FLAT EARTH

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The Independent Online
It ain't what you French do ...

NOTHING encapsulates the difference between us sturdy Brits and the French better than Malcolm Rifkind's description of President Jacques Chirac's approach to the Middle East as "colourful", "romantic" and "dramatic".

Mais naturellement, as the French would say. Who would not want to be seen in such a light? The answer, of course, is our Foreign Secretary, who did not intend a compliment. A translation into French of the sense of his comment, rather than its literal meaning, would have been something like "misconceived, unhelpful and attention-seeking".

Rifkind complained that Chirac should not compete for a role in the Middle East with the Americans - who in an election year are going to do nothing to annoy the Israelis - but he went on to support Chirac's call for a Palestinian state, and said it was up to Israel to make the peace process work. All we seem to be arguing about, then, is style, and in that sphere there is no point in trying to rival the French.

Pecan roll-over

MORE than just the baseball World Series was at stake last night, when the New York Yankees, needing one more win to claim the title, squared up to the Atlanta Braves. The Presidential election could have been in the balance too.

Since 1945 the Yankees have appeared in five election-year World Series, when the winner of the American League plays off against the National League champion. They lost in 1960, 1964 and 1976: so did the Republican presidential candidate. They won in 1952 and 1956: the Republican did too. So Bob Dole had every reason to be cheering the Bronx Bombers on.

We can ill afford to lose any more infallible election-year indicators. It used to be that victory for the National League team meant a win for the Democrats, but Michael Dukakis got wiped out in 1988. Nobody who lost his party's primary in New Hampshire ever gained the presidency - until Bill Clinton did it in 1992.

Hillary Clinton put her foot in it last time by saying that instead of being a high-powered lawyer, "I could have stayed home and baked cookies." She recovered when her chocolate-chip recipe beat Barbara Bush's in a poll by Family Circle magazine, and the bad news for Dole is the same recipe has just defeated the pecan roll concoction submitted by his wife, Elizabeth.

But the clincher for the Clintons is this: the last Republican to take on a Democratic incumbent was Barry Goldwater in 1964. That year Miss America was Vonda Kay Van, from his home state of Arizona, and Goldwater was annihilated. The current Miss America is Tara Dawn Holland, from Kansas - just like Bob Dole.

Unlucky dip

A HAPLESS American called Carl Hunziker is being held on spying charges after straying into North Korea from China, where he was trying to convert the populace to Christianity. The US says he had too much to drink and swam across the Yalu River. Pyongyang says he was recruited by the South Koreans "to spy on the situation of the Democratic People's Republic, such as the conditions of the army, the life of civilians, economic conditions and social environment".

But let that pass. What intrigued me was the North Korean announcement that Hunziker could not be a missionary because "he does not know the Ten Commandments, the hymn and the method of praying". How do they know? Which North Korean interrogator was brave enough to admit that, er, he did remember learning this at his (sadly departed) mother's knee? Or do they have a team of specially-cleared experts in religious subversion?

This being the most totalitarian communist state left on earth, as Stalinist as it is godless, we are unlikely to find out. One can only hope that North Korea's occasional attempts to get on with Washington will leave Carl Hunziker none the worse for his misdirected urge to proselytise.

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