FLAT EARTH

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The Independent Online
Dry run

KEEN to demonstrate his green credentials to prospective voters, Vice- President Al Gore arranged a canoeing trip for himself - all of 40 minutes' worth - in New Hampshire last week. But the exercise could well have lost him the support of the very nature lovers he was courting. They complained that torrents of extra water had been pumped into the drought-stricken river to make sure his canoe did not run aground - water that they had pleaded to have pumped into nearby waterways to save local wildlife.

Gore's more astute Republican rival, George W Bush, slid out of a potentially tricky engagement the same day, cancelling his whole programme - out of respect for the burial-at-sea of (Democrat) John Kennedy Jr.

Jobs for the girls

WOMEN'S rights have some way to go in Kelantan, the only Malaysian state controlled by Islamists, but I didn't realise quite how far until I saw the latest pronouncement from Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the chief minister.

Explaining his policy on equal employment policies, Nik Aziz said he made a point of giving jobs to women without good looks. "Pretty women have already been endowed with looks," he told the state assembly. "They usually end up having rich husbands. It's the women who don't have the looks that we should give a little help. We give them jobs, so they can have money."

Women's groups in the rest of Malaysia were predictably outraged, but in Kelantan they have always been a bit funny that way - they have separate supermarket queues for men and women, for example.

The most ironic aspect of the affair, though, is that a colleague who has met Nik Aziz tells me he is the spitting image of Edward G Robinson, not exactly a pin-up for most members of the opposite sex.

You're nicked

POLICE officers and firefighters from all over the world congregated in Stockholm last week for the World Police and Fire Games. Apart from the shooting, hockey, archery and angling, some of the visiting guardians of the law indulged in some rather less innocent pursuits. An Indian customs officer was arrested outside a department store in the south of the city with goods worth pounds 50. And two Russian policemen were detained in central Stockholm after store detectives spotted them leaving with goods worth a similar sum that they had forgotten to pay for. Maybe they should make shoplifting an official event for the next Games in 2001.

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