Wednesday, March 26, 2008

C.E.O. Survival Guide: Your Kid’s Internet Postings Are Landing You in Hot Water

In the digital age, your kids can embarrass you in more ways than one.

In the summer of 2006, Wayne Watts, a senior vice president and associate general counsel at AT&T, was in the middle of defending the company’s customer service practices to industry regulators who were examining the company’s takeover bid for BellSouth. His 21-year-old son Jared, meanwhile, from his job at a Cingular Wireless store (then an AT&T subsidiary and since renamed), blogged that mergers inconvenience customers, and called the company’s policies “abusive to the customer,” “inappropriate,” and said they “violate [his] personal beliefs.” The Washington Post printed the criticisms and the embarrassing conflict was a public relations problem at the least. At worst, it could have scared BellSouth away from the merger altogether.

What if you run a company, and your child’s behavior online has the power to get you into hot water?

1. Be a Concerned Parent
Remember, you are a parent first and foremost—or at least you should be. Deal with your family before considering your shareholders. With the Watts case, above, Jared didn’t set out to hurt his father or himself. But if your child is writing something self-destructive or harmful to you or your family, address that issue: It could be a sign of more trouble to come. Explain why even seemingly innocuous actions can be dangerous—you are a public figure, and therefore careless online musings have greater-than-normal ramifications for you and your job.

2. Remove the Offending Material, if Necessary
If you are unable to do this directly, or your child refuses, contact the sites your child posted on and ask them to take down the material. MySpace, for one, has a policy in which a parent can call the company at any time to delete the profiles, comments, or pictures posted by children under 18.

3. Call Your Lawyer
If your child has broken any laws, released confidential company information, or inadvertently embroiled the company in a regulatory issue, seek legal counsel. Your lawyer can advise on how best to navigate any legal or regulatory fallout from the incident. (Postscript: In the case of the AT&T imbroglio, the merger ended up going through.)

4. Assess Quickly Whether the Incident May Impact Business as Usual

If you suspect that the online incident might impact business, or that there might be publicity surrounding it, be prepared. Have your investor relations, public relations, and legal teams get together to draft a statement to be distributed internally, particularly to salespeople and those who commonly deal with external parties, about what exactly to say when questioned about the online activities.

5. Be Transparent and Cooperative When Asked About the Incident

Do not stiff-arm the media—they are likely conflicted about reporting on the behavior of a family member of a public figure. Instead, limit your statement (when asked—only in the rarest of circumstances should you make a wide release your statement) to a simple reaction to the news. Your announcement should be attributed to yourself and characterize how you feel about what happened (embarrassed), offer an apology to offended parties, and resolve to address it privately. Wayne Watts told the Post, through an AT&T spokesman: “I care very much for my son. And like many fathers and sons, we have differences of opinion on many subjects.”

6. Understand That Your Parenting Prowess May Affect Some People’s Perception of Your Business Ability
There will be those who will say: “Well, if he can’t control his children on the Web, how can he run this company?” They are the minority, but they do exist. The best way to convince them otherwise is to address the issue, but then remain focused on the task at hand and not become distracted. When presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani’s daughter, Caroline, was revealed to have been endorsing Barack Obama online, it was probably cause for merriment in the headquarters of his opponents. But Giuliani addressed it directly at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, and after that, didn’t let it become a further distraction. Strategically speaking, the isolated incident is unlikely to affect the former mayor’s bid for president.

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Google's New Ad Tool: What Exactly Does It Mean For Industry?

Online advertising is the fastest-growing segment of the ad industry. Standard offerings like TV commercial and print ads are all trying to keep advertisers interested, but it's online ads that are measurable, offering complete accountability.

And being the ad giant that it is, Google

Google Inc

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[GOOG 450.78 --- UNCH (0%) ] is constantly thinking of new ways to expand its already significant search marketshare. The latest strategy keeps websurfers on that Google search page longer--though it's not necessarily good for everybody.

While Google has traditionally allowed users to search for information and products by directing them to other sites, now Google allows users to search within sites including and, while staying on its own webpage. Google profits from that extra time on its site, and it says makes searches for information and products easier.

But some of those companies are protesting, saying that Google is not only potentially directing users away from their sites, luring them with ads from different companies, but it's stealing hits from their sites. Google Best Buy or, and up pops up a window to extend that search on the Google platform. Try searching for Amazon, and it doesn't happen. Google says it does honor requests to drop the search-within-a-search approach.

Google isn't the only company trying new approach to snag more online ad dollars. Traditional media companies like Conde Nast, CBS

CBS Corp

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[CBS 23.06 --- UNCH (0%) ], and Viacom [VIA 40.07 --- UNCH (0%) ] have been building their own ad networks--selling inventory to sites other than their own--to offer advertisers deeper inventory on a single topic like style (Conde Nast) or music (Viacom's MTV). And today Forbes is expected to announce that it's launching an ad network for financial sites--selling ads on some 400 blogs.

Traditional media companies are looking to compete online, and when their own content isn't sufficient to satisfy advertisers needs, they'll look elsewhere. And don't forget, advertisers like the fact that they can trust a company like Forbes to find appropriate content, and to place the ads in the same savvy way they do on their sites.

Can these old school media companies newfangled online ad networks work? Well, they do have big competition in the behemoths Google, Microsoft

Microsoft Corp

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[MSFT 29.14 --- UNCH (0%) ] and Yahoo[YHOO 28.73 --- UNCH (0%) ] . But if you're selling online ad space, more is always better.

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Are these widgets worth half a billion?

If Max Levchin's Slide can cure what ails online ads, they might just be.

Slide CEO Max Levchin.

(Fortune) -- A lot of eyebrows were raised on Wall Street in January when two giant investment firms, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price, paid $50 million for a 9.1% stake in Slide, a San Francisco- based company best known as the purveyor of entertainments like SuperPoke, which lets Facebook users "ninja kick" or "bodyslam" or "throw a pillow at" their friends.

What did these bigtime investors see in SuperPoke - and Slide CEO Max Levchin - that could possibly justify giving the company a valuation of more than half-a-billion dollars?

Implausible as it sounds, some very serious people believe that Slide and its "widgets" could be the answer to a problem that everybody in the business of selling ads on the Internet, including mighty Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), has been experiencing of late.

Widgets are small, self-contained programs that can be plugged into a web application like a blog or social network. And in the world of widgets, Levchin's Slide is a giant. The widget factory he built with a portion of his fortune from PayPal - which he co-founded and sold to eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500) in 2002 for $1.5 billion - is now the largest in the world in terms of users (50 million and counting) on the strength of such hits as FunWall, Slideshows, and Top Friends.

A hit in search of revenue

There's no question that widgets are popular with a sought-after demographic- those 18- to 25-year-olds who waste hours playing with the things and beaming them to their friends. But since there are millions of widgets out there, and the vast majority of them are free, where's the money?

Levchin offers two answers. The first has to do with the changing nature of the Web, where social networks are the fashion of the day. Online search - which is where Google does most of its ad business - today accounts for only 6% of what people do online. This leaves a lot of contested ground.

And although those 18- to 25-year-olds are spending more and more time on places like Facebook and MySpace, they're not particularly loyal. They move from one hot spot to the next and don't look back. But wherever they hang out, they tend to find Slide's widgets; with a little tweaking, the tiny apps can be made to work almost anywhere.

Levchin's second answer has to do with how companies measure the success of their ads. The metric Google and most ad buyers use - the page view - doesn't work so well when friends are throwing virtual pillows at one another. Advertisers need a new tool to capture this kind of activity, and Levchin thinks he has one. He calls it engagement.

"The metrics for success," says Levchin, "are going to shift away from who can provide the most reach toward who is paid the most attention."

Rules of engagement

Levchin claims he's in a unique position to measure engagement. He can mine that database of 50 million active widget users for all kinds of behavioral data. Who are these people? Whom do they poke when they SuperPoke? How else do they interact? To advertisers trying to target their messages, this kind of marketing data is gold.

But engagement is not an easy sell on Madison Avenue. Most advertisers still price ads by the number of people who view them. And although they are frustrated by how small the returns are for the banner advertisements they've been running on the web - where the typical "clickthrough" rate is 0.2% - it's a hard habit to break.

"It's going to take a P&G or a Coca-Cola to suddenly say we are shifting our dollars toward engagement for the industry to actually change," says Marc Schiller, founder of digital creative agency ElectricArtists.

Still, engagement seems to be catching on. Nielsen has added a new metric that evaluates the amount of time users spend on a site. Google has a cost-per-action option, and in early March, Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) introduced something it calls "engagement mapping," a program that measures online interactions in branding campaigns.

This is also fertile ground for startups, most of them in Silicon Valley. The No. 2 widget maker, in terms of number of users, is RockYou, whose widget catalog includes SuperWall and Horoscope. Another startup,, runs video ads on widgets and charges 50 cents to $1 when someone interacts with them.

Meebo provides an assortment of web-based applications that live on top of its instant-messaging platform. While Meebo can't claim the massive page views of Slide, its IM platform helps keep Meebo's 28 million users on the service an average of 2 1/2 hours a day.

But Slide has the largest audience at the moment, and that makes it popular among media buyers. "They're a good way to get widgets into people's hands in a short period of time, rather than wait for grassroots adoption of a widget you make yourself," says Ian Schafer, who founded the full-service interactive agency Deep Focus.

That's what counts for Levchin, who claims that Slide will be even bigger than PayPal. "We have a big distribution advantage and strong metrics and have built up a tremendous amount of customer loyalty," he says.

Despite all that, turning Slide into a multibillion-dollar company won't be easy, even with a half-billion-dollar head start. To top of page

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The rise of the new nomadics

If your ‘job’ entails loitering in coffee shops, armed with only a laptop and mobile, then you’re part of a brave new world

I suppose you would describe me as a consultant,” says Clare Crean, a 40-year-old mother of one in the vanguard of a new working movement. For the past few years, she has been employed on a freelance basis, “tarting up new businesses” for Virgin. She does not have her own office, and her hours are irregular. “I’m a typical mother – I don’t want to work seven days a week, 24 hours a day. It suits me to be on contract. ”

Crean’s situation is typical of the way businesses want to work now – hiring expensive, experienced people only when they need them, not lumbering themselves with the responsibility and expense of full-time employees. It suits both parties, but it leaves a lot of these freelancers, or “perma-lancers” as they are now called, with no fixed abode. Mostly, they work out of wireless hotspots in hotel lobbies, earning themselves the moniker of coffee-shop nomads or the new Bedouins. The movement started in San Francisco’s coffee houses during the dotcom gold rush of the late 1990s. The pay-as-you-go office rent? A coffee every couple of hours.

“By the time I’d finished writing my book, the Starbucks staff were calling me Little Miss Triple Shot,” says Alexandra Heminsley, author of Ex and the City. Having discovered she was more productive working in public, Heminsley now has an intimate knowledge of all the wireless spots and decent coffee shops in her area. “Living and working alone induces isolation fever,” she says. “If all I saw was my living-room carpet and reruns of The West Wing, I’d have written a really rubbish book.”

According to reports, there are now 2.4m teleworkers in the UK, up from 0.9m in 1997. Ditching the office is the most modern way to operate these days, it seems. Punchin culture is out – a surgical attachment to a laptop and a mobile phone, and a willingness to travel, are in. So, as BlackBerry sales surge and the WiFi cloud swirls around the country, public spaces are increasingly sprinkled with computers, business-speak and spiralling caffeine habits. Meanwhile, the really successful are being referred to as the “kinetic elite”, a term coined by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas for high-net-worth individuals who work out of hotel lobbies, airport lounges and their expensive briefcases.

Ben Keene, entrepreneur and author of Tribe Wanted: My Adventure on Paradise or Bust, set up his eco-tribe on a remote Fijian island. He could often be found perched on a rock “trying to catch a phone signal”. Now based in London, he remains a mobile merchant: “There’d be huge costs in setting up an office: all I need is a laptop, a mobile and a passport; it’s totally transportable.” His resources are all online and free. He connects with his global team via free Skype and video-conference calls. But best of all is the dynamic: “I find the constant flow of movement and action and noise energising.”

Kristina Dryza, a consumer-trends expert currently working in Tokyo, and on her way to Shanghai, agrees: “You’re open to so many different influences that you can’t get at a desk. Most people work derivatively, but by engaging with the real world, your information isn’t secondhand.”

The demographics comprise youngish consultants, industries of one and boutique businesses, mostly from the creative arena. Still, how can anyone concentrate surrounded by all that white noise, not to mention the cappuccino machine? “The day doesn’t end,” admits Keene. “It’s addictive. I’m often logging on when I’m supposed to be asleep. And sometimes I wish I had the security of a base and a team in the same time zone. I can go for two or three days without any real physical contact.”

Enter the latest development: Britain’s first members’ business club, One Alfred Place, in Bloomsbury, London. Dubbed “the work space of the future”, it features roaming secretaries, boardrooms and even a sleep cabin for power naps, all for a tax-deductible annual fee of £1,500. Among the charcoal velvet Chesterfields and an arsenal of shiny gadgetry, execs power-broke into Bluetooth headpieces and laptops – Crean among them. “This place is made for people like me,” she says. “There are lots of times when Starbucks won’t do and you’re left with dodgy hotels. The Institute of Directors is the next best thing, but not very inspiring, and Soho House is too sociable.”

“There was a huge gap in the market,” says the founder, Rob Shreeve. “Hotel lobbies and cafes are expensive, and the seating arrangements aren’t right. It’s noisy, it’s dirty and your laptop runs out or power. Teleworkers don’t need a formal office, but we do need a base.”

At One Alfred Place, most of the 200-plus members are “in the top quartile” of net worth, according to Shreeve: management consultants, digital-media moguls, senior music-industry types. (Investors include Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, Mike Rutherford of Genesis and the former chairman of Soho House Group, Robert Devereux.) The networking opportunities are fantastic.

“Having set up all these businesses for Virgin, I want to set up on my own,” says Crean. “I’m just looking for equity. It might even happen here.”

“There’s a lot of networking here,” Shreeve confirms. “It’s like a salon culture.” Success breeds success: time to get in among it all.



— Sporting the smallest, thinnest laptop, multiple private members’ club cards and sleek, stealth-wealth accessories

— Paying your “office rent” in the currency of food and drink

— Maintenance drinking: don’t overdo caffeine consumption so the shakes kick in

— Turning your BlackBerry off after working hours

— Respecting the different time zones of your global digital network

— Generosity of spirit: offering to help other nomads in need, freeing up table space, flirting to boost flagging egos


— Being on first-name terms with the baristas – a sign of poor productivity. Time to relocate

— Smugness – beware the Nathan Barley-esque campaign out to humble obnoxious, louder-than-necessary, Bluetooth-headset-wearing technocrats

— Industrial espionage – eyeballing and eavesdropping on others’ endeavours

— Exhibiting social desperation: don’t assume anyone with a laptop is fair game for a bold bit of networking

— Swarovski-encrusted, gold-plated or pimped-up gadgetry


1 Folding bike, £380, by Strida.

2 Passport cover, £150, by Smythson.

3 MacBook Air laptop, £1,199.

4 Nokia E51 business phone, £209.

5 JX10 Cara gold-plated Bluetooth headset, £129;

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Iraq seen as more stable than Afghanistan: report

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraq has emerged as a more stable country than Afghanistan, thanks to lower violence, the presence of a large U.S.-led international force and high oil prices, according to a report published on Tuesday.

The report by the British-based Jane's Information Group ranked Afghanistan as the world's third most-unstable country after the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and Somalia.

By contrast, Iraq was at No. 22 where it appeared among several African countries including Niger, Nigeria, Burundi and Equatorial Guinea.

The report, titled "Jane's Country Risk Ratings," was the first of its kind for the publisher and contained no comparison figures. But a June 2007 ranking of failed states by Foreign Policy magazine called Iraq the world's second-most unstable country with Afghanistan at No. 8.

Meanwhile, the United States failed to rank among the top tier of the world's most stable countries in the ratings, which measured 235 countries, territories and entities according to two-dozen stability factors.

Vatican City was ranked most stable, followed by Sweden, Luxembourg and Monaco. But Jane's judged the United States to be only the 22nd most stable country -- just below Australia and Portugal -- due to international drug trafficking and the proliferation of small arms within U.S. society.

"Iraq is more stable than Afghanistan," said Christian Le Miere, managing editor of Jane's Country Risk, which complied the ratings.

He said Iraq has benefiting from several stabilizing factors including the world's highest number of international troops per capita, an economy buoyed by high oil prices and a sharp decline in violence.

"With the combination of international troops, the government can extend its will to any area under its administration," he said.

"Compare that to Afghanistan, where the government has less control over its territory, the economy is made up by some estimates about 50 percent from opium and has very little to draw on for resources."

Afghan violence has grown steadily over the last two years to the highest level since U.S.-led forces ousted Taliban rule after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, despite the presence of 43,000 NATO-led troops.

But in Iraq, violence is down more than 60 percent since last summer when the Bush administration completed its buildup of forces known as "the surge." There are currently about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

U.S. officials attribute the drop in violence to several factors including the troop build-up, a cease-fire by anti-U.S. radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al Sadr and the emergence of U.S.-allied Sunni tribesmen.

The Bush administration is now in the process of withdrawing five combat brigades from Iraq by July and could draw down more troops later in 2008 after an expected pause.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Egypt tries to tackle deadly bread crisis

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Clashes have been breaking out among Egyptians waiting in long lines for subsidized bread and the president has ordered the army to start baking more to contain a political crisis.


Egyptians line up for bread in Giza on Sunday.

The turmoil in the world's most populous Arab country is a stark sign of how rising world food prices are roiling poorer countries.

Government bakeries sell subsidized versions of the flat, round bread that is a staple of people's diets.

Acute shortages of subsidized bread, which is sold at less than one U.S. cent a loaf, have caused hours-long lines and violence at some sites in poor neighborhoods in recent weeks.

At least seven people have died, according to police. Two were stabbed in fights between customers in line, and the rest died of exhaustion or other medical problems aggravated by waiting in the spring heat.

Independent and opposition parties have been sharply critical of President Hosni Mubarak's government, calling the long lines a sign that his government is failing.

"Our life has become so miserable," said one worker, Saber Ahmed, who spends up to four hours daily in bread lines to get 20 pieces of bread for colleagues at the cafe where he works.

The 17-year-old, wearing a ragged T-shirt as he stood in a long line, said he and co-workers can't afford unsubsidized bread, "or any food to eat with it."

Any Egyptian can get subsidized bread under a decades-old system that also provides subsidies for public transportation and gasoline for all. The system also provides subsidies for some other food staples specifically for the poor.

Demand for the subsidized bread has grown steadily in recent months as rising commodity prices -- especially for flour -- have made unsubsidized bread less affordable.

More than 20 percent of Egypt's 76 million people live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Unsubsidized bread can sell for 10 to 12 times the subsidized price.

The supply of subsidized bread has been decreasing. Many people in Egypt believe subsidized bakeries sell some of their flour on the black market rather than make bread.

Last week, Mubarak ordered the army to increase the production and distribution of subsidized bread to cope with the shortages.

The army and the Interior Ministry, which controls the police, own bakeries that they normally use to feed their employees.

In recent days, the army has opened 10 large bakeries in Cairo to produce cheap bread and has set up about 500 kiosks to sell bread to the public, said Minister of Social Solidarity Ali Meselhi.

The state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper said Mubarak's order to the armed forces to intervene "means that he has declared an emergency state to combat this crisis."

Another columnist in the paper called the bread riots "a very critical moment" for Egypt, demonstrating the gap between rich and poor.

Egypt grows about half of the more than 14 million tons of wheat it consumes every year.

It has also long been one of the top importers of U.S. wheat, using about $54 million of some $2 billion a year in U.S. aid to buy it. But its U.S. purchases have been falling as it searches for cheaper sellers on the world market, where prices have tripled in the last 10 months.

Mubarak has ordered the government to use foreign currency reserves to buy additional wheat, according to his spokesman Suleiman Awad.

The government also will add 15 million new names to the list of those receiving cheap rations of cooking oil, sugar and rice. That and other measures will increase the government's annual food subsidy costs by $3.1 billion to a total of $13.7 billion this year.

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An Olympic disgrace

The current spotlight on China's human rights record fails to illuminate its cruel and inhumane treatment of dogs and cats.

By Ted Kerasote

dogs in China

Reuters/Reinhard Krause

Caged dogs photographed on a motorway on the outskirts of Beijing.

March 24, 2008 | On my first trip to China I met a dog who was a dead ringer for Lassie. He lived with a dozen other dogs at a remote training camp for Olympic skiers in Manchuria, where a friend and I were spending a few days as we explored the area's backcountry skiing. In return for food and lodging we gave the Chinese athletes some clinics in American ski techniques.

The dog quickly became my friend. He would twirl happily in my arms before I headed up the slopes each morning and would be waiting for me when I returned. Dropping to my knees, I'd play tag with him, and he'd wag his tail so hard that his entire body would shimmy. The Chinese skiers paid no attention to the dogs.

On the day before we departed, at lunch, our translator stood and called the mess hall to silence. "To thank our American friends for showing us so much about skiing," he announced, "our chef will prepare a special dish tonight." He nodded to the head coach, who waved his hand toward the door. Two of the Chinese skiers, standing at the ready, opened it with a flourish, and the white-aproned chef stepped inside, holding aloft my friend, the collie, by his tail. He had been gutted from throat to groin.

Stunned, I couldn't say a word, but that evening when a large platter of dog meat was put in the center of our table, I regained my voice. My ski partner, a better cultural ambassador than I, gingerly took a few bits of the dish with her chopsticks. I declined. "Please thank the head coach," I told our translator, "but I can't. I have too many friends at home who are dogs."

I shall never forget the man's face. His mouth fell open and his eyes darted nervously from side to side. "Please translate what I said," I asked him, "just as I said it." When he did, the faces of the coaching staff took on the same astonished look. They stared at me in disbelief and something else -- pity.

It was my first encounter with some of the profound difficulties encountered in translation, not merely getting the words right, but also trying to bridge the gulfs that separate two cultures' long-held beliefs, everything from appropriate food, to the physical space between people when they talk, and -- often the most difficult to negotiate -- how we treat our fellow beings.

When it comes to dogs, the gulf between China's beliefs on how dogs should be treated and those of the liberal democracies remains wide. In fact, it's as wide as the ocean that separates China and the democracies on the issue of human rights. But whereas China has received ample feedback on its human rights record in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics -- abetting genocide in Sudan, imprisoning dissidents, and conducting an ongoing religious persecution of Tibetans, which has flared into violence once again -- very little has been aired about its treatment of dogs as well as cats: 2 million of them brutally killed each year for the international fur trade, according to undercover investigations done by the Humane Society of the United States.

Of course, one can say that some of these dogs and cats are being killed primarily for food, as was my friend the collie, their fur sold as a byproduct of Chinese culinary tastes, and so what's all the fuss? Asians eat dogs and cats; Americans and Europeans eat cows; and each of us can point a finger at someone else's gastronomic cruelty: the prisonlike conditions in American factory farms, the Japanese whaling, the French force-feeding of ducks and geese to produce foie gras.

What seems particularly dismaying, though, about China's treatment of domestic dogs and cats is that these mass killings are perpetrated against two species that share our hearth and home and with which humans have had a long, familial and affectionate relationship, albeit an ambivalent one. Around the world, people have loved dogs and cats but eaten them in hard times. China's record has been no different on this score. Pekingese and Shih Tzu were honored members of the royal court; Shar-Pei were bred for fighting; chow chow were routinely turned into food and clothing.

Today, this ambivalence remains entrenched in China, even though famine has been eradicated. Dog and cat can be found on restaurant menus throughout the nation. Yet, dietary mores are changing. The Chinese Companion Animals Protection Network, created in 2004, has launched a nationwide campaign to stop eating dogs and cats, making the point that many of these animals are pets, stolen from their families and shipped to slaughter.

Whatever the origins of these dogs and cats -- pets, strays, or animals bred specifically for food and fur -- their deaths seem astonishingly cruel when judged by the standards of modern abattoirs or North American animal shelters, which end the lives of 2 to 4 million dogs each year by gassing or lethal injection. It is this -- the mind-boggling and unnecessary suffering that these Chinese dogs and cats undergo -- that strikes me as deplorable, no matter what one's feelings about eating species that have been our longtime companions.

Undercover videos taken for Swiss Animal Protection, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Humane Society show Chinese dogs and cats trucked to market without food and water, pulled from their cages, sometimes disemboweled, sometimes bashed on the ground to stun them, then hanged by wires, and skinned alive. These investigations led to a ban on the importation of dog and cat fur to the United States, Australia and a few countries in the Europe Union in the early 2000s. A full EU ban will take effect on Jan. 1, 2009.

These steps haven't ended the killing. A 2008 investigation by the Humane Society revealed that Chinese dog and cat fur continues to be exported to Russia, where it's turned into clothing and figurines. Since borders are porous, and only a DNA test can reveal the difference between the fur of domestic and wild species, the trade from China to Russia and on to other countries continues.

Set against the great human persecutions that China supports, the loss of these 2 million dogs and cats may seem insignificant. Nonetheless, each one of them is a life, full of consciousness and joy, as anyone who has lived with a dog or cat knows. Many of them are pets, mourned by Chinese families. It's one more shadow cast by the Olympic flame.

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