Flat earth

A spin with Bibi
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A spin with Bibi

With elections pending here and in the US, we are going to heard a lot more about spin doctors. Journalists hate them, but it was inevitable that a class of image merchants would spring up who could advise their political masters on presentation and distil their policies into a soundbite or two, thereby helping them to get elected.

What struck me last week, though, was that in Israel they elected the spin doctor. With Benjamin Netanyahu, the soundbite is all there is: no policy exists behind the presentation. His whole raison d'etre is to look good on TV.

The man described by his former boss, the head of Israel's largest furniture concern, as "the best marketing manager we ever had" promised Israelis that they could have peace without paying any price, and now his customers are finding their guarantee is worthless. Since his initial disastrous mistake of opening the tunnel under Jerusalem's Old City he has seemed obsessed with how events are perceived, rather than the reality - insisting, for instance, that the tunnel was dug for purely scientific purposes, when the work was financed by the religious affairs ministry.

Nor is this anything new. Here is "Bibi" on a previous Palestinian explosion: "There is no spontaneous mobilisation of people to go against the Israeli presence. In fact it's amazingly placid, compared to what anyone would expect reading the news reports." That was on 9 December 1987 - the day the intifada began.

Safer by far

BY THE sound of things, even Lebanon might be a safer place than Israel at the moment - Beirut, it is claimed, is less dangerous than New York. Before you scoff, the claimer is none other than Terry Anderson, the American journalist who was kidnapped and held hostage in Lebanon for nearly seven years.

Recently he made a return trip to Lebanon for the first time since being released in December 1991. Back in Washington he told a Senate sub-committee that he encountered no danger or security threat, even in areas controlled by Hizbollah, the group believed to shelter the kidnappers.

Anderson and others are urging the US to lift restrictions on travel to Lebanon, but the State Department insists the place is still dangerous. Riad Tabbara, the Lebanese ambassador to Washington, says more than 60,000 visas have been issued for Americans since 1990. "Nothing happened to them," he protested. "They didn't even have a car accident."

Odd couples

PAUL Smith and Debi Easterday were wed recently in Painesville, Ohio. Nothing more normal than that, surely, except that the judge insisted on a doctor's note certifying that Mr Smith was still a man before he would perform the ceremony.

You see, the groom is applying in the very same court to change his name from Paul to Denise, because he plans to have a sex-change operation. His wife is a lesbian, and they want to live together in masculinity-free bliss. Bill Clinton, however, has just signed a bill against same-sex marriages, because the state of Hawaii seems about to allow two gay men to wed, and the Ohio judge did not want to run foul of the law. But how did he know Ms Easterday was not a man in drag?

In North Carolina, meanwhile, a woman who was testifying in court on an unrelated matter said she and a man were living together "as fiancees". The judge immediately charged them under the state's 191-year-old law against sex outside marriage. At least that was not a problem for his colleague in Ohio: assuming Mr Smith retained his equipment and his wife- to-be did not stray from her lesbian proclivities, there was no danger of prenuptial hanky-panky.