Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

I found myself twice debating with Ottilia Saxl, director of the Institute of Nanotechnology, on the radio last week. She assured listeners that I was quite wrong to imply that big business was behind the technology. Governments. she soothed, not corporations, are providing the grants. So what? Governments make bad decisions every day, and most of their grants constitute subsidies to big business in any case. But it's not true. This year alone, multinationals, including arms manufacturers, have already invested more than $1 billion in nanotechnology. Bill Joy, chief scientist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems and top of America's technological pecking order, told the Ecologist magazine recently, `We are opening Pandora's most terrifying box, yet people have barely begun to take notice. We are designing technologies that might literally consume ecosystems. If that is the message of countless nano-experts, it doesn't seem extravagant to ask for a pause while we assess the potential dangers of a technology that makes genetic engineering look as though it be belongs in the Stone Age.

I am an amateur farmer. That is to say, I live on a farm and when I'm not otherwise engaged I try very hard to contribute. If you have livestock, it goes without saying that you can't farm part-time, so my farm is managed by Peter Daw, a man of many talents. Peter has a natural affinity with animals of every sort. He can walk through a herd of strapping South Devon cows and negotiate directly with the bull - a terrifying creature at the best of times, with rippling muscles and two very deliberate horns. My bull joined the herd when he was stranded during the footand-mouth crisis, and since then I've taken a few tentative steps towards befriending him. Unfortunately, he's less interested, though I blame that not on my own urban background but on that of my two dogs, neither of which, until they accompanied me to Devon, had ever seen a cow, let alone bitten one. It's become something of a ritual; I approach the bull, my dogs annoy him, he rightly turns on them, and they run to me for protection. The effect is that I find myself more often than not leaping over hedgerows with an agility that would embarrass Sadler's Wells. Until two weeks ago, it seemed hopeless. But then, to my mock disappointment, one of the fiercer of my cows dropped dead. It was blood-poisoning, I'm told, from a thom, and she left behind her a four-day-old calf. So now, before dipping into my computer every morning, I visit her with a bucket of milk and my three-year-old girl, who's named her Poppy. She's put three of my fingers out of business, but in Poppy I can see a key to the herd's heart. Bless that little thom.

Mr Blair is worried that failure to announce early British membership of the euro might be seen as the outcome of `political shenanigans'. But what else could it be? When I asked a member of a pro-euro lobby group if he believed in Gordon Brown's five-tests theory, I was met with a coy grin. There is one test, and that, simply, is a political one: will the pro-euro lobby win over the public? Given the political war that engulfed Europe in the run-up to the real thing in Iraq, the answer has got to be 'no'. And, speaking of shenanigans, I wouldn't bank one penny on Gordon Brown's apparent reluctance to back the euro. …

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