John Walsh: btw

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The Independent Online

Spare a tear for the plight of America's motorists. Something terrible has happened. Not the congestion charge (that was thrown out of New York after an unsuccessful test-drive) but the price of gasoline. From sea to shining sea, the average cost of a gallon has gone up to $3.53. That's the equivalent of 47p a litre. I can see you're horrified. In California, gas has risen to a dizzying 51p a litre. Given that British petrol hasn't cost that little since the 1980s, and currently runs at more than £1 a litre, it's hard to feel much sympathy for the Yanks but they've been used to cheap fuel for so long that they're taking it very seriously. Thousands are reportedly changing their holiday plans so that less driving is involved, are booking into cheaper hotels and eating at burger bars rather than restaurants. Fuel hikes – their strongest indication that economic meltdown is imminent.

* Stealth tax of the week: in Hungary they're planning to impose a tax on ties. The Culture minister Maria Schneider has proposed a tax of 0.8 per cent on all sales of ties. Why? Because "Ties and bow ties are created by designers, who are artists, and therefore some of their earnings should support the arts and culture here in Hungary," she said. What a shame she's chosen to introduce this money-making scheme just when every fashion-conscious male in the entire world, apart from John Snow of Channel 4 News, has given up wearing the things.

* Nice to see the UN getting to grips with urgent issues of world diplomacy. The secretary general's chief of staff has sent a memo to UN staff, putting them straight about something. "It remains a matter of some frustration," it reads, "that despite the passage of a year and some months, there still remains some confusion on this score." What can it be? It's the delicate question of getting the boss's name right. Mr Ban Ki-Moon is apparently sick to death of being addressed as Mr Moon. It should be Mr Ban. In South Korea, the first name is the surname. Got that? I suspect the last straw must have been when someone, familiar with London's graffiti artists, said to the Secretary-General, "Ah, Banky, nice to meet you. When will you come and do us a mural?"

* Still no sign of Fr Adelir Antonio de Carli, the Brazilian priest who ascended into the sky under a column of helium balloons in Paranagua on Monday. Hoping to raise money for a truckers' charity by breaking the record for balloon-assisted flight, he donned a thermal suit, helmet and parachute, was strapped to a seat attached to hundreds of the helium bladders, and, to massed cheering, took off into the air. He was meant to float in the direction of Dourados, 400 miles north, but was blown 30 miles off the Brazilian coast. Fishing boats and helicopters have been looking for him since he was declared missing after eight hours aloft. Friends point out he has a satellite phone and a GPS navigation device – not that the latter will be a whole lot of help in the Atlantic. If you see him, give him a wave.

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