Flat Earth

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It's never too late to quit

'THERE'S a hellhound, a hellhound on my trail,' lamented Robert Johnson, the great Delta blues singer of the 1930s, and so there was - in fact, there were a few of them (drink, barfights, the Klan). But their furies were as nothing to that of the anti-smoking lobby, which pursues him now beyond the grave. Indeed, it has just succeeded in having a cigarette excised from his image on a US postage stamp issued in his honour last week.

Now one can understand when a fag dangling from the lips of leading politicians and killers such as Stalin or Mao or Malenkov is airbrushed from a photograph, as detracting from their dignity as statesmen. But Johnson was just a poor black guitarist who spent his short life in bars or in bed, and died aged 24, poisoned by a jealous girlfriend. His life, in other words, took place in a haze of blue smoke.

It has long been difficult to have a quiet cigarette in a New York restaurant or on a flight into the United States. Now it looks as though you're not even allowed one when you're dead.

Troops raid troupe

SEVERAL hundred US troops crouched around the property in a wood near the slums of Port-au-Prince. US intelligence had identified it as a hideout of some of the most sinister thugs backing Haiti's terror-based regime. Then the troops poured in. 'Freeze] Sit down] Lie down]' screamed the troops - an edgy lot, Americans in uniform.

The surprised figures in the clearing complied instantly, and, one imagines, with the utmost grace. For the army had just neutralised the compound of Katherine Dunham, legendary figure in modern dance, whose troupe was rehearsing a new choreography based on Afro-Caribbean traditions.

The sex is silent

WE THOUGHT at first there was a pattern here, but no . . . these tales only show the variety of ways you can get into trouble with sex.

First, a new social scourge in Malaysia, the boh-sia girls, who hang around shopping malls apparently offering free sex to schoolboys who go up to them and say the mysterious word, 'Boh-sia'. 'The boh-sia problem will destroy everything - families, education, religions and even the government's plans for the people,' one official said. Boh-sia is from a local Chinese dialect, and is thought to mean 'silence'.

Life is more fraught in Israel, by contrast, where last week a woman sued for divorce because of too much silence - her husband was worryingly quiet in bed.

The Russian immigrant says her four-year marriage must end; she can no longer bear the fact that he 'makes no groans or noises of passion when making love'.

(Photograph omitted)