The limits of genius 1
2nd March 2010 David Cesarani (March) arrives at an odd conclusion in his review of the Arthur Koestler biography: “Genius may excuse almost anything, but Koestler fails the test.” What exactly does he mean by this? That had Koestler merely slapped Jill Craigie around a bit, as opposed to raping her, his genius would have made such behaviour excusable? Surely Koestler’s literary and intellectual achievements have no bearing on the reprehensibility on his private life, just as his treatment of women doesn’t affect how important a novel Darkness at Noon is.
William Skidelsky London SE5
The limits of genius 2
3rd March 2010 David Cesarani accuses me of “pouring doubt” on his account of Arthur Koestler’s alleged rape of Jill Craigie. In fact, I did no more than question the 100 per cent veracity of the testimony of someone who waited almost half a century (and well after Koestler’s death) to make a public accusation. Jill Craigie’s behaviour was not consistent with someone who had been surprised by an unprovoked violent assault. If Koestler was so notorious a humper-jumper, why did she consent to be alone with him in her house and return to it, while he was still there, after she had (she said) run out into street? Cesarani has a maidenly idea of female sexuality among the people with whom Koestler associated. At least one of Koestler’s ladies was a renowned masochist. Perhaps she should go on a blacklist too?
Cesarani is a little too gleeful about Koestler’s supposed iniquities. He truncates his quotes from my review to omit my suggestion that, if sexual impropriety is enough to ruin reputations, Bertrand Russell would not come out too prettily either. His defence of female virtue against Koestler’s assault may look gallant, but I suspect it has less to do with sexual morals than with how Koestler’s masterpiece, Darkness at Noon, showed that prolonged membership of the Communist party entailed acquiescence in “judicial” murder. Cesarani’s father was, he has told us with pride, just such a culpable dupe. I will refrain from pointing out in detail how Cesarani was alleged to have culled material for his Koestler book by making questionable (in the sense that questions were asked) use of copyright archive material. That doesn’t make the accusation true, of course, does it?
Frederic Raphael London SW7
The British property myth
19th February 2010 Wilhemina (February) buys into the British myth that buying vs renting your home is a no-brainer. Yet property is like any other investment: you can lose or win depending on timing. Borrowers reap higher rewards than cash buyers when house prices are rising; and lose more when prices fall. It’s as much a gamble as investing in the stockmarket—only stocks tend to rally more quickly in a recession than house prices.
I fail to see how owning your own home makes you more of an adult. Do the headaches that come with homeownership represent some kind of rite of passage? Robert should tell his partner to stop being manipulative and insist on discussing the facts.
Mary Verdult Brussels
In defence of state schools
24th February 2010 How could Wilhemina (March) fall into the heffalump trap of the state vs private education debate? The media assumes that anyone who can send their child to a private school will do so, because private must be better quality. Yes, there are great challenges across state education, but there are also plenty of mediocre and downright poor private schools. And there is no adequately conclusive evidence to compare the two streams. But for any parent, nationwide conclusions are irrelevant. The choice is one between schools in specific locations. Claiming that private is necessarily better is telling over 90 per cent of the population that they are getting an inferior education, state teachers that they deliver a sub-standard product, and the people who chose it for their children that they are wilfully sacrificing them. This is pernicious nonsense.
Chris Tennant London N1
Too hot to handle 1
25th February 2010 Roddy Campbell’s article (March) adds to the recent tumult of poisonous and ill-informed discussion on climate change. As his byline reveals, Campbell is not scientifically qualified, so he can’t make a reliable judgement as to how uncertain the global warming theory is—which undermines his central thesis. I fully support Prospect’s willingness to challenge received wisdom. But this doesn’t mean blindly following the scientifically illiterate mass-market dailies.
Jonathan McKenna Buckinghamshire
Too hot to handle 2
26th February 2010 Roddy Campbell and David Goodhart’s calls for a “proper scepticism” towards global warming data is completely wrong. Even if the illegal hack at UEA had undermined the data set showing an alarming global temperature rise, there are other similar data sets to rely on. Nasa’s evidence shows just the same warming-trend.
Campbell and Goodhart also ignore the most basic element of environmental safety: the precautionary principle. We do not require certainty for it to be rational to take “drastic” action to protect ourselves against the threat of global over-heat. If the risk proves to have been over-egged, we will merely have sacrificed some economic growth (and beneficially cushioned ourselves against the threat of peak oil). If we fail to act, and the dire predictions become reality, then we will have negligently signed the death warrant of our civilisation.
Councillor Rupert Read, Green party
Too hot to handle 3
3rd March 2010 Roddy Campbell says that research grants have not flowed to those who question global warming—but money from “big oil” and others has more than filled the gap. As a research engineer who has worked for an oil company, I have no axe to grind, and would welcome an article on the uncertainties in predicting global temperature—by someone actually working in that field.
Matt Rooney Witney, Oxfordshire
3rd March 2010 Anglicans didn’t chuck Methodists out two centuries ago, as the Diary (March) suggests; Methodists gradually left. Methodism wasn’t just the creation of the Wesley brothers; George Whitfield also had a significant role. Methodists don’t have priests of either gender; we have ministers, men and women. And although he was barred from many pulpits, John Wesley was never expelled from the Church of England. Given that he broke many of its rules, the church was distinctly forbearing in not chucking him out.
John Gibbon St Ives, Cambridgeshire
6th March 2010 Paul Romer’s piece on charter cities (February) distorts Hong Kong’s history. Britain and China were not “partners” negotiating a treaty in Hong Kong: the territory was leased due to 19th-century gunboat diplomacy. It’s wrong to talk about Hong Kong as being “in China” during the 1950s and 1960s. It wasn’t—and that fact led many Chinese to flee there, rather than any attraction to the “new system.” And they didn’t have a choice about the rules that governed them. Most of the senior police and civil servants were not Chinese for much of the colony’s history. Romer should look elsewhere for inspiration.
Tim Summers Hong Kong