Six degrees

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 February, 2012, 12:00am

Vice-president Xi Jinping (below) has been making headlines recently with his mini-world tour, in which he has been visiting some of the places he'll soon be indirectly in charge of. During the United States leg of the trip, he visited the White House, a trade conference in California and, in considerably more surreal fashion, a town he had toured 27 years ago as part of an agricultural research delegation: Muscatine, Iowa ...

Known as the 'pearl button capital of the world' and 'watermelon capital of the world', Muscatine also has literary associations: Mark Twain lived there for a while, and it's the hometown of mystery writer Max Allan Collins, who wrote the graphic novel series Road to Perdition, later adapted for the big screen by Sam Mendes. Omitted from the final cut of the film version was a scene involving notorious Chicago crime boss Al Capone ...

The Prohibition-era gangster may have been the fearsome head of the Chicago Outfit, but after his release from a seven-year jail term, Capone was a changed, diminished man. Obsessed with communists, and with the idea that fellow gangster Bugs Moran was going to kill him from his prison cell, he was assessed by a psychiatrist as having a mental age of 12. The reason for this mental deterioration? Syphilis - a condition he may have shared with many noted people, including Adolf Hitler, Vincent van Gogh and Franz Schubert ...

The prolific Austrian composer knocked out about 1,000 pieces of music, including nine symphonies, one of which he famously didn't get around to finishing. Pretty impressive considering he died - probably from syphilis - at the age of 31. The jaunty tunesmith's influence has echoed down the ages, finding perhaps its most unlikely form in the shape of a musical tribute, on the album Trans-Europe Express, from German knob-twiddling pioneers Kraftwerk ...

The source material for about half of all electronic music since, Kraftwerk are also an acknowledged influence on everyone from U2 and Franz Ferdinand to David Bowie, whose composition V-2 Schneider, from the 1977 album Heroes, is a tribute to Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider. Famed for his eclectic tastes, Bowie has also long been a fan of Chinese folk music, regularly extolling the work of Peng Liyuan ...

As well as being one of the mainland's most popular folk singers, Peng is also a political force to be reckoned with. A member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, she is also a former soldier who holds the rank of civilian major general in the People's Liberation Army. And, although they are said to live largely separate lives, she has been married for nearly a quarter of a century to the heir apparent to the presidency of China, Xi Jinping.


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