FLAT EARTH

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The Independent Online
A worm in the Big Apple

NEVER mind the dismay that spread through India last week when the sun was devoured by a demon - worse confusion reigns on the Flat Earth desk when a prodigy appears on the horizon whose awfulness eclipses even that of Malcolm Rifkind. I refer of course to the Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, who took advantage of the gathering of world leaders in his city to suck up to his Jewish constituents by (a) inviting Yasser Arafat to a concert hosted by the city, then (b) sending in his thugs to throw the Palestinian leader out. This was a calculated appeal to the more extreme Jewish voters in New York which has long been a catchment area for the craziest settlers on the West Bank. The claims of New York to be the diplomatic capital of the world are seriously undermined by the presence of the cadaverous Rudolph, who even the absurdly pro-Israeli New York Times suggests has taken leave of his senses.

Mes braves

LE JOUR de gloire est arrive! No, no, honestly, it has. French hearts must have swollen with pride, and even we have to admit a vicarious thrill, as news of the latest feat of arms reached us from Brindisi, where, winking genially at international law, the destroyer Dupleix rammed a Greenpeace ship, then sent aboard axe-wielding commandos to scuttle it. This victory over the sullen ecologists follows similar encounters with Greenpeace ships and a Polynesian canoe in the South Pacific this year. It's true you have to go back quite some time to find the French navy attacking anyone disobliging enough actually to be armed. A battle against a Thai destroyer off Indochina in 1941 is the only example we can find, and that must have seemed a safe enough bet. Against the Germans, of course in the same year - but no, let's draw a veil over that. Not that a veil is now needed. The new roll of honour - Mururoa, Fangataufa, Brindisi - outshines any doubts on the score of French courage.

Good night, Vienna

WHAT exactly is biting the Austrians? Or, to put it another way, does Vienna have the worst-tempered airport in the world? A recent stopover there made clear, to me at least, why tourism has fallen off so greatly in this picturesque former corner of the Reich. (The Austrian tourist board has just launched a marketing campaign across the EU with the oddly resistible plea "Come And See the New Member!") At the first bar we came to in the airport, we were still gaping at the prices - pounds 10 a glass of champagne, pounds 5 a coffee - when the barmaid approached.

"Ja?"

"Er, arrgh, just looking thanks," we said, conscious of the very few schillings in our pockets.

"Ha!" she cried. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!" - not a strong script, I agree, but add to it a toss of the auburn beehive and contemptuous tattoo of departing high heels. Suitably downtrodden, we went to the cheaper bar around the corner. There, an envenomed young person behind the bar snatched money from my companion's hands, took what was needed for our drinks, and threw the remainder back on the counter towards her. She'd been to Austria before, and laughed at my amazement. "What else do you expect in a place where they sell dangerous dogs in the soft-toy department?" she asked. And sure enough, in the duty free shop across the way loomed a life-size Doberman Pinscher, glass eyes ablaze among the teddies and fluffy ducks.

Cultured vultures

MORE tourist fun in Miami, where, as winter approaches in Europe, the sun continues to shine, and the tourists gather.With them, come flocks of American turkey vultures. Ornithologists say as many as 6,000 of the giant birds winter in Miami, which they like because the columns of air sent up by skyscrapers help them soar when searching for carrion. Given the tendency of the natives of Miami to rob and murder tourists, the fact that many of the vultures roost on the roof of Dade County Court House seems significant. It is a sign of the intelligence of these birds, or perhaps of the moral order of the universe, that such symbols congregate at the most appropriate places.

See you later, 'gator

HERE'S the picture: sun blazing down on the Outback, a kookaburra's mad laugh, then into sight comes that traditional Australian procession: a convict pursued through the bush by a crowd of policemen. Raymond Rankine, wanted for threatening to kill, reached the Ord River and jumped in. Half way across, a 12ft crocodile (of course) slides off the bank and gives chase. Police fire at the croc, giving Raymond time to head up the other bank and run into the trees, without even a wave or a cooee. He hasn't been seen since. Ingratitude, sharper than a serpent's tooth...

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