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Letters


Aids and the Polio Vaccine

Edward Hooper (LRB, 3 April) accuses me of having prepared CHAT, an oral polio vaccine, in chimpanzee cells contaminated with an HIV-related virus in February 1958. I have already categorically denied this in an article published in the Transactions of the Royal Society in 2001. The new evidence cited by Hooper consists of interviews with two persons said to be former technicians in my lab in Kisangani, Jacques Kanyama and Philippe Elebe. I remember Kanyama with affection, but he was a low-level employee with no scientific background who performed simple tasks and did not work with me on cell culture. Any judgment he could make more than forty years later is pure supposition. Elebe I do not know; he never worked with me and his testimony isn't of any value. CHAT polio vaccine was never produced in Kisangani – we had primitive equipment and no means of testing the purity, titre and safety of a viral vaccine. Moreover, in February 1958 I had just returned from a study visit to the United States, and could not, despite Hooper's allegations, easily have prepared a new pool of vaccine using the techniques which I had just learned.

Paul Osterrieth
University of Liège

Edward Hooper claims to have made a ‘remarkable discovery’ when interviewing technicians who said that they had worked in a laboratory in Kisangani which collaborated with me in research on poliomyelitis and its prevention. One of these technicians, Jacques Kanyama, provided Hooper with ‘details’ of his work during the polio trial. I do not recall any local technician who would have had knowledge of such ‘facts’ as those given to Hooper by Kanyama.

Hilary Koprowski
Philadelphia

The 1958 report of the laboratory in which Paul Osterrieth worked recounts that cell cultures were achieved from baboon kidneys. No mention is made of chimpanzee cell culture or vaccine production. Also in print, however, is the fact that Osterrieth prepared six chimpanzee kidneys for dispatch to the United States for use in a project on viral hepatitis. In other words, when chimpanzees were used this was readily acknowledged.

Hooper repeats his assertion that early cases of Aids occurred where CHAT was used, but neglects to mention that most of his cases are unconfirmed and that there were many places where CHAT was administered without subsequent Aids and, conversely, where putative Aids occurred but CHAT vaccination did not.

Stanley Plotkin
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Edward Hooper dismisses the role of injections in the transmission of HIV on the grounds that ‘all age groups and both sexes would have experienced comparable exposure to unsterile injections’, while levels of infection vary dramatically according to age and sex. However, different groups receive injections from different sources. A survey conducted in Peshawar in 1995 showed that only 10 per cent of doctors there were paediatricians yet they were responsible for administering 90 cent of the injections given to young children. These injections would not have been contaminated with blood from adults with HIV. Most of those infected with Ebola in the outbreak in Yambuku in 1976 were pregnant women who had attended a special clinic to receive vitamin B injections. Some sex workers have prophylactic weekly injections, and STD clinics treat both sex workers and their clients. While HIV may be mainly transmitted sexually, unsterile injections may also play a very important role. There are more than sixteen billion injections given every year, almost all of them unsterile and most of them unnecessary and leading to the transmission of hepatitis, HIV and other bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Vivian Wyatt
University of Leeds


Is there anybody out there?

Alan Penny (Letters, 3 April) says that James Hamilton-Paterson’s quotation from Calvin and Hobbes – ‘sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us’ – is a ‘trivial’ way of ‘dealing with the complex Fermi Paradox (if they exist, why haven’t they contacted us?)’. Presumably, since the words are no more trivial than Penny’s own, he thinks they’re trivial because they appear in a comic. Art Spiegelman’s far from trivial work on the pages following Hamilton-Paterson’s review should have put paid to that idea. Penny goes on to enthuse about the technological advances which mean we’ll soon be able to pick up radio waves ‘from enough targets to have a chance of finding a civilisation passing through the (presumably short) phase of radio-emitting technology’. A pretty slim chance, surely? And even if we picked them up, how would we be able to recognise them? Besides which, any intelligent alien life-form sufficiently like us for us to recognise it would presumably be able to recognise us, too. And anything smart enough to intercept and understand our satellite TV news would also no doubt be smart enough to keep well clear. Which takes us back to Calvin and Hobbes.

Jonathan Bland
Southampton


On War and Intervention

Ross McKibbin (LRB, 3 April) makes the mistake of imagining that the Prime Minister shares his own intelligence and serious-mindedness. Also he makes a mistake in speaking of Tony Blair's coming from the Left. Blair's only Left involvement was in the late 1970s when he fought the Beaconsfield by-election. His field of ambition then was the Labour Party; CND, about to define the Party's defence policy, looked like a future engine of power. Blair leapt lightly onto the tender. In going to war with Bush, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, he stood shoulder to shoulder with the holders of greater power in a larger field.

If Blair is being brave abroad and timid at home, as McKibbin claims, the reasons are plain. Commitment to any of the domestic issues bilked while Labour has enjoyed a three-figure majority – open government, an elected second chamber, resistance to the monopolists in the press, early sustained commitment to the public sector and an effort to reduce the gap between rich and poor – would contradict what Blair is about. Blair has two clear positions: centralisation of power in his own hands and indifference, verging on contempt, for poorer people. Transport is too dull, unglamorous and difficult an issue for a celebrity politician to hurt his head with.

As for the two reforms attributed to him, the minimum wage was dragged out of him by the Chancellor and other colleagues, and the putative abolition of hunting was a concession made in panic on live television to an angry audience. We look in vain for this man's convictions, beyond a negative version of Ecclesiastes with victory the prize for the strong. Blair is about power shallowly perceived and public show shimmeringly done, right down to the dreadful sincerity. Blair is indeed sincere; he was sincere with each new replacement argument advanced for the invasion of Iraq. Robert Walpole kept a box of little red Norfolk apples under the Treasury bench; Blair keeps a reserve of sincerity.

Edward Pearce
Thormanby, North Yorkshire

Ross McKibbin asks why Tony Blair risked going to war in Iraq. What was missing from his account, as from so many others which focus on the relationship between Blair and the Labour Party, is an appreciation of the depth of the military-strategic relationship between Washington and London under New Labour.

The script for the illegal, immoral and ill-conceived war on and occupation of Iraq was written, in code but clearly enough, in Labour’s 1998 Strategic Defence Review. There were no ‘tough choices’ here, no thinking the unthinkable. Labour’s policy was to be based on a commitment to supporting the US, to maintaining strong Armed Services and a strong defence industry, and to increasing Britain’s ability to intervene around the world. The Trident programme and the procurement of the Eurofighter were never questioned. Defence expenditure stayed at around 70 per cent of its Cold War peak in the mid-1980s. The Ministry of Defence was clear that ‘this Government is not allowing resources to drive defence policy’: the Strategic Defence Review was ‘foreign policy led’, unlike the supposedly ‘Treasury led’ reviews of previous years. But this did not mean that policy was driven by concerns about threats to Britain, or its place in Europe.

If British forces were intended only to defend Britain they would be a fraction of their current size. The need for a large-scale expeditionary capacity to enable operations outside the Nato area was the only justification for maintaining forces at anything like Cold War levels. Britain was said to be peculiarly global in its interests, as if most members of the EU were not, and particularly internationalist. The cover, then as now, was a moral imperialist fantasy that appealed to parts of the Left. George Robertson, then Defence Secretary, said in his introduction to the Review that ‘the British are, by instinct, an internationalist people … We do not want to stand idly by and watch humanitarian disasters or the aggression of dictators go unchecked. We want to give a lead, we want to be a force for good.’ Blair claimed that by ‘virtue of our geography, our history and the strengths of our people, Britain is a global player’. It should be strong in Europe, but should also be the ‘bridge’ between the US and Europe. ‘We must never forget,’ he said, ‘the historic and continuing US role in defending the political and economic freedoms we take for granted. Leaving all sentiment aside, they are a force for good in the world. They can always be relied on when the chips are down. The same should always be true of Britain.’

John Keegan noted that the Review was clearly aimed at providing a complete air, sea and land force to assist US operations. It was clear, too, that intervention was envisaged East of Suez, although Britain had pulled back from the region in the early 1970s. Indeed, the Review claimed that Britain had particular interests in the Gulf region, when in fact, aside from its position as a major arms supplier, Britain had no particular interests there. And yet British intervention in the Gulf on behalf of and alongside the US has been continuous ever since the last Gulf War. In the 1998 crisis, despite holding the EU Presidency, Britain did not even consult with its European partners before sending additional ships and aircraft. From the British point of view, this war was never about Saddam Hussein, or Iraq, or oil, or Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, or 11 September. It was about Britain, its Armed Forces, its weapons of mass destruction and its relationship to the United States.

David Edgerton
Imperial College, London


Down in Penge

James Wood (LRB, 17 April) refers to ‘the South-West London’ of Graham Swift’s first two books. Swift’s second novel, Shuttlecock, is indeed set in or near SW4, but the action of his first, The Sweet Shop Owner, takes place in Upper Sydenham, SE26. The bias of Swift’s fiction towards South-East London recurs in the early story ‘The Tunnel’ (Deptford), in the London chapters of Waterland (Greenwich/Lewisham) and in Last Orders (Bermondsey, eastwards along the A2), as well as in the Chislehurst reminiscences of The Light of Day itself. I’m inclined to forgive Wood’s error, but there are sure to be hardliners down in Penge who will see it as Western arrogance.

Chris Baldick
London SE4


Modern Hobbesians

Robert Kagan’s cartoon of the distinction between Hobbesian Americans and Kantian Europeans is crude, but David Runciman’s attempt to dissolve the distinction between plausibly Hobbesian and plausibly Kantian political philosophies itself requires substantial distortion of Hobbes (LRB, 3 April). First, it isn’t Hobbes’s view that the relation between states is characterised as involving a ‘clubbable’ social life, unless we’re punning on ‘club’. In fact, Hobbes thinks that the relation between particular sovereigns, and presumably that between the states whose persons they bear, is the paradigmatic example of war – one in which there is a wide recognition of the rationality of the strategy of anticipatory violence. Second, given the way that Hobbes’s agents are to secure peace, it cannot be his hope that ‘if you could build enough states, the result would be peace.’ The way to secure peace among a set of agents, in his view, is for those agents to enter civil society by becoming the subjects of a sovereign; the sovereign in this case would be the sovereign of sovereigns, the Imperial Hegemon. It is the overwhelming enforcement power of the sovereign that secures the peace by making anticipatory violence no longer a rational strategy for the agents. Third, there’s no doubt that Kagan uses ‘anarchic’ loosely, but this shouldn’t confuse us about the fact that for Hobbes the state of nature is indeed a moral anarchy, despite the existence of Laws of Nature which give egoistic agents reasons for entering civil society. Given all that, it is pretty clear that Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle et al are indeed Hobbesians, both in the normative and the descriptive senses, and that they are interested in establishing something like an international sovereignty of acquisition, as Hobbes would have put it. I don’t accept Kagan’s facile pop-sociological generalisations about Americans and Europeans – they read like a lame attempt to justify the Bush regime’s imperial ambitions as genuinely populist – and I don’t condone the use of force in support of those ambitions. But there is a useful distinction in the vicinity of Kagan’s thinking that Runciman misses.

Evan Riley
University of Pittsburgh


Joy in Combat

It never entered my mind that anyone might take my rhetorical pseudo-qualifications in Menzel’s Realism (‘Again, I stop short of calling this a self-portrait,’ said of an image of the corrupt judge Adam in Menzel’s illustrations for Kleist’s The Broken Jug) as marks of ‘nervousness’ or, worse, as ‘half-embarrassed acknowledgments of how shaky’ my ‘interpretations can be’. For what it is worth, may I assure Barry Schwabsky (LRB, 17 April), who seems to regret the passing of my ‘combative younger self’, that I hold every one of the interpretations put forward in Menzel’s Realism with an inner assurance and a joy in combat at least equal to those of the 27-year-old art critic who wrote the sentence ‘Presentness is grace.’ The further suggestion that I repeatedly try to ‘buttress’ my readings ‘by drawing parallels with cultural authority figures’ like Kierkegaard and Kafka is so foreign to the spirit of my book as merely to reflect back on the reviewer.

Michael Fried
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore


Checkmates

Reading the pieces by Daniel Soar and Ruth Franklin (LRB, 3 April) reminded me of the Sundays I spent in Boreham Wood in the spring of 1972 watching movies with Stanley Kubrick. Playboy had just commissioned me to cover the Fischer-Spassky match in Iceland. Kubrick had been a professional chess hustler and he and I studied with care the bizarre preliminaries that led up to the match. One Sunday we interrupted our film-viewing to watch a BBC documentary about Fischer called This Little Thing with Me and Spassky. In it Fischer described how his older sister taught him chess when he was six. Soon he was beating her handily, so when things got bad he would change ends and still beat her. Finally he began to play against himself. Then he said something so remarkable that Kubrick and I got hold of the transcript to see if we had misheard. With no trace of humour – never a Fischer strong suit – he said: ‘Mostly I won.’

Jeremy Bernstein
New York


Unfair to Rosalind Franklin

In her response to my review of Brenda Maddox’s Life of Rosalind Franklin, Barbara Low (Letters, 17 April) focuses on the ethics of Watson and Crick’s use of Franklin’s DNA data, whereas I concentrated on Maddox’s achievement – in what is, after all, not a scientific biography – in bringing Franklin’s personality into view. I did, however, criticise Maddox for expressing too much confidence in Patterson analysis. Well-informed statements of the limitations of the method exist in the literature of X-ray crystallography, but one would not expect the general reader to have encountered them. I did not write that Franklin ‘did not know how to interpret her own data’, but I did try to point out the clues that were available in those data.

Robert Olby
University of Pittsburgh


Misrepresentation

The title of my book, as given in David Garrioch's review (LRB, 3 April), is the one that appears in the publisher's catalogue. Unfortunately, this is different from the book's actual title: The Politics of Appearance: Representations of Dress in Revolutionary France.

Richard Wrigley
Oxford


Nowhere Near

In his review of Dave Eggers’s You Shall Know Our Velocity, Christopher Tayler (LRB, 3 April) describes Oconomowoc as ‘a town near Chicago’. Oconomowoc is, in fact, a town in southern Wisconsin, roughly halfway between Milwaukee and Madison.

Patricia Miller
Chicago


Not So Trivial

In his review of Terry Eagleton’s Sweet Violence, David Simpson (LRB, 3 April) twice insists that ‘in the United States the language of tragedy was not invoked in describing 9/11.’ A Google search reveals about 853,000 websites linking the term ‘tragedy’ to ‘September 11’, and a large number of these sites must originate in the US. Do all of them illustrate merely that tragedy is, as Simpson puts it, ‘trivially everywhere’? Part of the interest of his review is that it complicates precisely the confidence that we can at a glance recognise trivial uses of ‘tragedy’.

Martin Harries
New York University