FLAT EARTH

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The Independent Online
Crisis control

IF THE present hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea are reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, so are the alliances among foreigners caught up in the conflict.

According to Waugh, national stereotypes are reinforced in a crisis - the Brits are phlegmatic, the French issue statements of protest and the Americans overwhelm the problem with money - and there was something of this in the arrangements made to evacuate foreigners from Eritrea recently.

The Americans sent three planes complete with Marines to pull out its nationals. As well as the Brits, the RAF flew out our Commonwealth brethren: Australians, Canadians and South Africans. The Germans gave a lift to members of the D-mark zone such as the Dutch, Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Belgians.

"We never turn anyone down, although obviously British citizens have to come first," my Foreign Office source tells me.

"Who takes the lead tends to depend on the colonial history - in Zaire recently it was the Belgians - because they will have more people doing business there, more local know-how, more commercial flights and military assets. These days there is very much an EU dimension; the Europeans tend to look after one another."

Just in case you're wondering, evacuees pay the normal economy fare. If they cannot come up with the necessary money in advance, they sign a UTR (undertaking to repay).

Don't bomb us

I KNEW Pat Robertson was a right-wing religious loony in the US, but I didn't realise he was a weather forecaster.

Recently, however, he warned the people of Orlando, Florida, that "you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes", apparently because the city is holding a "Gay Pride Month".

Nor is that all: he told listeners to his Christian Broadcasting Network that tolerance of homosexuality "will bring terrorist bombs, it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor". This, he added, was "a message of redemption", not hate, and not his own opinion but Biblical truth.

His jeremiad was too much even for conservative local ministers such as Randy Young, a Baptist, who said: "I really can't believe Pat said that." He rather spoiled the liberal impression, though, by continuing: "Orlando is a pretty moral town. If God was going to hurl a meteor at someone, you'd think he'd start with Las Vegas."

Just the fax

THIS tale, I think, tells you all you need to know about Russia today. Two limousines with smoked-glass windows stop side by side at the lights. A window in one, slightly smaller and shabbier than the other, glides down. A hand emerges and raps the smoked glass opposite. The other window comes down.

"Excuse me," says the first passenger, "do you have a spare roll of fax paper? I've just run out."

The other New Russian is a little suspicious and bewildered: "Fax paper? You have a fax machine in your car?" "Doesn't everyone?" says the first. "But if you haven't got any paper, never mind."

By this time the occupant of the larger car is feeling a little upstaged, and orders his chauffeur to dash into the next shop and buy fax paper. They race to catch up with the other limousine a few blocks further on.

Again a window is rapped and glides down to reveal the occupant of the smaller car, who brusquely demands: "What do you want?"

The other man explains that it took him a bit of time to search around his car, it being so big, but that he has turned up a roll of fax paper with which he is happy to part.

The first man is decidedly unimpressed, saying: "You got me out of the Jacuzzi just to tell me that?"

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