AMERICANS love a gift shop. Even the most dry academic institution, government department or museum will be sure to boast some sort of store that lets it all hang out for the privileged, from Central Intelligence Agency shot-glasses to lettered alumni slippers. And not only do Americans love to buy the stuff, they flaunt it, too. Fifty-year-olds scoot about in cars emblazoned with the decals of a university they attended 30 years ago. Even President Bill Clinton is not above a chunky pair of White House cuff-links on occasion. The National Atomic Museum at the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is no exception. But its own special combination of kitsch Americana and Internet retailing is producing some extreme results. A quick tour of the museum's Web site 'proudly offers several items you won't be able to find anywhere else' and gifts 'guaranteed to start a conversation'. They certainly have in Tokyo at least. Spiralling protests from peace groups there have forced the museum to withdraw its 'exclusive' line of atomic bomb ear-rings - replicas of the 'Fat Man' and 'Little Boy' bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II - but only once current stocks run out. It would be nice to assume the protests shocked the institution into undergoing a bad taste examination. Apparently not. Still on show is an 'atomic tie' and a memorial plaque celebrating the 50th anniversary of the bombing missions led by the 509th Composite Group in 'their honour and to the lives they saved'. A hanging brass commemorative medallion is similarly plugged: 'Be sure to hang this beautiful souvenir ornament on your Christmas tree this winter'. While stocks last . . . One piece of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) memorabilia that money cannot buy, however, will soon be hanging on the wall of administrator Mildred Parsons. She has been given a medal of achievement for 60 years' service to the bureau - in keeping with the tradition set by the feared J Edgar Hoover, whose files of highly embarrassing secrets ensured he was also able to serve six presidents unchallenged. 'I have always been proud of my ability to keep a secret,' Mrs Parsons, 86, reportedly told colleagues, with considerable understatement. What is intriguing in Mrs Parson's case is that she has not had one day off sick in her entire career - also in the fine tradition of FBI elites appearing something more than human - and, rain, snow or shine, turns up for work before 7am each day. She puts her good health down to ballroom dancing and a flu-shot every year. Conservative presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole could be forced into the memento business herself if reports of her flagging campaign are anything to go by. Election 2000 is proving to be the most expensive in history and cash has never been more important. It is an all-or-nothing situation, with donors ever-keen to back winners. It is a time-worn political theory here. The more you have, the more you can make. Republic front-runner George W Bush has salted away a campaign war-chest that has already topped a record US$52 million (HK$404 million), while former vice-president Dan 'potatoe' Quayle has dropped out of the race citing a lack of funds. Washington gossip columns suggest Mrs Dole, the only woman contesting, may be next to fold as she starts to feel the pinch. The Washington Post claims her husband Bob, the former Republican leader who battled President Clinton in the last election, has been forced to work the phones day and night from their pad in the salubrious Watergate complex. Things got so desperate that at the end of a fund-raising luncheon in Columbia, South Carolina, earlier last week her staff started pulling apart the flower arrangements and selling them at US$5 dollars a bunch. Rumours are even starting that Mr Dole may be forced to produce a new volley of Viagra advertisements, the sort of political publicity money just cannot buy.