FLAT EARTH

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The Independent Online
Spooks 'n' spectres haunt White House

A GOTHICK tale emerges in the memoirs of former Soviet ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, who once spent a night at the Nixons' Western White House. "Around 2am," he writes, "the KGB bodyguard was standing watch in the courtyard just across from Nixon's apartment when he saw the door of the President's quarters open. Nixon's wife Pat appeared in a long nightgown, her hands stretched forward and her eyes fixed in the distance, apparently in some kind of trance.

"She reached our bodyguard and stopped, saying nothing. The guard tried to turn Mrs Nixon around, but she refused to move and stood stiffly. After some hesitation, the officer took Mrs. Nixon in his arms and carried her back to the room from which she had just emerged; it was her bedroom. He put her back in bed. Then the Secret Service arrived. They waved, smiled and said to our man, 'OK, OK, thanks'." It all sounds fine, rather sweet, in fact, to us, but Dr Jamie Whyte, of the Sleep Disorder Center in New York, has difficulty with the story. "Most adult sleepwalkers are considerably younger than Mrs. Nixon was then," he says sniffily. "Sleepwalking with arms extended is more fiction than fact."

Purchasing power

APART from the puzzle of what Pat was up to - "I bet that guard was really cute," said our snide friend Phoebe - the striking thing about this story is how immensely old and cobwebbed it all seems, like something from Macbeth. The writer Francis Fukuyama was rather mocked for saying that the end of the Cold War was in fact the End of History. What he meant was that the triumph of capitalist democracy was so complete that it would never again be challenged by other social systems. He's only (we hope) about half right, but, looking back, you see what he meant. An item just in from the Arctic: former Soviet nuclear subs have been pressed into service delivering consumer goods to remote Arctic regions cut off for most of the year. Imagine. . . the giant weapons built to forge a socialist future now cleaving through pack-ice, loaded with fake Levis and Twinkie Bars. Consumer Vincit Omnia.

Nude awakening

SO HELLO, shoppers. I think it's clear that this column has spent far too much time on politics and science and generally gazing around the starry roofed universe. From now on we're going to junk all that and model ourselves after the FT's Saturday magazine, named, with splendid frankness, How To Spend It. A stray remark from Iowa alerts us to advances in the US retail industry. It came in a debate about nude skydivers who, it seems, have been plummeting down on the well-named town of Fort Dodge. Airborne nakedness "was quite unacceptable", Mayor Joe McBride Jnr says, especially since the city has recently fought to close down nude-dancing juice bars. Nude-dancing juice bars? British retail culture clearly remains a swaddled infant.

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