Ensco's (ESV) 7.75% Senior Notes due 2026 has been priced on par. The principal amount of the offering has been upsized to $1 billion.
Ensco plc (ESV) recently announced the pricing of an upsized private placement of 3.00% Exchangeable Senior Notes, due 2024, for an aggregate principal amount of $750 million.
Ensco plc (ESV) has declared the early results of its previously announced cash tender offer to purchase notes of up to worth $750 million.
Ensco plc (ESV) announced that it has commenced a cash tender offer to purchase notes of up to worth $750 million.
Salvage skipper becomes an Italian hero as the 114,000-tonne cruise ship is righted after 19 nailbiting hoursNick Sloane – captain, senior salvage master, lover of pig roasts and hikes – is a gregarious tough guy who is not often lost for words. But when it came to talking about the moment when he was able to tell his 500-strong team of workers that they had managed to right the Costa Concordia after 19 nailbiting hours and 16 months of preparation, there were several seconds when the emotion was a bit much, even for him."We called out on the [internal] radio between all the vessels, and we said: "Zero four hundred hours. The Costa Concordia is upright and safely resting on the grout mattress and platforms. And then you could hear …" His voice caught. "Yeah, you could hear the guys were really chuffed. Everyone was jumping up and down. It was good."Of course, the woman who asked if he was crying got a flat "no". But Sloane, the 52-year-old from Cape Town who is now an Italian hero, conceded that, on a day like this, a bit of emotion was not out of place.From the moment the foghorn in Giglio Porto broke the news at 4am that the Concordia's parbuckling had been a success, emotions were running high all over – not just in the control panel on a barge from which Sloane and his so-called "magnificent 11" controlled the painstaking process by remote. As he and his multinational group of colleagues disembarked they were greeted with warm applause from islanders who remember only too well the night 32 people died in or beside their waters.Firefighters clapped when, at a press briefing, civil protection agency head Franco Gabrielli confirmed the meaning of the foghorn's wail: for the first time since it ran aground in Tuscan waters in January last year, the 114,000-tonne cruise ship was vertical once more, resting securely on a false sea bottom of steel platforms.After 20 months lying on its side the 300-metre long ship was suddenly upright and the full extent of the damage to its starboard side starkly visible from the seafront.It seemed a ship of two halves: one white, with the clean lines of the floating palace it used to be; the other brown, sludge-strewn and horrifically disfigured, its middle a huge dent of mangled balconies and portholes.Enrico Letta, Italy's prime minister, declared that the parbuckling was "a moment of great Italian pride"."We have turned a page in the public image of our country which, at the time of the incident with the ship, was of flight from responsibility," he said, according to news agency Ansa.And for the two sets of relatives arriving to see the wreck that could still contain the bodies of their loved ones, it was a day of pain, but also of "new hope".Elio Vincenzi, whose wife Maria Grazia Trecarichi had been on the cruise with her daughter as a 50th birthday gift, said he was optimistic that divers would finally find her body.But seeing the wreck upright for the first time had not been easy. "It was very painful. I had very strong emotions," he said. "When I saw it before on its side it was like a wounded animal. Now it's different. When we arrived, it was raining and it was like a dream; it looked like the ship was alive."Standing on the harbour wall, Kevin Rebello, whose brother Russel is the other victim still missing, said that once a search was carried out, "we hope we will all be able to go home".Gabrielli said the search for them would begin as soon as the wreck site was declared safe – within, he hoped, the "coming days".Sloane, a man dubbed by local newspaper Il Tirreno as "the man of (im)possible missions", warned there were many challenges still to overcome in the most expensive salvage project in history, whose cost has already topped €600m (£500m) and will keep rising."There's still a bit of a rollercoaster ride to come," he said at a press conference, which he refused to start without his wife in the audience. "But if this [phase] did not go well then it would be worse, so, yes, it was essential that this plan worked. There's a lot of relief and I'm very happy my wife Sandra was there to share it with me. She was texting me saying, 'Come on, what's taking you so long?'"She wasn't the only one. Although the parbuckling went to plan, it went on for a lot longer than expected, from 9am on Monday to 4am the next day. But Sloane, the senior salvage master for Titan, the US company co-ordinating the salvage with Italian firm Micoperi, said the results had proved better than they had hoped.The "crucial moment", he said, came several hours into the operation when, with hydraulic jacks and chains exerting a force of 6,800 tonnes, the engineers managed finally to free the wreck from the reef on which it had become moulded. While the speed of the ship's rotation for the most of the process was roughly 3.5 degrees an hour, it reached around eight or nine degrees in the final phase, when gravity took over and the water-filled sponsons on the port side pushed it down on to the platforms.In total, Sloane and his colleagues had turned the wreck 65 degrees. Both in terms of the huge size and precarious positioning of the vessel, the operation was unprecedented.But Sloane said that, though significant, the damage was in accordance with what had been expected. For him, now, a holiday beckons with his wife of 24 years and their three children. No one in Giglio – or Italy – will begrudge him that.Asked to reflect on the operation, shortly after he had woken from a much-needed sleep, he remarked, with some understatement: "To roll a ship of 300 metres – three football fields … there are some concerns that she's not going to follow together. But she did."Armbands ahoyNick Sloane was clear: the job is not done yet and the salvage mission will not be over until the Costa Concordia is towed away from Giglio in one piece. "We haven't finished yet," he said. "This was a really important step, and really the most challenging one. We still have a lot of work to do."Asked when the end date would come, he said it was not possible at this stage to set a timetable, and that it would definitely not be before spring next year."Certainly," he added, with a characteristic flourish, "by this time next year we all want to be playing golf or fishing or doing something completely different."In order to get to the stage of the ship's removal, the engineers must overcome several challenges. First, they must wait until the authorities arrange for a thorough search of the wreck to try to locate the two victims still missing.Then, they must evaluate the huge damage done to the starboard side and come up with a way of fixing more sponsons on to that part of the ship. The 11 sponsons already on the ship – large, steel boxes – were filled with water in the parbuckling last night.But, when the ship comes to be refloated – the next major stage – they will play a crucial role by expelling that water and becoming, effectively, air-filled armbands giving the wreck buoyancy.Costa ConcordiaItalyEuropeWater transportLizzy Davies theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
Tommy Robinson of the English Defence League recorded employee on camera phone after he refused to serve his friendA Selfridges shop assistant is facing possible dismissal after refusing to serve a man who was buying clothes with the leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson.The menswear assistant, who has not been named, angered Robinson after he declined to help his friend in the luxury London department store on Monday.Robinson, a convicted criminal who leads anti-Islam protests that have often turned violent and have been marked by racist chanting, said the assistant asked his friend if he was with the EDL leader and then said "fuck off, I am not serving you".Robinson said he had not heard the exchange directly, but immediately challenged the assistant who he assumed was a Muslim "because he had Mo on his name tag"."You won't serve my friend because he's friends with me ... and I'm in the EDL," said Robinson, according to his own camera phone recording of the incident. "Is that what you're saying?"The man held his hands up and tried to ignore the question, but eventually replied: "You can put me on the camera all you like but I ain't serving you", before walking off.Selfridges said it was "very disappointed" and suspended the staff member pending an internal investigation. By way of apology, the store laid on a three-course meal for Robinson and his friend in its Hix restaurant, champagne and caviar bar, which included £25 portions of char-grilled sirloin steak and chips, and chocolate cake and ice-cream."We pride ourselves on making everyone welcome and endeavour to provide world-class customer service at all times," a Selfridges spokesman said. "We are taking the matter very seriously and are currently investigating it."The worker is being represented by his union, USDAW.Robinson said his friend was not associated with the EDL, adding that "if a Muslim was uncomfortable serving me I wouldn't have been bothered".He said he did not want to see the shop assistant sacked but remarked that if a white shop assistant had refused to serve a Muslim he would be sacked immediately. He said he challenged the shop assistant because he felt he and his friend were the victim of double standards.The day got worse for Robinson when he was later ejected from a Milton Keynes casino because, he believes, he is the EDL leader. He told the Guardian it is a pattern repeated in clubs and pubs in his hometown of Luton where proprietors fear his presence will attract trouble.Formed in 2009, the EDL claims to be opposed to Islamic extremism and has held a series of protests across the UK that have led to numerous arrests for public order offences as EDL supporters clashed with anti-racism campaigners.Robinson and an EDL colleague face charges, which they deny, of obstructing police in the course of attempting to organise a march to the site of British army soldier Lee Rigby's death.English Defence LeagueThe far rightRobert Booth theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
What follows is an interview I did over the summer with the Madrid based publication The Local. Let’s start with the basics: what are Spain’s current economic problems? Spain’s economic problems are a knock-on effect of the end of Spain’s property boom. The collapse of the property market led to a drop in incomes, depressed demand for goods and — slightly — lower wages. At the same time, apart from property prices haven’t come down. In addition over one adult in four isn’t working. So consumption is steadily falling. On top of that we have a debt overhang — which means it is difficult for Spain to borrow. Larger companies are struggling to get credit so they are delaying payments to smaller suppliers, which means smaller companies are finding it harder to get money. It’s a vicious cycle. We are also seeing imbalances within Europe with the Germans doing ‘well’ and young Spaniards leaving the country to work elsewhere. And how has the Popular Party (PP) government led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tackled these problems? One of the main objectives has been to avoid a financial rescue from the European Union. This was important for a number of reasons. National pride was definitely one factor. Also, it is unlikely any Spanish government could have survived a bailout. Then there is the fact that Europe would have had a greater say in how the Spanish economy operated if a bailout had taken place. The EU would have been telling Spain which taxes to raise or lower, for example, or how to go about pension reform. How do you rate the government’s attempts to cut spending? At the end of the day, this government is made up of ‘middle of the road politicians’ and they are basically economically liberal. Which means they would like to see less government. So if the deficit hasn’t come down very far it hasn’t been for want of trying. I would probably have to say their least recognized achievement has been their attempt to reform the public administration. This hasn’t been easy for the PP as some of the areas where the party has a lot of support are also places where there is not a lot of industry, and where government is a big employer. This being said Spain still had the biggest deficit in the EU last year (government spending exceeded tax revenue by 10.6 percent). In addition, reform of the financial sector still has a long way to go as well because while there is increased liquidity in the system, more recapitalization is constantly required as the high unemployment and low demand for products means more bad loans are created with each passing day. Recently, Spain’s Economy Minister Luis de Guindos asserted the recession may be over. He didn’t mention the crisis though. That’s an important distinction. Luis de Guindos is an intelligent man and recognizes that while the crisis is ongoing, recessions are a normal part of the business cycle. Spain’s second recession since the crisis began could well be over. And yes, we could well see two, or three, or even four quarters of weak economic growth but this is just part of the cycle. Indeed, Spain’s double-dip recession could eventually turn into a triple-dip one. This is because none of the underlying problems have been adequately addressed. We were told house prices would bottom out with the creation of a bad bank, but they are still falling. There is probably some way to go still, maybe two or three more years of falling prices. The organization charged with handling failed banks’ property assets, the “bad bank” Sareb, isn’t operating very well either. Sales are very low and the costs for potential buyers from Sareb is too expensive as the organization doesn’t have depositors and has to make deals with other banks to give mortgages which end up making interest costs too expensive to make the purchase attractive. And even while some of the old imbalances are adjusting new ones are being created since young people are now leaving Spain to work elsewhere in ever greater numbers. We don’t know exactly how many are leaving because Spain’s electoral roll doesn’t keep accurate track of where native Spaniards are living and working. What we do know is that last year Spain’s population fell for the first time in modern history, and that it will continue to fall as far ahead as the eye can see. A turning point of some kind has been passed. So you are not convinced by the spate of claims the crisis is over? I believe these predictions play to two audiences. The first issue is a confidence issue. Politicians would like to give the impression to the Spanish people that the crisis is ending to encourage them to spend. At the same time, Prime Minister Rajoy is fighting for his political survival. One of the likely consequences of the current lack of government credibility, in my opinion, is that Spain could – in time – become effectively ungovernable in a way which has become common in other southern European countries. Fresh elections are unlikely in the short run, but when they do come there is unlikely to be a clear majority party, the outcome is likely to be fragmented, and indeed the Catalans want a vote on whether to leave. The (opposition socialist) PSOE party continues to have a huge credibility problem following the fiasco of the Zapatero government. They are currently polling at very low levels (21.6 percent according to a July poll run by Metroscopia). It’s also very hard to imagine a political party in Spain making an alliance with Catalonia’s ruling CiU party given there is an independence referendum in the pipeline. So what does the term crisis actually mean after five years? My feeling is that it’s totally unrealistic to expect a ‘return to the old reality’. We are now in a change of paradigm process. We all need to change our expectations and find ways to live with the new situation, since whether we like it or not we will have to. There is no quick fix – these have all been tried and failed – and Spain is now condemned to going through a painful long-term shift. The country will have to deal with its legacy debt. Personally, I think the International Monetary Fund could have played a more important role. It could have acted as a kind of referee between Spain and the European Central Bank (ECB) and the EU, coaxing the country into adopting more fundamental changes. It could have pushed for the ”front loading” of the deep reforms the country needs (especially the much needed internal devaluation) coaxing the country into making changes at a time when the population was still receptive. But unfortunately even though the Fund is now trying to recover lost ground, most of the principal social actors turn a deaf ear. No one wants to hear more about harsh sacrifices, they only want “sweet words” about a looming recovery and regeneration. In addition I believe the IMF is now increasingly trying to distance instance from Europe because it has become tired of playing the part of public relations officer for what are effectively EU-lead programmes. It is clear from the Greek case – and the recent IMF “mea culpa” – that this way of doing things doesn’t work. Further, non-European members of the Fund like Brazil, China and India are now increasingly pressuring the organisation to stop molly coddling Europe’s leaders. Look, for example, at how little money is being offered to Egypt and how much has been spent on Greece. But what this means is that the organisation is now unlikely to play the role it once could have. To what extent is Spain responsible for its crisis, and to to what degree are international circumstances to blame? When the Euro was rolled out, the single currency idea clearly wasn’t thought through well enough. The EU leaders didn’t envisage the problems that have arisen. Another part of the problem lies in an idea that existed in Europe before the crisis — this was the idea that all countries all had equal levels of risk. And this clearly wasn’t true. So to some extent the EU itself needs to assume responsibility. But on the Spanish side, it’s obvious the political parties were up to their necks in fomenting the boom by letting regional savings banks keep lending money, and by allowing builders to keep building. During the building boom, many Spaniards also became property speculators in their own right, buying more houses than they really needed. As the saying goes, ”When the music plays you have to dance”.
The team that dresses alike, works together better, apparently, and if you really want to get on in your career, you could do far worse than emulate your manager's dress senseFirst the bad news: if you think your co-workers dress like drones and pride yourself on your own "unique" sense of style, you're committing an act of sartorial career sabotage. A depressing new study has found that a "cohesive sense of style" in an office is perceived to create a better team spirit and foster higher levels of productivity. Accordingly, co-workers often subconsciously develop a uniform "look". And before you start claiming the sartorial high ground, nope, it doesn't matter if you dress better than your dull colleagues. Dressing differently is all it takes to find yourself rudely ejected from their style tribe and out in the cold.Now the even worse news: it's specifically your boss you need to style-stalk. In the same study, commissioned by Debenhams, more than two-thirds of managers admitted to a "heightened awareness" of staff with a similar style to themselves. Such colleagues "gain brownie points" they added.Yes, the idea of copying your boss's wardrobe to make them like you seems undeniably creepy; decidedly Single White Female. But the fact that employees emulate bosses, and that bosses approve, comes as no surprise to me. I worked in fashion journalism for eight years. I used to share a lift with the GQ team; I know that on any given day the office resembles a slightly unimaginative set for a Burberry campaign, so perfectly co-ordinated are their suits with ties all at identical widths. Last winter, Vogue suffered a severe outbreak of feather and fur gilets after a senior member of the fashion team debuted hers. The current dress code at Asos, I'm told, is tartan kilts and checks; they're grunging like it's 1991. There has been such a proliferation of Mouret-esque Galaxy dresses at News International that one Sun worker I know now refers to Wapping as Battleship Galaxy-Dress-Off. And ever since one former Shortlist editor started arranging her bleach-blonde tresses into a rockabilly beehive, hairlines rose as surely and steadily as dough during an episode of Bake Off. She fondly fingered these "tribute beehives", as she christened them, and happily dished out tips to junior staffers on getting a good rise.Upwardly mobile style copycats are nothing new, points out Julia Twigg, professor of social policy and sociology at the University of Kent. "Fashion has always been hierarchical in nature; historically lower-status people have dressed to emulate high-status individuals," she says. And what of the shared office dress sense? "Fundamentally, fashion is about relating to each other in groups," says Twigg. "Most people are very concerned at the idea of not fitting in." What is an office, if not a sweaty roomful of desperate people all clamouring to prove how well they fit in?A more prosaic explanation comes from 33-year-old charity worker Kate Lucas, who has noticed a shared dress sense among female co-workers at her offices in London. "People are busy, so if you see someone in the lift wearing something you like, you're bound to ask where they bought it." Could it be this simple? That dressing like your co-workers is less to do with a tribal identity, and more about sheer laziness? Why bother scouring the pages of Grazia if your co-worker has helpfully demonstrated what looks good and what looks rubbish? Modeling Zara's new denim dungarees is one task you can breezily delegate without an awkward email exchange.But where does all this desire to copy and fit in leave competitive dressing and fashion one-upmanship? It's a balancing act, admits Twigg. "Ideally, we want to be wearing the right clothes to fit into a group, but also looking slightly better than the others in the group," she says. "The aim is to mark ourselves out as somehow better and different, but not so different that we don't belong." Easy.Work & careersMagazinesNewspaperstheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
By the time most organizations start thinking about corporate culture, they already have one. Rick Rudman, co-founder and CEO of cloud marketing software provider Vocus, is unashamedly open that he and his co-founders did not plan their culture. It emerged. But, as it emerged, they made conscious choices about what to keep and what to evolve. Over the past six years, Vocus has acquired seven companies, and the cultures of those companies it acquired have not combined to form an entirely new culture. Rather, Vocus carefully selected organizations that fit into its already established culture. I recently spoke with Rudman and here's what he had to say about the processes behind building the Vocus corporate culture. Why Culture Matters Today Rudman is convinced that corporate culture is the only truly sustainable competitive advantage. But it's rarely the first advantage of a start up. Vocus' founders set out to "write incredible software." They chose to "take the business seriously, but not ourselves seriously." From the start, they worked hard and took time during the day to have some fun, like stopping by Toys 'R' Us to bring some toys back to the office. Even their first official planning session consisted of the company's eight employees working on the train on the way to an evening in Atlantic City. (Think Las Vegas meets the Jersey Shore). That "became a culture that worked," said Rudman. People were attracted by that culture and "became a part of us." The Building Blocks of the Vocus Culture Now, Vocus' culture is one of their sources of pride. In terms of the components that make up the Vocus culture, let's break it down in terms of "BRAVE" (Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values and Environment): Vocus' environment speaks volumes. They have laid out their 93,000 square foot corporate office to have the look and feel of a town (Seaside, FL to be specific). As Rudman explains, it has a main street for people to stroll on, a coffee shop for people to escape to, an oasis for food, a fitness center and a "bored" room for formal meetings. (Yes. "Bored" is spelled right.) Their values haven't changed much. They still drive "open communication and teamwork while allowing opportunity for individual achievements," "integrity," "customer-focus," and working and playing hard. Vocus' employees share the same attitude of taking work seriously without taking themselves too seriously. The environment, values and attitude inform their relationships, guiding, if not defining, the way they work together. All of this leads to a set of behaviors that make it a fun place to work, but where employees are able to make a large impact on their customers. To support the Vocus way of life, the company has several internal committees dedicated to cultivating its culture. The "It's all about you" Committee enhances employee work lives by introducing programs like on-site basketball tournaments and group yoga classes, and the "It's not all about you" Committee pushes employees out into the community to volunteer. Sustaining and Building Culture Rudman works very hard to sustain and improve the Vocus culture. He has chosen to acquire smaller companies and fold them into the Vocus culture. One example is iContact, which was a larger acquisition than normal. Rudman shared that folding iContact in took "a lot of proactive work," which included building a new environment for them similar to Vocus' headquarters, changing their language and acronyms and helping them become part of Vocus family. Implications for Your Business In many ways, culture is a shared set of "BRAVE" preferences. People joining a start up need to buy in to the founders' preferences. Of course, culture evolves -- but it rarely shifts quickly. And above all else, the right fit is what matters most. BRAVE Leadership is at the heart of The New Leader's Playbook: We're all new leaders all the time. So remember all the time that leadership is about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. With that in mind, BRAVE leaders pay attention to their Behaviors, Relationships, Attitude, Values, and Environment -- all the time. Click here to read about each step in the playbook Click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step This article originally appeared on Forbes.com The New Leader's Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis' managing director, and co-author of The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 3rd edition 2011) and the freemium iPad app New Leader Smart Tools. Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.
THEY TOLD ME IF I VOTED FOR MITT ROMNEY, THE BRITISH PRESS WOULD BE MOCKING OUR PRESIDENT’S INTERNAT…
THEY TOLD ME IF I VOTED FOR MITT ROMNEY, THE BRITISH PRESS WOULD BE MOCKING OUR PRESIDENT’S INTERNATIONAL GAFFES. AND THEY WERE RIGHT! Barack Obama’s Arafat blunder is an embarrassment for the leader of the free world. “While the Obama White House prides itself on having an extremely slick campaign operation, its ineptness and insensitivity [...]
NEW YORK — A bankruptcy judge has approved the sale of Twinkies to a pair of investment firms, one of which has said it hopes to have the cakes back on shelves by summer. Hostess Brands Inc. is selling Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Ho Hos and other brands, to Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co. for $410 million. Evan Metropoulos, a principal of the latter firm, said in an interview that he wants to have the snack cakes back on shelves by June and that the brands could benefit from new flavors and other product extensions. "There's no mistake, we've got to move smartly, we've got to move quickly," Metropoulos said. He also said that comedians Will Farrell and Zack Galifianakis are at the top of his "wish list" for potential pitchmen. But he doesn't plan on formally approaching anyone about marketing deals until after the sale closes in coming weeks. Metropoulos, which owns Pabst beer, has already used Farrell in its ads. Apollo's investments include the fast-food chains Hardee's and Carl's Jr., which is known for indulgent burgers and splashy ads starring scantily clad women. Judge Robert Drain of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York also approved the sale of Wonder bread to Flowers Foods, which makes Tastykakes and other breads. Flowers, based in Thomasville, Ga., would also get Nature's Pride, Butternut, Home Pride and Merita as part of the $360 deal. Hostess has said the Justice Department is reviewing that sale. The sale of Beefsteak to Grupo Bimbo was also approved. Grupo Bimbo makes Entenmann's cakes and Thomas' English muffins and is paying $31.9 million for the regional bread brand. A separate hearing is scheduled for April 9 to approve the sale of Drake's cakes, which include Devil Dogs and Yodels. Hostess picked McKee Foods, the maker of Little Debbie snack cakes, as the buyer for those brands at $27.5 million. Taken together, a Hostess spokesman said 29 of the bankrupt company's 36 bakeries were sold as part of the transactions. It will be up to the new owners whether to hire back the thousands of workers who lost their jobs when the company went out of business. In a statement, the company's bakers union said it shared the enthusiasm exhibited by the new owners to bring Hostess brands back to shelves quickly. The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union said it believed "our highly-motivated and skilled workforce will serve as indispensable partners in the seamless re-opening of factories." Hostess closed its factories in late November following a strike by the union. The company had been struggling financially for years.
One of the world's most popular writers, Coelho has survived being sent to an asylum by his parents and tortured by Brazil's ruling militiaIn pride of place in the living room of Paulo Coelho's apartment in Geneva is a fan's portrait of the author. A pointillist work, the huge image consists of the colour-coded coffee capsules George Clooney endorses. The background is composed of ristretto capsules (black), while Coelho's eyes seem to have been picked out in decaffeinato intenso (claret). Perhaps sadly, the artist has not used the new linizio lungo (apricot) capsule to perk up the colour scheme.This is not the strangest gift he has received, Coelho says. "I'm in my apartment in Rio in 2000 and the doorbell rings and there's a beautiful woman, very tall, very sexy, green eyes. She was carrying a small tree. I said: 'What is this?' She said: 'Don't speak Portuguese.' She said: 'I came from Slovenia because I want to plant this tree here and I want to have a son with you.'" Long story short – Coelho put her on a flight home and saw her only once more, with a boyfriend in Slovenia. And the tree? That's not important now, he laughs.For the next hour and a half he laughs a lot. A genial funster has today replaced the solemn preacher-novelist damned by one critic for writing "something David Hasselhoff might spout after a particularly taxing Baywatch rescue".This incarnation may not be what has made the 65-year-old Brazilian an international bestselling author with 9.8 million Facebook fans, 6.3 million Twitter followers, and a fanbase embracing readers in the Islamic republic of Iran and the socialist republic of Cuba. Personally speaking, Coelho in the flesh is more appealing than Coelho the writer."Do you want to see my bow?" he asks at one point. Coelho is a keen archer. He has seen The Hunger Games and can confirm that Jennifer Lawrence's archery technique is authentic. "The only thing that relaxes me is archery. That's why I have to have apartments with gardens."His other favourite activity is walking around Geneva. "I walk every day and I look at the mountains and the fields and the small city and I say: 'Oh my God, what a blessing.' Then you realise it's important to put it in a context beyond this woman, this man, this city, this country, this universe. It goes beyond everything. It goes to the core of our reason for being here." What if there is no reason for being here and – there's no easy way to put this – nice walks around Geneva are as good as it gets? "It's still a blessing." Good comeback.Back to the coffee portrait. For Coelho, it demonstrates one of the cardinal virtues he extols in his new book, Manuscript Found in Accra – elegance. Why is elegance important? "I don't know what I wrote in the book, but elegance goes to the basics." He points to his portrait. "This is very elegant because if you take an isolated Nespresso capsule, it would mean nothing but with three or four you can create anything. So for me elegance is this." Nespresso PR people who are liking the way this piece is going so far may want to excise the next sentence from their press pack: "I don't drink Nespresso by the way."Coelho's colour scheme is as minimalist as his portrait. Today he looks like a Brazilian Sweet Gene Vincent: white face, black coat, white beard, black trousers, white shirt over black T-shirt, white wisps of hair, trailing behind him as he struts through the apartment in Cuban heels sipping black coffee. He has a butterfly tattoo on his left wrist.The other virtues set out in his new book are boldness, love and friendship. A pedant might note that elsewhere in his writings, Coelho has argued that friendship is a form of love so should not be considered a distinct virtue. Also courage rather than boldness is the virtue you need if you are to realise the the message, expressed in his 1988 novel, The Alchemist, that wherever your heart is you will find treasure. But nobody, least of all Coelho, would suggest the oeuvre of the writer, who has sold 145m books worldwide and been translated into 74 languages, is devoid of contradictions. "If I have to summarise this book in one sentence, which would be very difficult," he says, "it is this: accept your contradictions. Learn how to live with them. Because they aren't curses – they are blessings."The Jesus of the gospels was, Coelho argues, similarly contradictory. "Jesus lived a life that was full of joy and contradictions and fights, you know?" says Coelho, his brown eyes sparkling. "If they were to paint a picture of Jesus without contradictions, the gospels would be fake, but the contradictions are a sign of authenticity. So Jesus says: 'Turn the other face,' and then he can get a whip and go woosh! The same man who says: 'Respect your father and mother' says: 'Who is my mother?' So this is what I love – he is a man for all seasons."Like Jesus, he's not expressing a coherent doctrine that can be applied to life like a blueprint? "You can't have a blueprint for life. This is the problem if you're religious today. I am Catholic myself, I go to the mass. But I see you can have faith and be a coward. Sometimes people renounce living in the name of a faith which is a killer faith. I like this expression – killer faith."Coelho proposes a faith based on joy. "The more in harmony with yourself you are, the more joyful you are, and the more faithful you are. Faith is not to disconnect you from reality, it connects you to reality."In this view, he thinks he has Jesus on his side. "They [those who model their sacrifice on Christ's] remember three days in the life of Jesus when he was crucified. They forget that Jesus was politically incorrect from beginning to end. He was a bon vivant – travelling, drinking, socialising all his life. His first miracle was not to heal a poor blind person. It was changing water into wine and not wine into water."Paulo Coelho insists he has led a joyful, fulfilling life. It could easily have been otherwise. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1947, he longed from a young age to become a writer, an ambition his parents frowned upon so much that they sent him, aged 17, to an asylum. "My parents thought I was psychotic. Like now, I read a lot and I didn't socialise. They wanted to help me."He was eventually released in 1967 and enrolled in law school – one of several attempts to become, as he puts it disdainfully, "normal". Later he dropped out, became a hippy and made a fortune writing lyrics for Raul Seixas, the Brazilian rock star. Brazil's ruling militia took exception to his lyrics (some of which were influenced by the satanist Aleister Crowley). As a result, he was repeatedly arrested for subversion and eventually tortured with electric shocks to his genitals. These experiences, incidentally, account for his scorn for the idea that Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was photographed with Coelho's books on his shelves, might have learned anything from the Brazilian's thought: "I think he had never read my books. It was PR. I wonder if he knew the story of the author he would have been proud of having this book on his shelves. I was part of these dreadful years in South America."Why, given his history, didn't he choose the path of renunciation? "But I did! After the asylum and torture, I said: 'I am tired. Enough. Let me behave like a normal person. Let me be the person who my parents wanted me to be – or society or whatever.' So back in 1975 I married someone in church, got a job. I was normal for seven years. I could not stand to be normal. Then I divorced and married another person who is now my wife [the artist Christina Oiticica] and I said: 'Let's travel and try to find the meaning of life.' I had money because I had been a very successful songwriter, so I had five apartments in Brazil. I sold everything and I started travelling."His epiphany came in 1986 when he walked the 500-mile road to the Galician pilgrimage site Santiago de Compostela. He described his spiritual awakening there in one of his earliest novels,The Pilgrimage. "Then I said: 'It's now or never.' I stopped everything and said: 'Now I am going to fulfil my dream. I may be defeated but I will not fail.'"This distinction between defeats and failure is central to Coelho's new book. The former are incidental, chastening wounds risked by those who listen to their heart, the latter a lifelong abnegation of the responsibility to follow your dream. Or as the narrator of Manuscript Found in Accra puts it: "Take pride in your scars. Scars are medals branded on the flesh and your enemies will be frightened by them because they are proof of your long experience of battle." That advice is borne of his life experiences? "Absolutely. I am proud of my scars and they taught me to live better and not to be afraid of living."He looks at me sharply: "They taught me also to be a cold-blooded killer." Beg your pardon? "When I see people trying to manipulate me, I kill. No regrets, no hatred, just an act of – " He makes a throat-cutting gesture. He's not the fluffy bunny his writings might indicate him to be? "Ha! No! I can be very tough. If people think you're naive, they discover in the next second that they don't have heads. So love your enemy, but keep your blacklist updated."Coelho clearly thinks highly of his readers and online fans. Indeed, Manuscript Found in Accra could be considered the ultimate tribute to them – the collaboration of sage and his online disciples. Share your fears, Coelho tweeted his followers, that I might offer hope and comfort. The resultant book consists of Coelho's meditations on such themes as courage, solitude, loyalty, anxiety, loss, sex and victimhood suggested by followers. Manuscript Found in Accra might function as an aphoristic grab bag of his principal thoughts. The treacly narratives of such novels as The Alchemist and Eleven Minutes have been excised but the cliches remain. He actually does write stuff like this: "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" and "Don't give up. Remember it's always the last key on the ring that opens the door." Those of you who may so far have resisted the endorsements of Madonna, Julia Roberts or Bill Clinton may now be tempted to read him if only to test the proposition that Paulo Coelho exists to make Alain de Botton look deep.Coelho lightly fictionalises this collection of putative aphorisms: the conceit is that we're reading a manuscript lost for 700 years, based on the talk a mysterious scholar called the Copt gave to the citizens of Jerusalem on the eve of its invasion by French crusaders. "The great wisdom of life," the Copt says toward the end of the book, "is that we can be masters of the things that try to enslave us."How? Coelho says: "By taking responsibility. Today people aren't encouraged to take responsibility. It's easy to obey because you can blame a wrong decision on the person who told you to do this or do that. From the moment you accept that you're the master of your destiny you have to accept responsibility for every single action of yours. So why bother to follow my dreams? Then I can avoid being a failure – which is not true of course: you are a failure from the moment you don't allow yourself to be defeated."Coelho by contrast snatched victory from the jaws of his several defeats. "Am I hyper rich? Yes. Do I want to prove this? No. Go back to your essence – don't play this consumerism game. This is nonsense. At the end of the day, the day that you die, the last minute, you have to answer this question: Did I really enjoy my life?"How will he answer this question? "On 30 November 2011 I did," he says enigmatically. In that month, he was prompted to go for a scan by his agent Mônica Antunes, whose father had recently died of a heart attack. "She was worried that both her husband and I were smokers. I said: 'No way, Jose. Come on. I walk every day. I have a very healthy life. I don't smoke much – six cigarettes a day.'" But the day after his wife's 60th birthday he visited the cardiologist for tests. "He said: 'You're going to die.' I said: 'I don't believe you.' He said: 'You're going to die in 30 days. This part of your heart does not respond any more to electric impulses so probably it is blocked.'"I was shocked of course. But I had time to answer this question that you just asked me. I remember I was in my bedroom and I said: 'If I die tomorrow, I would die very happy. First, I did everything I wanted to do in this life – sex, drugs, rock'n'roll. You name it I did it. Orgies and whatever." Orgies? "Oh yes. Orgies. Ha ha ha!"Second, I had my share of losing but I did not quit. Third, I followed my road, my bliss, my personal life journey and I chose to be a writer. And I succeeded, which is more difficult, you know?"Fourth, I've been married for 33 years to the love of my life. So what else can I ask? I will die with a smile on my face, with no fear, and I believe in God. So no problem if I die tomorrow. That is what I thought."Paulo Coelho, you will have noticed, did not die when his doctor said he would. "But I pray that when I die I will die with the same state of mind I had on the 30th of November 2011."How would he counsel his followers to die contented? "I can't tell them. I only know that the most important gift that you have is courage – be courageous." He lights a cigarette and smokes it in seeming defiance of what he calls the Unwanted Visitor, death.In the January of every odd year since 1988, he has tried to find a white feather. Only if he succeeds does he write a book. Unfortunately for some of his critics, he found one earlier this year and so plans to write another book. It won't take long. "I write a book in 15 days. Then I go to social communities – I love social communities."He means Twitter and Facebook. Why? "Twitter I think is an art. Because if you're connected to people you learn how to summarise. I used to do that when I used to write lyrics. It was always the tendency of my life to be clear without being superficial." He's not superficial? "No. Each sentence is dense, poetic."Coelho signs a copy of his book for me: "Avoid those who say: 'I will go no further.' Love, Paulo Coelho."As I walk from his apartment into a city of writers greater than Coelho (Rousseau was born and Borges died here), I wish, though not wanting to be ungrateful, he'd chosen a better quote from his book. For example: "Fate is never unfair to anyone. We are all free to hate or love what we do." That seems to me Coelho at his best, going beyond upbeat banalities and challenging those who make victimhood their identity.At least he didn't write: "Cross me and you die." Though clearly he could have done.• Manuscript Found in Accra (Harper Element, £12.99) is published on 28 March.Paulo CoelhoStuart Jeffriesguardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. 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Nightfall and still over 100 degrees as the gun trucks of a U.S. military convoy known as Dagger Three Seven growl in S-turns past the concrete barriers and blast walls and concertina razor wire that guard the back gate of Camp Anaconda, lurching out onto a pitted two-lane road known for violence and death. Balad, Republic of Iraq, July 2007. Headlights bore into the deepening haze of gray, dust and smoke. Inside the lead gun truck, an up-armored Humvee, sweat soaks through layers of body armor, trickling from under helmets, darkening the seats. Nerves taut. Up in the turret, the gunner -- anonymous behind night-vision goggles, scarf and helmet -- swivels behind his .50-cal. It will be a long mission, 16 or 20 hours of unrelenting danger. More than 7,400 miles from home and months left on this deployment. The soldiers of Dagger Three Seven are riding sentry on a snaking line of freight trucks, the lifeblood of the U.S. military presence. They're outside the wire on convoys like this every day and a half, in between savoring a few precious daylight hours for exhausted sleep or computer time with family. The Dagger Three Seven crew left this evening after a brief prayer ("Blessed be the Lord, our mighty fortress"). Alert, serious, professional, and fortified with adrenaline and Monster Energy Drink, they are getting the mission done. They have come to a distant place in the hope of making it better -- enhanced security, maybe some democracy. Dagger Three Seven mostly is hoping to avoid the sudden flash of light, the crushing blast wave of dirt and shrapnel, the heaving wreckage, that would announce the detonation of an improvised explosive device. On this road, one of those things happens that changes nothing about the war but changes a life forever. A gun truck headed home at dusk after a convoy that stretched through a day and night and on into another day. Crew exhausted, nerves shot. Suddenly a young girl is standing in the roadway, facing the oncoming convoy. The gunner, Sgt. Jamie Beavers, cries out in alarm. Inexplicably, the girl stands as if transfixed. Just before impact, her eyes meet his. She is the age of his own daughter back home. Perhaps a brief flash of recognition. Then: bump-bump. * * * * * * * The war in Iraq was launched March 20, 2003, in Baghdad and unexpectedly stretched on for 106 months, just short of nine years. During that time, 1,111,610 Americans served there for a total of 2,337,197 deployments, with some serving two or more times. Four thousand, four hundred and eighty-eight of them came home in flag-draped coffins, including 110 women, according to Defense Department data. Thirty-two thousand, two hundred and twenty-one were brought home with serious combat wounds ranging from concussions to multiple limb amputations. Two hundred and thirty-five took their own lives while deployed. In Iraq, 115,376 Iraq civilians were killed between 2003 and 2011 as sectarian fighting intensified, according to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index, while the number of internally displaced Iraqi civilians rose from 400,000 in 2003 to 2.7 million by 2010. Many of the Americans who fought in Iraq returned strengthened, with newfound confidence, deep friendships and pride of service. Others have returned with mental scars, diagnosed or not. Surveys by the Army Office of the Surgeon General found in 2006 that 18.6 percent of troops deployed in Iraq suffered "acute stress." In contrast to past conflicts, where soldiers could retreat to "safe" areas in the rear, the survey found that in 2006, more than two-thirds of the U.S. troops in Iraq had been attacked and had received small-arms fire, 65 percent had seen dead bodies and 72 percent knew someone who had been killed or seriously injured. Eighty-eight percent had experienced incoming artillery or mortar fire, and 45 percent had shot at the enemy. Half had felt an IED explode nearby. Sixty percent reported having a member of their unit become a casualty. Jamie Beavers, now 33, did two tours in Iraq, suffered several IED blasts, and came home with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as an addiction to the drugs for pain and insomnia he was prescribed in Iraq. He's now off drugs and thinking about going back to college. Such repeated deployments were taking their toll by 2005. The Army determined that in order to fully recover from a year-long deployment, a soldier should be at home for at least 30 months and preferably 36 months. But many troops had barely 18 months at home and many far less than that before being re-deployed. At Fort Drum, N.Y., home of the constantly deploying 10th Mountain Division, mid-career sergeants in their 30s told me they were doing without a permanent home and avoiding long-term relationships; they hot-bunked rented apartments with rental furniture, so that whoever was between deployments would get the apartment and then deploy just as his buddy was returning. Among troops in Iraq, the divorce rate inched up from 12.4 percent in 2003 to 17.4 percent in 2004, and then to 22 percent in 2009, according to the Army surgeon general's report. There were 669 reported cases of sexual assault among troops in Iraq between 2007 and 2011, according to the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office -- but the number reported is believed to be about 13 percent of the actual total. Inside the Army as a whole, the war years propelled a jump in violent crime, sexual assaults, drug abuse and increases in desertions and AWOLs. According to a massive 2012 Army study, violent sex crimes in the Army jumped over 90 percent between 2006 and 2011; violent felonies in general leaped 31 percent during the same time period. By 2010, more than 13,000 soldiers were judged unable to deploy by the Army due to illness, minor injury, or legal problems, Army officials said. Last year, 17,000 active-duty soldiers were under arrest, in military prisons or under investigation, according to the Army report. Back home, stress on families was real but hard to measure except indirectly -- despite enormous challenges, military families did not "break," as some experts had feared. Instead, they drew on reserves of resiliency and on each other. "It can be a tough life," an Army wife wrote me recently, "but there are many things about it that make it worth it." A 2011 RAND study of 1,500 11- to 17-year-olds in military families and caregivers reported high levels of stress and behavioral difficulty; 45 percent of the kids said people in their community didn't understand "what a deployment is like." In a 2007 study of 107 military adolescents, Angela Huebner of Virginia Tech University found that responses to having a parent deployed ranged from increased anxiety to pride to rage. "They took my Dad away from me," one teenager said, and several complained of being "stuck" with additional household chores. The families of the war wounded have faced unique challenges. Staff Sgt. Bryan Gansner of the 101st Airborne was blown up in Iraq in 2006 and his wife, Cheryl, then 24, rushed to meet him at the old Walter Reed Army hospital in Washington, D.C. She was swiftly introduced into the world of bed pans, needles, surgeries, pain and depression. Her nightmares started almost immediately. After a few weeks in intensive care, reality started to sink in: Bryan's wounding in Iraq had irrevocably altered their future, Cheryl told me. As she described it, the happy life they'd known was over. They would have to sell their house outside Fort Campbell, Ky. They'd lose contact with Bryan's combat buddies and their Army friends back home. As they sat together on a bed in Army housing at Walter Reed, Bryan started sobbing. He told Cheryl he didn't want to be there any more, that he didn't want to be hurt, that he was sorry for putting her through this. As she held him, he admitted he didn't want to live any longer. "I was the most scared I had been in my life," Cheryl wrote later. "I knew he had beat the odds and survived the blast, but I knew at this point he would struggle for the rest of his life. The outcome probably wouldn't be what we had expected. We knew at that point he would always be in physical and emotional pain." Brett Litz, a clinical psychologist for the Boston VA Healthcare System and a professor at Boston University, said those who return from war can be haunted for the rest of their lives by their experiences, by "the dark things they think about the world." "You can't have these long wars -- especially for the subset who have multiple deployments; there's going to be impact," he said. But Litz noted some mental injuries can be healed by a welcoming culture, by loving families, by having a fulfilling job. "These are corrective," he said, "but it takes time." Cheryl and Bryan Gansner are an attractive and engaging couple, and now seem upbeat despite their struggles with difficult health issues. They're expecting their first baby in September after years of recovery, transition and dreams of starting their own family. On her blog, Cheryl recently wrote: "I do have to say that I am closer to my husband than I have ever been because of this struggle. I have realized which friends care and which don’t. I feel like a dark black cloud is no longer raining on my head. ... I am planning some really wonderful things for this year."
Last week a Bolshoi dancer confessed to ordering a vicious attack on the company's director. His colleagues aren't convinced. Judith Mackrell reports from St Petersburg on the in-fighting and scandals dogging the national art formOn 17 January, a masked assailant threw sulphuric acid into the face of the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, Sergei Filin – an attack so violent it made news around the world. The case continues to grip, surrounded by rumours and counter-rumours. Last week, Bolshoi dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko apparently confessed to instigating the attack, via an accomplice; both were charged. This week, his Bolshoi colleagues have written an open letter to Vladimir Putin arguing that Dmitrichenko was pressured into the confession, and demanding an independent investigation.Why was Filin targeted so savagely? Some have pointed to the Bolshoi's long history of artistic conflicts – some dancers and choreographers eager to embrace modern influences, others loyal to the old Soviet-era Bolshoi. Filin was a reforming figure; before him, director Alexei Ratmansky and his potential successor Gennady Yanin were subject to campaigns of threat and vilification. In 2011, nearly 200 explicit photographs of Yanin were emailed anonymously to colleagues and press around the world.There has been other speculation, including rumours of financial corruption. In court, Dmitrichenko accused Filin of favouritism when it came to allotting grants. The director's critics say he has alienated his company through cavalier casting decisions; there was controversy over the 2011 hiring of the American dancer David Hallberg.Yet even the most colourful allegations seem bizarrely disproportionate to the enormity of the assault. Few seem to believe Dmitrichenko could have been acting alone. Members of the Bolshoi's management, and several investigators, argue that even if the dancer was involved, he was being manipulated by other ambitious figures within the Bolshoi – people willing to go to any lengths to seize control of the company themselves.Ballet really matters in Russia. "That's very good for us," says Bolshoi spokeswoman Katerina Novikova. "But it can also be part of our problem." For generations, tsars spent lavishly on the two main companies, the Mariinsky in St Petersburg and the Bolshoi in Moscow. During the Soviet era, Stalin made regular use of his private box at the Bolshoi, promoting it as a "people's art". There are close personal links between the Kremlin and a select band of dancers and choreographers.Ballet is also a source of passion and pride among ordinary Russians. According to Xander Parish, the young British dancer who made history by joining the Mariinsky three years ago, "there are posters for ballet performances all around St Petersburg, and ballet documentaries are always being shown on TV. In the theatre, I see people who look as though they don't know where their next meal is coming from. But there's an expression on their faces, an intensity that I don't think I ever saw at Covent Garden."The Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, who now lives in St Petersburg, concurs. "You feel a reverence here that's very special. When you walk into the Vaganova school [the city's 250-year-old ballet academy], it's as though you're entering a temple."There's also a new, or newly renovated, ballet company on the block. In 2007, Russian billionaire Vladimir Kekhman, who made his fortune from fruit importation (his nickname is the Banana King), was casting around for a project to absorb his profits: instead of a football club or a newspaper, he chose a ballet company.The Mikhailovsky theatre in St Petersburg was founded in 1833, as a stage for all genres of live performance. Although in the shadow of its grander rival, its grander rival, the Mariinsky, it came to prominence during the early 20th century as a home for experimental ballet and opera, producing works such as Shostakovich's The Bright Stream. By the time Kekhman set his sights on it, it was languishing artistically, making it perfect for reinvention.Appointing himself general manager, Kekhman spent nearly $60m on restoring the building and acquiring star names. He poached the golden Bolshoi couple Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev; he appointed Duato as artistic director and creator of a new contemporary repertory; and he employed the renowned ballet master Mikhail Messerer to take care of the 19th- and 20th-century classics.In an impressively short period, Kerkham confounded the sceptics who assumed he'd be running the company like a football team. At home, they now sell out every performance; this month, they return to London for their third visit in five years, with a programme of seven ballets and an exceptional roster of dancers.It's a remarkable success story, and when I visited the company in St Petersburg last week, it became clear how much of that is down to Kekhman's money. The drama at the Bolshoi is symptomatic of a much larger turbulence within Russian ballet, as it makes the difficult transition from the Soviet era to the 21st century. The Mikhailovsky has the freedom to leapfrog over the problems with which the larger, state-funded companies still struggle.The key issue is the collision between the forces of conservatism and change. At the Bolshoi, a core faction remains passionately loyal to Yuri Grigorovich, the autocratic director who, between 1964 and 1995, imposed his own broad, athletic style of choreography on the company. When subsequent directors, such as Ratmansky, have attempted to introduce a more varied repertory, those opposed have invoked Grigorovich's legacy as their rallying cry.One of the most vocal refuseniks has been Nikolai Tsiskaridze, a flamboyant dancer with a huge media profile who has made no secret of his own ambition to run the Bolshoi. Even though Filin has proved accommodating to Grigorovich, allowing the 86-year-old choreographer to oversee revivals of his work, Tsiskaridze has nonetheless worked the old pro- and anti-Grigorovich loyalties to whip up opposition.At the Mariinsky, the divisions are different, with conservatives focusing on the famous academic purity of the company's style. If the Bolshoi's trademark is Grigovorich's blunt, swaggering Spartacus, the Mariinsky is known for its immaculate productions of 19th-century classics such as Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake.These don't exclude the acquisition of newer ballets, including those of postmodernist choreographer William Forsythe. According to Parish, when auditions were held for the casting of Forsythe's male quartet NNNN, "there was standing room only in the studio".Yet these acquisitions were too much of a rarity to satisfy the former Mariinsky principal Leonid Sarafanov, who defected to the Mikhailovsky in 2011. "No company dances the classics as well as the Mariinsky, but for me it felt like a dead end. What was left for me to do? Some extra pirouettes in my Swan Lake variation? To work closely with a choreographer like Nacho is like hitting the jackpot. With him it's a completely different way of using your body, a different plastique. I can feel myself dancing much better now."The Mikhailovsky has also sidestepped some of the more inflammatory issues surrounding dancers' working conditions. In the last two decades, principals in the two big companies have observed the higher levels of pay enjoyed by western dancers and gone hunting after foreign appearances. To counter this trend, directors have instituted a system whereby extra fees are paid for every performance these dancers give at home. It's a system that has exacerbated internal rivalries: at the Bolshoi, with more than 200 dancers in its ranks, competition for leading roles – and the extra money – is intense.At the Mikhailovsky, which is half the size, there is less competition. Sarafanov says he dances more in one month than he used to in half a year. At the same time, the workload is more evenly distributed through the company. At the Mariinsky, it is not uncommon for junior dancers to work for four to six weeks without a day off – a situation that recently drove them to sign a petition of complaint.It would be wrong to suggest that Kekhman's money has entirely liberated his company from trouble. Last year, he and his business were declared bankrupt, and he is under police investigation for fraud. Many argue that the Banana King's passion for ballet began when he felt the need to put a benign public face to his business practices.Yet when I talk to insiders at the Mikhailovsky, it's hard to discern anything but optimism. Kekhman has been careful to ensure that the theatre is now independent of his money – orchestrating a series of private sponsors who supplement the company's modest state funding. One potential glitch in his vision is the fact that Duato has been invited to direct Berlin State Ballet from 2014. He plans to continue as resident choreographer at the Mikhailovsky; there is no hint as to who might replace him as director. As ballet master, Messerer remains a stabilising force, with plans to extend the repertory to include works from the Royal Ballet by Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan and some of the younger choreographers.Certainly there is no sign of the Mikhailovsky's imported stars regretting their decision to join. Meanwhile, over at the Bolshoi, spokeswoman Novikova is observing the company's development with interest. "They're really reinventing themselves," she says. "They're lucky not to be tied down by tradition like us." Nor by a court case for grievous bodily harm: on Tuesday, Filin told Russian state TV he believed Dmitrichenko was part of a "narrow circle of people who openly disliked me and threatened me and many other people". He has 50% vision in one eye, less in the other. A date for the dancer's trial has not yet been set, and he remains on the Bolshoi payroll.BolshoiMariinsky BalletBalletDanceRussiaEuropeJudith Mackrellguardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
Picture the following: Greg O'Leary, a 32-year-old mid-level manager, is in Shanghai for the first time to negotiate a critical deal with a distributor. To prepare himself for the trip, Greg has learned some key cultural differences between China and the U.S. — about how important deference and humility are in Chinese culture, and how Chinese tend to communicate more indirectly than Americans do. He also has learned about how important it is in China to respect a person's public image or "face." Finally, Greg also learned a few Chinese words, which he thought could be good potential icebreakers when starting a meeting. Greg quickly realizes, however, that learning cultural differences in theory does not always translate into successful behavior in practice. The first problem comes when Greg, who is praised for his "excellent Chinese," proudly accept the acknowledgement, not realizing how publicly expressing pride in this way runs counter to the important role of humility in Chinese culture and could come across as arrogant to his Chinese counterparts. He then quickly backtracks and deflects the praise, but feels awkward and clumsy doing so. Next, Greg tries to use a more indirect communication style to impress his colleagues. But here again, Greg struggles. Greg is such a straight shooter by nature that it feels awkward and evasive not to say what he means. He also has no clue how indirect he should be. By the end, it becomes frustrating, and all Greg wants to do is end the conversation. This situation highlights a challenge that global leaders and managers constantly face in their global work: The way that you need to behave to be effective in a new setting is different from how you'd naturally and comfortably behave in the same situation at home. I'm sure that this isn't news to any of you. Many of us have lived, worked, or studied abroad, and if you haven't, you've certainly read one of the many books or articles describing cultural differences. But what these books don't tell you is that learning about differences across cultures is only a first step toward effective cultural adaptation, and if all you do is learn differences, you will likely suffer the same fate as Greg. It's not only the differences that most people need to understand to be effective in foreign cultural interactions: It's global dexterity, the ability to adapt or shift behavior in light of these cultural differences. And that's something that's often easier said than done. Why? Well, for starters, it's often very difficult to perform behaviors you aren't used to, even if you have an intellectual understanding of what these behaviors are supposed to be. From my work interviewing and working with hundreds of professionals from a wide range of different countries and cultures, I find that it is very common to feel awkward, inauthentic, or even resentful when trying to adapt behavior overseas. And when you have such strong internal reactions to adapting cultural behavior, your external performance can suffer. The negative feelings can leak into your performance and make you look awkward or unnatural. They can also cause you to want to avoid these situations altogether — in a similar way that by the end of Greg's conversation, he just wanted it to end. Now of course, not all situations are so difficult. Some situations — like, say, learning to kiss on two cheeks for an American in Europe (or three or four, depending on where you are) — are a bit unusual, but don't feel deeply disingenuous to do. But many other situations — like giving performance feedback, participating in a meeting, delivering bad news, interviewing for a job, or promoting yourself or your product — require behavior of you that simply is much harder to perform. And these very same situations are also often critical to your success in a foreign culture. So how can you learn to adapt behavior successfully without feeling like you are losing yourself in the process? Here are a few quick tips: First, make the behavior your own. Behaving in a new culture isn't like hitting the bull's-eye of an archery target. In many cultures and in many situations, you have leeway to adjust, and by doing this smartly, you can achieve success without compromising your authenticity. For example, instead of saying something like, "No, no, my Chinese is very poor" (a prototypical Chinese response), Greg might have tried something like, "Thank you. I have been trying hard to learn, but my Chinese is still very poor." This is a cultural blend — a hybrid. It mixes Chinese humility with a bit of pride, acknowledging that he has been trying hard to learn the rules. Now in some places and contexts in China, this might not work; it might seem too Western. But in other places, it might. That's where a cultural mentor comes in: someone capable of telling you whether these changes work in the new setting. Now, remember that it's not all of China Greg needs to worry about; it's the specific people he's interacting with. So, find a mentor who is familiar with China or the culture you're operating in, but also someone familiar with your particular work environment. For example, perhaps Greg is interacting with 20-somethings who did their MBA in the States and have a Western approach. Or perhaps they're employees of a state-run enterprise with a very traditional background and set of expectations. Knowing this is critical when learning to customize your behavior. So too is assessing internally how comfortable it feels to make these adjustments. Perhaps the adjustments are good externally, but feel wrong, inappropriate, or inauthentic internally. That's ultimately no good for you because the discomfort you experience will likely leak into your performance and make it hard to perform the behavior authentically, which is key for forging relationships in any culture. You'll have to break out of your comfort zone to some degree, but make sure you still retain who you are. The final piece of advice is to develop a forgiveness strategy. You will make mistakes as you experiment with cultural adaptation. Do what you can to not be punished for them! Signal to others that you're trying to learn their cultural rules, even though you haven't yet mastered them, and that you care about and respect their traditions. That will go a long way toward building cultural capital that you can cash in in any foreign setting.
Quote of the Day › There is enough economic focus in all three countries to trump the issues of nationalist pride that divide them.
Torkel Patterson, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Analysts say that as new leaders take office in Japan, China, and South Korea, a fresh opportunity has arisen to hit the reset button on fractious relationships because they need each other's trade and investment. (Christian…
"Freedom is hard to bear. It can be objected that I am speaking of political freedom in spiritual terms, but the political institutions of any nation are always menaced and are ultimately controlled by the spiritual state of that nation... Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster. " - James Baldwin from "The Fire Next Time" On Wednesday, Rand Paul filibustered regarding drones on U.S. soil, lack of due process, and the appointment of John Brennan as head of the CIA. In general, he is not a person I agree with, and yet, on this topic I do. But it isn't only drones on U.S. soil, and lack of due process for our citizens: there are people all over the world being killed with little reason, earth scorched and families lost. As a Pagan who experiences all things as interconnected in a web of life, I feel this keenly. It brought to mind watching drones (UAVs) while on the Nevada Peace Walk with a mixed group, most of whom were Catholic, in 2010. I wrote: Thursday night we sang and prayed to Sekhmet to give us the fire of courage to face the wars we carry inside ourselves, to connect with the fire in the earth and the stars, and the fire in our own blood, in our hearts and minds, that would enable us to face the fires of war that have so ravaged this desert and the world. The mighty black statue of Sekhmet faced the direction of the Nevada Test Site, and the temple itself is situated three miles from Creech Air Force Base and eight miles from two prisons. Prophet James Baldwin is right: as long as there is war inside me, there will be war on earth. As long as I build prisons in my soul, humanity will imprison itself. Friday morning we walked the three miles from Sekhmet's Temple to the "Home of the Hunters." Drones glided silently overhead as we walked the Stations of the Cross outside the long fence. Soldiers patrolled in a big truck nearby, following our movements. As I looked up into the sky, I could not help but notice that the Predator looked remarkably like a wasp, a silent, unmanned, death-dealing wasp who -- along with its larger cousin, the Reaper who also made test runs overhead -- would not only do surveillance, but carry missiles and bombs over Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Designed to save US military personnel and to more accurately assess targets, 32 percent of those they kill are still civilians, and of course, sometimes mistakes are made. Later that afternoon, we held vigil outside the base. I sat on the ground in meditation while anchoring a large banner that fought with the wind. As I opened my aura out to hold the desert, I could not help but feel that we all must hold each other, as best we can, whether drone operators, the county Sheriff, the counter-protestors, or the yucca and cholla that dotted the landscape. As military personnel drove off the base toward home, some ignored us, some few flashed peace signs, and one held up his book on Che Guevara. UAV operators in Nevada and California are killing people across the world, as we speak. They watch in graphic close up as people are blasted into death. This also shatters the enlisted men and women, as we can well imagine. The Military Times reports: "The Air National Guardsmen who operate Predator drones over Iraq via remote control, launching deadly missile attacks from the safety of Southern California 7,000 miles away, are suffering some of the same psychological stresses as their comrades on the battlefield. Working in air-conditioned trailers, Predator pilots observe the field of battle through a bank of video screens and kill enemy fighters with a few computer keystrokes. Then, after their shifts are over, they get to drive home and sleep in their own beds. But that whiplash transition is taking a toll on some of them mentally, and so is the way the unmanned aircraft's cameras enable them to see people getting killed in high-resolution detail, some officers say." We are damaging ourselves, our souls, and the earth. We are dealing out death at a distance, and slowly dying inside. Freedom is hard to bear. But so is war. So is our enslavement and inner blindness. How shall we waken to the light that dawns over the desert so beautifully? If life and death are sacred, what is our role in these wars being fought via real-time video? We try to distance ourselves from the cycles of the earth, but in the long run, this simply is not possible. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote in his report to President Obama regarding the war in Afghanistan: "Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us - physically and psychologically - from the people we seek to protect... The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves." May Sekhmet give us strength. --------------------- This year's Peace Walk is March 23-29. People are welcome to join any part of it. For information, visit the Nevada Desert Experience.
Burns Hargis, chairman of Chesapeake Energy's ([[CHK]] +3.4%) audit committee that conducted the probe into the financial dealings of outgoing CEO Aubrey McClendon, resigns from CHK's board. Louis Raspino, recent head of oil and gas driller Pride International, will fill the vacancy.
Burns Hargis, chairman of Chesapeake Energy's (CHK +3.4%) audit committee that conducted the probe into the financial dealings of outgoing CEO Aubrey McClendon, resigns from CHK's board. Louis Raspino, recent head of oil and gas driller Pride International, will fill the vacancy. 7 comments!
In the face of Janet Napolitano's terrifying claims that major airports were already seeing lines "150 to 200 percent as long as we would normally expect" as a result of the budget-crushing sequestration cuts that went into force on Friday, The Telegraph reports that, in fact, LAX "haven't had any slowdowns." But how can that be? The government said it would all be horrible - and to think of the children... it appears Ms. Napolitano was speaking that dialect of English we call 'politician' as airports have 'received no reports of unusual security delays.' Unpossible. The DHS would not return calls questioning her exclamations that she "did not mean to scare, just inform," about LAX, O'Hare, and Atlanta's Hartfield-Jackson. This scare-mongery follows Maxine Waters' 170 million unemployed claim and Arne Duncan's teachers already being laid off claims. Trust, indeed. Via The Telegraph, Ms Napolitano said today that major airports were seeing lines "150 to 200 per cent as long as we would normally expect" as result of the federal spending cuts that went into force on Friday. "We're already seeing the effects at some of the ports of entry, the big airports, for example. Some of them had very long lines this weekend," she told a breakfast event organised by Politico. When pressed for specifics she cited Chicago's O'Hare, Atlanta's Hartfield-Jackson and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), adding: "I don't mean to scare, I mean to inform." ... "We haven't had any slowdowns at all," said Marshall Lowe, a spokesman for LAX. Mr Lowe said that he had been on duty over the weekend and received no reports of unusual security delays. DeAllous Smith, a spokesman for Hartfield-Jackson, said: "There have been no abnormally long lines at the security checkpoint nor unusual aircraft delays at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as a result of sequestration." Their comments were echoed by Karen Pride, the director of media relations at Chicago Department of Aviation, who described operations at O'Hare as "normal" with "no unusual delays or cancellations". ... The Obama administration has been repeatedly accused of exaggerating the impact of the $85 billion in cuts as it seeks to pressure Republicans in Congress into replacing them with a mixture of spending reductions and tax rises. ... The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not immediately return a request for comment on Ms Napolitano's claim. ... Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, the airline industry's trade group, also contradicted Ms Napolitano's claim. "We're not seeing any impact at the moment," Ms Medina said. "Our biggest problem this week is going to be weather rather than the sequester." ... "I haven't heard of anything like that at all," ...