Observing the Science for the People 134-strong list, mainly 
USA leftists, I see strenuous insults tossed against persons, and by 
implication some parties, disliked for e.g wanting to discuss what to 
do about racism.  I observe that the very concept of racial 
differences in intelligence provokes drastic insults.

	I ask those concerned to lay aside for 10 min their strong 
disputes on genetics, if only to pay due respect to Grandmother 
Smith, practical geneticist of a Sydney suburb, who noticed a novel 
apple mutant.  I claim she has done more good than all the 
gene-jockeys put together, and I can still buy cool-stored Grannie 
Smiths in this height of our summer (tho' they're not as good, 
long-stored, as that more recent mutant Braeburn fresh).  In her 
honour I recount some practical genetics and urge theorists to get 
out more and smell the avocados.

			Avocado Mann

		[broadcast Radio NZ 'As I Remember'  30-11-03]

	One Saturday in 1972 I found myself during a door-to-door 
collection at a 1920s bungalow, surrounded by much more modern 
commercial buildings in the Auckland suburb of Browns Bay.  Deferred 
maintenance was evident; the occupant turned out to be a dear simple 
elderly soul refusing all offers from
would-be 'developers' - she was indeed going to see out her life 
where she had always lived.
	Looming over her bungalow was a 50-ft avocado tree, dripping 
with large green cannonballs.
	I had moved into my own Auckland home just a couple year 
earlier, to find in a smallish backyard an evergreen tree which 
bloomed profusely but never bore any fruit.  The 3-volume textbook 
'The Evergreen Orchard' told me that this was an avocado  -  which 
I'd never seen, being from Wellington  -  and that only 1 in 10,000 
seedling avocado trees was fruitful.  Grafting onto a mature tree 
small twigs from one of the few fruitful strains Hass, Fuerte etc was 
said to be difficult, so I'd purged the tree.
	I asked the old woman how her tree came to be.  "I just 
planted a seed in the back yard when I was a kiddie  -  same as you 
do with a peach stone", she replied.  "Nothing to it" she assured me.
	I tried to tell her what an unusual event had befallen her. 
She proved unable to grasp the concept that an improbable blessing 
had come her way.  I tried a little too hard to expound 1-in-10,000. 
I even went so far as to point out that almost everything of interest 
that happens is extremely improbable  -  me, for instance; she then 
became unable to conceal her conclusion that I was crazy.
	I gave up on this project of scientific education, and 
switched to a request.  "My colleague Professor Richard 'Mr plant 
viruses' Matthews has a couple dozen avocado seedlings on his holiday 
property and can't get any grafting wood of the fruitful strains from 
the commercial growers.   Might you
allow him to prune some twigs off your tree, please?"
	"Why does he bother  -  you just plant an avocado seed and it 
gives fruit like mine", she repeated.  Nevertheless she undertook to 
humour this other deluded person I'd mentioned.

	A few years later Matthews told me he'd gone round and 
accosted the old woman.  She had again been unable to understand the 
need for grafting, and had again appeared to think she was dealing 
with a loony.  As he was by then one of the two FRSs in NZ at the 
time, I felt in good company.
	He had struck it lucky with his grafting.  Also he mentioned 
he had one such grafted tree at his Auckland residence, producing 
very large fruit, but also very bland; herbs, vinegar etc soon take 
care of that.
	In 1981 I met a big-time million-trees-annually nurseryman, 
who upon hearing of it wanted to extend propagation of this 'Browns 
Bay' avocado.  I took him to Matthews' house: in deep porous volcanic 
soil, that colossal net of fine roots had grown a new 50-ft tree, "a 
major producer of human food October thru April" as Matthews put it. 
He, unlike the old woman who in a sense created this mutant, had no 
difficulty understanding why we wanted a dozen or so twigs off his 
	The prof had just learned from his colleagues in plant 
science that, during the intervening decade or so, new avocado 
seedlings in NZ had become fruitful about 1 in 2 !   This shift of 4 
orders of magnitude, from 10^-4 to 10^0, intrigued me.  I suggested 
some transposon might have brought in a small package of DNA 
conferring the trait of fruitfulness.  He dismissed this idea on the 
sole ground that I'd not given any evidence that this had happened to 
avocado;  but he had no alternative idea.  Ah well  - at least he 
didn't deny the phenomenon on the ground that no mechanism had been 
envisaged (a common fallacy).  And of course he didn't deny that 
horizontal gene transfer occurs in nature; indeed some plant viruses, 
on which he was the leading expert, are among the best-known vectors 
for HGT.

	The avocado is a peculiar plant, changing sex daily and, for 
some period of history, so lacking fruitfulness that its survival as 
a species looks like another puzzle for students to research.  But 
for seeds to grow into fruitful trees (most of them inferior little 
twisted fruit, I should perhaps add  -  'my' event remains valuable) 
when they hardly ever had borne any fruit at all, looked to me like 
micro-evolution in action.
	I assumed for many years that the variety should be named 
after the dear old woman who thought I was crazy.  Then I realised it 
should be named, if after anyone, for the person who first brought it 
to the notice of science.  I don't know whether this has yet been 
done.  I continue to sool nurserymen onto this valuable cultivar for 
grafting wood.  Matthews FRS has passed away but his 'town tree' is 
still looming over his former house, dripping with green cannonballs.

			*  *  *

	The psychology of email was discussed a decade ago by 
Floridean prof Norman Holland
<> which 
still seems right to me.

I continue to reflect on this mode of communication 'email'.  I don't 
claim to understand it very well, but I do notice, after some 10^5 
msgs since Oct 98, some generalities.

>	1  It brings out the worst in people  -  especially total 
>strangers who think they can vent their spleen without risk of ever 
>having to deal in person with any retaliation.  More surprisingly, 
>some people who do expect to deal with me in person send 
>astonishingly rude messages.  The psychology of this inherently 
>distorting medium deserves study.
>	2  I remain sure of The Mann/Chomsky Lemma   -   email is far 
>too easily sent in ill-considered draft form, and should always be 
>slept on if possible. 
>	3  Trendies, including some who should know better, insist 
>that it is a low-reliability, low-significance throw-away thing like 
>an ansafone message. 
>	I cannot see why nothing serious can be sent by email.  It 
>does have the potential, doesn't it?
>	4  The extent of privacy is unclear.  To be told by a senior 
>academic that every email ever sent is stored in some central depot 
>exceeds even my capacity for paranoia.  On the other hand I accept 
>that if the Security Intelligence Service insist on reading my email 
>they probably will be able to do so without my knowledge.  The loose 
>analogy of a postcard may well be appropriate.  Please keep an eye 
>out for availability of Pretty Good Privacy or similar encryption 
>method using large prime numbers, and let me know if such becomes 
>workable for us.
>	5  The scope for disinformation, e.g regarding 
>gene-tampering, is under-rated.  I resent this but am not clear what 
>to do about it.

	When you become interested in the psychology of email, you 
may find it worthwhile to fetch the long essay by Prof Norman 
Holland's longish essay.  It will help you cope with the various 
outrageous rudenesses which will come at youse sooner or later.
		  Of course those who think he may deserve the label 
'neoFreudian' and hate that theory won't look him up; but I reckon 
he's right.  I have seen a good email list, organised by concerned 
Cornell grad students, wrecked by two PR agents for gene-tampering. 
Peculiar epidemics of emotion can flame thru this depauperate 
communication medium.  I can just see a junior apprentice of 
Screwtape murmuring smugly 'we have flame-thru' in view of the 
demoralised shambles so quickly developed on e.g 'Science for the 
People' list.
	It is chilling to find educated people saying that almost 
everyone will take 'whites are more intelligent than people of color' 
to mean 'all whites are more intelligent than all people of color'; 
and that fear of this furphy is reason to abandon research, and 
discussion, on racial tendencies in various mental capacities.  Am I 
a mere liberal for wanting compensatory action for an identifiable 
group with innate disadvantage?  Especially those who say 'money is 
inherited' should have no difficulty in grasping the world-leading 
epidemiology of Ian Pryor on Tokelau & some other Polynesians 
migrated to NZ compared with stayathomes with far less heart disease, 
obesity, and other medical strife.  Amusingly, Ian was to the fore in 
the moral indignation at the pre-dawn raids on illegal overstayers by 
the Kirk govt (1974)  -  they bid fair to mix up his sample groups 
migrants v. stayathomes!  His conclusions about racial differences in 
metabolism led the world, and to say 'race is a very vague thing' 
does not abolish their validity.  Special help with diet & exercise 
would seem warranted for those recent Polynesian immigrants to the 
overdeveloped decadence of NZ.
	Less amusingly, the same radicals who deny the meaning of 
race for some purposes are by far the most enthusiastic racists when 
advocating that Maoris be given hundreds of millions of dollars of 
public assets in futile attempt to expiate vague white guilt.
  	But anyhow, such heat & confusion has been injected into the 
threads on race & mental abilities suggests that abandonment, at 
least a truce, might be wise now.  Step back, walk outside, and smell 
the avocados, asking what good you can do by applying science  - 
preferably in widely-feasible vernacular ways.