Thriller in Manila
In an impressive show of bayag—the word for testicular fortitude in the Tagalog language—the Philippines sent its biggest naval warship to confront Chinese fishing and surveillance vessels operating illegally in waters just off the country’s northwest coast. The area, known as the Scarborough Shoal, is in the South China Sea, a body of water over which Beijing—with characteristic immodesty—asserts exclusive sovereign control. In deploying its navy, Manila has set a maritime collision course with the Chinese, who bridle, also, at Manila’s name for the waters in question: the West Philippine Sea.
From Here to Eternity
North Korea has offered a charming posthumous sinecure to Kim Jong-il, who died in December. The late Supreme Leader has been proclaimed “Eternal General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea” and “Eternal Chairman of the National Defense Commission.” At least one North Korean has job security.
Spare a thought for Amir Mohammad Afridi, who once boasted the finest mustache in Pakistan’s hirsute Khyber agency. Afridi’s whiskers caught the censorious eye of a local Islamist outfit, which declared his upper lip un-Islamic. He was abducted at gunpoint, produced before a religious scholar, and reduced to a mere shadow of his magnificent self by a pitiless barber. Shortly after, Afridi fled to Peshawar, where his mustache flourishes anew. “I have left my dear homeland, my friends and relatives,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “I am prepared to sacrifice all that but will not compromise my mustache.”
Remember F.W. de Klerk, the white half of the duo that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for steering South Africa so sagely into port from the choppy seas of apartheid? The old Afrikaner sowed some consternation in a speech in Johannesburg when he described Nelson Mandela as “brutal and unfair ... by no means the avuncular and saintlike figure so widely depicted today.” While Mandela himself responded with a very saintlike silence, a spokesman for the ruling African National Congress faulted de Klerk for “poisoning the country” with his remarks.
Zimbabwe was agog for a few blissful days when a rumor raced through the country that Robert Mugabe was on his deathbed in Singapore, the aging tyrant’s hospice of choice. The rumor was given a fresh boost when official pronouncements, usually assumed by Zimbabweans to be the inverse of the truth, stated that Mugabe was “fit as a fiddle.” In this rare instance, however—and to widespread chagrin—the government line was true. Mugabe bounded off the plane when it landed on his return.
Mine Is Bigger Than Yours
Azerbaijan is the latest country to subscribe to that most tawdry of ambitions: to build on its soil the world’s tallest building. At 1,050 meters, the planned structure will be the mother of all phallic symbols, dwarfing poor Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. The building will be called “Azerbaijan Tower,” perhaps in the belief that a name less prosaic might make the whole enterprise seem a little too gaudy.
How do you undermine a presidential candidate in Egypt? Simple. Spread rumors that he has a Jewish half-brother who lives in Israel. Amr Moussa, the leading candidate in polls ahead of the vote in May, has had to deny reports circulating on Egyptian Web sites that his father had married a Jewish woman, with whom he had a son. Moussa served as foreign minister under Hosni Mubarak for a decade and went on to head the Arab League. His campaign issued a statement saying “Moussa’s half-brother is called Pierre, and he is the son of a French Christian woman, not a Jewish woman, with respect to all religions.”
Death of the Week
Ahmed Ben Bella, a Scarlet Pimpernel of a man who rose to be the first president of independent Algeria, in 1962. His death, at age 95, leaves only two men from the first generation of postcolonial Third World leaders still living: Sir Dawda Jawara of Gambia, and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.
Anne Lauvergeon, former head of the French nuclear company Areva, dropped a little bomb on Nicolas Sarkozy in an interview last week. After revealing that she’d disagreed with the French president over selling nuclear energy to Gaddafi (Sarkozy was pro), she criticized him for placing everything “in the realm of the emotional.” For her coup de grâce, Atomic Anne went biblical, quoting from Ecclesiastes: “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child.”