FLAT EARTH

North Koreans

are human, too

I wasn't planning to mention the Olympics, but then it seemed perverse to ignore them. In ancient times the Games were a sacred event for which wars would be suspended, and thanks to the electronic media, something of the same spirit prevails today. When you are aware that the whole world is sharing the same experience, it helps to put the rest of the news in perspective.

Of course, the news cannot help but shape one's response to some of the happenings at the Olympics. Given the way the United States has been bullying everyone to stop trading with Cuba, for example, there can have been few outside the land of the free who did not take quiet satisfaction at their defeat by the Cubans in baseball.

But the sight of a North Korean diver smiling at a good score must at least remind everyone that human beings live there, not soulless automatons. When they see a runner from Burundi on the track, it must occur to even the notoriously insular Americans that there is more to Africa than famines and massacres.

Possibly not, though. When I put this to an English friend in America, he snorted: "They probably think he is from Burundi College, somewhere in Texas."

Hello, boysh

From time to time we seek to advise our discerning readers of products and services likely to interest them - you may remember Boutras Boutras garlic, as the South African suppliers chose to spell it. Now we bring to your attention the sake bra, as conceived by the Japanese arm of one of the international foundation garment combines.

Consumers of Japan's rice-based national drink will know that it should be taken warm. Instead of bust-enhancing pads, the "Two-Cup Ozeki" has small balloons containing sake. The makers recommend uncorking after an hour, but do not spell out how one is supposed to drink the stuff.

Sadly, despite their many other charms, the average Japanese woman is not equipped to deal with the amount of sake contained in a standard flask. Perhaps the makers should consider calling in Eva Herzigova.

Movie Dick

Yes, yes, I know it's the silly season, but this has all the authority of science. Researchers at San Jose State University in northern California who have already spent six years and about $185,000 (pounds 123,000) on their project are looking for more money to build a large dummy whale.

What on earth for? Well, they want to video unique footage of whales deep in the ocean, and need the dummy whale for their divers to practise on. At this point you might ask who these superhuman divers are, capable not only of descending to the depths whales consider tolerable, but also of filming them once there.

The answer is that they are not human at all, but sea-lions, who are known to keep close company with whales in the wild. Beaver, a 17-year- old veteran of the US navy's work with underwater mammals, and Sake, an eight-year-old female (does that make her a sea-lioness?) are being trained to dive with video cameras strapped to their backs, and to turn left and right with sonar commands from a nearby boat. They will not have to adjust the focus.

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