Flat Earth

Japan invaded from down under

THE MASS excursion of poisonous Australian life-forms from their desolate continent caught our attention last week. First, some sympathy must go to the citizens of Osaka, alarmed about the arrival of 1,000 redback spiders, whose bite, though rarely fatal, is said to be painful. The real reason, in our view, for the Japanese objection to these little creatures is not so much their bite as the way it's delivered. The spiders hide in what Reuter coyly refers to "shrubbery and pipes" - which actually means they live under toilet seats and jump out and bite you when you sit down.

All Australians, of course, are taught at their mother's knee to expect a bite on the bottom from a redback sooner or later in life. This accounts for the rugged but fatalistic expression on Australian faces. Osakans, by contrast, a much more pampered and sheltered tribe, have quite different expectations, laughably imagining they will go through life without ever having their bottoms attacked by savage Australian mandibles. As this naive delusion fades in the memory, thousands of doses of anti-venom are being flown in to soothe the hysterical population.

Rupert rules waves

SOMETHING of the same mood is in the corridors of CNN, under attack by another sinister Aussie arachnid, the Murdoch empire. Mr Murdoch has taken it on himself to begin a new international 24-hour television news service, on the grounds that "Ted Turner's Cable News Network is moving further and further and further to the left" - rather like denouncing your wallpaper for being neo-communist. "I don't know whether it happened with my friend Ted marrying Jane Fonda or giving up lithium, but one thing or another, CNN has changed very greatly in the last couple of years," the Digger growled in Boston last week. Unfortunately, at CNN, they seem to be taking him seriously and are whimpering about how Rupe must be "taken seriously".

Meanwhile, in Australia itself, a strangely unenthusiastic response to the news that Rupert plans to sail as a crew member in this year's Sydney to Hobart yacht race. A former yachtie who has previously sailed with him describes Murdoch's seamanship: "He liked to go to sleep all the time ... He locks himself away in his cabin and sleeps."

It must be an unnerving business, far out to sea with Murdoch lurking out of sight like a redback, but liable to burst on deck at any moment, raving about lithium and Jane Fonda, and then steering off to the far right or downmarket or wherever he demands that everyone go.

Child abuse?

THERE WAS a time when the person in the world you most didn't want to be was Salman Rushdie: 600 million Muslims after your blood ... just imagine the ... vertigo of that. But it seems small beer compared to the position of the new Panchen Lama, selected by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Without lifting a finger, the kid's aroused the hatred of the government of 1,200 million Chinese, who denounce him for things like "drowning a dog" (completely unconvincing, given what children usually think of dogs) and for having parents who are "notorious for dishonesty and deceit". At least Salman was 40 or so when he got himself into trouble, and what with his five plainclothes policemen to swap baseball caps with and his beard and hearty appetite at table, he looks as though he can fend for himself. Whereas Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is six - an age when you can be overawed by the lollipop man.

We keep hearing the chilling words of Peking's official spokesman, an android by the name of Shen Guofang, on the child's whereabouts. "We don't know where he is. He should be in the place where he was born." It sounds awfully like "He should never have been born."

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