My second father, a philosopher, is immune to the charms of soccer. I once explained to him the offside rule with jam-jars (players) and bread bin (goal). I thought I'd done quite well. Then he disabused me: "And just how many teams are there on the pitch at any one time?" Lately he has had other problems. He has been tormented for days by a bluebottle buzzing around the flat. At the end of his wits, he had smeared the table- top with jam and retired to another room to wait. Presumably he had imagined that on his return he would find the interloper glued by its feet to the table-top, or at least drawn swattably close to it. Instead, he returned to find that the violator of his air space had vanished. A definite irritation had now been replaced by an indefinite one. There was now a fly he couldn't see. "Should I have used more jam?" he asked.
Nato is asking a similar question as the war drags on. Spending money as if there's no taxpayer, we fiddle with bridges while Kosovo burns and Bill, finding Milosevic is harder to bring to his knees than Monica, is applying to Congress for more funds. More jam on the table. Our flustery Defence Minister snapped back at probing by Paxman on Newsnight this week that Nato doesn't have recourse to psychoanalysts. That's a pity, for the Alliance understands neither itself nor psychopaths. It speaks of Milosevic as if he shared our values. We will not send in troops except by invitation, they perseverate. ("Please come into Kosovo: I don't seem to be able to stop myself ethnic-cleansing.") Milosevic is rational but bent on evil, whereas we are well-meaning but irrational. We want to save the Kosovans but do not wish to risk troops. Hence the air support in support of nothing to support. There are no cracks in Nato, just cracks in its view of reality. Perseveration and fixation are, after all, features of collective delusion. Perhaps couchwork could have exorcised this grand denial, saved more Kosovans and saved us billions into the bargain. Meanwhile, pass the jam, Monica.
Solutions to last week's problems
1 The ratio of sexes remains unchanged.
2 10 different cubes.
Points to ponder
1 A lazy fly wishes to go from A to B. What is her shortest route across the surface of the cube (fig 1)?
2 Show that no matter where a tiny fly is on the surface of the jam lake shown, there is always a pair of points on its edge such that she is midway between them (fig 2).
3 Find a single-word anagram of TIME FLIES.
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