World: Flat Earth

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IT SOUNDS like another familiar story of industrial decline. A plant in northern Italy, which at its height was earning $60m a year and providing work for about 200 people, is laying off the last 50 employees and closing down.

The owners of Valsella Meccanotecnica tried in vain to get into some other more promising line of business, such as car dashboards or seat belts. A last-ditch plan to make electric buses fell through. So what was this product that Valsella couldn't flog any more? The answer is anti- personnel landmines, which Italy banned three years ago.

I wonder whether the workforce looks back wistfully to the 1980s, when the Iran-Iraq war was raging and the company churned out millions of mines, boosting annual revenues tenfold. You have to feel a little bit sorry for people seeing their jobs evaporate, but not as much as you do for the victims of their products. Employment prospects in Angola or Cambodia recede to vanishing point when you have only one leg.

Updated classics

THE Vatican may have abandoned Mass in Latin, but it still has teams of classicists coming up with terms the Romans would never have needed. After a game of ludus pilae mensalis (table tennis) or pilamalleus minutus (miniature golf), for example, you might go home for a vischium (whisky) or two. Latin is still the official Vatican language for documents on social and technical issues (although the theological implications of crazy golf escape me), and these words come from the new dictionary just completed by its Latin Institute.

It has taken two decades to produce the lexicon, with the second volume, covering the letters M to Z, coming out six years after the first. But in some ways this has been an advantage. The phrase tunicula minima, hopelessly redundant a few years ago, is less so now - it means "miniskirt". I wonder if they have a word for "pelmet"?

Freezy lover

ANY nice Jewish girls reading this might like to know about Jay Ramras, who is 33, owns four restaurants and is looking for a Jewish wife. His problem is that he lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he claims there are only two single Jewish women, so he has moved temporarily to New York and is dating like mad.

There is still time to get across the Atlantic, because Jay has had no luck yet. Moving to Alaska does not seem to appeal to New York's Jewish- American princesses, though Ramras insists he is no backwoodsman and that Fairbanks "is not some Siberian leper colony". All right, the temperature doesn't get above zero at this time of the year - that's Fahrenheit; minus 18 in Centigrade - but given the weather we've been having in north London recently, maybe that needn't be a problem.

I'd like to know what Jackie Mason thinks. A group of Jews once set up an anti-Mason organisation, so upset were they at cracks like "When the going gets tough, the Jews go shopping". Informed that the head of this body lived in Alaska, the comedian and former rabbi was certain the whole thing must be a put-up job. Everyone knew, he said, that "when the weather gets cold, Jews go to Florida".