For almost 40 years, Dale Chihuly has been generally recognized as the world’s top glass artist, so it’s hardly surprising that his concepts would be widely copied. Works by Chihuly, which include the sensational lobby ceiling in Las Vegas’s Bellagio Hotel, can be admired in more than 200 international museums and although a near-fatal car accident left him unable to personally blow the glass for his creations, he still designs them. But where is the line between copying and “being influenced by”? That is the question that a court must decide later this year after a Seattle judge allowed to go forward a $1 million copyright infringement suit brought against a former Chihuly glass artist and four galleries that sold his work. Defense lawyers claim that “a style of glass art cannot be legally claimed any more than someone could copyright the Impressionist style of painting.”

What’s Good for Washington

What Washington lacks is a proper forum to cut its overly powerful politicians down to size – something like Britain’s satirical Private Eye or “the racy, gossipy tabloids,” says London columnist Rupert Cornwell. “Surrounded by armies of aides and a supine press, senators have a ridiculously easy ride, and that can’t be good for politics,” Cornwell writes.

Tourism Turnaround

Songwriter turned politician Ruben Blades, now Panamanian tourist minister, is producing a 15-minute film to be shown on airlines and cruise ships that uses popular characters from his songs to promote his country. “The idea is to create a kind of musical map,” says Blades, who hopes it will bring to life the old streets and buildings of Panama City. Winner of six Grammy Awards, Blades, 58, has turned 16 former gang members into tourist guides to conduct visitors around the Old Town area where he was born.

A Single Political Unit

One of the things that really frustrates Euro-diplomats, according to the Spectator, is the refusal of Latin America to merge its free trade zone into a single political unit. “It is plainly easier to sign a free trade accord with a single bloc than a whole series of bilateral treaties,” writes Daniel Hannan, citing the European calculation that “ a world made up of regional associations will be less easily dominated by the United States.”

But, the article adds, the EU is urging on the rest of the world “a 1950s model which has been made redundant by advances in communications. Never have supra-national institutions been more otiose (futile).”

Barbie Torture

Mutilation of Barbie dolls by young girls is commonplace, according to a study by British researchers. “The girls we spoke to see Barbie torture as a legitimate play activity and see the torture as ‘cool,’” reports Agnes Nairn of the University of Bath. ”Actual physical violence and torture towards the doll was reported quite gleefully across age, school and gender.” Nairn added that while this information was “deeply disturbing” to an adult, “from the child’s point of view they were simply being imaginative in disposing of an excessive commodity in the way as one might crush cans for recycling.”

Super Supermarkets

If supermarket expansion is allowed to continue unchecked, says a report recently published in Britain, most of the country’s convenience stores, grocers, newsagents and petrol station markets will disappear within the next decade. “Prices of products will remain fairly low until consolidation reaches a saturation point… (and) are then likely to rise with fewer competitors in the market,” says the 90-page report by the Parliamentary Small Shops Group. The MPs call for the appointment of a retail “tsar” to oversee the industry and introduce a moratorium on further takeovers and mergers. Meanwhile, reports DSN Retailing Today, the plan of Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, Tesco, to open up in California will face plenty of competition from its American rivals. “Tesco is a great retailer; it’s in a dozen countries and has successfully taken on tough competition, including Wal-Mart,” writes Mike Duff. “But it has picked itself a tough fight on the West Coast. History shows that entering a new market is tough and that analysis often proves to be faulty or based on optimistic assumptions.”

The Wilcock Web

Since Bob Schieffer replaced Dan Rather as “interim” anchor, CBS Evening News has reportedly added 160,000 viewers while ABC and NBC have each lost more than 700,000 .... A new line of pens, called iRemedy ($3.99), from the Staedtler company, contains an antibacterial additive integrated into the grip to repel germs…. Already claiming 3,000 members, an online service called Airtroductions matches up travelers who want to avoid “spending hours with someone they don’t know or don’t have anything in common with”…. A new vending machine, InkTecZone, at which customers can refill those expensive ink cartridges, is being installed in stores and is said to be able to pay for itself within months …. Writing in the Spectator, Eric Ellis described Singapore as “Disneyland with the death penalty, the only shopping center with a seat in the UN….Singapore Inc delivers skilled labor, superb infrastructure and its illiberality is among its chief corporate attractions”…. Nine women play all the parts – including that of penguins, sheep and Ronald Reagan – in “Thatcher,” the musical that opened at a theatre in Warwick, England. “Those looking for a hatchet job will be disappointed,” wrote reviewer Michael Portillo …. “If black boxes survive air crashes,” observes George Carlin, “why don’t they make the whole plane out of that stuff?”…. “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities,” wrote Voltaire (1694-1773).