Deborah Orr: Yet more scientific news that has men worried for their reproductive future

It's an area that attracts intellectual and philosophical scrutiny, and rightly so
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The Independent Online

Isn't it weird that there is nothing that is more guaranteed to make humans look absolutely stupid than a nice new scientific advance? The latest War-of-the-Worlds type rush for the airports has come about in reaction to the fairly esoteric-sounding suggestion that it may at some point in the future be possible to assist infertile men in having genetically related children by growing sperm from their bone marrow.

Even this seemingly benign ambition is rather overstated. Scientists have actually created spermatagonial stem cells, which is not to be sneered at as a party piece. But it is not artificial sperm that works - not by a long way. Scientists say that it will take another three to five years even to get the cells to progress to mature sperm in the test tube, at which point the exhaustive process of deciding how and whether to find out if such sperm works and how, if ever, to move forward from that point will only just be about to start in earnest.

There is already wide consensus that this is an ethically tricky area, and the checks and balances are already in place to ensure that advances are responsible. Humans have long been troubled by the prospect of artificial reproduction of all kinds, as is seen in literature ranging from Philip K Dick's Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep to Kazuo Ishiguro's recent bestseller Never Let Me Go. It's an area that attracts and commands intellectual and philosophical scruple, and rightly so.

Still, that small fact is not going to be allowed to spoil anybody's fun. The discovery is a disaster, apparently. Men will be obsolete; lesbians will be roaming the cities in snarling packs, and God will die. (As ever, no one points out to good stuff in such mad scenarios, like not needing to plod on with the endless debate about sex education classes, no one on the planet having to put themselves through the indignity of speed dating any more, and nothing remotely resembling the CSA having to be made to work.)

The worrying thing is that these hysterical rushes to doomy hype are hugely influential. Bush managed actually to restrict stem-cell research in the US almost entirely, which is just Luddite and tragic. Some British lobbying about "chimera" embryos - with this very phrase an unhelpful piece of colourful exaggeration - has been taking on a similar cast.

In reality though, reproductive science is still pretty crude - as many couples over 35 struggling to have a baby will confirm - and reproductive science policing pretty rigorous - as can be seen from this week's final rebuff of the appeal of Natalie Evans, the woman who wanted to have an embryo implanted in her womb against its father's will. This was the right decision, and a fair indication of how very far we are from wanting to make men "obsolete".

Film studies revisited

A terrible blow has been struck against list culture with the revelation in a new list that some of the films that always feature in the old lists are films people are only pretending they have seen.

So what does this new list say? Probably that society has become so fond of shiny new technology that it is intimidated by stuff produced using technology that is "old". People are kidding on that they have seen The Godfather, or Apocalypse Now, unaware that their yearning to be viewed as the sort of person who has seen those films could be addressed simply by hiring them.

Maybe this accounts for the fad for inexplicable remakes, which invariably demonstrate that there is no need to fix things that are not broken. I'll never understand what anyone thought they were doing remaking Alfie, or why no one ever learns from such failures. Hollywood feelers are out at the moment, in an attempt to entice some foolish scriptwriter into jotting down a new and improved version of Nic Roeg's masterpiece Don't Look Now, left. Maybe they'll call the new film Do Look Now, and apply for retrospective permission to retitle the original movie Don't Look Then.

Tony Blair's knackered Third Way limps along to its sad end

Tony Blair is claiming to have become a little demob-happy (though obviously with the restrictions on selling stories of wartime heroics implied by the phrase - it is not one he would be eager to use himself).

He is now, he has announced, feeling he can say certain things that he has not until now been able to say, because of "political correctness". He can say now, for example, that Britain's black communities have only themselves to blame for the violence that is killing and disfiguring their children, and explain that their problems are not social or economic or political but purely "cultural". Clearly it would not have been "politically correct" for the Prime Minister to have said this at an earlier point in his career, because it might have alienated huge numbers of black Labour voters in many safe Labour constituencies (who are probably quite surprised after various heart-felt pledges to learn that they are beyond the reach of politics after all). But now that doesn't matter, because they had 10 years to get with Tony's programme, and they've messed right up on all those great opportunities. It's awful, isn't it, when people just lash out at others for their own failures? It'll be awful too when Tony's no longer around to provide leadership for everyone on how to curb that nasty little habit.

Thank heavens for the property-owning democracy, though, which has thrived so marvellously under Blair that "key workers" are no longer able to purchase a home in 70 per cent of Britain's towns and cities. This means that you can't afford a house if you earn what a newly qualified teacher does, or less. It is quite something to have fostered an economic structure that bears such a magnificently distant resemblance to the social structure it is supposed to serve. But as the Prime Minister likes to point out, all those not sitting right now on property wealth beyond the dreams of Midas have only got themselves to blame, for believing all that crap about affordable homes that John Prescott spouted when Labour first got into power. Gordon Brown will be explaining what he's going to be doing about the housing crisis in May, which I think we all agree will prove to be in the nick of time.

Because it is hard, isn't it, to imagine Gordon hanging on in there awfully long after Tony has waved cheerio. I always like to think of the "succession" part of Blair's "legacy" as being a perfect metaphor for the sterility of what used to be called the Third Way. Combining free-market economics with socially democratic values turned out to be a lot like letting a horse bunk up with a donkey. The resulting mule appeared to have hybrid vigour, but it quickly became apparent that actually, it was the end of the line for one not so happy bunch of comrades.

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