Flat Earth

Freedom for libertines

Italians, according to prejudice, love to get drunk, blaspheme, fight duels and insult each others' ancestors. Just like you and me, really, except that all these activities used to be offences punishable by prison.

Last week the legislature finally modernised Italy's legal code, decriminalising or reducing to civil offences some 100 crimes. It's now okay, or at least not a crime, to insult the national flag and public officials (including police officers, apparently). Offering to ghost-write a student's thesis and "incitement to libertinism" no longer carry prison terms; nor does begging "in a repugnant or tormenting manner".

Thai shrink rap

Miss Thailand, Apisamai Srirangsan, wants to be a psychiatrist, but the local psychiatric establishment has a problem with that. It says her image would be bad for a profession where seriousness and authority are important in giving mentally troubled patients confidence. The news media and feminists disagree.

The 24-year-old Ms Apisamai is not just a pretty face. She is a qualified doctor - "Thailand's first-ever beauty queen physician", it says here - and has been accepted for psychiatric training. But some authorities say they would never have taken her on if they had known she would turn up on TV wearing nothing but high heels, a swimsuit, a sash and a big smile.

"Beauty contests in our country are closely identified with sexuality, and the contestants are viewed as sex objects," argued Professor Nongpa- nga Limsuwan. "A beauty queen cannot be a good psychiatrist, since patients can relate to her in an inappropriate way."

But who is to say what passes for normal sexuality in Thailand? Veera Raungsri, 42, a Thai landscaper who recently married for the ninth time, says he stays virile by eating two or three live geckos, or house lizards, every day. His first eight wives couldn't stand the pace, he says. I think it was the lizards that put them off.

Fjord open prison

Prisoners in Norway's Vestfold region are looking forward to Millennium Eve - not because they expect a riotous party behind bars, but because the authorities may have to let them out for the night.

The reason? Power companies have warned the prison authorities that they cannot guarantee electricity supplies on New Year's Day, because their computers might crash. A spokesman for the prisons department says inmates of open prisons will probably be released, while those in high- security facilities would have to be moved elsewhere. Let's hope they don't have millennium bug problems at Norway's equivalent of Broadmoor.

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