Flat Earth

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The Independent Online
No cause for concern

Where can champagne Socialists go to show solidarity with the downtrodden, now that apartheid is dead and the Sandinistas just another opposition party in Nicaragua? Answer: southern Mexico, where the Zapatista rebels are entertaining a stream of Sixties nostalgics in their jungle hideout.

The Mexican authorities are getting more than a little fed up with the parade of celebrities, students, human rights activists and neo-hippies arriving to enlist in the Zapatista cause. They include the director Oliver Stone, who missed the Oscars to venture into the jungle on horseback, and Danielle Mitterrand: MPs said she showed "slight regard and respect for the sovereignty of the Mexican nation".

Regis Debray, a former Che Guevara sidekick and adviser to Mrs Mitterrand's late husband, was ticked off by the authorities for going into Zapatista territory, while Mikel Abrego, the drummer in Spanish rock group Negu Gorriak, was being held for deportation after he allegedly entered Mexico with false documents to accompany Mrs Mitterrand on a visit to the rebels.

One jaundiced Central American veteran said this display of "menopausal Che Guevara chic" reminded him of the great and good who crowded to Nicaragua to be seen with the Sandinistas, among them Harold Pinter and Salman Rushdie. The "Sandalistas" who followed in their wake tended to eschew soap and wore ragged Grateful Dead T-shirts to demonstrate their sympathy for the oppressed, to the baffled annoyance of the ordinary Nicaraguan peasant.

"At least the Sandinistas won a proper revolution and had a real country to run," growled my friend. "These Zapatistas are just a bunch of posturing idiots." No solidarity there, then.

No head for heights

President Nelson Mandela must have wished he had never endorsed an expedition aiming to put the first South African on top of Mount Everest. The South African Sunday Times last week withdrew sponsorship of the venture following problems with its leader, Ian Woodall. It seems his personal style led to the sacking of the expedition's doctor and the resignation of the three best climbers.

The newspaper then discovered that Mr Woodall's 69-year-old British father, aiming to be the oldest conqueror of Everest, and a French alpinist were included on the permit to climb the mountain, while a South African named in the climbing team had been omitted.

The final straw for the Sunday Times, though, was when the expedition leader barred the paper's reporting team, including the editor, Ken Owen, and his wife, Kate, from his base camp, denying them food and shelter in bitterly cold weather. An argument ensued in which Mr Woodall threatened to "bury" both the Owens. A long-distance attempt by Mr Mandela to intervene got nowhere.

But even if all the other South Africans were no longer around, surely the goal would have been achieved if Mr Woodall reached the summit? Well, maybe not. Doubt has been cast on his claim to have gone to the exclusive Bishop's school in Cape Town and to have served in the South African armed forces. When Mr Owen challenged him on this, the intrepid mountaineer shot back: "I fought on the Angolan border for arseholes like you!"

No call for that

Who says they are technologically unsophisticated in Borneo? Not the officials of Telekom Malaysia, who found an unlikely solution to the mystery of why 900 of their public telephones had been stolen. Investigation revealed that local fishermen cut off the handsets, connected them to high-powered batteries and lowered them into the water. The electricity passing through the microphones produced a high-pitch sound that attracted fish into the nets.

The head of the local fisheries department pointed out that other Malaysian fishermen knock bamboo sticks underwater to produce a sound which attracts a particular species of fish, while some aquariums in Japan pipe music into tanks, and the fish move to the rhythm. "It almost looks as if they are dancing," he said.

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