People: Armstrong steps back from spotlight

AS THE 25th anniversary of his moonwalk approaches - next Wednesday - former astronaut Neil Armstrong is keeping to the shadows.

Armstrong lives quietly on a farm in Ohio, has an unlisted telephone number and is shunning the many celebrations of the day he became the first man to step on to the lunar surface. 'He's a recluse's recluse,' says a former Nasa official who worked with him.

As one of a dozen US astronauts to have walked on the moon, Armstrong is a member of an elite fraternity, but because he was the first he has been a public curiosity for the last quarter-century. He is uncomfortable with that role.

The people of his hometown of Wapakoneta held a parade on Saturday and lined up along the route in front of a giant mural of a space-suited Armstrong, hoping for a glimpse of their favourite son. He stayed away.

Armstrong has also made it known that, unlike the other Apollo astronauts - many of whom have written memoirs of their experiences - he will not take part in the considerable Washington hype surrounding the anniversary.

Armstrong turns 64 on 5 August. He doesn't plan a celebration.

THE Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, has never been short of titles bestowed by a grateful and loving following - as the Iraqi media would say - during his 15 years in power. He has generated epithets like al- Mulham, 'the gifted leader'; Arruken, 'the cornerstone'; as-Sasuluma, 'the foundation of the nation'; al-Maheeb, 'the fearsome one'; and al-Fadth, 'the most brilliant'.

Now comes news from Baghdad of another title. After berating cabinet ministers for being late for work each he has been dubbed by the press as 'the roaring president and the thundering leader'.

THE Egyptian novelist, Alaa Hamed, has been dismissed from his government job to protect his female colleagues from 'his immorality' and could be imprisoned for writing a book that has not even been published yet.

The Egyptian authorities say Hamed's el-Firash (The Bed), still in draft form, is too explicit in its description of sex.

But Hamed's wife, Malak Mohammed Saleh, disagrees. She believes a court ruled for her husband's sacking because his book, a collection of short stories, includes a story about a corrupt judge.

(Photograph omitted)