Flat Earth

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The Independent Online
On the stump

ONE OF the facts that all Americans think they know is that George Washington, father of the nation and first President, had wooden teeth. Not so, it turns out. This is a vicious smear, spread by his enemies as part of the politics of personal destruction.

He did wear dentures - by the time he became president at the age of 56, he had only one tooth remaining (a lower left bicuspid). But Ben Swanson, executive director of the Samuel Harris National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, says that not only did Washington never have wooden teeth, nor did anyone in America.

Mr Swanson is the proud owner of one of four sets of the president's false teeth. They are constructed, he says, from a cow's tooth, one of Washington's own teeth, hippopotamus ivory, metal and springs. With a mouthful like that, no wonder he always looks grumpy on dollar bills. "Washington's diaries contain numerous references to bouts of toothache," wrote dental historian Dr Malvin E Ring, author of Dentistry: An Illustrated History. Another intriguing dental fact from Dr Ring: Paul Revere once trained as a dentist.

Slim chance

WHAT'S an appetising way of promoting a dietary supplement intended to help you lose weight? The makers of an American appetite inhibitor called Meridia seems to have the right idea in their new television ad: lots of light, breezy images of women accompanied by gently swaying African music. The screen fills with plate upon plate of unfinished food to illustrate just how much less you might be able to eat in a given month.

But then it all goes horribly wrong. Maybe it was the lawsuit-fearful lawyers, maybe it was the possibility that Meridia isn't such a bright and breezy product after all, but the voice-over that picks up halfway into the ad and drones on and on and on is surely enough to deter even the most ardent of consumers.

"Meridia is a prescription medicine and it is not for everyone," the kindly voice begins. "It can substantially raise blood pressure and is not for people who are pregnant or nursing, under 16 or taking anything else for weight loss, depression, Parkinson's disease, migraines, or for people with anorexia, glaucoma, or serious heart problems."

Can there be more? "Side effects may include headache, constipation, insomnia and dry mouth. It is a controlled substance, so patients who abuse Meridia may become dependent. For more information, ask your doctor or call..." Any takers?

Long bath

IT'S TRADITIONAL not to think ill of the dead and not to seek recriminations beyond the grave but this was not so in the case of a 71-year-old Madrid woman whose corpse lay undiscovered in her bathtub for up to three years because relatives, annoyed when she missed the funerals of two brothers who died after she did, had stopped visiting her.

Neighbours last saw the woman in January 1996. Eventually one traced another brother to San Sebastian in northern Spain and persuaded him to come and force the door.