Letter O

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Everybody has opinions: I have them, you have them. And we are all told from the moment we open our eyes, that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Well, that's horsepuckey, of course. We are not entitled to our opinions; we are entitled to our informed opinions. Without research, without background, without understanding, it's nothing.

Harlan Ellison

In an interview on Political Correctness in a Sci-Fi Buzz archive. To Mr Ellison's opinion can be added that of Jerry Coyne writing his own "opinion" of a recent New York Times op-ed piece by Senator Sam Brownback (during a recent Republican presidential debate, when the moderator asked nine candidates to raise their hands if they "didn't believe in evolution," Brownback's was one of three elevated).
Professor Coyne: Brownback is surely entitled to say that science can't tell us we should behave, but is he also entitled to misrepresent the central principle of biology? An opinion is an opinion, but it's not a very good one when based on "facts" that just aren't so.

The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

Isaac Asimov

In January 1980 in a column for Newsweek.

Organic life, we are told, has developed gradually from the protozoön to the philosopher, and this development, we are told, is indubitably an advance. Unfortunately it is the philosopher, not the protozoön, who gives us this assurance.

Bertrand Russell

In "Mysticism and Logic".
There really wasn't much that Bertrand Russell didn't have an opinion about. Curiously, he revealed that the one man who could outstare him1 was CEM Joad, who enjoyed fame as a panel member of the BBC's Brains Trust radio programme. Joad was fond of delaying the start of his answers with his catchphrase "It depends what you mean by..."

Twenty-five years ago I wrote to you to say that the country was over-populated and that people ought to have fewer babies.

  You didn't publish my letter. Now look what's happened.

J.G. Riddall.
Bradwill, Sheffield.

J.G. Riddall in "The Guardian".

Roy Calne FRS doubtless agrees with the writer of this letter

Talking of patriotism, what humbug it is; it is a word which always commemorates a robbery. There isn't a foot of land in the world which doesn't represent the ousting and re-ousting of a long line of successive owners.

Mark Twain

In "A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court" (1889).
"By the Mark, Twain" (Samuel Clemens) wrote just as vigorously.

In taking possession of a state the conqueror should well reflect as to the harsh measures that may be necessary and then execute them at a single blow ... Cruelties should be committed all at once.

Niccolò Machiavelli

In "The Prince" (1513)
As did Machiavelli!

The real reason for the invasion, surely, is that Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, very cheap to exploit, and lies right at the heart of the world's major hydrocarbon resources, what the State Department 60 years ago described as "a stupendous source of strategic power." The issue is not access, but rather control (and for the energy corporations, profit). Control over these resources gives the US "critical leverage" over industrial rivals, to borrow Zbigniew Brezinski's phrase, echoing George Kennan when he was a leading planner and recognized that such control would give the US "veto power" over others. Dick Cheney observed that control over energy resources provides "tools of intimidation or blackmail" — when in the hands of others, that is. We are too pure and noble for those considerations to apply to us, so true believers declare — or more accurately, just presuppose, taking the point to be too obvious to articulate.

Noam Chomsky

In an interview ("Iraq: yesterday, today, and tomorrow") with Michael Albert on ZNet on 27 December 2006.

In 1980, Desmond Morris created a special body language for the film, Quest for Fire. Filming did not proceed smoothly — one of the main problems was with the circus elephants, who so resented having to wear toupees to impersonate mammoths that they took industrial action and trampled their tent to the ground. 14 years on, Morris retains a taste for creative casting and the cinematic challenge. One can only guess at the indignities suffered by Wendy ... who ... endured sex three times a day for three weeks with a camera inside her, the better to capture on film the miracle of female orgasm. In the event, Wendy was remarkably accommodating (for £12,000 — probably a good deal more than the going rate for a wig-wearing pachyderm — who wouldn't be?) and was keen to stress that she and her husband Tony are not exhibitionists or bonking bimbos.

Judy Rumbold

In a TV column called Champ of the Chimps (1994) reviewing "The Biology of Love".

18 cameramen worked on the Biology of Love, part of Desmond Morris's series the Human Animal (BBC 1), Joey and Jeff and Jonathan and Jeremy and so forth. One of them must be exceptionally dinky and double-jointed like a human flue brush or a ferret. And brave! I mean, suppose he got stuck down there? Joey — I like to think it was Joey — boldly went where, one suspects, all too many men have been before and came back with film of a female orgasm.

The Biology of Love is the one you have been waiting for and I don't know how you can look me in the eye. It is about human courtship and coupling or, as Desmond Morris puts it, "The eye-up, the pick-up and the chat-up." Leading, of course, to the cock up. Like the human penis which, apparently, doubles in length during intercourse, (who does all this measuring?) it was ludicrously long and with far less excuse.

My son is a TV researcher and, watching the Biology of Love, I worry for the lad. "Careful research in certain night clubs," said Desmond Morris, who tends not to see the joke under his own nose, "has revealed that, the closer girls are to their moment of ovulation, the skimpier their costumes will be." If ever I heard a contradiction in terms, it is "careful research in night clubs."

Nancy Banks-Smith

In a TV column called At work on an egg (1994) also reviewing "The Biology of Love".


1  A fact that simultaneously annoyed and embarrassed him.