FLAT EARTH

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The Independent Online
Hot meals to die for from I-For

AS the troops of Nato's Implementation Force (I-For) go about their peace work in Bosnia, the biggest hazards they face are mines, those vile devices invented to blow up troops and tanks, but which all too often destroy livestock and school buses. A lesser hazard is the infamous MRE, the US military's Meals Ready to Eat. The unappetising rations, fondly recalled by participants in Operation Desert Storm, have acquired a new name in Bosnia: Meals Ready to Explode.

The handful of I-For mine casualties, it appears, have not deterred some bored American soldiers from using the heating element of their MREs to make homemade explosives. The element in the rations package uses a sodium chloride mixture to boil water in a bag to heat the main dish (tuna casserole, barbecued pork or one of 10 other delectable concoctions). There are at least two ways to produce explosions.

No meal-related injuries have been reported so far in Bosnia, where the 18,000 US peace-implementers are under the tightest security of the Nato force. Apart from the occasional upset stomach, the only injuries connected with MREs were suffered by the Kurds of northern Iraq, who had boxes of the goodies dropped on them by the Americans after the Gulf War.

Bamboo? Curtains

IF you are a Chinese panda, an MRE is probably the last thing you want. The penultimate thing might well be the beef, eggs, milk, apples and carrots that panda keepers at the Peking Zoo are feeding their 14 charges now that the iron bamboo bowl is nearly empty. The zoo is so short of funds that it can no longer afford the arrow bamboo that the pandas enjoy. They each require 22lb a day of the munchie; the zoo has only 3,300lb in reserve, and is barred from buying more. As farmers have cleared bamboo groves to build homes and switched to other cash crops, the cost of the tall grass has soared.

Meanwhile, the meat and vegetables that the pandas are being given as a substitute are giving them stomach troubles. But across the Middle Kingdom, many Chinese citizens may be dreaming, on empty stomachs, of meat and vegetables and wishing they were pandas.

Barking

The fate of those who malign

Will be the same as barking canines.

They will bark about everything they see.

Go your own way and leave them be.

They will bark until they stop.

NOT much literary merit there, and the poet has apologised. Not for the fact that Shakespeare it ain't, however, but because he (Rafael Eitan) was comparing journalists to barking dogs.

Mr Eitan, a right-wing Israeli leader and former chief of the army, directed his poem at reporters covering a meeting of his Tsomet party last Thursday.

He is known for his bluntness towards people he doesn't think much of. Before he retired from the army in 1983, General Eitan told a parliamentary committee: ''When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.''

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