FLAT EARTH

Attempt to escape the Dole-drums

SO, IT'S Clinton-Dole in November. Whoopee.

Thanks to state primaries and caucuses being moved ever further forward in the calendar, like people who discreetly leapfrog each other up the street in search of a scarce taxi, the excitement of the nomination race is over before we had time to get excited. Now we have 10 months to relish the party conventions, the clash of Democrat and Republican ideologies and the final eliminator...

Still not energised? In an attempt to imbue the contest with some drama, Newsweek is presenting the choice as one between the baby boomers and the Second World War generation. Quoting William Safire's prediction that Dole would be "The Comeback Adult" after getting over his early primary setbacks, it pontificates: "A Dole victory would mark the restoration of a generation that held the presidency longer - for 32 years, from Kennedy to Bush - than any other in American history. And the conclusion would be unavoidable: the baby boomers weren't ready for power and, addled by affluence, may never be."

Well, up to a point. If Clinton wins in November, as he probably will unless Dole can enlist Colin Powell as his running-mate, should this be taken as a national rejection of the Second World War generation? We weren't encouraged to see it that way four years ago, when he beat another Second World War veteran who didn't seem able to offer any reason why he should be President, other than an assurance that he knew how to do the job: George Bush.

Scrabble for fame

SOMEWHERE small in France (two letters): thus might read the most elementary French crossword clue. And the answer could be Eu, Ay or Is, one of three small settlements in the northern half of France celebrated by word-game fiends for one thing only: their orthography.

Now the mayors of the three towns have decided to put that right, forming the "Two-letter Club" to capitalise on their fame, and announcing a crossword festival to be held in June in the biggest of the three towns, Eu (pop. 8,000). There will be a giant crossword grid shaped like Europe in the main square, a schools competition, and a contest for crossword compilers.

Having won a couple of hotly-contested family Scrabble games in my youth, with useful two-letter words such as ai (a three-toed sloth) and li (a Chinese mile), I wish it had been possible to use proper names.

Pubic spirited

WHAT'S a 55-year-old aristocratic Roman grandmother doing without her knickers? This revealing poster of the venerable marchioness Marina Ripa di Meana popped up all over Italy yesterday, purportedly to further the cause of an animal rights group campaigning to stop women buying fur coats. (The slogan reads: "The only fur I'm unashamed to wear").

The poster probably won't do much to shock a country already well used to seeing female pudenda on its television screens. Instead, it looks suspiciously like a publicity stunt by the well-preserved Wicked Lady herself. One version of the poster for publication in the press invites the reader to scratch away at the pubic area to reveal a "surprise" (it turns out to be a free phone number for the anti-fur brigade).

The flamboyant Marina is married to the leader of Italy's Green Party, former European commissioner Carlo, and the environmentalist cause is one for which she has often chosen to show off what nature gave her. Last summer she single-handedly brought about the dismissal of the French ambassador to Rome when she turned up at a Bastille Day reception sans culottes, clambered out on to one of the embassy's imposing stone balconies and unfurled an anti-nuclear testing banner. "In France," said the dismayed ambassador's wife, "people don't behave that way in polite society."

Don't bank on it

TAIWAN'S President Lee Teng-hui may be brushing off China's war games, but planeloads of US dollar bills and gold bullion have had to be flown in to meet his citizens' demand for portable assets. Customers offering armfuls of local currency at bank counters have been turned away because of local shortages.

Portability cuts two ways, however. A couple withdrew their savings of 610,000 New Taiwan dollars (US $22,000 or pounds 14,700) from their bank, which had run out of US currency. As they went to another bank, the money was snatched by two motorcycle thieves.

Last survivor

REGOPSTAAN Kruiper, patriarch of the last indigenous San, or Bushmen, clan to resist integration into modern society, died in South Africa last week at 96. Local newspapers recounted how he lived up to his San name of Am Op, which means "survivor", alternating between using traditional hunting and foraging skills to provide for his family and working for whites.

It must been a racist joke by one of these to give him the "white" name of Regopstaan Kruiper: in Afrikaans it means "upright crawler".

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