FLAT EARTH

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Market forces

Negotiations are under way between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) in a bid to end a conflict that has taken more than 35,000 lives over the past decade alone. This is good news, but the identity of the latest figure to take a hand in the negotiations is a little strange: Richard Grasso, president of the New York Stock Exchange.

Last week Grasso flew into a demilitarised region of Colombia's southern jungle and savannah for talks with Farc's leader, Manuel Marulanda, a legendary figure known as "Sureshot". It must have been an unlikely confrontation - the arch-capitalist and the leader of a Marxist outfit which hates Yanqui imperialism above all else. Apparently Grasso, whose presence in Colombia was kept secret, had asked for a meeting to discuss foreign investment and the future role in Colombia of US businesses, which have traditionally been the target of Latin America's largest and oldest rebel army. Farc has been fighting the state since the mid-1960s.

Maybe Grasso managed to persuade the revolutionaries to abandon their usual fundraising methods - kidnapping and demanding large ransoms - and to invest instead in a mutual fund tracking the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Can't take a yolk

Getting spattered by the odd egg has been a routine hazard for Western politicians since the days they travelled from stump to stump by horse- drawn coach. Not so in Russia, especially if the target happens to be the celebrated film director, monarchist and (if you believe the Moscow rumour mill) possible presidential candidate, Nikita Mikhalkov.

Last week a man was given a two-and-a-half-year suspended sentence for hooliganism after hurling an egg at the great man, whose Burnt By the Sun won an Oscar in 1995. Dmitri Bakhur had already spent four months awaiting trial in the notorious Butyrka prison. His crime occurred at the Central House of Cinematographers, where the director was giving a lecture. As he heaped praise on his own latest movie, The Barber of Siberia, Mr Bakhur and his co-conspirator - both members of the anti-monarchist National Bolshevik Party - let loose with a couple of eggs, one of which spattered the director's Italian trousers.

According to eye-witnesses, Mr Mikhalkov went up to Mr Bakhur, who had been pinned down by security guards, and kicked him in the face. "Then he said: `Go get them!' and people who appeared so cultural jumped on them like a bunch of wild beasts and started beating them."

Wordbeaters

We recently invited readers to try their hand at the latest wordplay game, in which you take a word and, after adding, subtracting or changing one letter, supply a new definition. An example from America, where the game originated: "Intarnation", or returning in another life as a hillbilly.

Here, then, are your finest efforts. Christine Stallybrass of Bognor Regis proposed Malepropism: a Viagra injection. Thanks too to Tim Mickleburgh of Grimsby, who suggested Blurden: having to listen to Britpop.

Richard Deane of Salisbury came up with ee mail - a letter from Lancashire - and automobilge, the utterances of car fanatics; while Leslie Davis of Newport offered henslave: the modern house husband. But my favourite is another from Mr Mickleburgh, namely Blairy: tiring of a political leader's moralising in public.

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