John Walsh: btw

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The Independent Online

* Environmental insight of the week comes from Shlomo Benizri, an Israeli MP, who blames homosexuality for bad weather. Israel and its neighbours have been hit by six earthquakes in a few months, and, during a debate in parliament, Mr Benizri struck. "Why do earthquakes happen?" he enquired. "One reason is the things to which the Knesset gives legitimacy – to sodomy." Israel's religious right objected to a recent ruling, that same-sex couples can adopt children. With spooky synchronicity, the first quakes hit the region two days later. "God says, you shake your genitals where you are not supposed to, and I will shake the world in order to wake you up," said Shlomo, calling for a repeal of the law. Goodness. It must be hard for gay people, to discover their own creator is homophobic.

* The Home Secretary wants to see more weapon-detecting equipment at school gates. But what if it's the teachers, not the children, who are packing heat? Police in Romania are investigating maths teacher Jane Ilie for pulling a gun and shooting a boy for being rude to a fellow pupil. Mr Ilie (Jane is a boy's name in the Craiova region) is 58 and apparently objected to a student calling a girl "You goat". Confronting the miscreant, Ilie said, "How do you want this to end? Do you want me to beat you or shoot you?" Then he took a rubber-bullet gun from his pocket and shot the scholar in the hand. Asked by police if he thought this was taking discipline a little far, he claimed the gun went off by accident as he transferred it from pocket to briefcase. As you do, during a dull lesson in calculus.

* Computer scientists in the Foscari University, Venice, have programmed machines that can learn from their mistakes – looking back, for instance, after a bad decision, to see what their best strategy should have been. Now, scientists have discovered that the machines work better if they're programmed to experience a sense of regret at what went wrong, or failed to happen. But will it really help them become perfect rational beings, if, in between bouts of robotic efficiency, they spend their time weeping about the past, sighing, consuming too much chocolate and listening to Tom Waits records?

* If you think the nanny state is getting a bit intrusive, don't move to Devon. Torbay council has embarked on a "grot-busting" exercise to smarten up the town, sending letters to homeowners telling them to smarten up their houses by September or face a £1,000 fine. It was a nasty shock for Edgar and Marianne Lawrence, 74 and 79, being bullied, by post, over matters of decor. "I always thought an Englishman's home is his castle," complained Mr Lawrence, who is chairman of a residents' association." The council are proud of their campaign, modelled on a scheme that has transformed 350 buildings in Hastings. But how far will such coercive improvement go? "When you've finished painting the front door, your car could do with a wash. And that son of yours could be smartened up a bit..."