Silly ways to save the world

25th May 2001 at 01:00
Interviews with the weel kent often have a question along the lines of "what would be your first act if you were the leader of the world?" Given that I would be unable to abolish poverty and bigotry with a single act, if I found myself in such an elevated position I would probably aim for something trivial and populist.

So what about this for an opener? All people who walk dogs in public would require to put their names on a register. This list, complete with phone numbers, would be freely available. Any innocent who trod in something nasty could then contact a dog walker - any dog walker, irrespective of whether or not their mutt had been responsible - who would be legally obliged to come round and clean the victim's shoes.

I have to admit that this is a knee-jerk reaction to something that has just happened to me on the beach at St Andrews.

A more considered crusade would be to take on the tobacco industry. I do not know of anyone who became addicted to nicotine when they were old enough to know better, save for a few wheezing oldies who started before the risks were public knowledge. My legislation would be as follows: cigarettes would increase in price to pound;2 each, in one year. All possible help would be offered for addicts to quit in this tim.

With immediate effect, all brand names would be banned and identifiable packaging made illegal. There would thus no longer be any cachet in swaggering up to the ice-cream van to ask for 110 Regal King Size (if such a thing exists). Fags would be available solely from pharmacies, in grey cartons with health warnings.

Smoking is an issue I tackle in class when we're doing the respiratory system in S2. I know what will come up. Someone will mention Great Uncle Billy, who smoked 200 a day from primary 3 and lived to be 105. I counter with the true story of the man who jumped out of an airplane with a parachute that wouldn't open yet somehow managed to survive.

Does that make jumping out of planes with no parachute a good idea?

No, Mr Steele.

Probably the best thing we can teach in early science is an awareness of the need for fair testing and probability. As the squeeze is put on smoking, vested interests will no doubt be putting forward some pretty dubious arguments.

I'd like to think that science teachers will be able to help to show these up for what they are: the rhetorical equivalent of what I stood on in St Andrews.

Gregor Steele would then turn his attention to tonic wine-making monks. Come the revolution . . .

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