FLAT EARTH : Soldier, soldier

The British military is rather proud of the new peacekeeping theory it has evolved, with elaborate distinctions between keeping the peace and "peace enforcement", not to mention the dividing lines between "consent", "impartiality", and all-out war.

But has anyone explained all this to the licentious soldiery? Putting Canadian troops into UN blue helmets didn't stop them torturing and beating to death one 16-year-old Somali and blowing away a couple of others on suspicion of thievery. Canadian soldiers assigned to guard a mental hospital in Bosnia got drunk on black market booze, had sex with nurses and interpreters and abused at least one patient.

In France, meanwhile, there have been complaints that Foreign Legionnaires patrolling the Paris Metro in the wake of the latest bomb attacks have been swaggering about with rocket-launchers and poking their rifles into passengers' bellies. One allegedly told a tourist asking for directions: "We're not here to give travel information. We're here to kill."

That last chap did not seem to have understood his mission, which presumably was to prevent anyone being killed. But he did put his finger on the flaw in peacekeeping theory - it goes against all the training of the people supposed to implement it. Still, perhaps that will be sorted out when the re-elected Conservatives expand cadet training in schools.

Good timing

Your average Hong Kong zillionaire is achingly nouveau, all broken English and gold Rolls Royces, but David Tang is different - he rubs shoulders with Princess Di and sounds far more posh than she does. He has lured all the colony's trendies to his China Club, done up in the style of a 1930s Chinese tea-house, and owns a chain of shops, modestly called Shanghai Tang, which markets the same look at heart-stopping prices.

But public school accent or not, Mr Tang is perfectly aware that China is taking over in a matter of months, as the "1997 Fung Shui Diary" sold in his shops demonstrates. On the cover it says "GOOD: One Country, Two Systems" - the policy Peking has promised to apply to Hong Kong - "BAD: One Country, One System", which is what many people fear will happen in practice. That's telling the Chinese, you think. But turning to 1 July, the day Peking takes control, you get this: "GOOD: China. BAD: Britain."

What's the Cantonese for "hedging your bets"?

Taliban ban

THE Taliban movement, which seized Kabul last year, still has some way to go in imposing strict Islamic rule on the Afghan capital. The General Department of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice recently conducted a sweep, "inviting" shopkeepers to go and pray in the mosques and stopping "those compatriots of ours who were engaged in kite-flying, pigeon-flying, partridge-training and dog-fighting in various wards of Kabul city". Islamic punishments were doled out to transgressors.

At this rate, the only entertainment left will be going to public stonings and executions.

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