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A bone to pick over rib of beef

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This column's last task of the year is to reflect on the sad mindsets now being unveiled by some government ministers. One example will suffice, since it means that my Boxing Day rib of beef is cancelled. The minister responsible for this, Jack Cunningham, admits that the risk of catching something nasty from meat on the bone may be as low as one in a billion; nevertheless he bosses us about as though we are children. Fair enough, you may say, he has statutory responsibilities, and no matter how small the risk, better be safe than sorry.

There is just one little problem with this defence, which is Dr Cunningham's publicly expressed attitude to health and safety in an environmental context. He has always been a great supporter of Windscale/Sellafield, the nuclear power facility. In this capacity, he gave public support at the inquiry into plans by Nirex to dig a deep hole at Sellafield, into which would be deposited lethal nuclear waste. He was confident that the risk of contamination was acceptable. And what was the risk statistic, accepted by Nirex, that something would go wrong? One in a million. Dr Cunningham's breathtaking hypocrisy is matched only by Nurse Harman giving people in wheelchairs a kicking, while assuring them that it is for their own good.

But now something more cheerful, a book recommendation for the long break. Questioning the Millennium, by Stephen Jay Gould (Jonathan Cape, £12.99), tells you all you need to know about the change from apocalypticism to calendrics, the author wearing his learning lightly and never ceasing to stimulate. It is a life-affirming, wise, funny and scholarly review of a subject which has loomed large in public consciousness in 1997. The only missing point is the discovery announced this autumn, that Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was not a carpenter but . . . an architect. See you next year.

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