In search of a section

March 5, 1999

Is energy minister John Battle mad? Anarchic comedian Mark Thomas thinks so, and is trying to have the minister sectioned under the Mental Health Act to ensure public safety.

Mr Thomas's latest stunt, for Channel Four's The Mark Thomas Comedy Product, follows a five-minute interview the comedian managed to secure with the former science minister when he gatecrashed a Department of Trade and Industry reception. Mr Thomas raised concerns about arrangements for the removal of a nuclear reactor at the Royal Naval College, in Greenwich. Mr Battle's responses left Mr Thomas very worried.

He has since presented video evidence to a social worker and a GP, and is investigating the possibility of a section.

LOOKING BACK IN ANGER?

The University of Buckingham has teamed up with Hofstra University in the United States to present an international conference on "The Thatcher Years - The Rebirth of Liberty?" Papers are invited for the conference - which takes place at Hofstra, in Hempstead, New York, at the end of March 2000 and in Buckingham a week later - on more than 50 topics ranging from Thatcher and Totalitarianism to Feminist Perspectives on Thatcher. And if that is not frightening enough, Lady Thatcher and her former press secretary, Sir Bernard Ingham, have agreed to participate.

GRIEVOUS VERBAL HARM

It may mean "scanty" to the Oxford English Dictionary but the word "niggardly" was a big deal for black student Amelia Rideau from the University of Wisconsin. When she heard her professor use it in class, she began to cry and ran from the room, later filing a complaint.

She has asked the faculty senate to pass a proposed code to punish professors who use words that might offend, whether they intend to or not.

Some professors back the code as a way of empowering students, but others deride it as a curb on free speech. History professor John Sharpless said if "niggardly" goes, "what other words are to be purged from our language: thespian? philatelist?" THIS WON'T HURT A BIT

It is good to renew old student acquaintances. Scottish secretary Donald Dewar, opening a Glasgow University conference recently, recalled an anaesthetist preparing him for an operation say that they had met at Glasgow. As he went under, Mr Dewar heard the anaesthetist said:

"You were expelling me for life from the university union."

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