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South Africa world cup hopes extend beyond playing field

JOHANNESBURG — The World Cup begins here Friday with excitement at so elevated a level that even many of the unhappy are happy.

Tshepo Makwala, a laborer, has no job, no prospects and, worst of all, no ticket to any of the 64 games. Still, it thrills him that soccer’s biggest event is for the first time taking place in Africa.

The World Cup is the most-watched event on Earth, and South Africa is eager to be seen, especially if the cameras ignore the shacks of the poor and focus instead on the beautiful new stadiums, the panoramic view from Cape Town’s Table Mountain and the wild animals flourishing in the bush.

Much is expected from the monthlong tournament: global recognition for an international up-and-comer; a pie in the face for pessimists who believed that the stadiums would never be completed on time; a jolt of good feeling in a nation with a dangerously dwindled supply of inspiration.

AIDS is another concern. South Africa has 5.7 million HIV-positive people, more than any other country. Condoms are being placed in rooms by some hotel chains, bedtime giveaways like mints on a pillow. AIDS groups want them distributed at stadiums as well, but FIFA, which allows only merchandise provided by an official sponsor, has said no.

And, as with most other things, FIFA has prevailed.

Taliban aim at officials 
in wave of killings

KABUL — Government assassinations are nothing new as a Taliban tactic, but now the Taliban are targeting lower level officials who often do not have the sort of bodyguards or other protection that top leaders do. Some of the victims have only the slimmest connection to authorities. The most egregious example came Wednesday in Helmand Province, where according to Afghan officials the insurgents executed a 7-year-old boy as an informant.

As the coalition concentrates on trying to build up the Afghan government in the southern province of Kandahar, a big part of that strategy depends on recruiting capable Afghan government officials who can speed delivery of aid and services to undercut support for the Taliban. The insurgents have just as busily been trying to undermine that approach, by killing local officials and intimidating others into leaving their posts.

The assassinations have been effective in slowing recruitment of government officials, he said. “Am I going to live through the workweek? No one should have to ask that question.”

The youngest victim was a 7-year-old boy. According to Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor’s office in Helmand, Taliban insurgents went to his village and dragged the boy from his home at 10:30 a.m., accusing him of acting as a government informant for telling authorities of their movements. They killed him by hanging him from a tree in the middle of the village, Ahmadi said. A spokesman for the Taliban, reached by telephone, denied that the incident took place.

Found: oldest leather shoe; wanted: matching left, size 7

Think of it as a kind of prehistoric Prada: Archaeologists have discovered what they say is the world’s oldest known leather shoe.

Perfectly preserved under layers of sheep dung (who needs cedar closets?), the shoe, made of cowhide and tanned with oil from a plant or vegetable, is about 5,500 years old, older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, scientists say. Leather laces crisscross through numerous leather eyelets, and it was worn on the right foot; there is no word on the left shoe.

While the shoe more closely resembles an L.L. Bean-type soft-soled walking shoe than anything by Jimmy Choo, “these were probably quite expensive shoes, made of leather, very high quality,” said one of the lead scientists, Gregory Areshian, of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Under pressure, educators 
tamper with test scores

The staff of Normandy Crossing Elementary School outside Houston eagerly awaited the results of state achievement tests this spring. For the principal and assistant principal, high scores could buoy their careers at a time when success is increasingly measured by such tests. For fifth-grade math and science teachers, the rewards were more tangible: a bonus of $2,850.

The district said the educators had distributed a detailed study guide after stealing a look at the state science test by “tubing” it — squeezing a test booklet, without breaking its paper seal, to form an open tube so that questions inside could be seen and used in the guide. The district invalidated students’ scores.

Of all the forms of academic cheating, none may be as startling as educators tampering with children’s standardized tests. But investigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Virginia and elsewhere this year have pointed to cheating by educators.

Experts say the phenomenon is increasing as the stakes over standardized testing ratchet higher — including, most recently, taking student progress on tests into consideration in teachers’ performance reviews.

Colorado passed a sweeping law last month making teachers’ tenure dependent on test results, and nearly a dozen other states have introduced plans to evaluate teachers partly on scores. Many school districts already link teachers’ bonuses to student improvement on state assessments.