FLAT EARTH

Gore blimey

"To win in 2000, I need you by my side," Al Gore's latest heartfelt fundraising letters say. A shame that one of those solicited by the likely Democratic candidate for President next year is his most likely rival, George W Bush. Perhaps it was a sign of Mr Gore's taste for bipartisanship that he even invited Mr Bush to sit on the steering committee for his campaign.

The Gore campaign people can explain this by reference to computers and their charming ability to produce unwanted results. But Mr Gore, the champion of the information superhighway, ought to know better.

Indeed, Washington is currently chuckling at a particularly overblown claim from Mr Gore. "During my service in Congress, I took the initiative in creating the internet," he said in an interview last week. A few other people - including the US Department of Defense - have a claim to having created the net.

Not to be sniffed at

The UN is a byword, at least in the US Congress, for profligacy, so this will be a gift to those on Capitol Hill who think Kofi Annan's organisation shouldn't be given any more money. Even dogs, it emerges, are paid over the odds.

What is worse, this evidence of overspending comes from within the UN itself. Costa Rica's ambassador, Nazareth Incera, was indignant that the number of security guards assigned to the president of the General Assembly, Didier Opertti of Uruguay, had been reduced to one from two. She put down a number of questions to the administrative and financial committee about the cost of the organisation's security arrangements.

The supposedly cash-strapped UN, she discovered, has enough money to pay $60 (pounds 40) an hour for a bomb-sniffing dog and handler. They are scheduled to work as many as 10 hours a day for around 252 days of the year, making a princely total of $151,200.

Urgent withdrawal

Even in Russia, one of the most lawless societies on earth, it raised a few eyebrows when an army colonel turned up with a hunting rifle at the Rossiisky Kredit bank in Moscow and took some hapless person hostage. All was explained to everyone's satisfaction, however, when the reason for the colonel's behaviour became apparent: he wanted his own money, not anyone else's. Some depositors' accounts have been frozen since last August's financial crisis, and this was his unorthodox way of making a withdrawal.

The officer said he needed his money to pay for an operation for his wife, and released the hostage after he was promised the funds from his own account.

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