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Joint Chiefs Chairman Takes Dim View on Afghanistan

With security and economic conditions in Afghanistan already in dire straits, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday that the situation there would probably only worsen next year.

“The trends across the board are not going in the right direction,” the chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters. “I would anticipate next year would be a tougher year.”

Mullen said Afghanistan was likely to continue what a nearly completed intelligence assessment called “a downward spiral” unless there were rapid, major improvements. Those improvements include curbing Afghanistan’s booming heroin trade, bolstering district and tribal leaders to offset a weak central government in Kabul, breathing life into a flagging economy and stemming the flow of militants who are carrying out increasingly sophisticated attacks from havens in Pakistan.

Mullen struck a pessimistic note when asked whether it was likely such reversals would take place.

Literature Nobel Goes to Cosmopolitan French Writer

The French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, whose work reflects a seemingly insatiable restlessness and sense of wonder about other places and other cultures, won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday. In its citation, the Swedish Academy praised Le Clezio, 68, as the “author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization.”

Le Clezio’s work defies easy characterization, but in more than 40 essays, novels and children’s books, he has written of exile and self-discovery, of cultural dislocation and globalization, of the clash between modern civilization and traditional cultures. Having lived and taught in many parts of the world, he writes as fluently about North African immigrants in France, native Indians in Mexico and islanders in the Indian Ocean as he does about his own past.

Le Clezio is not well known in the United States, where few of his books are available in translation, but he is considered a major figure in European literature and has long been mentioned as a possible laureate. The awards ceremony is planned for Dec. 10 in Stockholm, and, as the winner, Le Clezio will receive 10 million Swedish kronor, or about $1.4 million.

At an impromptu news conference in Paris at the headquarters of his publisher, Editions Gallimard, Le Clezio seemed unperturbed by all the attention. He said he had received the telephone call telling him about the prize while he was reading “Dictatorship of Sorrow,” by the 1940s Swedish writer Stig Dagerman.

“I am very happy, and I am also very moved because I wasn’t expecting this at all,” he said. “Many other names were mentioned, names of people for whom I have a lot of esteem. I was in good company. Luck or destiny, or maybe other reasons, other motives, had it so that I got it. But it could have been someone else.”

In a news conference in Stockholm after the announcement, Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize each year, described Le Clezio as a cosmopolitan author, “a traveler, a citizen of the world, a nomad.”