Malcolm Beith

Stories by Malcolm Beith

  • I'll Have The Nuclear Gnocchi

    It seems mama's sauce isn't the only thing that puts the punch in Italian pasta. The German press piqued Italy's pride last week, claiming that much of the durum wheat used in the country's pasta is... radioactively mutated. Rubbish, retorted the Italians. "Those dour Germans are merely jealous of our superior cuisine", said one proud proponent of Italy's back-to- nature Slow Food movement. Noodle envy aside, the Germans happen to be right this time. Radiation is used to develop mutant strains and to improve production and resistance to natural hazards. This form of modification is common, says the International Atomic Energy Agency. And most of what we eat comes from these strains: Japanese pears, American grapefruit and, yes, several types of Italian durum wheat. But experts say that couldn't hurt a fruit fly, let alone humans. So let's all just simmer down and share a bowl of mutant noodles in peace.
  • Hoop Dreams, Chinese Reality

    Last Friday Chinese basketball star Yao Ming's shot at playing in the NBA bounced off the backboard. His club, the state-owned Shanghai Sharks, declared that Yao would not be eligible for the NBA draft in June. Don't blame the U.S.-China political game for this one, though. The Sharks say Yao must stay home for the greater good: to help the growth of Chinese basketball. But inside sources say it had more to do with capitalist greed. The Sharks, they say, are demanding 30 percent of Yao's future earnings and a large portion of his endorsements--an arrangement that his parents, so far, won't accept. "Yao is a slave to the team," says one of his advisers. "He has no individual rights." For now, it's goodbye NBA, hello filial piety.
  • Bring Back The Love

    Viagra's made men awfully frisky. How are women to keep up? PERI test drove a few new female bliss enhancers, rating them from zero hearts to five: Woman Power: Spray it like a breath freshener. But is a numb, seemingly frozen tongue really sexy?Lie back and think Antarctica: (One Heart) Dream Cream Apply the tingly, but increasingly irritating topical and "repeat if desired."O, O, Ow! squeals PERI: (Two Hearts) Niagara Blue water-based beverage promises to make you "warm and ready"--a useful trait in chilly Sweden, where the elixir was born.Swedes do it best: (Four Hearts)
  • Can You Top This One?

    Sorry says it best. But only if you really mean it. Everyone from popes to presidents is offering up apologies these days, some gritting their teeth or mumble-mouthing more than others. From sorrys that never were to the sorriest sorrys we're ever to see, PERI ranks the contrition competition, 0 to 10: ...
  • Handicapping The Videogame Wars

    Videogames are not kids' stuff. A major "battle of the boxes" is shaping up among three giants of the electronics industry, and the prefight buzz is loud. Last October Sony released its redoubtable PlayStation 2. This fall, two challengers come out--Nintendo's GameCube and Microsoft's Xbox. PERI handicaps the bout:
  • Gifts For Gold

    Bejing's not the only city pulling out all the stops for Olympic victory. U.S. Olympic Committee employees have been promised bonuses if the U.S. team wins 20 gold medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. The official spin? "We want employees to feel like they have some pride in what the athletes achieve," says USOC spokesman Mike Moran, adding that the committee is "not any different from a company that puts out a product." Aren't the Olympics supposed to be an amateur competition? Maybe it's time to dispense with that fiction, as Moran and Team U.S.A. have so clearly done. The USOC helps athletes by supplying training facilities, sports medicine, rental cars and college tuition, among other things. Athletes even get bonuses for winning medals! At this rate, committees should reward doctors who manage to concoct the best medal-winning (and least detectable) drug.
  • Back To The Future

    Just last month, news magazine Itogi was the topical, free-speaking voice of a new Russia. Then came a hostile boardroom takeover by a state-owned company, and a total turnover of the staff. Suddenly Itogi, no longer affiliated with NEWSWEEK, is looking like a distant cousin of the old Soviet rag, Pravda. No Putin-criticisms, nothing on Chechnya. News from inside the Kremlin? No way, comrade. Itogi's first "foreign" news section featured a Soviet-style editors' attack on Star Wars 2001, and its science news was no less recherche: how to clone Lenin. "A second coming is possible," readers were assured, for the Great Leader's DNA is in "good shape." Winds of change may be blowing in the new Russia, but surely the stale blast from Itogi won't be welcome everywhere.
  • Pop Goes The Answer

    Teens have always been far more interested in the likes of Britney Spears than, say, learning about the intricacies of quantum physics. So how to get 'em excited about learning? Just throw a little pop culture into the mix, as did British graduate student Carl Hepburn. His Web site, britneyspears.ac/lasers.htm, lets teens follow her Guide to Semiconductor Physics, reading about the fundamentals of photonic physics whilst examining pictures of the pop princess. They can even study a diagram that explains valence bands and conductor bands--all in relation to Britney's much-admired upper body. Kids (not to mention some pervy profs) are flocking; Hepburn reports 2 million hits since the site launched. PERI approves and offers a suggestion or two. How about a Brad Pitt history site? Or macroeconomics featuring Pamela Anderson? Financial wiz she's not, but it would beat listening to Alan Greenspan.
  • The U.S.-China Hacker Conflict

    There is no room for diplomacy in cyberspace. On Thursday the FBI warned that Chinese hackers may be preparing an organized, full-fledged assault on U.S. Web sites in early May. Tensions in cyberspace escalated shortly after the spy-plane incident and have yet to subside. But Chinese hacking is nothing new. After the United States "mistakenly" bombed China's embassy in Belgrade in 1999, the White House Web site was defaced to show Bill Clinton, then president, sporting a Hitleresque mustache. This time, however, China's "hacktivists" are retaliating for provocations in cyberspace. At least 65 Chinese Web sites have been vandalized by U.S. hackers--many usingracial slurs--since the spy-plane controversy began, says attrition.org, which monitors such Web activity. you f---ing communist bastards listen to me... the U.S.A. will own you with one push of a button, screamed the diatribe on a local-government site last week. No one in China is safe--even the China Wild Bird Federation has...
  • No More U.S. 'Ambiguity' In East Asia

    If it sounded like Dubya was speaking off the cuff, he was. The United States will do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan, President Bush said last week--dropping 30 years of calculated "strategic ambiguity" about its intentions in any conflict between the two Chinas. But it was only the timing of the president's remarks that surprised. In fact, his administration has indeed changed policy. ...
  • Oh, That Unsinkable Dollar!

    While most international currencies have been buffeted about by the world's choppy economic waters, the unsinkable U.S. dollar has just kept on sailing. Oddly enough, finance ministers at the annual IMF-World Bank meeting in Washington this week are likely to view that as something of an embarrassment. Reason: the buck's buoyancy is a reproach to stagnant Japan, slower-growing Europe and troubled developing countries like Turkey and Argentina. Having failed to reform their economies, they've missed the boat to high-speed growth... or any growth at all, in many cases. ...
  • When Life Bowls You A Googly...

    The snail-paced tea drinker's game of cricket wilts the will to live. That's the word from David Frith, author of a new book on the sport, who finds that the suicide rate among professional British cricketers is 70 percent higher than for the average British male. It's not drizzly, depressing English weather that's to blame, either. The stats are actually worse in sunny New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. So why? Games are slow. They can drag on for days. Tours often last for months. "Cricket wraps itself around people," says Frith. "They vanish from ordinary lives for the whole of their careers." Sounds like crawling into a hole and pulling the earth in after--which, tragically, is just what some do.
  • What Women Really Want: Guns?

    War. what is it good for? Absolutely nothing--except maybe fashion. Escalating Middle East violence and recent East-West standoffs seem to be bringing military chic to new heights of popularity--and creativity. Catwalks have been crawling with combat and camouflage since the new year, and Courtney Love and her machine gun recently gave women's glamour mag Jane an image more suited to Jane's Defence Weekly. Not to be outdone, Miss Israel, 18-year-old Ilanit Levy, revealed her new gear two weeks ago: a diamond-studded bulletproof jacket that she'll wear over her evening gown in May's Miss Universe pageant. Levy wants "people in Israel to continue to go out" despite the violence. "But be careful," she warns. And now? A new bra designed by former Beverly Hills security expert Paxton Quigley--featuring a gun holster. The chest is a good place to conceal a weapon, says Quigley (just ask any James Bond aficionado). What's next... grenade earrings?
  • Myth-And-Mouth Disease

    Britain's tourist industry has been hit hard by foot-and-mouth disease. But fears could well be rooted in wild misunderstandings. Peri stomps on some common foot-and-mouth myths: Myth: No trespassing! The countryside is barred to visitors. Reality: Most restrictions apply only to certain footpaths. And barely 20 percent of attractions are affected.About 1,500 farms have been hit by the disease out of 160,000.Please! The disease is rare indeed inhumans. At most, you get something like the flu.Sure, there's the danger of flavorless British cuisine. But not FMD.Xenophobic Brits may wish. Straw soaked with disinfectant may be laid across the entrances to farms. But no spraying.Good one! But the value-added tax, at 17.5 percent, is just as unpleasant.A recent survey claims that three out of five motorists in Britain think so. Actually, it means beware of cattle on the road.
  • Killing Time

    In a bold new economy experiment last week, AOL's London staff surrendered their watches, and promised not to peek at wall clocks; computer timekeepers and mobile phones were covered over for the day. The company, always up to the minute in trends, was trying to discover if people work more efficiently when time is not of the essence. "People were a little anxious for the first hour," said one employee. But the day turned out to be "a lot calmer" than usual. "Incredibly chilled," according to another. But was the staff more efficient? Report cards will be handed out this week by the experiment's creator, Averil Leimon. In this instance, only time will tell.
  • Will The Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

    Photographer Renee Cox recently portrayed Jesus in "Yo Mama's Last Supper," nude as the day both she and the Man were born. Andres Serrano suggested that Jesus was just like the rest of us. So he immersed a crucified carpenter in urine--and dubbed it "Piss Christ," echoing St. Augustine's observations that humans "are born among feces and urine." Warner Sallman's generic 1941 portrait appealed to white Christians--but not necessarily to the millions of believers of color. Another middle-aged white guy? Give us a break!Apart from the digital Christ, only the Shroud of Turin (middle, right), purports to be a true depiction. But is it real? DNA tests have proved useless; carbon dating suggests it's a fake. Yet the image remains.Let's see how well the new Jesus, tan and troubled, is received.
  • Under The Desk, Kids!

    The end of the Cold War doesn't mean the 1950s "duck and cover" drills are out of style. In the post-Columbine era, U.S. schools are adopting similar precautionary measures--not against Russian nukes, though. Today's threat is gun-toting teens. Police Sgt. Loring Draper conducts drills and training sessions for teachers, police and students at schools across the country. One school principal, echoing a common sentiment, expects the exercises to become as "routine as a fire drill." How it works: Blanks are fired. A hostages are taken. The kids duck and cover, and the cops move in. Children are even told to ham it up: "They're screaming, 'Help me!' " says Draper. Ugh! If this is to become as routine as fire drills, the United States had better take a long look in the mirror.
  • East Meets West

    Sports can soothe even the stormiest of tiffs between the United States and China; in the 1970s table tennis opened the doors for the then President Nixon. Basketball probably won't throw missile-defense disputes off the radar, but who knows? Last week, the Chinese Army basketball team agreed to let 7-foot-1 Wang Zhi Zhi play for the Dallas Mavericks. Was this a new detente? Perhaps. But it was also part of a pitch for Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympics. Rather than patting himself on the back for becoming the NBA's first Asian, Wang acknowledged the real goal as he proudly held up a Mavericks jersey emblazoned with BEIJING 2008. Also scoring a political dunk was Mavericks assistant coach Donn Nelson, who vowed to fully support the Chinese bid. Needless to say, Dallas is hot to host the 2012 Olympics. So while Washington and Beijing speak of each other as "strategic competitors" these two cities are working together to pass each other the torch.
  • Gangsta Rap, Taiwan Style

    For years, Taiwan's Justice Ministry has tried to rid the legislature of gangsters (some lawmakers estimate that one third of Parliament has links to organized crime). A bill barring legislators with criminal backgrounds stalled pathetically, and last week the debate hit a new low--literally. When opposition legislator Diane Lee-Ching-an accused Lo Fu-chu--a reputed triad leader--of criminal connections, he slapped her. Then he slammed her head into a lectern and punched her in the face. For good measure, he threw a cup of hot tea at her. He issued an apology the next day to "all women" of Taiwan, offering to leave the legislature for three months. That's hardly going to cut it. Lo and Co. are very friendly with some powerful supporters of the current government. If Justice wants to give the mafia the boot, it'll have to bring in some heavyweights of its own.
  • Reality Tv?

    TV isn't real life. But couldn't shows try to present life in all its multi-ethnic diversity? PERI looked at some of the most popular English-language shows. Our ratings, from zero to a perfect 10: ...
  • Periscope

    They called him Teflon Tony four years ago, and he still fits the bill. Britain is a mess these days, but somehow Prime Minister Tony Blair heads into the next election looking remarkably strong. The country's problems go far beyond foot-and-mouth, which has sunk the "Cool Britannia" image, threatens Britain's £70 billion-a-year tourism industry, and has made the government's crisis managers look like bumblers. ...
  • Singaporn

    Perhaps Singapore isn't as prudish as its reputation suggests. PalmStories, a California-based service that provides porn stories and pictures for palmtop owners to download, says the little city-state of 4.1 million people makes up a third of its foreign market. PalmStories uses Internet channels that allow users to put porn in their palms without fear of being traced. And stereotypes about the residents of Singapore--where even Cosmopolitan magazine is banned--are now being buried under the mattress. As one Hong Kong Internet analyst says: "Maybe Singaporeans are human after all."
  • Can't Name That Tune?

    Got a ditty creepin' and crawlin' around inside your head and just can't place it? Your troubles will soon be over. A Norwegian company, Fast Search and Transfer, has developed a computer-software program that picks up the notes you hum, whistle or sing, and then finds your tune from a database of 10,000 songs. PERI tested the product, which will soon be available through Internet music sites. The song? The "Mission: Impossible" theme tune. The time it took for a successful result? Five seconds. Worked like a charm for us, but what about those without the gift of perfect pitch? Simply tap a bit of the beat--and your PC will do the rest.Copyright 2001 Newsweek: not for distribution outside of Newsweek Inc.
  • Abortion Battle

    After a brief lull, America's battle over abortion is set to heat up once again. This week the government will release details of international abortion restrictions recently put back in place by President George W. Bush. The policy cuts funding to international family-planning groups that provide or counsel patients on abortion. The restrictions are expected to be virtually identical to those in place during the '80s, with one possible exception. A government source told NEWSWEEK the new regulations would likely include language allowing post-abortion care.That change won't mollify pro-choice advocates. The policy has already claimed its first victim: the London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation has lost more than $5 million in U.S. funding for 2001, says a government source. On Thursday, California Senator Barbara Boxer and New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey are expected to introduce legislation aimed at overturning the policy.
  • Sold, To The Gentleman In The Secret Service

    Always wanted to be...Mr Bond? This week, Christie's of London is holding an auction of 007 memorabilia. With the help of Rupert Allason, an author and expert on the British Secret Service, PERI looked at some of the gadgets, garments and "government" goods on offer:
  • Dot-Dictionary

    While the Web world fares poorly, its vocabulary seems to be getting richer. Some new dot-bomb phrases: Dot-compost: The assets of a dead dot-com that find new life. e-hole: Cocky twentysomething who thinks he can run his own I-biz. "Kid's a complete e-hole." Fume rate: Beyond "burn rate"; spending cash that you so do not have. Uninstalled: Fired. "Peter? Ahh... he's been uninstalled."
  • Out Of Africa

    Congo's new president, Joseph Kabila, brought his campaign for international legitimacy to Washington last week and won the first round. He held his own in meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell--and even with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, one of Congo's "worst enemies," according to a Congolese diplomat. Kabila made a show of taking international relations seriously, something his father--assassinated last month--never did.Despite Kabila's calls for more U.S. military and diplomatic involvement in Congo's crisis, he and Kagame, whose own troops have been backing rebels in Congo, will most likely have to resolve it alone. A senior U.S. State Department official told NEWSWEEK that the United States is "not taking this one on," but it will try to "herd the parties into carrying out the [Lusaka peace] accords." If Kabila works on reconciliation at home--and if Kagame pulls out Rwanda's troops in the manner he proposed to Powell--peace might break out after all.
  • Saddam: The Sequel

    The Bush administration announced last week that it would fund opposition activities inside Iraq, signaling its first move against Saddam Hussein. But Saddam's opponents are looking for more than money--they want better support from U.S. warplanes. "What we need to do is change the rules of engagement for American forces," says Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, the anti-Saddam coalition. Since the gulf war, U.S. and allied fighters have patrolled the skies over Iraq. But their mission has been limited to enforcing a no-fly zone against Iraqi fighter planes and targeting anti-aircraft installations deemed hostile.Now Chalabi wants the United States to hit Saddam's tanks and artillery on the ground. "Anything that moves could be a target," he says. Would that enable the long-divided opposition groups to get their act together? "Hit a few and see what happens," says Chalabi. For now, though, such a shift in U.S. policy is unlikely. "Iraq is a problem for its own...
  • The Shadow Of The Clinton Years

    It was a belated bid to wipe the slate clean. Last week Bill and Hillary Clinton offered to pay for nearly half the $190,000 in gifts they took with them and agreed to pick up a large part of the rent for Bill's high-priced Manhattan office. But one problem won't disappear so easily: lingering questions about the last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.This week two congressional committees open hearings into why Clinton decided to circumvent Justice Department guidelines and help Rich. Likely to be star witnesses: former deputy attorney general Eric Holder Jr. and former White House counsel Jack Quinn, the man hired by Rich to lobby Clinton for a pardon. Quinn maintains that he kept Holder and Justice well-informed throughout the process. Holder has so far declined comment, but colleagues say he is furious that Quinn is now trying to portray him as complicit. "They [Rich's lawyers] circumvented the process and now they're trying to pin this on Eric," a source close to...
  • Tel-E-Phones

    Hoping to revive the public telephone, British Telecom has launched Multi.phone, a kiosk offering Internet access. The five-month trial is an attempt to lure Britain's mobile-phone users--nearly half the population--back to the booths. With free unlimited Internet access and simple touch screens, BT hopes to "reinvent the way people use public pay phones." And we thought Superman already did that.
  • Days Of Hope

    Why are Burma's military leaders easing up on their opposition, the National League for Democracy (NLD)? Since the new year, they have ceased press attacks, released 84 activists, and even held talks with NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi-- "the most interesting development since 1990," says one EU spokesman. Some speculate the generals are crumbling under international sanctions and economic decline. One thing is certain: the military and the NLD are weaker than they've been for years. "It's a lose-lose situation," says Aung Zaw, a Burmese exile and magazine editor living in Thailand. And nobody expects a quick resolution to this crisis. But even though Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, the fact that the two sides are talking again is cause enough for hope.