FLAT EARTH

Vote Travolta

Bill Clinton will win the Presidential election in November. Bob Dole hasn't a hope.

OK, I know the incumbent has a double-digit lead in the polls, but that could change. Nor is this prediction based on the state of the economy, the candidates' promises, astrology, or a computer analysis of the makeup of the electoral college. No, what makes this an absolutely copper-bottomed one-horse race is the news that John Travolta has been cast to play Clinton in Primary Colors, the movie based on the roman a clef of the same name about the President's first election campaign.

Think about it: not so long ago, when you wanted an actor to play the occupant of the White House, you got Jason Robards or Henry Fonda. Who do we have these days? Kevin Kline in Dave, Michael Douglas in The American President (widowed, he has an affair with Annette Bening), Bill Pullman in Independence Day (he gets into a jet fighter himself to zap the aliens) and now the star of Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction.

There's no question about it - if Hollywood shapes the American imagination, and we know it does, the public perception of presidential timber has shrunk from California Redwood to sapling proportions. Ronald Reagan would have been too old to play the President even when he was the President, let alone some guy who would be even older if he got the job. Still not convinced? Let me ask you this: would you cast Bob Dole in a romantic comedy? As they say in New York, Fuhgeddaboudit!

Shuffle off

While we're talking about cultural indicators, you know those mass card displays in countries like North Korea? All the cards are flipped as one to create cute pictures and patriotic slogans, symbolising impressive unity of purpose to the locals and ant-like conformity to Western documentary makers.

Well, Taiwan has conclusively signalled the end of its Kuomintang past and its status as a beacon of Asian democracy by abandoning its annual display on national day. No longer will 15,000 schoolchildren be forced to shuffle cards, the mayor of Taipei announced after a deluge of protest from the kids and their parents.

Does this mean they will soon be taking drugs, being rude to their elders and listening to grunge music? Not exactly. In typical Asian tiger fashion, it turns out the reason for the students' complaints was that they were too busy studying for their exams.

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