World and Nation

Shorts (left)

China bends to solar complaint by US but plans retaliation

HONG KONG — Solar panel makers in China plan to shift some of their production to South Korea, Taiwan and the United States in hopes of defusing a trade case pending against them in Washington, according to industry executives.

But at the same time, the Chinese industry is considering retaliating by filing a trade case of its own with China’s Commerce Ministry.

The most likely target would be U.S. exports to China of polysilicon — a prime ingredient in solar panels — Chinese industry executives and officials said Monday. U.S. manufacturers last year exported about $873 million of polysilicon to China last year, nearly as much in dollar terms as the value of the solar panels that China shipped to the United States.

The Chinese moves come after the United States Commerce Department opened a trade case against China’s solar panel makers earlier this month, at the request of seven U.S. solar companies.

—Keith Bradsher, The New York Times

France, Sarkozy look vulnerable as euro crisis persists

PARIS — With the humiliating defeat on Sunday of the Socialists in Spain, the two-year euro crisis has already toppled eight governments, sending shivers of anxiety through the Elysee Palace and even the White House.

The main theme of recent elections has been voters’ unhappiness with austerity, uncertainty and whatever party or coalition happens to be in power. But under the pressure of the markets and the demands of Germany, Europe’s de facto financial leader, new governments have largely had to promise more of the same.

As the markets have swung from one vulnerable target to another, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Finland, Denmark and Slovakia have all altered their governments, either through elections or parliamentary maneuverings.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France fears being next, with French bond costs rising to record highs, growth flat and a presidential election in April. The danger of a downgrade of French bonds has weakened Sarkozy.

—Steven Erlanger and Nicholas Kulish, The New York Times

Separating you and me? 4.74 degrees.

Adding a new chapter to the research that cemented the phrase “six degrees of separation” into the language, scientists at Facebook and the University of Milan reported on Monday that the average number of acquaintances separating any two people in the world was not six but 4.74.

The original “six degrees” finding, published in 1967 by the psychologist Stanley Milgram, was drawn from 296 volunteers who were asked to send a message by postcard, through friends and then friends of friends, to a specific person in a Boston suburb.

The new research used a slightly bigger cohort: 721 million Facebook users, more than one-tenth of the world’s population. The findings were posted on Facebook’s website Monday night.

The experiment took one month. The researchers used a set of algorithms developed at the University of Milan to calculate the average distance between any two people by computing a vast number of sample paths among Facebook users. They found that the average number of links from one arbitrarily selected person to another was 4.74. In the United States, where more than half of people over 13 are on Facebook, it was just 4.37.

—John Markoff and Somini Sengupta, The New York Times