Nanny states

ADVICE to nannies - sorry, au pairs - contemplating employment in the US. Find a job in Washington DC, but don't stray into suburbs, which happen to be in Maryland or Virginia. They have capital punishment, while DC doesn't.

Apart from the capital, there are only 12 states - including, luckily, Massachusetts - which don't have the death penalty, although several of them are thinking about it.

While you are about it, why not ask your employers for legal as well as medical insurance? And remember: a "bad attitude" can mean life in jail. Enjoy your stay!

Net cases

THIS won't be news to the more sensible among you, but here goes anyway: you can't believe everything you read on the Internet.

It is axiomatic in some quarters, for example, that after Russia went democratic, it released an exciting "UFO dossier" compiled by the former Soviet authorities.

According to an allegedly declassified US State Department dispatch summarising reports of this document in the Croatian press (still with me?), Soviet forces fired at a UFO which appeared in front of its headquarters near Hanoi in the summer of 1965.

The UFO fired back with a laser-like weapon and some 200 soldiers were "completely dematerialised".

Not only that, the Soviets arranged a meeting with extra-terrestrials at Tashkent on 28 June, 1991. Sadly, the ETs failed to show up.

You can also find a "transcript" of the 5 October, 1995, edition of ABC News Prime Time Live, said to include footage of a giant triangular UFO. Eyewitnesses recount another frightening episode, when a UFO hovered over a missile base and initiated the launch sequence, bringing the world close to nuclear war.

The only problem is that nobody remembers the Russians ever releasing any such dossier. ABC News says Prime Time Live, a weekly show, was not broadcast on the date cited. The State Department has no knowledge of any dispatch about UFOs from Croatia being declassified last February, as the Net-heads claim. But no doubt they will conclude that I have merely been lured into the conspiracy of silence.

Point of honour

SOUTH Africa's abrupt transition from racist, commie-hating dictatorship to Third World-friendly "rainbow nation" means our Queen is in some increasingly bizarre company.

The country's highest honour for foreigners, the Order of Good Hope, which Nelson Mandela bestowed on Her Majesty during his state visit last year, used to be awarded by the old white regime to fellow pariahs such as Augusto Pinochet of Chile and the late Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay.

The bauble, which hangs from a green and gold ribbon, is still being given to dictators, though now they are of the completely opposite persuasion: the latest recipient is Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.

Apart from wondering what the old rugby-crazed right wing in South Africa must be making of the Springbok colours being deployed in this way, it's hard to imagine what a reunion of holders of the Order would be like. The ruck would probably make a clash with the All Blacks look tame.