The blood of John McCain 4th August 2008
It isn’t often you find as vivid an example of genetic determinism as that by Anatol Lieven in his article on John McCain (August). Apparently McCain’s traits of obstinacy, loyalty, quick temper, patriotism and aggression, together with his predilection for fury and “implacable hatreds,” are the result of his being a Scotch-Irishman.
These characteristics are a lot to load on to a man whose ancestors have not known Ulster as home since the 18th century. Their attribution would also seem to be less than scientific, or, indeed, plausible. Those in the Scotch-Irish bloodline include Elvis Presley (on his father’s side) as well as probably one third of US presidents, among them Ulysses S Grant (a Union general in the American civil war), Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W Bush. If there is a commonality of character among these men, it eludes me.
Curiously, a late entrant into the Scotch-Irish stakes is Barack Obama. Writing recently in the Belfast Telegraph, Brian Walker referred to reports that an ancestor of Obama’s mother’s had come to America as a 19 year old from Ireland in 1850.
Blood will not out, it seems, in the satisfyingly simple way that Lieven wants. Making a point of adducing Obama’s likely behaviour as president based on supposed inherited habits of his Kenyan antecedents would, rightly, be seen as a racial slur. We do not live in the cultures which bred our forebears, neither near (Obama), nor distant (McCain). Lacking an ethnic explanation, we are stuck with judging the candidates by what we can see of their characters and, above all, their policies.
John Lloyd London NW3
Condom fallacies 8th August 2008
Tony Barnett (August) is confused about condoms and their role in tackling HIV. He says, definitively, “Condoms have not worked in Africa.” Yet he also writes that in 2004, an average of ten condoms were distributed to each sub-Saharan African male of a sexually active age—enough for them to have protected sex once every five weeks. It is not the condoms that have failed, but the systems for supplying them.
As Barnett points out, such systems need effective government support—as in Thailand, where he agrees the use of condoms has been a success in reducing infection rates. But effective governments are generally found only in comparatively rich countries. This would seem to undermine Barnett’s and Helen Epstein’s more serious contention that efforts to reduce poverty, as a part of the global campaign against Aids, have been a “politically correct” distraction. HIV has always been, and remains, a disease of the poor. Alex Renton Edinburgh
Auntie to the rescue 5th August 2008
Andrew Keen’s article on Arianna Huffington (August) opens up the fascinating possibility that in an age when no newspaper can afford the heavy costs of foreign journalism, the BBC’s publicly funded network might mean that Britain controls the world’s future supply of news from smaller countries. If it survives the assaults from Murdoch newspapers and objections to the licence fee, it could end up being one of our most valuable assets. James Mackay via the Prospect blog
Was Bush right? 1 7th August 2008
Edward Luttwak (August) claims that neoconservatism, the now universally discredited theory underpinning Bush’s foreign policy, is still valid. Neocons argue that American military superiority should be used to reshape the world in a way that best promotes America’s interests. Thus unilateral intervention trumps UN fudge, conciliation and compromise—the idea being that when awkward states see America flexing its superior muscle, they will grasp the wisdom of joining the American bandwagon rather than risk its wrath.
Luttwak is arguing that neoconservatism has worked—that all these rogue fundamentalist and nuclear-ambitious states have seen the light, shelved their pro-jihadist policies, dismantled their nuclear installations and joined the family of US-friendly nations. This is, of course, nonsense. The whole problem with neocon foreign policy is that it relies upon America’s ability to project military force anywhere at any time. With its forces bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s military vulnerability has now become plain for all to see. The logic of bandwagoning with the US has disappeared.
Stephen Boyle Shipston on Stour, Warwickshire
Was Bush right? 2 15th August 2008
Luttwak is right to castigate Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria for the methods they employ. But his own arguments are hardly on sturdier ground. His implication that Bush’s policies led to the decline of radical Islam in Indonesia, for example, is utterly wrong. It was only after Bush launched his Afghan war that terrorist attacks targeting foreigners began there—the first in Bali on 12th October 2002. The Afghan war provoked a wave of anti-Americanism in Indonesia and was a great fillip for groups like the Islamic Defenders’ Front, which remains active today. If Luttwak thinks contempt is the best approach to adopt towards the Muslim world, so be it. But he should get his facts right. Ken Ward via the Prospect blog
What next for cosmology? 2nd August 2008
I was disappointed to see Stephen Eales (August) spreading the popular myth that the redshift in the light from distant galaxies is a Doppler effect. In fact, it is a result of the space between the galaxies stretching, not of galaxies moving through space. The stuff about Hubble and standard candles is wrong too. And although the discovery of the acceleration of the universe may have surprised Eales, many cosmologists did anticipate it. John Gribbin Piddinghoe, East Sussex
Fairtrade is fair 13th August 2008
Peter Griffiths’s suggestion (August) that the demise of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989 was all down to a secret plot by the Vietnamese government does not stand up, especially given the huge expansion of Vietnamese coffee production in the following decade.
Griffiths also fails to grasp the basics of Fairtrade. Like most coffee growers, members of Fairtrade groups are small-scale or subsistence farmers. The difference is that they can sell part of their crop on Fairtrade terms: this means at a minimum price covering the cost of sustainable production and an additional sum for business development or community improvements. Rather than encouraging the planting of more coffee, this brings the opportunity to improve quality and diversify into other income sources. So if the Fairtrade market expands, more farmers will have a better chance to work their way out of poverty, rather than relying on charity.
Harriet Lamb Fairtrade Foundation
What about the natives? 14th August 2008
Within the world of “migration literature” described by Kamran Nazeer (August), there is little material addressing the experiences of the indigenous populations affected by the large-scale migrations of the last 50 or so years. Where is the novel or drama expressing the sense of dislocation and loss of identity felt by natives of countries with large levels of immigration? Is it more painful to feel a foreigner in someone else’s country, or in your own? We don’t know, because no one writes about it. Richard Greenaway via the Prospect blog
Good character 1 1st August 2008
Richard Reeves’s article (August) is a useful contribution to the morality debate, but lacks any reference to religion, faith schools or marriage, all of which teach values. The 2006 Iain Duncan Smith report into social breakdown revealed disorder in this country more bleak than any in living memory and evidence that the breakdown of marriage is slowly destroying western civilisation. Why should some of the major sources of moral values be excluded from this debate?
Brian S Gray Canterbury
Good character 2 12th August 2008
Stripped of the reading list, Reeves’s argument seems to be that modern Britain pays insufficient attention to the need for good character, particularly among the poor and deprived. To remedy this, Reeves prescribes classes for parents and scouting for boys.
Of course the left understands that behaviour matters, which is why the Labour government has set up Sure Start for parents and young children, and is extending the right for family flexibility at work. The Tories oppose both of these. The real choice, therefore, is whether to support people in changing their behaviour or to lecture them on their responsibilities, as David Cameron did in Glasgow Easterhouse. Helen Goodman MP London SW1
Will Teach First last? 11th August 2008
Andrew Adonis’s report on his graduate teacher training scheme Teach First (August) is questionable. Any attempt to improve teacher recruitment is to be welcomed, but it is unclear whether recruiting from the dreaming spires will have a greater long-term impact than the Oxford student missions into the east end in the Edwardian period.
Teach First is a relatively small scheme—380 graduates signing up for two years. Of these, 50 per cent stay after the initial training period. We don’t yet know how many will be there after a decade. The project is expanding to 850 graduates, and Adonis asks, “why not 2,000”? Perhaps because the pool of idealism is limited. Those of us who have committed to a teaching career have seen too many well-funded and highly publicised initiatives fall by the wayside.
New Labour has consistently oversold its initiatives, trumpeting useful but minor developments. State education is stagnating despite the fabulous sums thrown at it. If voters are to be convinced that sustainable improvements are being achieved, scrutiny more objective than the words of a minister is needed. Trevor Fisher Stafford