Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Persecution of a Truth-Teller Continues

No free speech about blacks in either the USA or the UK:

"The Nobel Laureate who provoked an international row by apparently claiming that black people are less intelligent than whites left Britain in disgrace yesterday after being suspended from his job.

James Watson, in London to promote a new book, was forced to return to New York after Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Long Island, relieved him of his duties because of his apparent views. It follows a hellish week for the 79-year-old geneticist who helped to unravel the structure of DNA more than 50 years ago.


Note the comments attached to the article excerpted above.

There is also an insightful comment from London's "Evening Standard" below about the silencing of Watson:

"No contrary arguments or evidence need be offered, and no debate entered into (perhaps precisely because debate is feared?) There's an element of blind panic here. It just must not be so, it must be strictly unthinkable. And that's not science, it's prejudice. The disgrace here falls not on the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA but on the supposed guardians of scientific values in Exhibition Road [where Watson was due to speak]

Encroaching tyranny

The television chef Prue Leith has called for pupils to be barred from leaving school at lunchtime to prevent them buying junk food. Ms Leith, chairwoman of the School Food Trust, the Government's programme charged with improving school meals in England, argued that locking the school gates would ensure children ate healthier meals or packed lunches rather than burgers or chips. "If you can keep them inside, then you can begin to educate them about eating," she said. "It's a drastic measure but we are facing a drastic situation. We are denying children the real pleasure of eating and cooking good food. She added: "I agree that I am being rather nanny-ish but I think children need some nannying," she added.

She also advised parents to give pocket money to children in one go on a Saturday, rather than in instalments through the week so they would buy a long-lasting item such as a CD or baseball cap rather than snacks or chocolate.

Only 40 per cent of children eat school dinners. The majority opt for packed lunches or street food. Jamie Oliver's high-profile campaign to improve school nutrition during the Channel 4 series in which he exposed notoriously unhealthy Turkey Twizzlers, has not solved the problem. In many cases, hot meals have been replaced by packed lunches which, said Ms Leith, tended to be less healthy because their ingredients had been bought on supermarket shopping trips when parents were swayed by "pester power".

A new drive by the School Food Trust to encourage children to try the healthier meals and raise the number of pupil diners above 50 per cent got under way yesterday. The Million Meals campaign was launched by Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, at St Augustine's Secondary School in Kilburn, north-west London.


Leave working tipplers alone

By John Mortimer (creator of "Rumpole")

The true sickness of our times is not that we eat too much, smoke cigarettes or knock off a bottle of wine in an evening. It is the ever-growing tendency of medical boards, government officials, politicians and other groups who seem to have nothing better to do than tell us how to lead our lives. It is as if we are a nation of miscreant mortals who have to be constantly lectured on how to behave.

We have now been told by the Liverpool's Centre for Public Health that the middle classes consume too much wine in their homes. At dining tables in leafy towns and affluent suburbs, too many hard-working professionals are enjoying "hazardous" if not "harmful" amounts of alcohol night after night. British Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo seized on these findings as another chance to boss us all about. "Most of these are not young people. They are 'everyday' drinkers who have drunk too much for too long," she warns darkly. "This has to stop."

It was in the summer that the Government first suggested it was planning to do something about middle-class drinkers who enjoy a bottle of wine at home in the evening. Now action seems even more likely. What can we expect? An army of local council officials with breathalysers and clipboards knocking on our doors as soon as the sun passes the yardarm, and then returning to see if we are splashing too much cognac about after supper? Perhaps they will kill two birds with one stone, and take advantage of us in our Falstaffian merriment to snoop round our houses. They wouldn't approve of us smoking in our homes, either. Any of us who are caught might be banished from our own drawing rooms into the garden.

The absurdity of a government that allows thousands to become infected and die from superbugs in filthy hospitals, and then worries about how much wine we drink at supper in our homes, should be obvious.

Perhaps the situation needs clarifying. Yes, drinking is a possible danger to your health. But then so is rock climbing, sailing, deep-sea diving, parachuting and motor racing. Are all these activities to be forbidden by law because they are possibly dangerous?

Drinking is legal and the Government must realise that you are entitled to pursue any activity that you enjoy, even if it is at some risk. Nothing seems able to persuade our public officials of the true limits of government. Governments are there to regulate the economy, provide public services and make sure that the drains are working. But we are run by a bunch of snivelling puritans in a government that has made a speciality of poking its nose into every corner of our lives and trampling all over our civil liberties. In my view, many of them would benefit from a drink or two.

It is true that alcohol turns many of us into crashing bores. But a politician who enjoys his drink is likely to be far more fun and relaxed about life. George Brown, Harold Wilson's permanently drunk foreign secretary, may have overdone it, but at least he left us with the story - almost certainly apocryphal - of the evening reception at which he approached a figure in a purple dress for a dance. "There are three reasons why I will not dance with you," came the reply. "One, you are very drunk. Two, they are playing my national anthem. And three, I am the Archbishop of Lima."

But it is not only alcohol that they want to stop us drinking at home. Fresh milk is also out. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs this week said we should be swapping revolting UHT milk for fresh pints - it would save on refrigeration and cut down on carbon emissions. So when the officials come round as we are passing around the peanuts with our pre-dinner drinks, they will want to poke about in our fridge in the national interest.

What else they find will, of course, become the subject of vital inquiry. Eggs, streaky bacon and sausages are serious causes of obesity, which might jeopardise our chances of being treated on the National Health Service.

Is there any reason why being fat should be regarded as some sort of sin? Shakespeare's Julius Caesar had, it seems to me, an extremely sensible view: "Let me have men about me that are fat: Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o'nights; Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous." Winston Churchill, who brought us through the war, was fat. Fat Falstaff is one of Shakespeare's most memorable and likeable characters.

Food without wine is an unattractive prospect and few people in France or Italy would indulge in it. It is true that the 18th century habit of drinking seven or eight bottles of port after dinner could be thought excessive, but puritanism is not the answer. This behaviour could be avoided if the young of today devoted themselves to the acquisition of some useful life skills, such as the best way to enjoy a bottle of fine wine and how to identify the precise point at which it is time to refuse another glass - a subject that should, I believe, be included in the high school syllabus, with the study of champagne reserved for A-level.

Learning to drink properly can be a painful, although necessary experience. In my first term at Oxford, my friend Henry Winter and I managed to drink several bowls of sherry and then boil blue Bols and creme de menthe in an electric kettle and drink the horrible result. Since then, no gin, lime, Bols, sherry or creme de menthe has passed my lips - champagne has overwhelmingly replaced them in my affections.

But now the government would like to see off my pleasure altogether. Well, I am too old to take any notice. This morning at 6am, I started as I always do with a glass of champagne. I am writing this article with a glass of white wine by my side. And I hope to drink some more at dinner. I have only this to say to our rulers: "Get on with your jobs and leave the rest of us to eat, drink and be merry."



In Correspondence in this week's Nature, John Shepherd from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton and colleagues challenge the scheme proposed by James Lovelock and Chris Rapley to help the planet cure itself from the disease of global warming.

For those of you who missed it, a couple of weeks ago, Lovelock and Rapley put forward a geo-engineering solution to climate change in Nature, which involves the installation of large vertical pipes in the ocean that would pump nutrient-rich water from depth to the surface. This, they said, would enhance the growth of algae in the upper ocean, which in turn would transport more carbon to the deep sea.

Now, Shepherd and colleagues claim that the proposed scheme is based on false assumptions. They say the scheme would not lead to enhanced storage of carbon in the deep ocean below 1,000m and in deep ocean sediments, which is necessary for effective long term removal of carbon from the atmosphere. Instead, they maintain the scheme could actually worsen global warming by bringing high levels of particulate carbon back to the surface, where it could be released to the atmosphere. The authors also argue that such large scale engineering solutions could harm fragile ecosystems.

Peter Williams from the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University raised some of these same issues on the blog here last week, and also challenged the feasibility of the scheme from an engineering perspective.


Alan Coren RIP. I shed a little tear when I heard of the passing of a wonderful man whom I have often read in the pages of the now also deceased "Punch" magazine. "The Times" says it all. There are a few samples of Coren's gentle humour here

Blair gets it: "Islamist extremism is similar to "rising fascism in the 1920s and 1930s", Tony Blair said last night in his first major speech since leaving office. At a prestigious charity dinner in New York, the former Prime Minister said that public figures who blamed the rise of fundamentalism on the policies of the West were "mistaken". He told the audience, which included New York governor Eliot Spitzer and mayor Michael Bloomberg, that Iran was the biggest exporter of the ideology, and that the Islamic republic was prepared to "back and finance terror" to support it. "Out there in the Middle East, we've seen... the ideology driving this extremism and terror is not exhausted. On the contrary it believes it can and will exhaust us first," he said. "Analogies with the past are never properly accurate, and analogies especially with the rising fascism can be easily misleading but, in pure chronology, I sometimes wonder if we're not in the 1920s or 1930s again. "This ideology now has a state, Iran, that is prepared to back and finance terror in the pursuit of destabilising countries whose people wish to live in peace."

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