Is there any check on the devilish appliances of science? Too little, it seems. One's blood is chilled by the news that war scientists in the US are on the verge of being able to remote-control sharks through electrodes planted in their brains.

Their aim is to send the fish on tracking missions - living yet virtually undetectable submarines, shadowing enemy vessels.

A warped brainchild of the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (what other horrors is it nurturing, one wonders) the project is unveiled in a paper with the hideously matter-of-fact, if hardly self-explanatory, title Autonomous Shark Tag with Neutral Reading and Stimulation Capability for Open Ocean Experiments.

This describes how the scientists have already succeeded in controlling the movements of dogfish, rats and monkeys. Such grotesque exploitation of animals sits uneasily with civilised values and respect for living creatures. The likelihood that the so-called "stealth sharks" will (one assumes) be unaware they have been turned into robots worsens the abuse.

Clearly, we need some kind of international Animal Rights' Charter, based on the belief that wild creatures should be free to obey only their natural impulses. But, considering the abuse of humans at Guantanamo Bay, the charter would probably be just waste paper to the US.

A WEEK ago I questioned the sincerity of New Labour's declared commitment, voiced by Darlington MP Alan Milburn among others, to "localism" - handing power directly to communities and voluntary bodies. Someone closer to government than I am shares my jaundiced view.

Baroness Helena Kennedy, a Labour peer, who has spent 18 months chairing a commission investigating the growing public disillusion with politics, says: "Politicians use lots of new language about empowerment, but they never want to give away power.''

She also says her commission has established that the 40 per cent abstention level at the last general election stemmed less from apathy than a widespread feeling among the public that "they are not being listened to". Most probably even Baroness Kennedy - and her report - will be ignored too.

A FOOTNOTE to Keith Proud's enjoyable double feature in Echo Memories on the Whitby-born novelist Storm Jameson. One reason why she didn't visit Whitby in the 31 years up to her death in 1986 is that she publicly vowed in 1966 never to return if the proposed erection of a TV mast on the Abbey headland went ahead. It did, and she didn't.

Incidentally, the mast gained approval against fierce opposition chiefly through expert insistence that there was positively nowhere else that would deliver satisfactory TV reception. Today, with the mast about to topple into the North Sea, it turns out that its replacement will perform perfectly well on Whitby Business Park.

I was as passionately anti-mast as Miss Jameson. One day at the height of the row, I and a now-late friend called on the friend's parents, long-time Whitby residents. My friend counselled me: "For God's sake don't mention the TV mast."

His father took the view that if it required a mast on the Abbey itself to provide decent TV reception, that's where it must go. Over tea and his wife's delicious cream cakes, he and I got on like best buddies.