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 tree.
        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
<http://www.human-nature.com/free-associations/holland.html> 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.

R