The Diary just cant get enough of King Mswati of Swaziland Africas last absolute monarch. For those following his marital exploits, the latest is that one of his numerous mothers-in-law is planning to sue him. She is demanding that her eighteen year-old daughter be returned. Zena Mahlangu is being held at one of Mswatis palaces, where she carries out royal duties. Hmmm
Her mother insists she was taken away without parental consent. The Times of Swaziland says this is the first time a mother of a prospective Swazi Queen has taken the royals to court. King Mswati has ten brides, and counting. The father of Noliqhwa Ntentesa, another of Mswatis captures, has said that, had he the money, he would also sue.
But a third father, that of Sandra Dlamini, another of the Kings brides-to-be, disagrees. If royalty has chosen to go on with what does not please you, he said, as a true Swazi, you should change your attitude and thank royalty for whatever it has decided to do
I believe the king is incapable of doing wrong.
Thats the spirit!
But Mswati has got himself in some more hot water. This time his exploits do not involve a girl, but a $50 million luxury jet. The Swazi parliament has voted 25 to 16 against the Kings purchase of the plane. The decision came after a reported four hours of heated debate.
AFP quotes MP Marwick Khumalo as pointing to the fact that 140,000 Swazis are currently facing starvation out of a population of one million. 33% of the population is HIV positive.
You cannot talk of retrenching civil servants while on the other hand [you] are paying millions for a private jet, Khumalo said. The BBC reports that the MPs celebrated their victory by hooting their car horns all the way from the parking lot to the parliament gate.
But the government has already made a $2.8 million down payment on the 19-seater Bombardier Global Express long-range jet. It is due to be delivered in November. Youve got to feel for the King, South African president Thabo Mbeki had his Boeing Business Jet delivered this week at a cost of R535 million.
And as far as we know, Mbeki doesnt have all those mothers-in-law to escape from.
A joint study by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University appeared this week, signalling the trends of American voter behaviour. It pointed to an ever-greying electorate. In America, pensioners rule.
According to the Post, the cadre of older Americans who plan to take part in the November 5 elections outnumbers people younger than 30 by more than two to one. The result is a distorted national politics in which the issues that dominate campaigns and Capitol Hill reflect an ever-smaller slice of the country.
Apparently, if current trends continue, by the year 2022 the number of people over 65 who vote in midterms will exceed that of under-30s by a ratio of 4:1. And, of course, as the Post acknowledges, The net effect is an accelerating cycle of political disengagement.
Says Thomas Patterson, a political scientist at Harvard, If young people dont vote, their issues dont get addressed, which further diminishes their incentive to participate in the process and keeps the downward spiral going Weve got a real disconnect between the rational strategies for candidates to win elections and good strategies for maintaining a healthy democracy.
The US has 45 million young adults: a constituency-in-waiting. But efforts to court them are minimal. The Post cites a TV advertisement from Representative Todd Tiahrt, Republican of Kansas, from a local congressional race: Im working to secure prescription drug coverage for seniors, just like we fought to protect their Social Security, their Medicare and their retirement savings.
The facts are simple: a majority of young Americans do not vote; a majority of older Americans do.
Times sure have changed. In 1974 post-Watergate there were more willing voters under-30 than over-65. In twenty years time, one-third of voters will be over-65, only 8% younger than 30. A mere 19% of twenty-five-year olds will vote.
Meanwhile, in Britain, public interest in politics has been put to the test. The Diary just could not resist spilling the beans.
According to the survey Is Britain Dumbing Down? commissioned by Whitakers Almanac (theres a non-presumptive title for you), one in ten Britons cannot name a single world leader (not even their own Prime Minister) but almost half can name five characters in the television soap opera EastEnders. One of the characters, a well-hard geezer with a penchant for violent behaviour, Phil Mitchell, is twice as well known to the British public as Saddam Hussein.
Only one quarter of the population could identify Saddam Hussein; 63% could name an EastEnders character.
Of the 1,063 over-16s who were polled, 50% were said to tune into news programmes, and 83% admitted to tuning in regularly to soaps or reality TV shows.
11% were unable to name a single world leader. 83% named Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister, 82% George W. Bush, 23% Jacques Chirac, 16% Vladimir Putin, 6% Robert Mugabe, 6% Gerhard Schröder.
Results were little better on domestic politics. Only a quarter named Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, as a cabinet member; only a fifth the foreign and home secretaries. 42% could not name a single member of the British cabinet.
Women are worse than men, apparently. Only 8% of women could name five world leaders, compared with 17% of men. 7% of women named five cabinet members, compared with 13% of men.
44% of Welsh respondents and 46% of West Midlands respondents could not name a single world leader. The South-East and Scotland came out best.
Lauren Hill, the editor of Whitakers Almanac, has written to the British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell whoever she is expressing her concern at the findings. The population has become fanatical about celebrities, she says.
Not that any of this matters anyway. According to two Stanford University scientists, the Universe is doomed to collapse and disappear. Keep that in mind when you walk into that crucial meeting today.
Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, Professor Andrei Linde and his wife Professor Renata Kallosh insist that the Universe will stop expanding and collapse in the relatively near future. The theory is based on new insights into dark matter, which may lose its power, stop pushing the Universe apart and leave it to fall into a black hole.
All this sometime in the next ten to twenty billion years.
Said Professor Linde: The standard vision at the moment is that the Universe is speeding up, so we were surprised to find that a collapse could happen within such a short amount of time. It is known as the big crunch.
With the Universe estimated to be about fourteen billion years old, according to Linde and Kallosh, it has reached middle age. Physicists have known that dark energy could become negative and the Universe could collapse sometime in the near distant future, perhaps in a trillion years, Linde said, but now we see that we might be, not in the beginning, but in the middle of the life cycle of our Universe.
But the physicists say there is some good news. We still have a lot of time to find out whether this is going to happen.
Long enough to catch a few episodes of our favourite soap operas .
And finally, to Afghanistan, where beauty is in the eye of the beholden.
A row is erupting over the building of a Western beauty school for the women of Kabul.
Located inside the compound of the Afghan Ministry of Womens Affairs, the parlour will be funded by American dollars. The make-up will be donated by cosmetic giants such as Revlon and MAC. We have devised a programme from perms and hair colouring through to business bookkeeping, project worker Patricia OConnor told the BBC World Service.
The project is the brainchild of American Aid worker, Mary MacMakin. There has been some criticism of Western bias and misplaced good intentions. Women in Afghanistan need midwives, then mascara, said a spokesman for the Womens Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan.
But Patricia OConnor was having none of it. Even in the Taliban era there were underground beauty parlours, she said. There are now about fifteen beauty salons in Kabul, so theyve told us that there is need. We are just trying to say, Is there a way that we can help you do what you are doing better?
And Kabul-based womens activist Fatima Gaillani claimed that many women still wear the burka to hide their unfashionable clothes. Just because we were twenty-four years at war, does that mean that we are not good enough to be beautiful? she asked. Women do need some self-esteem and this will help these young women to be professional and provide for their homes.
Quotes of the week
Tonight I can drink a glass of Guinness and sing I Love You Like Ireland. Polands Prime Minister, Leszek Miller, on the Irish Yes vote in the referendum on the Nice Treaty.
We show mercy rather than punishment. Saddam Hussein on his decision to decree amnesty to most of Iraqs prisoners.
This is the kind of manipulation he uses to try and paint himself as something other than what he is: a brutal dictator. US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Saddams amnesty.
Guarded optimism, bordering on giddiness. A description of the mood among business lobbyists and economic conservatives on the upcoming US midterm elections by Michael Franc, the Heritage Foundations vice-president of government relations. Quoted in the Washington Post.
Figure of the week
The number of Iranians who favour opening talks with America, according to a poll conducted by Irans National Institute for Research Studies and Opinion Polls (INRA).