Rory Stewart in Iraq 6th January 2006 Richard Barltrop’s letter (January) makes three complaints about my article on Iraq (November). He claims that I incorrectly called myself deputy governor of Maysan; that I heard the respectful Islamic term “Molai” applied to a politician and was unnecessarily surprised; and that there was an Iraqi interim governor and deputy governor in Maysan in July 2003. In each case, Barltrop is wrong about the article or wrong about Iraq. I did not call myself a deputy governor in the article—that description was placed in the sub-heading without my knowledge by Prospect. Secondly, as the article makes clear, the more respectful term “Molai” was not used for the politician but for my 20-year-old interpreter—the only time either the interpreter or I had heard such a distinction made in 14 months of official meetings in Iraq and a particular surprise to the interpreter, who is a native Arabic speaker. Finally, there was no interim Iraqi governor or deputy governor in Maysan in July 2003. The coalition governorate co-ordinator exercised the powers of the governor until the provincial council elected an interim governor in December 2003.
Rory Stewart Crieff, Perthshire
Teaching hard subjects 13rd January 2006 Michael Prowse (January) is right that the English sixth form curriculum should be broader, but I cannot join him in his route to that conclusion. Undoubtedly a modern economy needs mathematicians, but how many with high-level skills do we really need? And does the maths needed by the world-beaters bear much relation to the functional maths needed by the many? It is not evident that a course in advanced maths will best equip most A-level students for their place in the future “knowledge economy,” where jobs in the creative and service sectors are still likely to be plentiful.
Maths is said to be hard and therefore boring. No wonder young people are put off pursuing it. Fewer and fewer good maths graduates emerge to teach the next generation well. However, I doubt whether forcing teenagers to learn a subject they hate is really the recipe for a mathematical renaissance. Compulsory Christian assembly did not turn my generation into Christians. Why should compulsory advanced maths turn the next generation into mathematicians? All 17-year-old students are volunteers: offering them hard gruel may be a way of turning them off education altogether.
Rob Hull London EC1
Teaching hard subjects 223rd December 2005 As Michael Prowse says, we would do well to learn from the International Baccalaureate (IB). Those of us who have taught the IB alongside A-levels for many years recognise that IB is the far more demanding and enriching curriculum. It produces students who do study maths and physics, but not at the expense of poetry and foreign languages. Furthermore, as an inspiring qualification to teach, it brings out the best in teachers.
Nicholas Alchin Sevenoaks School
Ali Smith’s friend15th December 2005
I am the Kasia of Ali Smith’s story (December) and I wanted to let you know that on the day that the story was published in Prospect, the Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire primary care trusts (PCTs) met and decided to fund Herceptin for suitable early breast cancer patients. I am due to get my first dose tomorrow. The national picture is still very varied, however—the PCTs which opt to fund Herceptin are employing all sorts of different medical (and personal) criteria. Let’s hope licensing and national guidelines come sooner rather than later.
Kasia Boddy UCL
Inconsistent on Iran?23rd December 2005 I wonder how someone who writes (January), “It is impossible to make predictions about Iran. Too many people have got it wrong too many times, often with far-reaching consequences,” finds it possible to say, in the same breath, that, “If Iran, as the US and others suspect, is seeking nuclear weapons, this is not because it wants to ‘wipe Israel off the map’ but because of the experience of the war with Iraq.”
What evidence does Tom Porteous present to back up such a statement? I’m more than willing to accept that the current regime may have more than one target in its sights as it pursues its nuclear programme, but when someone calls another nation a “cancer” to be wiped out, denies the central facts of its history (the Holocaust) and parades missiles with “For Israel” pasted on their sides, there seems to be room to believe that an existential threat against the Jewish state exists.
Hillel Zaremba Lower Merion, Philadelphia
Kamm replies to Chomsky29th December 2005 Over 40 years, Noam Chomsky (January) has accused many more distinguished men than I of “tacit acquiescence to horrendous crimes.” More interesting would have been a defence of his polemical distortions. We get only a reprise. Chomsky’s account of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s comments on East Timor excises relevant context, presents unrelated passages as sequential, and interpolates remarks that Moynihan did not make. Even where Chomsky was right to attack western policy, he is analytically unscrupulous.
I noted (November) that from his earliest writings Chomsky “went beyond the standard left critique of US imperialism to the belief that ‘what is needed [in the US] is a kind of denazification.'” Chomsky replies: “To demonstrate my ‘central’ doctrine, Kamm misquotes my statement that, ‘We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the US is dissent—or denazification.'”
The full quotation runs: “We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the United States is dissent or denazification. The question is a debatable one. Reasonable people may differ. The fact that the question is even debatable is a terrifying thing. To me it seems that what is needed is a kind of denazification.” Chomsky quotes only the first sentence, suggesting agnosticism on whether the US needed “denazification,” and omits the fifth, where he makes precisely that judgement. He withholds this information from Prospect’s readers to complain baselessly of misquotation. “The world’s top public intellectual responds to accusations of dishonesty,” indeed.
Oliver Kamm Hove
Not so green America3rd January 2006 The Cruncher column seems wildly over-optimistic on America’s environmental progress (January). Far from falling since 2001, emissions of greenhouse gases have almost doubled since 1974, rising 2 per cent in 2004 alone according to a report by the US energy department issued just before Christmas. Last year emissions of CO2 reached over 7.1bn tonnes, larger than in the whole of Europe.
The US census bureau’s latest statistical abstract shows US emissions of sulphur oxides at 63kg per person, those of nitrous oxides at 84kg and carbon dioxide at 21 tonnes. Figures for 17 west European countries were 17, 31 and 8 respectively. It also shows that in growth of national income per head (in terms of purchasing power parity) there was virtually no difference between the US and western Europe between 1990 and 2002, while other official statistics show that employment growth was actually higher in the EU than in the US between 1995 and 2005—in spite of appreciably lower population increase.
Harvey Cole Winchester
Anglican social engineers6th January 2006 Stella Tillyard (January) is alarmed by the Anglican church’s “quiet social engineering in its schools.” As a governor of a Church of England primary school, may I confirm that we do indeed strive quietly to engineer kindness, generosity, tolerance and respect for others, regardless of any affiliation, in our children. To do so is consistent both with the distinctive character of the Church of England—still today a model of diversity—and the Christian gospel which animates it.
Richard Coles Boston, Lincs
Badly behaved Brits5th January 2006 I spend a lot of time in Brittany, where there is a substantial British presence. And I am sorry to report that I see plenty of examples of behaviour that chimes with Tim King’s account (January). In my experience the French do not have a problem with the British here, as we tend to buy up run-down rural properties which the local people see as little more than ruins in scrubby little hamlets, miles from anywhere.
What the French do have a problem with is the number of British settlers who don’t attempt to speak the language. I don’t think I’ve ever met a French person here who didn’t speak some English. Compare this to a British woman I met last year who had lived in Brittany for seven years, didn’t speak French, and was proud of the fact. One day I will ask one of these nouveaux colons why they think they don’t owe their host country this basic courtesy.
The French view of Britain is not only influenced by what they witness personally. A recent article in a local magazine featured a series of British families making incredibly bitter comments about life in Britain, presenting it as if it were a third world country where only the weak and foolish remain. A lot of French people are happy to agree. It is a common theme that Britain is overcrowded, crime-ridden, overtaxed, polluted, has a substandard health and education service and so on.
The French may be proud of their quality of life, but they pay for it in many ways, and there is widespread poverty and inequality. It is beginning to be recognised that it won’t last for ever, and French politicians know that big challenges are ahead. The recent riots were a sign of this.
Even lovely Brittany has its problems. Inland Brittany is overwhelmingly rural and agricultural; much of it is not very beautiful, and there are serious environmental concerns because of decades of some of the most intensive farming in Europe. Many of the towns are rather nondescript, and there is little there for the young, apart from a few months in the summer, which is why most of them leave.
I will keep going to France as often as I can, but I will try to appreciate the place for what it is—a vibrant and beautiful country with a long history, a diversity of culture, a huge and continuing influence on the world; but also a real place where people with all their problems and peculiarities live. It is not just suburbia with a funny accent.
Nick Powell Dorset