Web sites

Painless fire-eating, down the Tube, true to type and that old voodoo magic. By Bill Pannifer

Fire on the Net


Among the many things not to try at home this Christmas, amateur fire- eating comes high on the list. This site offers a warning on every page, and the tone is blunter than usual: "If you injure yourself, that's your problem." For the undeterred, basic information and advice are on offer. Remember to tilt your head back as far as possible (to prevent burning the hairs in your nose), drink some full-fat milk to line your throat and stomach beforehand and be especially careful when doing the Hiroshima, or Mushroom, a trick which involves breathing out a mouthful of paraffin through a lit cigarette. Here, the wisdom is Clintonesque: "Never inhale."

Myanmar Home Page


This official page for the dictatorship formerly known as Burma allows token bits of dissent to nibble at its edges, as though to preempt howls of protest emanating from Net neigbours. So slogans against the military junta (Slorc) are allowed to stand in the online guest book, followed by other entries praising the guest book for its lack of censorship. You might do better to try some of the extraordinary tirades in the Selected News Articles about the "traitor puppet girl" Aung San Suu Kyi. Most of the material is tourism and investment bait: lots of colourful pagodas and accounts of luxury cruises on the Ayeyawady River, with reassuring descriptions of a happy workforce with a minimum wage, social security and limited working hours. There are links to the Lonely Planet guide but not to the opposition site - Free Burma (http://sunsite.unc.edu/freeburma/), with its detailed accounts of slave-labour practices.



National newspapers contemplating a makeover should visit this technically advanced celebration of typography and font design. On display is a range of exotic alphabets with names such as Platelet, Volt, OCB and Omega, some of which, with appropriate plug-ins, can be made to dance. There are attempts to show how characters and spacing influence tone, and although some of the observations are clumsy, there is also some effective campaigning for better text presentation on the Web itself.

London Transport


Those familiar red-and-white graphics greet the visitor to LT's site, and the famous roundel provides the links. A little animated Tube train scuttles back and forth on the title page; otherwise, presentation is resolutely textual. Press releases, details of campaigns against ticket touting and fare dodging, details of the London Transport Museum and other facilities are all on offer, though much of this large site is still being worked on, especially bus information. There are sections in French and German to introduce the system to visitors, and useful details on the closure of the Bakerloo line, but the site seems caught between offering general company and historical background, and specific travel advice. We are also told there are 302 escalators on the system, but not how many of them actually work.

Voodoo Information Pages


Seasonal festivities in full swing over at the voodoo site include ceremonial bonfires for the enjoyment of the spirits, or "loa"; the dispatch of various pigs and goats; and a little talismanic magic and medicinal leaf-rubbing. Turkeys, too, are sacrificed, although it's unclear if they end up on the dinner table. A ritual calendar is just one part of this detailed survey, which tries to defeat sensationalism with scholarship but, perhaps happily, doesn't quite succeed. There is lots of background on the slave- trade roots of the religion, and the author is careful to differentiate "real" voodoo from fringe black magic such as the Cochon Gris (Grey Pig) society and its cannibalistic tendencies. The mainstream cast, though, is impressive enough, and we are introduced to a pantheon of interesting characters including Damballah, Baron Samedi, Erzulie, and Papa Legba, the gatekeeper between the astral and physical worlds who was last seen lurking on a Talking Heads album in the mid-Eighties.

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