Flat Earth

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Pressure cooker

Most countries would prefer to turn a blind eye when their police use unorthodox methods to extract information, but in Talmudic fashion Israel insists on laying down rules for torture - sorry, "physical pressure" in the form of severe shaking.

The High Court has sanctioned this treatment for a suspected militant under inter- rogation by the Shin Bet security police who is thought to have information about impending suicide attacks. Shin Bet has previously been allowed to use "moderate physical pressure", rising to "increased physical pressure" when an attack was imminent.

That begs many questions: after "moderate physical pressure" I might be ready to confess to all kinds of terrorist plots, only for my interrogators to conclude that a bit of "increased physical pressure" was now justified. And who decides what is "moderate" or "imminent"?

These are far from academic matters -last year a man died under such handling.

What really counts

Remember the US election? You may think you know the result - including the fact that non-voters outnumbered those who went to the polls for the first time since 1924 - but here are the numbers that really matter.

More Americans (95 million) watched television coverage of OJ Simpson's celebrated slow-speed chase down a California freeway in June 1994 than bothered to vote (92.8 million). More watched the Super Bowl - 94 million. Even more, 140 million, gambled in casinos last year.

On the other hand, voting is a lot more popular than going to church, synagogue or mosque. Only 43 million do that regularly.

Serenissima, Wilts

A few columns ago I remarked that romantics are always seeking to define the appeal of northern cities such as Edinburgh and Stockholm by comparing them to southern models such as Athens and Venice, while no similar urge seems to be experienced in the south. An appeal for South to North comparisons met with virtual silence.

Apart, that is, from Martin Rose of Saffron Walden, who tells us of the epitaph for a Francis Hyde, a native of Salisbury who ended his life in Venice, where he was secretary to the English representative in the days when Venice was an independent republic:

Born in the English Venice, thou did die,

Dear friend, in the Italian Salisbury.

"It is probably the only instance," Mr Rose points out, "of anyone seeing in Venice the Salisbury of the Adriatic ." Building the proposed bypass, he adds, would turn Salisbury into "the Reggio di Calabria of Wiltshire".