What the foreign papers are saying.
Dec. 31 1997 3:30 AM

At this moment of the year, newspapers of the English-speaking world become obsessed with roundups, news quizzes, retrospectives, and predictions of one kind or another. For example, the Age of Melbourne, Australia, has published a very long feature called "Another Year Down the Drain." This is largely devoted to the failures of Australians in all walks of life, but it also mentions Barbra Streisand's new, hugely publicized relationship with actor James Brolin, as discussed on television with Barbara Walters. "Pass the sick bag," suggests the Age. Other victims of the newspaper include Earl Spencer (Princess Diana's brother, "what a bounder and a cad"; click here for Slate's "Assessment"), Boris Yeltsin, and Mike Tyson.


No country takes astrology more seriously than India, but the Asian Age has moved on to tarot cards. By Western standards, the predictions are very precise. For example, in "Health for Next Month" (i.e., January), the AsianAge predicts "colds and coughs" for Aries, a "skin problem" for Taurus, "a urinary problem" for Gemini, "circulatory or liver problems" for Cancer, "weight problems" for Leo, "a wheezing problem" for Libra, "chilblains" for Scorpio, hormonal problems for Sagittarius women, a "crick in the neck" for Capricorn, "personal anxieties and work-related stress" for Aquarius, and "a sore throat or a loose tooth" for Pisces.

The Times of India, in an editorial, takes issue with a Dutch university that has compiled a vast world database of happiness "to judge the happiness of each country." "The HLE [Happy Life Expectancy] is calculated by multiplying a country's life expectancy in years with a 0-10 scale of average happiness," the newspaper explains. "But for all the complications in arriving at the final figures, they become simple enough when it comes to India, and it is not good news or glad tidings in tune with the season of good will. For, the list of 48 industrialised countries lumps India almost at the bottom--among the ten unhappiest countries--only ahead of Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Belarus, Nigeria and Bulgaria."

The list, says the newspaper, "has annoyed almost as many as it has pleased, for it has arbitrarily included almost the entire Scandinavian seaboard countries and the rich nations, regardless of the extent of societal heartache caused by broken homes and dysfunctional families." "More paradoxical still is the fact that Northern Ireland has got in fairly near the top, despite all its troubles."

Northern Ireland's troubles increased over Christmas with the murder in the Maze prison of "King Rat," the jailed Protestant terrorist Billy Wright, and the subsequent retaliatory shooting in County Tyrone of a Roman Catholic, Seamus Dillon. While the conservative British newspaper the Daily Telegraph demanded the resignation of the Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam, on the grounds that she was "responsible for both these things," Irish newspapers generally backed her up. The Irish Times, in fact, sounded like a loyalist British newspaper when it demanded greater security at the Maze ("if the government--any government--loses control of the prisons, it has lost everything") and insisted that the British-generated peace process "may have to adjust to the wind, but ... is unlikely to be sunk by the latest atrocities."


The great massacre of chickens in Hong Kong took place after an improvement in chicken sales from 10 percent to about 50 percent of normal since the "avian flu" crisis began, according to the South China Morning Post. Only one Hong Kong family was identified as having eaten chicken for the traditional Chinese "winter solstice" celebration Dec. 25, but many other chickens were reported to have been bought, though not eaten, as "traditional offerings to the gods." The flu crisis caused the Cathay Pacific airline to stop serving chicken on its flights to Taiwan, where panic was high, though it continued to serve Brazilian frozen chicken on other flights. In Hong Kong itself, said the SCMP, fast-food chains and hotels had switched to serving frozen chickens from the United States.

According to the same newspaper, Malaysian crime syndicates have been ripping off chicken-deprived Hong Kong gourmets by passing off cheap fish as the highly prized red arowana. Found only in certain Indonesian rivers, red arowana retails for more than $5,000 per fish. Common forms of yellow, green, and silver arowana were made to appear like red arowana by being treated with hormones imported from Singapore; the fish were then smuggled into Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Another food crisis was reported from Australia, where the Sydney Morning Herald reported that an estimated 800 out of 30,000 flocks of sheep in New South Wales were infected with OJD (Ovine Johnes disease), a wasting disorder similar to leprosy in humans. The crisis had been made worse by a dispute over compensation payments that had caused most sheep farmers in NSW to refuse to allow their flocks to be tested for the disease.

In South Africa, which recently banned Hong Kong chickens, the Johannesburg Star reported that a woman had been "trampled and kicked" to death by an ostrich at a farm near Cape Town while her husband, already badly injured by the same bird, lay helplessly by "for hours" on a dirt road. The same newspaper reported the "disappointment and grave concern" expressed by South African President Nelson Mandela over the detention without charges on Christmas Day of the Zambian founder-president and independence hero, Kenneth Kaunda, by the current Zambian president, Frederick Chiluba, who claimed that Kaunda had been implicated in an attempted coup d'état last October.

The opposition Zambian newspaper, the Post, which bills itself as "Zambia's Leading Independent Newspaper," published a long and lively editorial condemning the arrest of Kaunda as "a national and international disgrace" and "a lasting shame which renders the entire Government of the Republic of Zambia utterly ludicrous." It claimed that Kaunda's innocence of involvement in the coup had been confirmed previously to President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe by Chiluba, whom it called a "liar and crook" and described as "primitive and uncultured--not even fit to be a village headsman."

In Britain, the SundayTelegraph reported exclusively that billionaire philanthropist John Paul Getty II, 65, had "sealed his love affair with Britain by taking out UK citizenship after 25 years' residence in this country." "The heir to what was once the world's largest private oil fortune received his British passport in the week before Christmas and immediately revoked his US nationality," the newspaper said. "The American Government is, by contrast, thought to be very disappointed by the development."