No body is perfect
11th June 2010
It’s fine to find fault with cancer treatments, as Simon Crompton (May) does, but it’s worth asking yourself what you would do if you were diagnosed with cancer. I always thought that I would seek alternative treatment or at least consider other ways of treating the disease. When doctors recently discovered a large mass in my kidney, I researched alternative treatments and put my ideas to the surgeon. He told me the choice was to have the conventional treatment, or die. That prognosis does not leave you with many options.
Susan Lees Via the Prospect website
Democracy in danger 1
27th May 2010
Joshua Kurlantzick (June) makes some good points about democracy in the developing world, but they do not apply to Russia quite as he suggests.
The Russian case is not simply about self-interest and materialism. The Yeltsin-era chaos led to some disillusionment with the capitalist approach, but not necessarily with democracy itself. Total turnout in the 2007 Duma elections was over 63 per cent, similar to the voter turnout in Britain in the recent general election, while more than 73m voted in the 2008 Russian presidential election. And while people may be voting for Putin’s United Russia party, they are aware of their democratic power to vote it out if it fails to live up to expectations.
Kurlantzick also claims that “Medvedev oversaw a constitutional change that would allow Putin, now prime minister, to reclaim the presidency in 2012.” This is incorrect; the change extended the duration of the president’s time in office from four to six years, allowing a president to serve a maximum of 12 consecutive years. Putin was always eligible to run in 2012. Many, including myself, hope he will not.
Tomas Hirst Via the Prospect website
Democracy in danger 2
28th May 2010
Kurlantzick writes of “democracy in danger” in Thailand, among other countries. In Thailand, it is a crime to criticise or discuss the royal family, and the government has used this law to silence anyone who disagrees with them. Websites and newspapers that disagree with the regime have been routinely censored and shut down. Thailand has had 18 military coups in the last 70 years. Whenever the military felt that power was slipping from its grasp, it rolled the tanks out in the streets, dissolved parliament and the constitution and installed a puppet government.
The same goes for civic society. Schoolchildren are taught to listen and obey their teachers, not question and challenge. There is a strict class structure where the rich and powerful are called “Khun” and “Ton” and the poor and working class are called “new” and “nong.” Add to this the culture of corruption and bribery where, if you have influence or money, you can get out of a traffic ticket and cut through the red tape, and you have a society that fosters the notion that you are important if you are rich but of little consequence if you are poor. Hence the recent breakout of clashes between the Bangkok elite and the poorer rural people from the northeast.
Those who say that democracy in Thailand has failed need to examine whether the country was ever a democracy at all.
Norris Hall Via the Prospect website
The creative economy
31st May 2010
Given the choice between Will Hutton urging us to raise our game at creativity and innovation (May), and Emma Crichton-Miller and Alexander Linklater claiming that the creative economy doesn’t exist (also May), Hutton is surely on the money. We need to ensure that our public policies fit markets in intangible assets, as well as in things. Crichton-Miller and Linklater say that when people work in design or television (or even journalism?) they are thinking only of their specific job, which is true, but this doesn’t mean that terms such as “creative economies” are not valid. For one thing, we will never make sense of the rules for capitalising intangible assets on our country’s balance sheet if we simply hark back to the golden age of manufacturing and deny what is happening today.
John Howkins London W1
The dustbin of art history
8th June 2010
Ben Lewis (June) is right about the progress of art styles, but while Boucher’s paintings are no doubt “decadent,” they are still nice things to have around, which probably won’t be true of Damien Hirst’s shark, the Chapman brothers’ stuff, or Tracey Emin’s bed in generations to come.
David Wilson Via the Prospect website
28th May 2010
Julian Baggini (June) suggests that to agree with Katharine Viner, you must believe that only poor single mothers can represent poor single mothers. Not so. You merely need to suppose that someone who has no idea of what poverty is like—either from their experience, or that of someone close to them—is likely to have a different approach to economic cuts (and how to distribute them fairly) than someone who has had such experience. That seems a perfectly sensible view, and consistent with Baggini’s own idea that there is merit to diversity of representation in parliament. Annabelle Lever Via the Prospect website
Not all in the genes
3rd June 2010
Philip Ball (June) is right to be sceptical about the ability of genomics to deliver tailor-made therapies. Current clinical trials divide patients into responder “sheep” and non-responder “goats” based on arbitrary dichotomies. For example, a fall in blood pressure of 10mmHg might see you labelled as a responder to a treatment, whereas if it were only 9mmHg you would be a non-responder—despite the fact that your own blood pressure would vary naturally from day to day by far more than 1mmHg. In reality, it’s likely that nearly all patients respond to most treatments in some way, but often not very well—which is why arbitrary divisions are so unhelpful.
Stephen Senn University of Glasgow The limits of the G5
7th June 2010
Why is Paul Collier (June) so dismissive of “utopian” global governance? Global governance has been a reality at least since the post-1945 settlement which gave us the UN, the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO. And the powerful “G5” countries that Collier identifies will not be able to impose their will on the world simply by occasional bad-tempered unilateral, or even joint, action. They will need continuing channels of communication and instruments of pressure to involve the other powers they are seeking to discipline. On particular issues there will be certain powers who are deal-breakers, or whose desire for a free ride could prevent the delivery of a global public good. As the landlord of the Amazon, Brazil has such a role in relation to climate change, and Russia has it in relation to the most important global public good: nuclear security.
Also, Collier does not acknowledge that one G5 member will continue to have absolute dominance. The US has a military superiority so overwhelming that it can destroy the government of any other state. As Iraq showed, it won’t necessarily be able to do much more than that, but its capacity to do even this much introduces a long-term inequality into the G5.
Thank goodness, then, we have as much global governance as we do—and let’s hope we have more as the 21st century advances.
Nicholas Boyle Magdalene College, Cambridge