FLAT EARTH

Oh, shoot

The dogged efforts of Washington DC to cast off its image as one of the most poorly run and crime-ridden cities in the US suffered a setback last week when a well-intentioned initiative went sadly wrong. The police department had declared one of its periodic amnesties for illegal gun owners, offering $100 to anyone who surrendered a gun in working condition at a particular police station. As it turned out, the timing was the best - and the worst: the day after the gun rampage at the Jewish day-care centre in Los Angeles.

The fears generated by yet another shooting involving children encouraged a record number of people to surrender illegal weapons. The bad news was that the police ran out of money before the end of the first day of the five-day programme.

Said Andre Wright, the police officer who devised the guns-for-cash operation: "I spend my life chasing down people with guns, putting my life on the line every day ... and today we are having to turn people back on to the streets with live guns in their hands." The police were expected to resume the amnesty this week.

Dark humour

One of the best places to watch the eclipse last week was from a mountain in northern Iraq, but there was a problem: it was inside the UN-declared no-fly zone and Western planes had just bombed a monastery at the site after apparently spotting illegal Iraqi air activity. After the attack, in one of the more endearing episodes of the long-running stand-off, the Iraqi authorities asked the Western allies, through the UN, if they could please halt their flights for the day of the eclipse, so that Iraqis and foreign scientists could aim their telescopes in safety.

The reply, at least from the US, which - with Britain - conducts most of the monitoring flights, was the diplomatic equivalent of "You must be joking".

Itsy-bitsy patriotism

They come in crochet, Lycra, cotton and even coconut shells. They are striped, spotted and psychedelic. And they are universally minuscule. But if Brazilian senators have their way, the notorious "dental floss" bikinis will not sport the national flag.

The Senate has approved a proposal to ban the use of the flag on bikinis and in any "morally degrading" setting. "One cannot admit the use of the national flag in situations which are not recommended for the sobriety and the dignity of a symbol of the nation," said a Senate commission.

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