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By Compiled from wire service reports by Robert Kilborn and Ross Atkin / August 11, 2004



Now, do something amusing

What would you think of someone who just got a job and said of the experience: "I am a national fool now"? In the case of Nigel Roder, you'd probably be happy for him. You see, he is. He'll soon take up his duties as the first official court jester in England in 355 years. (His - um - immediate predecessor became expendable in 1649 after the beheading of King Charles I and no other monarch has had one since.) Roder bested six other costumed applicants for the post at a tryout last weekend, largely through a demonstration of his considerable juggling skills. His employer is the government-funded English Heritage, whose mission is "to make sure that the historic environment of England is properly maintained and cared for" and which decided it was "about time we had a jester again."

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No. 1 in quality of life: it's Norway, new survey finds

For the fourth straight year, Norway sits atop the world's quality-of-life rankings, as compiled by the UN Development Program. It grades well in the agency's Human Development Index, which measures such criteria as per-capita income, educational level, healthcare, and life expectancy. The index is used to assess every country for which statistics are available. (Among those for which sufficient data are not: Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, and Liberia.) In all, the UNDP ranks 177 nations, including the newest, East Timor, which placed 158th. Countries just off the top 10 radar screen are 11th-ranked Switzerland and Britain (No. 12). At the bottom of the list for the seventh year is Sierra Leone, which is emerging from a decade of civil war. The highest-ranked countries, according to the UNDP index:

1. Norway
2. Sweden
3. Australia
4. Canada
5. Netherlands
6. Belgium
7. Iceland
8. US
9. Japan
10. Ireland

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