Muhammad and free speech. An academic writes a book about the 12 caricatures published in a Danish newspaper depicting Muhammad and the controversy they created. Yale University Press agrees to publish it but the book appears without the illustrations being in it. Terrorism is winning.

A vegetable bite. No sooner had I become a twitterer than I began acting like a proper twit and forgot to keep a promise. Reading away getting material for my morning Crikey Breakfast Media Wrap I could not wait to pass on the information that scientists had discovered that Neanderthals didn’t like brussel sprouts either and twitted the news with the promise that details would be in the wrap. So, a little belatedly, here they are.

An article on the web site of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) headed “Algunos neandertales no podían percibir el sabor amargo” tells how Spanish researchers say they’re a step closer to resolving a “mystery of evolution” — why some people like brussel sprouts but others hate them. Apparently they have found that a gene in modern humans that makes some people dislike a bitter chemical called phenylthiocarbamide, or PTC, was also present in Neanderthals hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The scientists made the discovery after recovering and sequencing a fragment of the TAS2R38 gene taken from 48,000-year-old Neanderthal bones found at a site in El Sidron, in northern Spain.

“This indicates that variation in bitter taste perception predates the divergence of the lineages leading to Neanderthals and modern humans,” they said.

Substances similar to PTC give a bitter taste to green vegetables such as brussel sprouts, broccoli and cabbage as well as some fruits. But they are also present in some poisonous plants, so having a distaste for it makes evolutionary sense.

“The sense of bitter taste protects us from ingesting toxic substances,” the report said.

At this point I should confess that the quotes above are not my translation of the Spanish original but are pinched from an AFP newsagency report which contains many more fascinating details.

Waiting for a judge. Initial reaction to proposed changes to security laws announced this week by Attorney General Robert McClelland has split very nicely between those who think the government is going soft on would be terrorists and those who think it is toughening things up. Those commentators in the going soft camp point to the reduction in the number of days a suspected terrorist can be held without being charged with an offence or let go. The getting tough school point to the suggestions that the federal police be allowed to enter a property without a search warrant if they believe something untoward is under way.

Personally I’m with those who see the balance being shifted against the police a little rather than in their favour with the reduction in the number of days available for investigation and interrogation being of more significance than doing away with judicial approval for the issuing of a search warrant but that view is no doubt coloured by my own past personal experience. The last time my house was raided by the federal thumpers searching for evidence (some 40 years ago now) the police had no trouble finding a Justice of the Peace to sign their bit of paper.

Without a doubt they have their own little list of those who are most likely to co-operate in matters like that and I doubt that there are m,any requests that are ever refused. In the case of my house the warrant was later found by a proper judge to have been illegal for not specifying exactly what was being searched for and what evidence had been found had to be handed back making a prosecution impossible.

Do unto others. I noticed a report overnight that since 2006 more than 50 people have been prosecuted in the United States for allegedly transporting restricted technology, stealing trade secrets or conducting business espionage for China. The big difference between many of these cases and the Rio Tinto affair is that many of the US prosecutions involved military data.

Meanwhile a little more information continues to come out about the case against the Rio Tinto quarter with this morning’s China Daily story putting it into the context of the “chaotic” state of the country’s steel industry with disorderly competition among producers causing unnecessarily high prices.

The paper says the government has instituted a three year moratorium on applications to expand or start new steel projects.