Flat Earth

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Dead sincere

A WHILE back we remarked upon the cult of apology, which had Tony Blair saying sorry for the Irish potato famine, the Pope asking forgiveness from the Jews and Bill Clinton abasing himself over slavery. But instead of going further and further into the past to find offences you regret, why not apologise right away?

An example has been set by Indonesia's armed forces, which killed at least a dozen people when they opened fire on unarmed demonstrators outside parliament on more than one occasion this month. Last week the forces took out advertisements in local newspapers, saying: "With deepest sincerity, we express our condolences for the deaths of students, members of the public and the security apparatus during the special session of the People's Consultative Assembly." At least one soldier, it should be noted, is thought to have been shot dead by his own side.

I am sure that everyone is satisfied, and that demands for the sinister General Wiranto, the defence minister and armed forces commander, to take responsibility are beside the point. The common factor in all these apologies is that they seem designed mainly to make the apologisers feel better about themselves, and in that the Indonesian military have no doubt succeeded. Restitution? Don't be silly.

Dog, gone

THOSE CLINTONS just seem incapable of staying out of trouble. Take this mess that Roger Clinton, the President's younger brother, has got into.

Last May his dog started fighting with a Rottweiler belonging to a neighbour in Redondo Beach, Los Angeles. Pretty soon the humans were having at each other, too. Then lawyers got involved, with the neighbour, Jeff Klempan, accusing Roger of allowing his dog to bite him and demanding compensation for medical bills and lost wages.

Clinton, in turn, believes he has been targeted purely because of his family connection, and is counter-suing for $300,000, which comes to about pounds 180,000.

And on the subject of canines and chief executives, teachers never believe claims that dogs eat homework. So will they accept Desiree Wilson's excuse, which is that the President walked off with her school report?

She was at an airport in north-west Arkansas when Bill began shaking hands, and asked if he would sign her report. He smiled and said he would. Desiree handed the card to a Secret Service agent, but then the official party moved off and she hasn't seen it since.

Saddam shame

"BLAIR TIGHTENS the screw on Saddam" was a headline that jumped out at me last week. While I am sure that the Iraqi dictator suffers the odd pang about the Prime Minister's intentions, the White House must be the source of 99 per cent of his insomnia.

Perhaps "Clinton" wouldn't fit the space, though "US" surely would have. One can understand the headline writer's dilemma to some extent. Claiming that the "West" was putting the pressure on would have been absurd, since no one apart from Britain and America had any stomach for it.

Given our symbiotic, some might term it slavish, foreign-policy relationship with Washington, some new headline acronym is needed. "Britus", perhaps, or how about "USB" instead of USA?