FLAT EARTH

Don't fone Fidel

One reason Cuba has become so fashionable as a holiday destination, people tell me, is that it is so charmingly out of date.

Courtesy of economic stagnation, Havana's Spanish colonial architecture remains undesecrated, and the streets are full of tail-finned 1950s gas guzzlers. It is hard to say which takes more credit for bringing this about - Fidel Castro's antiquated Communist policies, or the 40-year-old American embargo.

But anyone who thinks Fidel is innocent of what life is like in the real world would be wrong. The other day he told an audience of students that the sound of mobile phones "is unbearable". Some people, he went on, "believe they are very important because they carry one of those little telephones", leading one to the conclusion that he must have paid a visit to a London wine bar at some stage.

Mind you, any mobile phone company would love to have him as a subscriber. His little chat with the students went on for more than four hours.

Some fin fishy

What is it with Scanwegians and dolphins? A Norwegian man is accusing a dolphin of attempted rape, claiming it swam alongside him before making its intentions clear.

"The dolphin shoved me forward two or three metres before I got loose," said the man. At first he thought it was a fin probing his swimming trunks, "but dolphins don't have fins on their underbellies". He managed to clamber on board his boat before the dolphin could have its way with him. His friend said the lustful cetacean "tried it on with me too, but I was wearing protection - a wetsuit".

With this episode in mind, it is possible that when researchers in Sweden manage to decode dolphins' clicks and whistles, they will be overhearing conversations that would make a Loaded reader blush.

Monumental error?

In the same tumescent vein, a team of scientists recently mounted the Washington Monument, at more than 555ft 5in by far the tallest edifice in the US capital. Their mission: to measure its height super-accurately with a satellite Global Positioning System.

The landmark is under repair after cracks appeared in its facade, possibly threatening the structure, and the measurement was needed to help determine the monument's stability. When it was last measured, in 1934, its height was found to be 555ft 51/2in. The latest measurement establishes that it is almost half an inch higher, at 555 ft 59/10in. Which raises some disturbing possibilities. Was the last measurement inaccurate? Is the GPS somehow unreliable? (The US Coast Guard warned last week that the system was reaching a crucial point in its lifespan, and some older receivers might be inaccurate.) Or might the Washington Monument have grown? With the likes of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in the vicinity, you wonder if it is emulating human behaviour.

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