PLAYING HOSTAGE

As kidnapping has become an international growth industry, so, too, has kidnap insurance which, to some extent, ameliorates it. At least 60% of America’s largest companies now carry K&R (kidnap and ransom) insurance, reports the Economist, ranging from $500 a year for $1 million liability coverage to $50,000 against $25 million. Ironically, the insurance itself is likely to attract kidnappers who realize that even if the victim is poor, the insurer is rich. Thus, “discretion is important…the insurer (might) cancel the contract if a client discusses it, even among friends.”

Elton John Reveals…

Explaining why his early shows were so “theatrical,” Elton John says: “I was stuck at a piano, which is not a glamorous instrument. It’s a nine-foot wooden plank. You can’t utilize it like a guitar; you can’t move with it. Also, I wasn’t a sex symbol like Bowie, Marc Bolan or Freddie Mercury, so I dressed more on the humorous side, because if I was going to be stuck at the piano for two hours, I was going to make people look at me. I had to give people a bit of fun.”

Stranger Than Strange

Long before the late Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin had an almost identical experience, but the black leadership in Montgomery, Alabama felt she would not make a sturdy enough test case. Nine months later, they persuaded Ms Parks, already a civil rights activist, to see it through, and the rest is history according to a new book, “Stranger in a Strange Land: Encounters in the Disunited States,” by former Guardian correspondent Gary Younge.

Hall of 1,000 Tongues

With a language services bill that already exceeds one billion Euros (around $1.3 billion) the European Parliament has agreed to spend another $1 million adding Irish (spoken by only five MEPs and 1.3 million Irish) to its translation roster. This has prompted demands from the Welsh and the Catalans (7 million of them) for equal treatment. The Independent says the parliament is becoming an expensive “tower of Babel.”

‘Our Inner Ape’

In his new book, “Our Inner Ape,” the Dutch primatologist Frans De Wall continues to point out – as in his previous books, such as “Chimpanzee Politics” – the parallels between chimp behavior and our own. For them, de Waal explains “tongue-kissing…in an act of total trust. The tongue is one of our sensitive organs and the mouth is the body cavity that can do it the greatest harm.”

Oxford Street Challenge

After a survey showed that nine out of 10 pedestrians along London’s crowded Oxford Street showed some kind of “sidewalk rage” about slow walkers, a group called the Fast Lane Campaign came up with the idea of splitting the pavement in two. Marked with different colors, the slow lane would be for tourists, window-shoppers and “people who couldn’t walk for more than a minute without stopping to send a text message” and the other lane would enforce a minimum speed limit of 3 miles per hour. Alas, the idea was officially shot down. But now, two years later, it’s back again with a planned survey this month to seek public reaction. “This is still a huge challenge for us,” says Jace Tyrrell, spokesman for a local shopkeepers’ group. “Everyone knows that the biggest challenge on Oxford Street is congestion.”

The Wilcock Web

With the Olympics only two years away, according to Asia Times 20,000 foreign journalists are expected to descend upon Beijing, where foreign reporters routinely get arrested when they try to research topics such as pollution, AIDS or farmers’ protests…. University of Illinois researchers have discovered the obvious fact that serving food on smaller plates encourages people to eat less…. For the first time, reveals the Daily Telegraph, the number of overweight people in the world exceeds the number – an estimated 800,000 – of malnourished…. “Stupidity has a knack of getting its way,” wrote Albert Camus, who died in 1960…. The first solar payphone, installed by South Africa’s Mobil Phone company, MTN, on Uganda’s Lake Victoria, has put local fishermen in touch with the world, and Ireland’s Ryanair is equipping its planes with satellite links to allow passengers to use mobile phones…. “People do not really want to hear what you have to say,” declares Lee Langley. “What they want is for you to echo what they are thinking.”

John Wilcock’s weekly column and his weekly cable TV travel show can be found at www.ojaiorange.com