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After all he’d been through

Has Conor Gearty read the Hutton Report, as opposed to cherry-picking the conclusions helpfully distinguished by larger type (LRB, 19 February)? For instance, it is not the case that Lord Hutton thought Dr Jones’s evidence and the nature of WMD had ‘nothing to do with him’. I find nine paragraphs (186-94) on Dr Jones’s submissions, seven more (221-27) on WMD, ‘battlefield’ or ‘strategic’; by the way, they also satisfactorily explain the apparent confusion of the PM, which preoccupied the Tories and the media for a day or two after the 4 February debate: it seems the JIC itself was no less muddled. To refute Gearty in the requisite detail would demand an article longer than his, so I shall just raise some questions.

1. Like Lord Rees-Mogg (not a fellow traveller I should care to have), Gearty makes the most of Hutton’s Ulster background. Once more, the late and not much lamented Lord Widgery was trotted out: but what Hutton did for him was an advocate’s job. Why did we read nothing here of his refusal twenty years later to convict an IRA prisoner on a charge of attempting to murder four of his fellow judges because he thought the police evidence trumped up? Gearty is presumably of Irish extraction himself. Is this any more (or less) relevant than Hutton’s Northern origin?

2. Gearty’s implication that David Kelly had acute suspicions of his own about the dossier’s case, as opposed to reporting the reservations – not objections – of his friends, is simply false. This was established by the electrifying Panorama broadcast only a week before Hutton reported, much praised at the time for its demonstration of BBC even-handedness. Dr Kelly and others may have doubted the 45-minute claim, but he expressed no doubt at all that Saddam was most dangerously armed. Why has nothing more been heard of this programme (and indeed its evidence that Andrew Gilligan’s reporting had caused problems before – cf. Hutton paragraph 284, not noted by Gearty, for his own editor’s reservations)?

3. Like such other glitterati as Sir Simon Jenkins, Gearty thinks it no matter that nothing went through to the final version of the 24 September dossier unless the JIC endorsed it, unanimously and in full (Chapter 6, passim, especially paras 210-19). It follows that Kelly either misrepresented the position or was himself misrepresented. This raises a question, overlooked by Gearty and indeed Hutton: why did Gilligan not go back to his ‘source’? wasn’t he told to? And what if he did? Two explanations suggest themselves: either Kelly then told him he had been misrepresented (as in effect he said under his awful committee grilling and throughout discussions with his MOD minders in the last weeks of his life, paras 311-12 etc), in which case Gilligan’s silence is no surprise. Alternatively, though not very plausibly, Kelly stood by his story, in which case he was misinformed, and Gilligan, much to his credit, has been protecting him ever since.

4. Gearty is eaten up with frustration that Hutton found nothing to criticise in the behaviour of politicians and officials over the three weeks between Kelly’s admission of his involvement and his death. He did, actually (paras 430-39). He also presented, in more detail than has ever been currently available for government workings in a time of crisis, the full range of reactions of all relevant personnel. What I found there was what any historian would expect to find: hesitancy, uncertainty, a certain clumsiness within a general climate of desperate concern to ‘do the right thing’. What would Gearty have done differently?

5. I find neither aggression nor hysteria in Alastair Campbell’s initial reaction to the broadcast. I have it on authority close to the (very) top that the first Downing Street reaction was one almost of incredulity that the BBC should have said anything so silly, then sullenly refused to take it back, as they very easily could have done, no more said. The point is clear enough from Appendix 14, the complete relevant correspondence. Campbell was cross by the time he complained formally more than a week after the original broadcast (Richard Sambrook then took five days to reply), but was still polite to Greg Dyke three weeks after that, though by then out of patience with Sambrook, and out of temper before the Foreign Affairs Committee. By then too, another person who had certainly lost his temper, and on air at that, was John Humphrys – does no one else remember this? Ben Bradshaw’s response (Appendix 16) was remarkably mild. Why is only Campbell’s ‘hysteria’ in question? Is he not just another journalist, like his enemies? What on earth has it to do with it that Campbell ‘crowed’ in a Palladian setting? He fielded more vitriol than any other single party to this wretched business: is he really to be blamed, after all he’d been through, for an ‘I told you so’ when it was over, even if he would have been wiser to react more like the government, and less like its critics? Is he wrong to say that ‘if the public knew more about what politicians and journalists actually say and do, they would think a lot more of politicians and a lot less of journalists’? The sad fact is that we have lost the software for the contingency that politicians might be telling the truth, journalists twisting it.

Patrick Wormald

Memories of Baghdad Bob

I would like to report a novel bit of phenomenology. Ever since the invasion of Iraq, I find that whenever I read one of Jerry Fodor’s essays declaring the impossibility of a science of consciousness (most recently – LRB, 4 March – his attempt to trounce Dan Lloyd’s Radiant Cool), my image of him coalesces with memories of Baghdad Bob, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the Iraqi Minister of Information whose emphatic and even cheerful denials of reality on CNN provided brief interludes of entertainment during those terrible days. There’s Jerry, wearing a jaunty military beret and heavily holstered, strutting up to the bank of microphones and declaring that the army of ‘classical’ Fodorians have captured Baghdad airport and will soon – soon! – sweep the field of cognitive neuroscience (which ‘barely exists’) into the sea. I just can’t get this image out of my mind, and wonder if other readers are experiencing similar effects.

Daniel Dennett
Tufts University, Boston

What Not to Wear

Jeremy Harding’s piece on the hijab debate in France (LRB, 19 February) reminded me of my days as a teacher at Walthamstow Girls, in the late 1970s, when the issue was not headscarves, but trousers. Eventually, the headmistress conceded that the girls could wear trousers (it hadn’t been very long since women teachers were sent home for the same offence). Then some of the girls turned up in the shalwar and she drew the line. When is a pair of trousers not a pair of trousers? The precise shade of green remained an issue (‘Bottle-green, Shazia, not emerald green!’). When the girls started wearing headscarves about ten years later, a token gesture was made – ‘All girls must get their parents to write a letter to the headteacher saying their daughter will be wearing a headscarf’ – but this wasn’t observed in practice. Walthamstow Girls, and the school I was assigned to next, also a girls’ school, did adapt in all sorts of ways to their Muslim students, setting aside a room for prayer during Ramadan, allowing them to wear trousers for games, or bow out of swimming. Both schools, for what it’s worth, achieved far better GCSE results than the nearly all-white schools at the other end of the borough.

John Welch
London N16

Preserving the Owl

About thirty years ago Amartya Sen and I were on the same side in a televised debate in America on the subject of economic growth v. the environment. It was with some surprise, therefore, that I read his article in the LRB (LRB, 5 February), for most readers will interpret it as a defence of the environmental policies associated with advocates of ‘sustainable development’. At the outset he repeats what Bjørn Lomborg has described as ‘the litany’ of the environmentalists: ‘We routinely damage the ozone layer, heat up the globe, foul the air and the rivers, destroy the forests, deplete mineral resources, drive many species to extinction, and impose other devastations.’ Sen’s authority will no doubt now be cited triumphantly by green pressure groups as further support for their assertions.

This is unfortunate, since it is most unlikely that he believes them all, and quite unlikely that he believes any of them. For example, as an economist he will know that the usual doomsday predictions that we are depleting mineral resources at an unsustainable rate are based on a failure to understand how the price mechanism works: that if the supply of any particular material resource begins to fall short of demand at the prevailing price its price will rise and this will set up a series of feedbacks that will increase supply and reduce demand. He must also know that the empirical evidence conclusively demonstrates that this is what has happened over the centuries.

It is even true of food. Indeed, in his major work on the causes of famine, Sen has done more than anybody to demolish the myth that they have been caused by a general imbalance between the supply and demand for food. He has thoroughly debunked the widespread assertion that population is outrunning the world’s capacity to feed it, either in aggregate or in specific regions. Yet in his LRB article he refers approvingly to Lester Brown, whose well-publicised predictions of imminent worldwide famine have been falsified again and again over the last forty years.

As for the global warming predictions included in Sen’s litany, he will appreciate that drastic action to cut carbon emissions cannot be justified until we know that the benefits of preventing climate change are greater than the costs of doing so, and that the distribution of the costs and benefits between poor and rich countries or generations is not inequitable. Almost all the public discussion has concentrated on the science, but such analysis as there has been of economic questions suggests that the damage done by climate change will barely exceed the costs of preventing it, and that those costs will fall more heavily on poorer than on richer people.

Wilfred Beckerman
Balliol College, Oxford

Put Your Gladioli in the Bin

Andrew O’Hagan offers a flimsy argument to assert Morrissey’s worth over that of John Lydon (LRB, 4 March). Lydon’s recent appearance on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here may have curled the toes of those who once fashioned themselves as punks, but then Lydon never claimed to be a role model. O’Hagan offers this television appearance as reason to consign Rotten’s records to ‘a cauldron of boiling oil’. If the cringe factor causes him to dismiss Lydon’s cultural worth, he should examine Morrissey’s promotional photographs for his forthcoming tour, featuring a receding quiff, smart suit and a machine-gun, and stop polishing his vinyl forthwith. The parallels between Morrissey and Lydon are more evident than the differences. Both singers are of working-class Irish descent; both wrote subversive, enduring lyrics; both stimulated a fierce pack mentality and loyal following among their fans, whether they embraced it (Morrissey) or derided it (Lydon). Both captured, and have had, their day. Nostalgia always comes at a price – in Morrissey’s case £22.50 or £27.50 for his Manchester gig this May. In his autobiography John Lydon concludes: ‘We’re the flowers in your dustbin.’ Morrissey’s gladioli are nestling in there too.

Lee Goodare

Covert Methods

Jenny Diski’s account of Goffman’s methods is slightly mistaken (LRB, 4 March). She says that Goffman advocated the use of participant observation for social research, though he ‘didn’t exactly do that himself’. The term ‘participant observation’ describes a range of ethnographic methods, including that of the covert researcher. Goffman worked in the hospital described in Asylums as an ‘assistant to the athletic director’, i.e. as a sports coach, and only the most senior members of the hospital knew what his aims were. Indeed, the whole point of Goffman’s data collection for Asylums was that neither inmates nor staff at the hospital knew that he was a social researcher.

Mark Erickson
University of Brighton

Dunam for Dunam

Ilan Pappe totally rejects the Geneva Accord, portraying it as an abortive initiative, a ‘bubble’ (LRB, 8 January). He is, it appears, absolutely opposed to any negotiations for peace which are not based on Israel’s sincere remorse for its responsibility for the conflict. By insisting on this naive precondition, Pappe is effectively rejecting outright any chance in the foreseeable future to reach a compromise based on the two-state solution.

It is not easy to argue with Pappe, who is completely at ease ignoring the actual content of important documents and presenting his own interpretations of them as if they were the text itself. Explaining his opposition to the Road Map, for example, he states that ‘10 per cent of Palestine will be divided into two huge prison camps – one in Gaza and the other in the West Bank – with no solution to the refugee problem and full Israeli control of Jerusalem.’ Compare the relevant part of the Road Map:

Parties reach final and comprehensive permanent status agreement … through a settlement based on UNSCR 242, 338, 1397 that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and includes an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee issue and a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem that takes into account the political and religious concerns of both sides, and fulfils the vision of two states, Israel and a sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

Another of Pappe’s singular interpretations is his assertion that the Accord provides for a ‘mini-state, built on 15 per cent of what used to be Palestine, with a capital near Jerusalem and no army’. But the Accord is based on the June 1967 borders and provides for a full withdrawal from all the Occupied Territories, i.e. 22 per cent of Western Palestine. The Palestinians would receive full territorial compensation (dunam for dunam) for any area retained by Israel for the settlements. As for the ‘capital near Jerusalem’, Article 6 (2) states clearly: ‘The parties shall have their mutually recognised capitals in the areas of Jerusalem under their respective sovereignty.’ The Accord calls for the division of Jerusalem with all Arab neighbourhoods under full Palestinian sovereignty, including the Temple Mount.

Of course, it would have been good if the Geneva Accord could have done more for Palestinian refugees. Everyone knows that this is the issue where passions and suspicion dominate the discourse. Most Israelis believe that the unrestricted realisation of the right of return by millions of refugees would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Unfortunately, the humanitarian demand for the refugees’ right of repatriation is also supported by Arab nationalists, mainly because it is, for them, the way to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state. However, it is simply untrue that the Geneva Accord ‘would leave the refugees in exile’, as Pappe claims. The refugees would have a number of options: the return of tens of thousands to Israel proper, repatriation to the newly established Palestinian state, remaining in the host countries, or relocation to other states.

Reuven Kaminer

Oh, the Curse!

David Runciman is a bit off on the infamous Chicago Cubs-Steve Bartman play (LRB, 19 February). Bartman barely reached up and out onto the field of play, unlike so many other knuckleheads over the years who have actively interfered by stretching out over the wall. The player, Moises Alou, was trying to extend into the stands to make the play. As one Chicago reporter noted, poor Bartman simply ‘gave in to one of the most natural impulses in the American male, the impulse that says: “Foul ball … coming my way … must catch.”’

Alou’s on-field hissy fit was directed squarely at Bartman. He later sincerely regretted it and apologised, but within 24 hours, Bartman’s name and address were published by the Chicago Sun-Times, whereupon a torrent of death threats, pickets and internet jokes ensued. Bartman’s behaviour was exemplary. Pursued with lucrative movie deals and book contracts, he refused them all, issued an apology to the fans and declined all interview requests.

William Schober

In 1986, the Red Sox were not just two outs away from their first World Series since 1918, as David Runciman says, but one strike. The catcher that couldn’t manage Bob Stanley’s wild pitch was Rich Gedman, not Geldman. And to say that this wild pitch was ‘quickly forgotten in the mythology’ that surrounded Buckner’s tragic flub is to ignore the legions of Red Sox fans who remember both as if they happened only moments ago.

Leonard Benardo

As Easy to Fly as a Bicycle

Lanny Anderson writes to correct my assertion that Orville Wright was the first man to fly an aeroplane, claiming the prize for Karl Jatho (Letters, 4 March). There are at least six other heavier-than-air flight pioneers who have been credited with being the first to fly; all come before Jatho. The criteria most aeronautic historians have applied when awarding the ‘first to fly’ medal are: first, that the event must involve a craft which could sustain its flight only because of the power of its engine, and which was fitted with a control system allowing the pilot to maintain his course; second, that the flight must be well documented by first-hand witnesses; and, finally, that the flight must be repeatable. Jatho and the six other contenders all fail on at least one of these criteria.

Robert Macfarlane