PEOPLE: Fur flies as First Cat is Newtered

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Republican Party revolutionaries in the US Congress are leaving no corner, or cat basket, unchecked as they wield their budget-cutting axe. Dan Burton, a new conservative representative from Indiana, has zeroed in on the fan-mail operation of Socks, the First Cat.

"This is the same type of waste the American public want to get rid of," Mr Burton said. "I mean, spending their tax dollars on a fan club for the President's cat. The people have spoken, but the President doesn't seem to have listened."

"Don't get me wrong," he added, "I love animals and have both a cat and a dog, but I cannot imagine the justification for spending tens of thousands of dollars to fund a return-mail operation for a cat."

Starting the fur flying, he has written to President Bill Clinton asking who paid for the stationery, envelopes and postage used, suggesting Mr Clinton reimburse the Treasury if funds came out of the White House postal budget.

Socks gets about 50

letters a month. His reply, signed with a paw print, reads: "Thanks for writing to me. I am honored to be your First Cat.''

The biographer who wrote the story of Bob Hawke's life, warts and all, is his new love. Blanche d'Alpuget was photographed arm in arm with the former Australian prime minister at a seaside resort last weekend.

A smiling Mr Hawke, in swimming trunks, was pictured cuddling Ms D'Alpuget, looking longingly into her eyes and holding her hand. "I think 1995 will be a very good year," the author and essayist was quoted as saying. He had no comment.

The couple have long been rumoured to have a close relationship. Ms D'Alpuget's book, published in 1982, portrayed Mr Hawke as a boozer and a womaniser - two things he tearfully acknowledged to the Australian people in 1989. Mr Hawke and his wife of 38 years, Hazel Hawke, announced their separation last November.

Gentlemen philatelists who prefer blondes on their stamps should look forward to the new Marilyn Monroe design unveiled by the US postal service yesterday at the Planet Hollywood restaurant in New York. Showing the screen legend in a slinky gold dress and dangling earrings, the stamp is the first of a series of Hollywood greats. Postal authorities say the image captures "the explosive combination of talent and vulnerable beauty that continues to enrapture America and the world".

Are you one of the millions who wondered if US astronauts carry suicide pills on trips into space? Wonder no more. Jim Lovell, one of the Apollo 13 crew in 1970, addresses the sensitive question in a new book, Lost Moon.

"Poison pills! Forget about it! There just weren't any situations in which you'd ever really consider making, well, an early exit,'' he writes. ``And even if there were, you had lots of easier ways to do it than poison pills."

How's that, Jim? Far simpler, he points out, would be to turn the crank for the cabin vent, suck out the capsule pressure and boil your blood. All would be over in a few seconds.

Maryann Bird