Passport

What We're Reading

Elizabeth Allen

Making Sense of Darfur, a blog by the Social Science Research Council. Given the ICC's pending indictment of the Sudanese President Omer Al-Bashir, this blog has offered a wealth of information and debate about a number of issues, from regional politics to land issues to debating the idea of genocidal intent.

Preeti Aroon

"Escape from North Korea," by Tom O'Neill in National Geographic. Follow three North Korean defectors as they take the nail-biting journey on the "Asian underground railroad" through China, Laos, and Thailand to South Korea. But their troubles aren't over once they reach Seoul, for establishing a new life in a new country presents its own challenges.

Elizabeth Dickinson

I am a hardcore addict of the Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog, and all the more so since Washington became stimulus central. This morning I appreciated hearing the news that the Federal Reserve extended international swap lines, as well as the news that a Capitol Hill economist doesn't think the stimulus package will be enough. Other highlights include their excellent daily summaries of the best economics commentary (including the global implications of recession).

Rebecca Frankel

"The DNA of Politics." In this issue of City Journal, James Q. Wilson examines the old conundrum of individuality -- nature vs. nurture. But what about our ideological leanings, do we actually inherit a political gene? "For a century or more, we have understood that intelligence is largely inherited," says Wilson. "Almost everything has some genetic basis. And that includes politics."

Blake Hounshell

FATA -- A Most Dangerous Place. Pakistan expert Shuja Nawaz argues that defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban doesn't have to be complicated and doesn't necessarily require a huge, overly bureaucratic master plan. Sometimes, simply asking villagers "What do you want?" and then making it happen -- be it a well, a school, or new books -- can work wonders.

Joshua Keating

Letter from China: "The Promised Land" in the New Yorker. China's expanding commerical activity in Africa is a well-told story, but the expanding African presence in China is less well-known. Evan Osnos has a fascinating depiction of Guangzhou's growing Nigerian community.

Andrew Polk

The Economist offers a briefing on the recent trend of "financial nationalization." The magazine pays particular attention to the disconnect between the short-term reflex of investors to bring their money home and the more dangerous long-term reduction in international capital flows that may well be brought on by misguided regulation.

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

Passport

Spanish ham joins French cheese on U.S. blacklist

First George W. Bush tripled the duty on Roquefort cheese as a farewell gesture to France. Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture has doubled it for jamon iberico, a prized ham which comes with the leg bone still inside. What's more, the hams will have to be sold without a black hoof attached, their defining characteristic.

I won't pretend to understand why it's so important that the hoof be included, but apparently it's VERY important:

There was a scandal in Madrid 9 or 10 years ago when a company was caught painting the hooves on its white Serrano hams black in order to pass them off as the far more valuable Iberico Pata Negra. Apparently, some of the paint finally rubbed off on an unsuspecting shopper and there was public outrage.

The newspapers followed the story, chronicling the plight of the duped ham lovers and the evil doers who had sold them a faux Ibérico ham with a painted hoof. The government finally intervened, and the populace was calmed. Even today, you can spot the occasional ham shopper in Spain rubbing the hoof to make sure that its color is natural.

U.S. afficionados apparently paid up to $200 per ham and waited up to seven years for them to become available. Could this all be a massive government experiment to see how much Americans will pay for snooty European food products?

Financial tips aren't usually our thing here at Passport. But in today's wintry economic climate, stockpiling blood sausage, escargot, and Nutella is starting to seem like a sound strategy.

Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images