Flat Earth

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The Independent Online
Spoiling to win

EVERYBODY made a fuss last week of Jesse "The Body" Ventura, the former professional wrestler who sneaked up behind the main party candidates to be elected governor of Minnesota, but Flat Earth wishes to salute someone else. Our hero is not so much a Goliath as a David - an unassuming Mr Nice Guy from Seattle who might just have turned the whole electoral race around.

Until the final weeks of the campaign, Jay Inslee looked like yet another Democrat en route to a pounding at the hands of the seemingly unassailable Republican majority in Congress. But then he had the courage - many called it temerity - to raise the Lewinsky scandal in his television ads, accusing his Republican opponent in Washington's First Congressional District, Rick White, of hijacking the real political agenda to pursue a partisan witch-hunt against Bill Clinton.

Mr Inslee's initiative may well have prompted the Republicans' own 11th- hour ad campaign on the Lewinsky theme - a tactic now universally acknowledged as disastrous. As for Mr Inslee, he knocked out Mr White by a comfortable 53-42 per cent margin.

Dirty trick

HOW would you like it if, whenever you went to the pub or the shops, people asked: "Have you washed your hands?" This happened to a 60-year- old man from Bochum in Germany, who must remain nameless to spare him further humiliation, after unwittingly starring in a programme entitled Are Men Pigs?

He was caught dry-handed on his way out of the lavatory of a motorway service station, in full view of a camera hidden in the fittings. As he reached for the door, a sign flashed up: "Have you forgotten to wash your hands?" There was no need for an answer. His disgusting omission had been recorded and played to millions of disapproving viewers.

The victim has had the last laugh. He sued the RTL television company for injuring his dignity, and won DM8,000 (about pounds 3,000) in damages. The station has been banned from airing the incriminating sequence ever again.

There's the rub

THE transition from communist stagnation to semi-capitalist chaos in Russia has had some weird results, such as military personnel producing pornographic videos instead of telecoms equipment and factory workers being paid in toilet seats and tinned pineapple chunks rather than cash, which their bosses didn't have.

Now someone has drawn my attention to the factory in Volgograd which used to produce high-precision navigation equipment for the navy before diversifying into consumer products, including rubber dildoes. Utterly characteristically, plans to make them electric had to be shelved for lack of development funds. "They're hand-operated," said the plant's union leader.

You can guess the rest. Workers found themselves having to hawk the product round Volgograd's sex shops, but potential clients were unimpressed. "They're primitive," said one sex shop owner. "The more expensive ones with more features sell better. People don't look for price. They look for quality." Russians may not always have got the hang of the producing side of capitalism, but as consumers they're the same as the rest of us.