Russian soldier causes clamor
By OLESYA VARTANYAN and ELLEN BARRY
Special to ???
TBILISI, Georgia — A 21-year-old Russian soldier, sitting down with a Big Mac at a McDonald’s in the Georgian capital, said Tuesday that he was fed up with his military service there.
He said he had changed into civilian clothes and walked across the South Ossetian border into Georgia to demonstrate his dissatisfaction. The soldier, Junior Sgt. Aleksandr Glukhov, a computer buff from Udmurtia, a central Russian republic, seemed unaware of the clamor he had prompted at home.
As information about his action leaked from Tbilisi, Russia’s Defense Ministry contended that he had been abducted by Georgian forces and was being forced to discredit the army as “information provocation.”
“Glukhov could say anything when subjected to psychological pressure or threats,” said Col. Aleksandr Drobyshevsky, a Defense Ministry spokesman, who demanded his immediate return to Russia.
Glukhov, told reporters that he had left because he had been verbally abused by his commander, who he said drank excessively and “nagged at me all the time.”
Glukhov said he departed without telling anyone.
On Monday, he crossed into Georgian-held territory, flagged down a police car and asked for a ride to Tbilisi, he said. He was handed over to officials from the Georgian Interior Ministry, who recorded on video his appeal for political asylum to the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili. Asked about his plans in Tbilisi, Glukhov looked blank.
“At first I didn’t think about being punished,” he said. “Maybe I will start thinking about it now.”
Russian and Georgian television reported Glukhov’s story very differently. A prime-time news report on Rustavi 2, the Georgian news channel, described him as starving and said he had confirmed the longstanding Georgian conviction that Russia spent the summer preparing to invade. In his televised statement, he said he could no longer tolerate the sight of tanks, armor and rockets “aimed at the Georgian villages.”
Russian reports stressed the theory that he had been abducted. His mother, Galina Glukhova, reached by telephone in Sarapul, said she was inclined to believe the Russian version. She said her son was only four months from the end of his compulsory service and had never complained to her about the army.
“Probably they took him,” she said, referring to the Georgian authorities. “I cannot even imagine he would want to stay so far away from his homeland.”
Glukhov said his war experience had been far from glorious. He was among the first troops to cross the Russian border in August, but his troop carrier broke down, he said. He did not arrive in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, until a month after the war ended.
When he sneaked away, he said, his unit did not appear to notice.
“I had a mobile phone with me,” he said. “I don’t even know if they think of me now.”
Opposing Views on War Report
MOSCOW — Russia and Georgia had opposite reactions to a Human Rights Watch report released Friday on the war in Georgia. Moscow said it was “based on a series of shopworn and baseless theses actively discussed in foreign political and media circles.” Tbilisi called it “an objective and thorough picture.”
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Human Rights Watch, based in New York, had said “practically nothing about the colossal damage” to South Ossetia “as the result of Georgian aggression.” Georgia said the report “unambiguously places responsibility on the occupation forces of the Russian Federation and its proxy regime for ethnic cleansing and war crimes.”
Olesya Vartanyan reported from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Ellen Barry from Moscow.
Bluebonnets-beneficial or non-invasive species
By BILL HANNA
Star-Telegram staff writer
CALDWELL — In a pasture alongside Texas 36 north of Caldwell, a field of wildflowers shows its full blooming colors.
Bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and winecups cover the countryside in the bright colors that signify spring just arrived in this section of Central Texas.
It is one of those picture-postcard moments that Texans long to see, but some say it shouldn’t be taken for granted. This wildflower season, which is predicted to be below average statewide, could be a preview of things to come.
“I worry about the day when there’s no place for bluebonnets. I think that’s especially true along our roadsides,” said Damon Waitt, senior botanist at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
The culprits include plants like turnip weed (also known as bastard cabbage), King Ranch bluestem and even rye grass that can choke out wildflowers.
But some researchers don’t see a reason to sound the alarm. They say bluebonnets and other wildflowers will continue to survive and thrive.
“The bluebonnet will be around a lot longer than they will,” said Jerry Parsons, a Texas A&M University professor of horticulture and extension specialist, in reference to the wildflower center.
Parsons, who created the maroon-colored “Aggie” bluebonnet and another hybrid named after former first lady Barbara Bush, suggested that the wildflower center is using the state flower to promote the use of native plants.
“They’ve got an agenda,” Parsons said. “They want to convince people that any non-native plant is an invasive species when some of them are very beneficial.”
The Texas Department of Transportation, which is responsible for maintaining 800,000 acres of Texas roadsides, says some weeds and grasses do pose problems but not to the extent that Waitt claims.
“It is definitely an annoyance but I wouldn’t call it a monstrosity of a problem,” said the department’s vegetation section director, Dennis Markwardt. “Turnip weed and rye grass do compete with wildflowers. Sometimes, turnip weed causes enough problems that have to spray for them and then reseed. It is starting to show up a lot more in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.”
Barney Lipscomb, Leonhardt Chair of Texas Botany at the Fort Worth-based Botanical Research Institute of Texas, doesn’t expect wildflowers to vanish from Texas roadsides, but he has some concerns about wildflowers that most of the public doesn’t see, such as orchids and trilliums.
Lipscomb and George M. Diggs Jr., an Austin College professor of biology, will be presenting a paper at the Lone Star Native Regional Plant Conference in May that outlines the growing number of non-native plants in East Texas, the most biologically diverse region of the state.
From 1997 to 2006, 46 new species were identified as non-native, which brings the total number of non-native plants in the East Texas area to 624. In 2007 alone, researchers found seven new non-native species to bring the total to 631. Scientists have identified a total of 3,402 plant species in East Texas.
T.G.I. Friday’s President plans to retire
By KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS / The Dallas Morning News
The owner of T.G.I. Friday’s said Tuesday its president and chief executive, Richard Snead, plans to retire, following a three-month leave of absence.
He will be replaced Feb. 16 by Nick Shepherd, who most recently was chairman and chief executive of Sagittarius Brands, Inc., parent of the Del Taco and Captain D’s fast food chains.
Snead had been on leave since mid-September from Carrollton-based Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, parent of Friday’s and Pick Up Stix restaurants, the company revealed Tuesday. He recently decided to retire.
Snead started with Carlson’s in 1997 as an executive vice president and became chief executive in April 2002.
Friday’s operates in the restaurant segment – casual dining – that has been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn as consumers trade down to fast food or stay home.
In response, some casual dining chains have tried to adopt elements of the fast food business model – including speedier service and lower prices.
Still, industry observers said it was unusual for a fast-food veteran to take over a large casual dining chain.
“Historically it hasn’t been a big success going from casual to fast food or fast food to casual,” said Malcolm Knapp, who produces the widely followed KNAPP-TRACK report on casual dining.
“That doesn’t mean he won’t do well, but normally that wouldn’t be the best way to go.”
Hubert Joly, president and chief executive of Carlson Companies Inc., the parent of Carlson Restaurants, called Shepherd “a proven leader [with] solid operating experience across franchise and company systems, a proven ability to create brand value, … and an ability to lead businesses through adverse market conditions.”