Malcolm Beith

Stories by Malcolm Beith

  • Change That Tune

    Several Canadian women's groups want to change their national anthem. No more "true patriot love in all thy sons command," they protest. How about "all of us" or "all our hearts" instead? PERI surveys some recent calls for anthemic change around the world.Britain: Women refused to sing "that men should brothers be." Do they expect the National Health Service to pay for the sex-change ops, then?Russia: No words at all? Russians want the old Soviet lyrics instead of having to hum.Brazil: "If the mighty sword of justice is drawn forth, you will see your children... neither fear to fight, nor flee from death itself." Too warlike and aggressive for us, cry the sun- and samba-loving people.Australia: "Our home is girt by the sea"? Please. Change the whole anthem before "we all go to sleep singing it," they protest Down Under.
  • Gotta Love The Golden Oldies

    Showbiz used to ditch its starlets at the first sign of a wrinkle. But this is 2001. Madonna blows them away at 43. Sigourney Weaver, 51, just posed braless on the cover of a U.S. men's mag. And according to one TV producer, 60-year-old Faye Dunaway "still knows how to work it." Now 94-year-old Brazilian actress Dercy Goncalves is proving she's not over the hill yet either... by posing nude in Penthouse. The magazine is protesting society's treatment of the elderly. PERI's not so sure this will help.
  • You Can't Be Too Clean

    We Brits still abide by the five-second rule. If food has been lying on the floor less than that, go ahead and eat it--regardless of surface conditions. Which explains the shocked faces clustered around my barbecue in Brooklyn the other day. The "chef," another Brit, had just flipped a hot dog off the ground and back onto the grill. "It'll cook off the germs," he said nonchalantly. I understood perfectly. But not my American guests. They are clean freaks, almost one and all.To outsiders, America's mania for hygiene is quite extraordinary. When I moved to New York a year ago, I was astonished at what I would occasionally see on the subway: commuters carrying MoistWipes (tiny hand towels laced with antimicrobial detergents) to clean off the residue left on seats and poles by previous riders. Some even refused to touch the poles, instead hugging them with their jackets or some other makeshift bacterial body condom. I'd regarded such people as aliens--until one day last summer when I...
  • Better Halves

    She soared into power in January, vowing to stamp out corruption. Now Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo faces a tough choice. Her husband, Miguel, is accused of taking bribes of $2.5 million to court his wife into influencing a major telecom deal. She's unlikely to boot Miguel out of the house yet. He denies the charges; his "conscience is clear," and he has "nothing to hide." And one less headache for the president--the Senate has decided to back off. But Gloria, beware. Miguel has listed bringing you to power as his greatest achievement. If he's not careful, his next greatest could be bringing you down.
  • God's Puppet

    If God usually speaks through a medium, why shouldn't the rest of us? Doug Nearpass, an evangelical Christian and spare-time ventriloquist from New Jersey, uses his dummy, DigDag, to preach the Lord's word. At the sixth annual convention of "Christian ventriloquists" in Illinois, PERI sat down with DigDag and his straight man. ...
  • Spaceballs

    Gen. Michael Ryan, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, last week stressed the need for space-based weapons to defend the 250 American satellites in space. But don't expect to see any X-Wing fighters. The United States and Russia have already tested Earth-based lasers designed to blind the censors on enemy spy satellites. Other gizmos include mini-rockets (untested) to destroy enemy satellites by smashing into them (U.S. version) or exploding nearby (Russian model). But the first weapon in space--a giant laser in orbit to zap approaching warheads or satellites--is light-years away. Earliest test flight of even an experimental version? Around 2012. As any "Star Wars" aficionado well knows, it takes a long time to build a Death Star.
  • Free Nelson's Chicken!

    South Africa was engulfed by a raging war last week. Well, more of a food fight, actually. On Tuesday Nelson's Chicken & Gravy Land in Cape Town closed because of the ire of the Nelson Mandela camp. The cartoon logo, claimed African National Congress officials, bore an uncanny resemblance to the former president. And the dishes--just plain, deep-fried abuse of the good man's name. Sample platters: Nelson's Freedom Meal and the three-piece Peace Meal. The restaurant changed its moniker, but PERI liked its menu. Future samplings, perhaps: Gandhi Goulash, Big MacClintons, Archbishop Tutu Tacos or even Arafat-free Buffalo wings?
  • Body Snatchers

    We've all heard of kidnapping. But corpse-napping? A gang in Ho Chi Minh City goes around dressed as policemen or hospital workers, snatching the recently deceased from hospitals. Then comes the ransom note to the bereaved family. Want to give your dear departed a proper Vietnamese burial? That'll be $1,000, please. R.I.P.? Not in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Cyberscope; Do-Good Hackers

    For as long as there have been computer networks, there have been hackers ready to break into them and cause trouble. So it is surprising that the biggest story to emerge from this year's Def Con hackers' convention (yes, even hackers have conventions) is that members of one of the most notorious hack collectives are doing something constructive. High-minded, even.The challenge: governments of China, Cuba and some Islamic countries block Web sites that carry information or ideas that these governments prefer to keep from their citizens. (China, for instance, has blocked CNN.com.) The hackers' response: software that lets users get around government-installed "firewalls" and gain access to the forbidden sites. This may be the first instance of world-class hacking for human rights.Before you conclude that the hackers have somehow grown up, bear in mind that the program is called Peekabooty and that the authors are a "special operations group" of the Cult of the Dead Cow, a group best...
  • Her Personality's The Pits!

    With summer (and airy blouses) finally here, deodorant-and soap makers Dove recently surveyed 1,000 British gals to see how they sport their armpit hair, sending the results to psychologist Malcolm Hatfield to determine the ladies' personality types. Sound ridiculous? " [Armpits] have high emotional value," says the doc. peri presents the five 'pit and personality types--matched with Dove's celebrity examples:PERFECTLY PLUCKEDHair-free, for the "professional who likes to be in control." ...
  • Who Gets To Keep The Phone?

    Mobile-phone text messaging has gotten out of hand. A storm is brewing in Malaysia after a senior Muslim cleric declared it acceptable for a husband to divorce his wife simply by sending a text message saying I DIVORCE YOU three times. Critics say it's a pretty loose interpretation of Shariah--which allows Muslim men to divorce their wives by stating these words three times and then repeating them in court. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad agrees, calling this abuse of mobile phones "irresponsible" and "dangerous." Even the fundamentalist opposition group Parti Islam Se-Malaysia is outraged. "We must never forget that Allah entrusted marriage to both husband and wife," it declared last week. Surely that's better than handing matrimonial power over to the local telephone companies.
  • Party' S Over, Time To Get To Work

    Beijing's bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics was a success, but the world won't stop watching now. Especially if China keeps its pledge to "give the media complete freedom"--just one of the many promises China will have to keep to stay squeaky clean.From now on, no crushing the Falun Gong or Tibetan "opposition." And no invasions of Taiwan. But Beijing faces other, less obvious challenges. First, it must deal with its rapidly increasing traffic problem, and follow through on its proposed plans: five new subway lines, 228km of new roads and a magnetic-levitation train to the Great Wall are all to be built by 2008.Pollution is another dark cloud over the city. Beijing has vowed that its water and air quality will meet World Health Organization standards by 2008. Among other measures, many factories must be altered or destroyed and businesses will have to switch from coal to gas. And what about sanitation? Beijing has already embarked on a "Toilet Revolution," a plan to build 64 "four...
  • Porky Profit

    Remember Warren Buffett's announcement to investors in his annual report earlier this year? The so-called Oracle of Omaha declared he was entering such "cutting-edge industries as brick, carpet, insulation and paint." Now Merrill Lynch has gone one step further, suggesting an emerging market in... hog waste. It has many functions (from fertilizing to energy-producing), and according to the company's research, the sector's growth rate is projected to reach 79.8 percent for 2001. If it keeps that pace up, the $450 million hogriculture industry will leap to nearly $3 trillion by 2016. Obviously somebody forgot to tell the pigs about the economic downturn.
  • Moi The Miser

    Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi has a skewed take on the AIDS crisis. Last month he declared that HIV-positive Kenyans who knowingly infect others should be executed. Then last week, after announcing that Kenya would import 300 million condoms--at a cost of $12.5 million--Moi complained: "I am embarrassed that I am spending millions importing those things," and suggested his people instead abstain from sex for two years. Reality check, please. "Abstinence might be easier for him," says prominent local AIDS activist Gitura Mwaura. "We've never seen his wife in public, so as far as we can tell he doesn't have one." Sadly, many Kenyans will choose neither option. One Nairobi taxi driver echoed an all-too-common sentiment: "[Sex with a condom] is like eating a sweet with a wrapper; you cannot do that. You have to have sex, [and] those who will die will die."
  • Flying Right

    Kevin Carlyon, the high priest of British White Witches, made the news last week when he criticized Warner Brothers after seeing a TV promo for the upcoming Harry Potter film. According to Carlyon, Harry can't even fly right. PERI caught up with him to find out which way is the witch way:Yes. In the 16th and 17th centuries, witches were always portrayed flying with the brush at the front. The other big glitch is that you never see male witches riding a broomstick. It's a [female] fertility symbol, hence the brush at the front.Some sources have actually said that we cursed them. We have not wished any harm on anybody connected with the company. What we have done is placed a "binding spell," to slow down the sale of box-office tickets.They haven't made a comment. It's been said that they're fearful that the world's witches have been brushed up the wrong way.It's very similar to getting on a motorbike. You put the stick between your legs with the brush raised up.We believe in a force,...
  • Men... Who Needs 'Em

    Scientists at Australia's Monash University have found a way to fertilize female eggs without sperm, using cells from skin or muscles instead. But opposition is mounting. "It's cloning," say protesters. Several lesbian groups are pleased as punch, but most men aren't. "[This] says, 'We can throw you on the scrapheap'," complains Cam Primavera of Fathers for Equality. But project director Dr. Orly Lacham-Kaplan insists the aim is only to help men with defective sperm to father children. She maintains that "the natural way is much better--easier and safe." And a lot more fun, too.
  • Overexposed?

    Television often hits politicians where it hurts. And President Fernando de la Rua of Argentina is no exception. Twice a week, a presidential impersonator stars in "Big Brother-in-Law," Argentina's TV spoof of the global reality hit "Big Brother." But now the president's men have devised a plan to make TV their friend--and to prove their boss isn't doing such a bad job. De la Rua aides have announced plans to install a video camera inside the presidential palace, broadcasting his movements on a state-run TV channel in condensed bulletins shown throughout the day. But de la Rua's team doesn't seem to have thought through the consequences. The overexposure could backfire on the president, known for his far-from-exciting hobbies--such as cultivating bonsai trees and following the weather--and his lack of flair in front of the lens. And what about the night-cam views? His less tolerant critics may even take those images as further proof that de la Rua really is dozing off on the job.
  • Talking Time's Over

    Negotiations with the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines have gone on long enough, with little result. Twenty hostages--including three Americans--have been abducted since May 27, though some have been released. Abu Sayyaf even claims to have decapitated one American captive. The final straw? It would appear so. The government in Manila is now casting aside failed talks--and bringing on the big guns. "I will rain bullets on you," pledged President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo last month. And this wasn't hyperbole. The first Philippine counter-terrorist unit, the Light Reaction Company (LRC), just completed a 16-week camp set up by the U.S. military in central Philippines. Their training included hostage-rescue exercises in urban and jungle settings, sustaining protracted run-and-shoot battles and mastering state-of-the-art equipment that the U.S. Army will leave behind. Later this month the LRC is expected to take on the Abu Sayyaf and expectations are high. "They are...
  • Will Kim Win?

    When International Olympic Committee delegates convene in Moscow next week, they face two huge decisions: whether to entrust the 2008 Games to Beijing, and even more critical, who should succeed Juan Antonio Samaranch as the IOC's president.Since the Salt Lake City bribery scandal, the IOC has pushed hard for reforms. So it is to the surprise of many that South Korea's Kim Un Yong-- hardly a reformist--has emerged as a serious contender for Samaranch's throne. Kim was the most prominent Olympic leader implicated in the Salt Lake City scandal.But he is nonetheless a front-runner, having capitalized on his support for Third World athletic programs and benefited from a backlash against the United States (which, in the eyes of many IOC delegates, provoked the Salt Lake City scandal, then used its financial clout to force unwelcome changes on them). And Kim has pledged to reverse a new ban on delegate visits to cities bidding for the Olympics, thus reinstituting a valued perk.That makes...
  • Baby Boozers

    Belgians love beer. So much that a group called Limburgse Biervrienden, or Limburg Beer Friends, has proposed serving low-alcohol (2.5 percent) suds... in elementary schools. It's healthier than sugary sodas and lemonade, they claim. The group pitched the idea to about 30 schools, and two agreed to a trial pour at lunch-time. Ages: 6 to 12. Let's see how their grades hold up.
  • Meow! Woof! Ahhhhh-Choo!

    Transgenic pets, based in New York, is trying to create a genetically engineered allergen-free cat to spare pet owners those awful coughs and sneezes. Then how about engineering humans to ease the suffering of our pets, too? They also suffer from allergies, according to Edinburgh University Hospital for Small Animals in Scotland. The hospital's veterinary dermatologists report that one in every 20 of its patients is allergic to its owner. Oh, and cats and dogs can be allergic to each other. As if that weren't obvious.
  • Dining Out

    A dog's dinner: Dog owners may want to walk their pup down to the swanky Bluebird Cafe in London this summer. While humans eat top-notch grub, so can their pets--ordering the likes of Pooch's penne with chopped bacon ([Pound sterling]5.75) and the Mutt's milkshake ([Pound sterling]1.85). The Brits have always loved their animals. This proves they also know how to make every dog happy.
  • Setting Sail Again Soon?

    The U.S. Federal Reserve took another step to fight off a recession last week, slashing rates by a quarter point. This brings total cuts this year to an astounding 2.75 percent--the steepest in 19 years. Americans were once again relieved that a recession has been staved off. But the biggest winners may well be European and Asian exporters.Since last year, European and Asian export business has dwindled severely. The United States absorbs a quarter of the world's exports, and until last summer was the engine of global growth. So when Americans stopped buying, the rest of the world started struggling. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan's decision to lower interest rates only minimally has given Asian and European exporters the hope for a rebound they needed.Of course, there are no guarantees that the United States has overcome a recession. The smaller-than-expected interest-rate adjustment was a careful attempt to thread the monetary needle, and can be interpreted three ways....
  • Calling Slobo

    The Yugoslav government put it plainly last week: Slobodan Milosevic now can be sent to face justice. Slobo and "all of these indicted individuals will go to The Hague," said the deputy prime minister. "There is no doubt about that." But when? Yugoslav officials gave themselves eight days to enforce their own decree; when they do, Slobo's allies could bring down the government. But Washington was threatening to hold back millions in Western aid if Yugoslavia backed down.Is there any wiggle room? One idea circulating in Belgrade: give up other indicted war criminals first. Ratko Mladic, former Bosnian Serb military boss, seems to be worried: he fled Belgrade for a hideout in Bosnia. But he may have to return to treat his kidney ailment. Mladic would be a good catch, but Slobo is still top prize.
  • The Lion King

    Japan's prime minister Junichiro Koizumi is making all the right moves. He's soaring in the polls--his latest disapproval rate was only 6 percent. (Take that, Yoshiro Mori, Koizumi's predecessor, disapproved by 66 percent just last year.) More than a million Japanese citizens have subscribed to Koizumi's weekly e-mail newsletter. Supporters around the country have bought about 600,000 posters of him. And thousands wear his T shirts.This weekend "Koizumi the Lionheart," as he recently proclaimed himself, heads to Washington. A stark contrast from the uncharismatic and unpopular Japanese visitors of the past, he will stride into the White House, head held high. Will Bush plead for support on global warming? Ask for Okinawa military bases to be treated gently? Most important, Bush must decide whether the bold new Japanese prime minister is good for the United States.
  • Reality Bites

    On China's version of "Survivor," airing in July, contestants will battle high altitudes and fatigue in Shangri-La. (Yes, the Chinese claim to have found the tiny Himalayan valley near the border of the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan.) If other versions of the show are any guide, the lives of China's survivors will be changed forever. But so will Shangri-La.The program will be broadcast by 110 mainland TV stations and 132 Internet news portals. After seeing the show, swarms of tourists are expected to descend on the hitherto unspoiled area. Garbage carelessly tossed aside. Harassed livestock (an endless source of amusement for some tourists). Tacky karaoke bars. The anticipated crush of tourists has also focused the attention of Chinese authorities closer than ever on these remote Tibetan hamlets. Last week the government ordered thousands of monks and nuns to leave one Tibetan monastic community in Sichuan, where they had previously lived undisturbed. Reality TV isn't just bad. It...
  • Next: Supreme Leader?

    As he heads into his first summit meeting in India, Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, decided he needed a boost. So he cast aside his olive green Army uniform last week and donned a black sherwani, or long coat, appointing himself president. Clearly, he needs all the credibility he can get in talks next month with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. But will a glossy honorific do it?Musharraf, a reformer with a strong desire to bolster Pakistan's economy, enjoys the support of Pakistan's businessmen, who hope a resolution to the Kashmir crisis will boost trade with India and Pakistan's cash crisis. But he does not have the backing of the country's hard-line military Islamic extremists, who have a stake in perpetuating the conflict. So what's he going to tell 'em in Delhi? Titles don't do deals.
  • Ironies

    A little sunlight: When it comes to geopolitics--or tourism--Africa is eclipsed by events almost anywhere else. Curious, then, that many tens of thousands of foreign tourists descended on Zambia, Zimbabwe and other southern African nations last week. Reason? Thursday's solar eclipse.
  • Mario Rules

    Europe's top monopoly cop, (Super) Mario Monti, risks sparking a transatlantic war with his preliminary veto of the merger of General Electric and Honeywell. Most assumed he based the decision on his antimonopolistic inclinations. But American businessmen--and now senior Bushies--believe Monti's gambit marks the beginning of an economic policy war on U.S. business. Sen. Ernest Hollings, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, warned last week that U.S.-European relations would suffer if European antitrust authorities killed the deal. And according to a senior Bush official, Monti aims "to use antitrust policy to extend Europe's social democratic model and protect European business from the U.S. and the world." As American experts see it, this is just the latest in a string of European efforts to trump U.S. antitrust laws and directly regulate U.S. corporations.
  • Perisccope

    Tony Blair brought "babes" to his last election--the 101 women M.P.s elected to Parliament in Labour's landslide victory. But this year they just haven't been as prominent. "Whatever happened to the women in this campaign?" wrote one columnist last week, echoing a national question.Has the Labour Party let its women down in 2001? Sheer numbers would suggest so. It has fielded fewer women--149, compared with 158 in 1997. And because not as many are fighting for winnable seats, fewer are likely to be elected this time around.But the future of parliamentary equality is not as bleak as those stats might suggest. Labour's recent constitutional reforms have given birth to the Welsh Assembly, 40 percent women, and the Scottish Parliament, 38 percent women. Only one in eight M.P.s in Westminster is a woman, but this is because British antidiscrimination laws bar the party from stacking its lists of parliamentary candidates in women's favor. Fair or not, Labour seeks to change that law after...
  • It's All The Rage

    Can't you just get mad anymore? It's not just road rage and air rage any longer; the media race to rage-ify every angry incident it can. Take "yard rage," of which an Illinois man was recently accused. Rage has become the buzzword of our time. A survey: The nonfatal shooting was "an example of PATIENT RAGE, which health care professionals... face too often." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)"A surfer inflicted SURF RAGE on himself. After missing a big wave... he punched himself in the head for 30 seconds." (The Vancouver Sun)"In a case of apparent SIDEWALK RAGE, Hall, 35, and McDonough, 30, were arrested... for allegedly attacking a neighbor because he greeted McDonough while walking a dog." (Record, Bergen, New Jersey)"How much money has been spent... replacing perfectly functioning hardware which has suffered at the hands of someone with PC RAGE?" (Birmingham Post, U.K.)
  • Blame It On Yourselves

    Who cost the United States its seat on the U.N. Human Rights Commission in the recent secret vote? Theories abound. Was there a European Judas--or three, or five? Is the world tired of being bullied by U.S. strong-arm human-rights tactics? Or did China help bring the Bush administration down to earth? The United States "deserves the defeat" for arrogance and "imposing its human-rights standards on others," Beijing gloated. ...