Once again we have the Prince of Wales to thank for alerting us to the latest apocalypse that scientists are planning to unleash upon mankind. Having attacked GM foods in the past, and after much hand-wringing over how scientists are reducing the world to a 'laboratory of life', the Prince has turned his attention to nanotechnology, the ability to manipulate matter at scales of a nanometre (a billionth of a metre).
Dig up the cricket pitch and chain yourself to the railings. Fling yourself in front of the monarch's horse. For the time has come to campaign for the release of Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare. You may hate the man and think him undeserving of your time and effort – but believe me, an injustice is being perpetrated.Archer is up for parole pretty soon, but he won't get it if David Blunkett and the Home Office have their way.
Everyone knows that the Earth is not at the centre of the universe and that mankind has descended from the apes. But what about this: according to the latest estimates, we share 98.8 per cent of our DNA with the chimpanzees. What distinguishes us from our closest living relative is due to a 1.2 per cent genetic distance.Now the race is on to decipher the chimp genome, a draft of which will be published later this year.
One way to throw an astrologer into confusion – well, even more confusion than that under which they normally labour – is to find a new planet. When Clyde Tombaugh spotted Pluto in 1930, the third oldest profession found itself in a tizzy. So when a tenth planet, beyond Pluto, was announced a few months ago, the astrologers again let out a collective groan and started redrawing their charts. But it isn't just the stargazing charlatans who were bothered by the new discovery; the rest of us were just as bemused, not by the planet itself but by its name.
I'm rather hoping that some of the stories which appeared in Science Fiction Adventures during the early 1960s don't come true. Though its title suggests otherwise, SFA was actually quite an intellectual magazine. There, many of J.G. Ballard's stories first appeared, including his brilliant The Drowned World, which predicted global warming and seriously rising sea levels. My own The Sundered Worlds foresaw the discovery of black holes and first offered the term 'multiverse' to describe an infinity of alternate versions of our own universe, nesting side by side but unaware of the others' presence.
Scientists are not interested in facts. What they like is ignorance. They mine it, eat it, attack it – choose the metaphor you prefer – and in the process they keep discovering more ignorance. Every answer leads to a set of new questions. The past few years have seen a once-in-an-aeon explosion of new knowledge about the human body and mind, as a consequence of our becoming the first creature in four billion years to read our own genetic recipe.
Why would anyone want to write an opera libretto? The words are generally held to be at the service of the music, relegated therefore to second place, so what would make any self-respecting writer choose to offer up their skills to the peremptory demands of a composer?The reason is probably quite simply because it's something else, another way of stringing words together that can take them into an entirely different dimension.
Until quite recently, if it could be found at all in shops, the Ecologist magazine, which I edit, would invariably have been wedged somewhere between Motor Digest and Computer World at the far end of the lowest shelf in a magazine rack. That may have had something to do with the magazine itself. But not exclusively. Survival of the planet, it goes without saying, is the ultimate priority. If only half the reports on the state of the world are true, then logically we should all be environmentalists.
If you ever get to Belgrade Zoo, don't miss the snake house. There, in nicely heated tanks, you will see two rather fearsome-looking pythons, one named Warren and the other Madeleine. The names of Bill Clinton's secretaries of state – Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright – will not be forgotten quickly in the capital of the former Yugoslavia. Seeing the two pythons slithering in their tanks reminded me of the murderous foreign policy of the Clinton administration and the enthusiastic support it received from New Labour.
In his essay 'Politics and the English Language' (1946), George Orwell laments the corruption of the English language in postwar society. Everywhere he finds pompous phrases designed to sound weighty ('render inoperative', meaning 'break'); Latin- or Greek-based words where simpler words will do ('ameliorate' for 'improve', 'clandestine' for 'secret'); words which have lost their meaning ('fascism', meaning 'something not desirable'); padding to give an impression of depth ('this is a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind'); clichés ('ring the changes on', 'play into the hands of', 'toe the line', 'explore every avenue').
They say that if you can remember where it was you had your first skunk, you probably haven't been smoking enough. But I can, quite distinctly. It was at the party of the daughter of a well-known literary agent, in the basement of their house in Notting Hill; the year, give or take, was 1991 and I was just getting ready to leave – having failed to pull again, probably – when I was stopped in my tracks by the most extraordinary smell.
The following statement appears on the website of Carlton, owners of ITV: 'The company does not discriminate between employees or potential employees on grounds of sex, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, colour, race, ethnic origin, age or disability.' Unless, it would appear, you happen to be white. As a freelance print journalist with an eye on one day moving into the broadcasting side, my attention was grabbed when I recently saw a recruitment advertisement for a funded training scheme in television news.
Ross Clark forecasts that in spite of its new £150 million headquarters the Met Office will still get the weather wrongGuests invited to the official opening of the Met Office's spanking new £150 million headquarters outside Exeter should take with them an umbrella. Or perhaps a sunhat. Or a thick coat. Or maybe just bung your entire wardrobe in the back of the car just in case. One thing is for sure: you won't get a lot of guidance from the weather forecast.
The euro is back in the news and, if we accept conventional wisdom, that is bad for New Labour and good for the forces of conservatism. The Blair
If dons don't churn out books and articles – whether they want to or not – they will lose funding. Rachel Johnson wonders whether that's what education is about Our rendezvous is the new laptop-and-latte bar on the first floor of Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford. The history don is a few minutes late and this gives me time to reread an extraordinary document, which reveals that he (and thousands like him all over the country) is being subjected to a production quota for published work that makes Stalin's five-year plans look positively market-driven.