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The Double Helix, and Other Stuff

   Somehow I'm just now getting around to reading "The Double Helix," the classic scientific memoir of James D. Watson. It hooks you from the very first line of Chapter One -- "I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood" -- and reveals a scientist unafraid to search for the deepest secrets of life and, in the process, hold his lesser colleagues in contempt. It's great fun. Here's Watson discussing the scientists who refused to believe that the nucleic acid DNA, not some protein molecule, contained the genetic code:

    "Francis...did not worry about these skeptics. Many were cantankerous fools who unfailingly backed the wrong horses. One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid."

    If I continue to read about genomics, I may figure out, within another 20 or 25 years, how the double helix works, how it makes accurate copies of itself, why it has only four chemical bases, why the bases operate in triplets to encode for an amino acid, how the RNA serves as a messenger from the DNA to the ribosome, and so on -- it's beautiful, complicated, but supremely logical, kind of like biology's version of the infield fly rule.

    Now, some highlights from the Morning Paper. Feelin' linky today:

    Obviously the story of the day is the one about the woman who doesn't get off the cellphone even to rob a bank. Was she really talking to someone? Was the cellphone a prop to make her look, somehow, inconspicuous and harmless as she robbed the bank? Or, as I suspect, is she just one of those people who can't stop yammering on the cell? To paraphrase that bumper sticker: Hang Up And Rob.

    I don't think Maureen Dowd is going to be inviting Carolyn See along on the next Girl's Night Out. This review will definitely be the buzz of the next Dowdfest.

    Gene Robinson is excellent today, on the virtues of multiculturalism and the French pretense that there's no such thing: "People of different races, backgrounds, cultures, histories and languages can indeed live together productively and with common purpose. I know that because we do it here in the United States. It's a messy process, because it means we have to argue a lot, and many of us resent all the constant conflict and negotiation that's involved in getting along with one another. But we manage quite well, especially if you compare our society to those, like France, that cover their ears and go "na-na-na-na-na" to avoid hearing complicated truths."

    You have to love Stephen Hunter, one of our ace movie critics, when he writes about the new version of "Pride and Prejudice," starring Keira Knightley:

   "Is it as good as the superb BBC miniseries of 1995 starring Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy and Colin Firth as Darcy? How the hell would I know? Do you think I watched it? Get serious. Life's way too short for five hours in front of the tube watching ponces and twits flounce and scrape and talk tony Brit. However, many learned people say it is not as good, and that would therefore become my official position."

    Here's a heartfelt Veteran's Day letter to the editor. Kevin Vargas writes about a wounded soldier: "[S]hortly after the explosion, I asked Dennis what he hoped to do in the future. Sitting on my couch, with the tracheotomy tube still in his throat and his head bandaged, he said, 'I just hope I can reenlist.' I had to leave the room -- too emotional for an old soldier."  

By Joel Achenbach  |  November 11, 2005; 8:15 AM ET
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