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Hand signals

THE "historic" photographs you saw the other day of Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat shaking hands for the first time were probably not the real thing. The first handshake was so brief, apparently, that many photographers missed it, and had to get them to do it again.

So does that rob the pictures of their symbolic importance? Depends on what you think is being symbolised. One reason for the initial handclasp being over so quickly must have been the mutual distaste felt by the two leaders - the Israeli Prime Minister, after all, had been quoted as saying "I will not meet with Yasser Arafat", and "I don't want to, and I hope I never have to." The moment at which he finally did have to was not captured, so in that sense the pictures are not historic.

This might not matter if they were symbolic of the start of meaningful negotiations with the PLO leader, but almost certainly nothing is further from Netanyahu's mind. In the end all the photographs are saying is: "Look, here we are, showing that we are willing to be photographed shaking hands." The gesture, sadly, is the whole message.

These days it is a truism that the media affect the event at which they are present, but that does not make it any easier to judge how to handle events at which the presence of the media is the whole point.The dilemma was summed up perfectly by a television journalist who was heard telling another: "We're going off to cover a demonstration that wouldn't be happening unless we were covering it."

Prisoner of love

IT IS the latest in alternative travel: have the time of your life at Costa Rica's Laguna Kidnapper Lodge. "Vacations with sexual passion with 5-10 kidnappers, nude swimming in the San Juan river with your lover, free coverage by international media during your stay, special rates for German and Swiss girls," reads the poster advert in San Jose, the capital. "For reservations call 1-800-Kidnapper".

This is a parody of the real kidnapping earlier this year of two women (one German, one Swiss) by left-wing guerrillas. The event had all the coverage you would expect in Germany and Switzerland, with anxious families appealing for their safe return.

Their prayers were answered when the women were released unharmed after more than a month in the jungle, but the local press wondered why there seemed to be no mention of a ransom.

Then the newspapers published a photograph of the German woman kissing her leading captor. Not long afterwards his diary was found in a hastily- abandoned hideout, which seemed to show that he had succumbed hopelessly to her Teutonic charms. Life had not been the same since she went home, it appeared. What the lady herself felt is not clear, but the bizarre humorists of Costa Rica are in no doubt.

Naked ambition

Brazilian politics is like a carnival at the best of times, but until now you have been able to tell the candidates from the samba dancers by the fact that the former keep their shirts on.

Not any more, though: Alessandra Goncalves, 22, a city council candidate in the western town of Varzea Grande, felt her campaign wasn't getting enough attention, so she went topless. Her campaign ads on television show an artist painting the municipal flag on her body, and she has shot to the top of the polls as a result.

"I am a poor person," Ms Goncalves protested after she was compared with Italy's Cicciolina, the porn actress turned MP. "I only took off my shirt as a protest."

In the southern city of Curitiba, Julian Carlo Fagotti has gone one further. He appears naked, apart from a leaflet over his genitals which says: "Shameless Politics".