and showing a new readiness to assert Germany's own power and interests. Now a new chancellor, Angela Merkel, has spent a year in office at the head of a grand coalition, the forced marriage of the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD). Next year she will occupy the rotating presidency of both the EU and the G8 rich-country club. Where will she take German foreign policy?

When she took over the chancellery last November, many observers expected her to be a German version of Margaret Thatcher (minus the threatening handbag), and knock the economy back into shape. Instead, she has turned out to be more of a foreign-policy chancellor. To avoid political quicksands, she let visits abroad dominate her first few months. She was more effective in helping to bring about a ceasefire in Lebanon than in putting an end to annoyingly narrow-minded fights about health care and other domestic matters. And next year, she is expected to star, not just because she will lead the EU and the G8, but because so many of the other world leaders are lame ducks while she is just starting out.

In ten years from now, says one of her close advisers, the grand coalition may be remembered not for the disappointments on the home front but for the fact that it has helped to reconcile Germans to the truth that unification and the end of the cold war did not create a peaceful world, but a brutal one full of conflicts, "and that Germany must assume responsibility to solve them." But if Germans can no longer shield themselves from the harsh realities of world affairs, how they react to this "reality shock" remains an open question.

The change, of course, was not sudden. Germany began assuming a stronger world role once the end of the cold war brought the country not just unification, but full sovereignty. Its foreign policy, much like its welfare state, was obliged to face up to the consequences of globalisation. But whereas the welfare state could not be easily adapted to fit with the way the world was going, Germany's foreign policy turned out to be far more in tune with the new challenges of an interdependent world. The catastrophe of the second world war, and decades of living with limited sovereignty, taught the Germans the virtues of soft power and multilateralism. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a long-time former foreign minister, once famously said that Germany had no national interests, because its interests were identical with Europe's interests.

But where Germany long differed from its allies was in the ability and the willingness to send troops abroad. The Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, was set up to defend the homeland against attacks from the east. It would not have been politically possible, until the 1990s, to deploy soldiers in foreign interventions: most Germans were staunchly pacifist. Only in 1994 did the constitutional court rule that German soldiers could be allowed outside the NATO area, and then only if parliament had given its approval.

It took a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens, both with strong pacifist leanings, to send the Bundeswehr into armed combat, thus breaking the post-war taboo. In 1999, Mr Schröder risked a vote of confidence to dispatch fighter planes to take part in NATO's war in Kosovo. Nowadays, Germany is one of the larger providers of peacekeeping troops, with nearly 9,000 men and women spread over a dozen missions that range from Afghanistan to Sudan (see chart).

Mr Schröder reconciled Germans to the use of military power but without compromising the country's belief in non-military intervention. Armed forces are still seen as one instrument only in dealing with a conflict. In northern Afghanistan, for instance, Germany is testing out a new type of provincial reconstruction team (PRT), which truly mixes military and civil groups. The German PRTs are led jointly by a military commander and a diplomat, and the soldiers are complemented by teams of civil servants and aid workers.
A new sort of German nationalism

Mr Schröder also introduced another novelty into Germany's post-war foreign policy: a kind of German Gaullism. Foreign policy, he insisted, "is decided in Berlin", and he vowed to defend Germany's interests. This partly explains his opposition to the war in Iraq, an opposition which helped him to get re-elected in 2002, but badly damaged transatlantic relations. His more nationalist approach led to close friendships with the French and Russian presidents, and also to the pursuit of a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.

As a result, Germany was no longer perceived as a fixed star in the European firmament, let alone stolidly in mid-Atlantic. It was seen to be much freer, prepared to act on its own. Ms Merkel's contribution was to move swiftly to return the perception to what it had been. She has realigned Germany's position, putting some distance between herself and Jacques Chirac, and between herself and Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, while edging closer to America's president, George Bush.

This effort to reposition Germany has guided her foreign policy. Mr Chirac's frequent hand-kissing notwithstanding, relations with France have cooled significantly. And when Mr Putin visited Germany in October, Ms Merkel did not hesitate to address the murder of a Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya. This was in sharp contrast to Mr Schröder who, during his tenure, called Russia's president "a democrat through and through".

At the same time, she has established an excellent relationship with Mr Bush, though she does not flinch from criticising the United States on such issues as Guantánamo and the CIA "rendition" flights. During her time in the EU presidency, her government would like to start a new transatlantic project. This would be a joint American-EU effort to come up with common standards in such areas as hedge-fund regulation and intellectual property.

An even more important difference between Ms Merkel and her predecessor is her position on EU enlargement, particularly the question of Turkish membership. Mr Schröder was a staunch proponent of Turkish accession, mainly for geopolitical reasons, seeing Turkey as a link between Europe and the Muslim world. Although Ms Merkel wants negotiations to go ahead, she thinks Turkey's relations with the EU should stop short of full membership — a position that is now supported by a large majority of Germans. This could spell trouble within the coalition, since the SPD still wants Turkey inside the union.

The quest to become a permanent member of the Security Council has been quietly abandoned, for now. Instead, Germany is playing an important part in foreign issues where it believes it can make a difference. Witness the negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme, in which Germany's involvement, together with the five permanent council members, is signalled by the shorthand "P5 plus one".

Germany, says Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, is now pretty much where it belongs: squarely at the centre. Whether it wants to be or not, the country is a Mittelmacht, or middle power. It is not a superpower, able to throw its weight about, but it is in a good position to take responsibility in cases where it can bring something to the table. This is so, for instance, in Central Asia, where Germany is not just the only European country with embassies in all five countries, but has also developed good links with civil society across the region.

It is hardly surprising, then, that Germans, so full of domestic gloom, are relatively happy about their current place in the world. But they are warned by Michael Zürn, dean of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, that this is no reason for self-congratulation. In a recent paper, he tries to assess whether Germany is doing enough to live up to its self-image of being "a power of peace". His sobering conclusion is not exactly, at least compared with other countries.
Hesitant power for peace

A direct comparison of Germany's defence spending (1.4% of GDP) with that of the United States (3.7%) is somewhat unfair: the whole point of Germany's foreign policy has been to avoid putting resources mainly in the military basket. But even if you add together the budgets of the ministries of defence, development and foreign affairs, Germany's record is not stellar. This share of "international policy" in Germany's federal budget has dropped from more than 20% in the early 1990s to 12% last year — not just because of less money for defence but also because there is less for development aid. Other indicators confirm that Germany is only a Mittelmacht when it comes to committing resources to development aid.

Moreover, the number of German troops abroad do not tell the full story. The Bundeswehr has been slow to adapt to a world in which conventional war in defence of the homeland is unlikely. Despite 253,000 soldiers and a budget of €24 billion ($28 billion), it has a lot of trouble mustering and equipping its peacekeepers. And these troops have rarely been at the centre of the action: in Afghanistan, they stay in the relatively calm north; in Lebanon, they patrol at sea, not on land.

More important in the long run, argues Mr Zürn, is the degree to which foreign-policy questions play a role in Germany's public debates. Though the coverage of international affairs in leading newspapers and broadcasts has increased, particularly when it comes to matters to do with the EU, domestic issues continue to dominate, even more than they do in other European countries. Politicians seem less and less interested in foreign-policy matters that pay no dividends on election day. Of the 109 new members who entered the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, at last year's election, only one admitted to an interest in foreign policy. Nor does it help that Germany is rather short on foreign-policy experts. "Foreign policy has no lobby of its own," says Mr Perthes.

Even though the public seems fairly content, at least for the moment, with the way that foreign policy is going, the country's leaders have not yet done enough to ensure that support will continue for the policy of sending troops abroad. In urging the dispatch of troops to Kosovo, Mr Schröder used strong moral imperatives ("Never again Auschwitz") to convince the public to allow fighter planes to go into combat. It is hard to follow so emotional an approach with less passionate justifications. There has seldom been any open talk about military dangers. And only low-risk missions are proposed.

There are obvious reasons for this. Pacifism remains deeply rooted. Moreover, parliament's powers in military matters is a German speciality: even a mission composed of two envoys in Ethiopia must be approved and its mandate renewed annually. But what this means is that, although the public now accepts the need for intervention and peacekeeping, the support is not all that solid. Most people see soldiers as little more than armed development-aid workers, who expend goodwill and good works, but do not get harmed. There may well be a backlash, says Josef Janning of the Bertelsmann Foundation, a think-tank, if something really bad happens, such as a busload of soldiers dying while fighting the Taliban.

Fortunately, the Bundeswehr has been lucky so far. Since 1991, 64 German soldiers have been killed, most of them by accident. But this state of affairs may not continue. In Afghanistan, for instance, the north is no longer an oasis of calm and German soldiers are regularly attacked. Germans are also discovering that their soldiers can come home as traumatised war veterans, and sometimes do nasty things in action. Witness the uproar created by pictures of German soldiers in Afghanistan holding up skulls. More to the point, NATO allies are turning up the heat on Germany to let its soldiers fight in Afghanistan's much more dangerous south.

The battlefield is not the only place where the rules of engagement are changing. For Germany, the negotiations with Iran were supposed to be an example of effective multilateralism. But now, with Iran unresponsive, Germany may one day soon have to decide whether it is willing to accept the price of tougher sanctions.

And this summer, Germany found that it, too, is not entirely safe from Islamist terrorism, despite its opposition to the war in Iraq. Two Lebanese students placed bombs on regional trains, though these fortunately failed to explode.

For decades, Germany was happy fighting culture wars over nuclear versus renewable energy, while conveniently forgetting that it was increasingly dependent on Russian gas imports. But a recently leaked memo by the foreign ministry's internal think-tank has triggered a heated debate that is reminiscent of discussions about the Soviet Union during the cold war — and also exposes frictions between the foreign ministry and the chancellery. The leaked paper argues that the EU should strengthen its economic and cultural links with Russia, an approach it calls "growing closer by interweaving" (which explains why some have dubbed it a "new Ostpolitik ", given that this was based on the mantra "change through becoming closer"). To critics, this amounts to ignoring both the issue of human rights in Russia, and the danger, for Germany, of energy dependence.

But, at least in the short run, the EU remains the most pressing issue for Germany. Although the government is trying to lower expectations, hopes still run high that Germany can salvage the proposed EU constitution. Yet the presidential election in France next May means that there is not much time, during Germany's six-month presidency, to tackle the issue.

In a sense, this presidency will really begin only on March 25th, when leaders of the EU's member states gather in Berlin for the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the union's founding document, and adopt a "Berlin Declaration". This is supposed to be only a few pages long and drafted in direct talks between governments rather than by the Brussels bureaucracy. The hope is that it will re-launch the union, by stating common values and committing members to a genuine effort on the EU constitution.

Germany will need to be more creative than that if it is to accomplish what Ms Merkel calls "squaring the circle": tweaking the constitutional treaty to make it more acceptable to critics, notably in France, but without obliging the 15 member states that have already ratified it to do so again. Ms Merkel will consult to find out what members can accept, and when decisions would fit into their political schedule. At the EU summit next June, Germany will present a report that outlines how the constitution might be salvaged until France takes over the presidency in 2008.

If there is a European leader to find a solution, Ms Merkel may be the one. Among her colleagues, says Gerd Langguth of Bonn University, who has written her biography, she stands out as being extremely rational, wanting to get things done and not making a big fuss about herself. At home, this has become somewhat of a weakness, argues Mr Langguth: she tends to underestimate the importance of emotion in politics and the need to demonstrate leadership. On the international scene, however, it may be a strength: international issues are mostly about interests and law — and not about calming erratic state premiers from Bavaria or North Rhine-Westphalia.

A successful EU presidency would give her the authority she needs to breathe life into the grand coalition, says Wolfgang Nowak, of the Alfred Herrhausen Society, a think-tank. This would be welcome, for things are not so good at home. Yet, in more than one way, Germany's political system is simply doing what it was built to do after 1945: protect democracy by making it hard to bring about fundamental change. In no other rich country do so many players have a say in how their nation is governed: the state premiers, the coalitions, the constitutional court. Many had hoped that this latest coalition would somehow manage to overcome the "joint-decision-making trap", bringing the country up to speed with the rest of the world.

In the coalition's first year, it was probably a good thing that it did not. Not trying too hard to cut the budget deficit encouraged the economy to recover nicely. Growth is likely to reach 2.4%, the highest rate in five years. Unemployment is down by nearly 500,000 on a year ago, to some 4.3m people. And, thanks to booming tax revenues, even the budget deficit is likely to fall to its lowest level since the country's unification 16 years ago.
A tough learning process

The real problem is that Germans are continuing to lose faith in their political system — mainly as a result of the bickering within the coalition. Both the CDU and the SPD are hovering around 30% in the polls. Worse, according to a recent survey, a majority of Germans now say, for the first time, that they are no longer satisfied with how their democracy works.

Such a snapshot should not be misread: Germans are not about to ditch democracy. But there is a danger that, unhappy about direction, they may rediscover isolationism. Already, Euroscepticism is on the rise. And two-thirds of Germans now think that their soldiers should not be sent on any new missions. "Germans are still learning that they have to take over more responsibility," says a top official at the chancellery. "The problem could become that the world will ask us to do too much at this stage of our learning process." Germany has made great progress at finding its place in the world since unification, but it is not yet over the hump of history.
Widely, but still fairly safely, spread German troops on foreign assignments[*]

Mission Number
Afghanistan, Uzbekistan 2,898
Kosovo 2,875
Lebanon 1,021
Bosnia 847
Congo 754
Norn of Africa 332
Sudan 37
NATO Mediterranean patrol 23
Georgia 11
other 44
Total 8,842

Source: Economist, 11/18/2006