EARTH’S EIGHTH LARGEST COUNTRY

If you don’t understand what hedge funds are, you’re not alone. According to the New Statesman, they’re such sophisticated financial institutions that even the regulators don’t understand them enough to rein them in. “Syndicates for the rich – lords of havoc,” is what the magazine calls them referring to the “mind-bogglingly large” sums of money they handle. “If hedge funds were a country, it would be the eighth largest in the world,” the New Statesman concludes. Institutional Investment Magazine guesses that a minimum investment of $1 million brought the top 25 top hedge fund managers an average of $251 million each last year.

Scent and Sensibility

After basing new fragrances on the writings of Oscar Wilde and Gustave Flaubert, a Toronto perfumer, Laura Tomatto, was commissioned to translate a 16th century portrait by Caravaggio, “The Lute Player” (1590), into a reflective fragrance. The resulting perfume, not for sale, has “the spice of sin…sharp and intoxicating,” declares the director of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum.

The Mexican Morass

The advantage of having the U.S. as a neighbor has acted as “a safety valve” for Mexico, enabling it to ship its dissatisfied constituency next door instead of solving its problems, says the National Review in a piece headed Mexico, “Heal Thyself.” While 42% of the rural economy lives in extreme poverty, huge sections of the economy are still dominated by monopolies and oligarchies, the magazine charges and the fact that foreign investment in the oil industry is forbidden (North Korea is the only other country with a similar policy) costs thousands of jobs. “Starting a business in Mexico can be a bureaucratic nightmare,” the magazine states.

Treasure Tour

A worldwide treasure hunt is expected to ensue after the recent publication of Michael Stadther’s book, which will give clues to finding hidden tokens that can be redeemed for a $1-million diamond ring. More than 150,000 copies of a similar book detailing a U.S. treasure hunt sold so well that Stadther created “A Treasure’s Trove: Secrets of the Alchemist Dar,” with the clues spread around the world.

Agricultural Oasis

The water from desert wells could be desalinated and used to farm fish and shrimp, says a United Nations report that forecasts a tougher future for the 500 million people who live in the world’s deserts and will face less rainfall and higher temperatures in years to come.

The Testosterone Test

Researchers at Leuven, a Belgian university, directed two groups of men – separated by their testosterone levels – to play a game in which they bargained over money. The first group with the higher levels were the toughest bargainers, but when both groups were shown sexy pictures of women and given lingerie to handle, it was the second group that won the game. “We are (apparently) very vulnerable to sexual cues,” concluded Dr. Siegfried Dewitte, one of the researchers.

The Wilcock Web

With wine consumption in Europe falling, and increased competition from the West, the European Union is paying for the elimination of almost 15% of its vineyards and spending $500 million a year to convert unsold wine into industrial alcohol…. Granted limited autonomy in a recent poll, the Catalan region of Spain has banned bullfighting…. “History does not repeat itself,” observed Mark Twain, ”but it rhymes”…. A new tent offered for under $100 by a British firm (www.millets.co.uk) comes with paint and brushes to create your own designs…. David Gatchell, 58, is running as an independent candidate for governor, but Tennessee election officials won’t allow him to register his new name, None of the Above, on the ballot…. A newly discovered compound that can be injected into the body triggers the release of melanin and results in a tan. Unfortunately, it needs 30 separate injections…. An unidentified Chinese man from Jiaxing, who offered his soul for sale, received 60 offers before Taobao (China’s eBay) pulled the posting stating that it would be allowed only if he could provide permission from ”a higher authority”…. Nomadic herdsmen could be given a good living if more people would show a taste for camel’s milk, says BBC Online, which says the milk is not only rich in vitamins B and C as well as iron, but helps fight Hepatitis C and AIDS…. “Many people would sooner die than think. In fact they do” – Bertrand Russell (1872-1970).

John Wilcock’s weekly column can be read at www.ojaiorange.com