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At 103, a judge who hopes to take his final bow `feet first’

WICHITA, Kan. — Judge Wesley E. Brown’s mere presence in his courtroom is seen as something of a daily miracle. His diminished frame is nearly lost behind the bench. A tube under his nose feeds him oxygen during hearings. And he warns lawyers preparing for lengthy court battles that he may not live to see the cases to completion, adding the old saying, “At this age, I’m not even buying green bananas.”

At 103, Brown, of the U.S. District Court here, is old enough to have been unusually old when he enlisted during World War II. He is old enough to have witnessed a former law clerk’s appointment to serve beside him as a district judge – and, almost two decades later, the former clerk’s move to senior status.

The Constitution grants federal judges an almost-unparalleled option to keep working “during good behavior,” which, in practice, has meant as long as they want. But since that language was written, life expectancy has more than doubled, to almost 80, and the number of people who live beyond 100 is rapidly growing.

—A.G. Sulzberger, The New York Times

U.S. steps up criticism of China’s economic practices

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration increased its criticisms of China’s economic policies Thursday, as Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told Congress that China had substantially undervalued its currency to gain an unfair trade advantage, tolerated theft of foreign technology and created unreasonable barriers to U.S. imports.

But the election year anger from lawmakers seemed to surpass even Geithner’s tougher posture. Lawmakers expressed impatience with the administration’s familiar reliance on persuasion and negotiation, saying such tactics had yielded little.

Dismay over China’s currency interventions – it buys about $1 billion a day to maintain the renminbi’s peg to the dollar – has been a recurring theme for years. The election-season rhetoric, the carefully calibrated strengthening of the Chinese currency on the eve of Geithner’s appearance and the administration’s struggle to negotiate a diplomatic line set the stage for predictable political theater.

But now, with the United States in a stalled economic recovery and lawmakers facing a restive electorate, the administration is clearly looking for alternative ways to bring pressure on the Chinese.

Geithner urged China to allow “significant, sustained appreciation” of its undervalued currency and even suggested that anything less would strain relations. He made it clear that President Barack Obama would press the issue with China’s leaders.

—Sewell Chan, The New York Times

Researchers search Cascades for signs of grizzlies

PASAYTEN WILDERNESS, Wash. – Past the asters and aspen and subalpine fir, past the quick, cold creeks and the huckleberry hillsides, the bear hunter stopped and cocked his tweezers.

“Here,” said Bill Gaines, a wildlife biologist for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, “is the mother lode.”

Caught on a prong of barbed wire that he had strung weeks earlier in these remote mountains was a tantalizing clue: strands of light brown bear hair.

It will be months before DNA tests tell the full story: Did those hairs belong to a black bear, a relatively common resident here, or were they snagged from the far more elusive grizzly? The last confirmed sighting of a grizzly in the North Cascades was in 1996.

Gaines is leading the most ambitious effort ever to document whether grizzlies still exist here. While many people want the grizzlies, an endangered species, to make a comeback here, others worry that more bears will mean more conflict.

— William Yardley, The New York Times