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From GM crops to listed buildings explosive opposites are at work

Last week, the panic over wind-blown contamination by GM crops turned out to have been misplaced. Why? Because the little devils have been spurning the wind and hitching a ride into neighbouring organic fields in mud that sticks to the tyres of tractors instead.

No surprise, then, that today's other extravagantly feared pollutant - the euro - has also been creeping into civilisation as we know it by way of unscrupulous minicab drivers, street traders and frequenters of car boot sales. By this means, the serious debate about whether we should join the common currency (which I wrote about last week) has become something of a farce, and concerns about the risk posed to humans by GM crops have been exposed as too little too late. In both cases, attempted prohibition by government has begat the political fiction that a choice is still possible long after it has ceased to be.

This process of de facto adoption in the face of de jure rejection is interesting and constitutes a true phenomenon of our time. Its effects can be detected at all levels of human activity and in all fields of endeavour. In politics, for example, it is glaringly obvious in the contrast between the official stance on immigration and the reality of immigration policy at ports of entry. The same dissonance attends the farcical hunt for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and in the domestic transport policy that persists in trying to resuscitate the moribund railway network when 90 per cent of all journeys begin by starting up a car - a car driven by someone who is likely to be unable to afford to travel by rail anyway.

Nor is this pattern of contradiction confined to the ceaseless spinning and unspinning of government policy. Rather, it stems from the intractable facts of life that govern engineering and the physical world as well. For example, cars, some of which are technically capable of speeds greater than 200 miles an hour, have their engines governed so that they cannot exceed 155mph, but are then allowed onto a road network where all traffic is limited to 70mph. In the same way, though the mobile phone is seen almost as a standard accessory by drivers, they face a vociferous lobby that would like to see their use while driving made illegal.

This pattern of universal success hunted down by legal banishment is neither new nor solely sentient. Behind the Dolby hush of the typical superstore there are forces at work that are inanimate analogues of the battle over cigarette advertising on racing cars. For example, carbonated beverages, found in innumerable retail outlets, conceal a protean clash of forces as well as a breathtaking display of advanced technology. The current CocaCola six-pack simultaneously features high-tech metal and plastic in both tension and compression - the former in the shape of the shrunk-on sheet plastic wrapper that holds the six multipack beverage containers in place, the latter in the shape of the six pressurised recyclable 330ml beverage cans themselves, an explosive combination of opposite forces that no traditional beverage pack can match.

Is there an architectural contrast to match this minor miracle, or indeed an example of early architectural enthusiasm followed by rejection more recent than glass fibre-reinforced cement? Perhaps rusting nail plates need another look, or high alumina cement - if there is any of it left standing.

More fruitful perhaps is a different line of inquiry.

How many householders, overjoyed to learn that their dwelling was listed or located in a conservation area, revised their opinion when they became aware of all the associated costs?

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