Flat Earth

Mice find there's more to myrrh

MANY of you, no doubt, received a Christmas gift of gold, even if it was just foiled-wrapped chocolate coins. But did the Epiphany, too, pass you by yesterday without the least little offering of frankincense or myrrh? Most unfortunate.

Once worth more than gold, frankincense has lost much of its value and its mystique over the years, and now is sold throughout the Gulf for less than $5 (pounds 3) for 100 grams. Made from the sap of Boswellia trees, which grow almost exclusively in the southern Arabian peninsula, it is still produced in Oman, where the government wants to revive trade in the fragrance. Few perfumes today are made with the real stuff, but one, called Amouage, comes in a tiny 10-millilitre bottle gilded in 24-carat gold. It sells for more than $400 - slightly more than an ounce of gold.

As for myrrh, researchers at the University of Florence say they have identified painkilling properties in the aromatic resin, which is secreted by commiphora trees and is common in north-eastern Africa. Piero Dolara and his pharmacological colleagues found that mice given ground myrrh lasted nearly 20 minutes on a 52C (125F) metal plate without showing a pain reaction - licking their paws - compared with 14.4 minutes for mice deprived of the substance.

Mr Dolara said he had long been puzzled by the biblical popularity of myrrh, as ''the only documented use was for perfume and embalming''. Indeed. Somehow, it's difficult to picture baby Jesus torturing mice with his birthday gift.

Legal frills

JUST what is Victoria's Secret? Could it be that the American lingerie company of that name offers men a better deal than women when they buy from the catalogue?

Denise Katzman thinks so, and her knickers are in such a twist that she has filed a class-action lawsuit in US District Court in New York, charging the Ohio-based company with discrimination. Ms Katzman says she received a copy of the catalogue, noted for its statuesque models in lacy undies, that included an offer of a $10 discount on purchases of $75 or more. A male colleague, she said, received an identical catalogue, but was offered a $25 discount.

Her suit seeks $15 in reimbursement or credit for anyone who received the smaller discount.

The Katzman action is not the first time Victoria's Secret has been dragged into a legal case. Patricia Bowman, the woman who accused William Kennedy Smith of raping her in Palm Beach, Florida, testified in court that she was wearing new Victoria's Secret lingerie on the night in question - which may have unfairly hurt her case.

How well the undies hold up under Ms Katzman's suit remains to be seen. A company spokesman says Victoria's Secret will keep its lips sealed until it has studied the complaint. One US comedian, however, argues that men deserve the greater discount - because they spend far more time poring over the catalogue.

Vote God

A ROMAN Catholic church group in Australia has laid down its own stone tablets for politicians. The commandments, promulgated in a code of conduct drawn up by the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, require politicians to refrain from making outrageous campaign promises, hurling personal insults at their opponents and flaunting their wealth. They must, instead, listen more to ordinary people and be courageous and decisive in formulating policies and writing laws.

''Surveys show many Australians don't think politicians can be trusted,'' said John Warhurst, a university professor who helped draft the code. ''Here's a range of issues which politicians ought to address to try to lift their public image.''

The panel might have added, ''Thou shalt not imply that the Pope favours your policies over the opposition's'' - a sin for which a skyful of political lightning bolts was hurled at the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, last year.

Stick for Stone

OLIVER Stone has come under fierce fire from Nixon kith and kin for Nixon, his dark cinematic portrait of ''Tricky Dick''. Now, the battle has been joined by the ''Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace'', as the repository of Nixonia in California is so grandly named. ''If you prefer facts to fantasy, come to Yorba Linda,'' the hallowed hall advertised in the Los Angeles Times.

''If you liked Orwell, you'll love the Nixon library,'' retorted a Stone spokesman.

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