Elephants in the Scherzo
E.M. Forster is not always as facetious as Frank Kermode says he is (LRB, 6 October). The description of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in Howards End may be ‘an embarrassing couple of pages’ but it’s unlikely that Forster is ‘gently sneering at people who profess to like music without knowing how to do so’. Everything else he wrote about music suggests that he really was the kind of listener who listened to Beethoven and found ‘goblins and elephants in the scherzo’. ‘Not Listening to Music’ (1939) begins: ‘Listening to music is such a muddle that one scarcely knows how to describe it.’ In ‘The Raison d’Etre of Criticism in the Arts’ (1947), his charge against Walt Whitman’s account of the Beethoven Septet (‘a copious grove of singing birds’) could easily be turned back on him: ‘Here is adorable literature, but what has it to do with Op. 20?’ The adorability of Whitman on Beethoven is as dubious as that of Forster on the Fifth Symphony: both writers are gushing and imprecise – but probably sincere.
John Christensen’s piece on offshore finance (LRB, 6 October) deals mainly with the period from the 1980s to the mid-1990s, but anyone reading it would imagine that the situation he describes remains in place. Nowhere does he mention the Financial Services and Markets Act of 2000, or the legislation dealing with money laundering, or the position of the UK regulator (the Financial Services Authority) or, for that matter, the financial regulatory authorities of Jersey. He may not be aware that all staff of the FSA have to undertake rigorous tests in anti-money-laundering legislation.
Christensen includes not one precise piece of evidence of wrongdoing by the Jersey or the UK government authorities. He refers knowingly to ‘dirty money’, but what does he mean by it in this context? If he means that the proceeds of crime are being passed through a network of offshore accounts, then that is money laundering and it is a criminal activity. Or does he mean money gained by means he disapproves of but which is processed according to legitimate methods of tax avoidance? He seems to confuse avoidance with evasion. And by ‘City of London banks’, does he mean banks residing in the City – which could be Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland or Lloyds TSB – or small, exclusive finance houses? There are far more foreign banks in the City than UK banks. What is Christensen’s point, other than to imply that City = bad?
Christensen also neglects to mention the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body whose purpose is to develop and promote national and international policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. Full members include, among many others, the UK, the USA, Argentina, all the EU member states, Switzerland and Turkey. Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are not full FATF members, but they are members of the Offshore Group of Banking Supervisors. Christensen’s innuendos would lead his readers to believe that those in authority are little better than criminals. The reality is quite different. ‘Dirty money’ – the proceeds of crime – does come over from Nigeria, from other African countries and from other parts of the world, but it is not always possible to identify when money is being laundered. Criminals are skilful, and technologically adept.
Christensen sneers at the use of such things as ‘special purpose vehicles’ (SPVs) and ‘beneficial ownership’. There is nothing necessarily illegal or suspicious about these things, when used legitimately. SPVs are often used in the quite legitimate process of ‘securitisation’, by which companies take assets off their balance sheet and issue investment paper (‘securitising’) against them, usually in the form of bonds. The SPV is used to ensure that a ‘clean break’ is achieved between the issuing company and the assets it formerly controlled. The process is subject to rigorous auditing, and is scrutinised by the FSA whenever a supervised firm is involved (it nearly always is, as banks are required to undertake the work). The term ‘beneficial owner’ is quite commonly used in share dealings and other financial transactions to differentiate the owner who benefits from an asset from the legal owner, which may be a bank nominee company, for example. It is usually a matter of convenience, not secrecy. Indeed, when served with the appropriate notice by the authorities, the nominee company must divulge the name and address of the beneficial owner. An uninformed reader of Christensen’s article could be forgiven for thinking that recourse to SPVs and nominee companies were criminal activities.
Of course we would all like there to be less corruption, and fewer opportunities to promote it. But Christensen does his cause no good by using the language of accusation without substantiating his argument. Where does he get his figures from? Whose calculations are they? When he speaks loosely of the ‘real intentions’ of the IMF, the World Bank and the UK government, what is he implying? If he knows of individuals or bodies that have broken the law – principally the Money Laundering Regulations or the FSMA – he should report it to the authorities. Indeed, in the case of money laundering, the regulations require him to do so.
Beyond the Ashes
Richard Guy suggests that a main reason there are so few black cricketers in or even near the current England team is that many state schools no longer play the game (Letters, 6 October). I wonder. It’s true that black cricketers are likely to have been to state, not private schools, almost all of which appear still positively to encourage cricket and can afford to perpetuate a game that is notoriously expensive in terms of time, equipment and space. Indeed, it was reported earlier in the summer that some 35 per cent of those now playing professional cricket in the county championship went to private schools, an extraordinary figure if it’s the case, and surely a much higher percentage of the privately educated than ever you could have found in the past.
On the other hand, it’s not clear why the game should need to depend exclusively on schools to produce cricketers. Many have learned to play the game, to start with at any rate, in parks, on waste ground or on the street, and there remain hundreds of local cricket clubs which boys can join. It would be a mistake to imagine that only if you played at school have you got a chance of being good enough to get into a test team. The hero of the hour, Andrew Flintoff, seems to have played hardly at all at the Lancashire school he went to (and turned down an offer from Northamptonshire at one point, an offer that included a scholarship to a local public school). Flintoff has a rare talent, admittedly, but his example can still serve to weaken the argument that it all depends on state schools relearning to practise and support a game they seldom have the proper facilities for if we’re to see more black players getting to the top. Since England got the Ashes back, and the hungover players did their open-top and 10 Downing Street bit, we’ve started hearing about large sums of money being pumped into the game to encourage young players. This is sadly reminiscent of the ridiculous hoo-ha surrounding the Olympic bid, whereby money that should have been provided all along for decent sporting facilities turns out to be available only if it can be tied to some spectacular and possibly ephemeral success.
Alasdair Mackenzie asks why I think non-white players are being frozen out of the England test team (Letters, 6 October). England are taking an all-white party of 17 players to Pakistan for the test series this winter. Doubtless these players were selected ‘on merit’, but merit is not a straightforward quality when picking a cricket team. The squad does not include Owais Shah, who had the best batting average last summer of any English player available for selection. Shah did not even make the one-day squad, though as Mackenzie points out the one-day side has recently included players like Kabir Ali and Vikram Solanki (who is going to Pakistan for the one-day games). What Duncan Fletcher and the England management appear to value in the test team above all else is team spirit, all-for-one, one-for-all. The one-day side is a more experimental, haphazard affair. The fact that non-white players occasionally make it into the one-day team doesn’t prove much, and is consistent with the kind of attitude that used to be rife in English football – the idea that black players were good for a cup run, but not the long, hard grind of an English league season. Lots of non-white players play cricket in this country. Some of them used to make it into the England test team. Now they don’t. The reasons behind this are certainly complex. But one factor seems to be, as Shah’s Middlesex coach John Emburey put it when he learned of Shah’s omission from the winter touring parties, that certain faces don’t ‘fit’.
The Wrong Idea of North
James Hamilton-Paterson calls the Arctic Circle ‘an imaginary boundary arbitrarily drawn’ (LRB, 1 September). Imaginary it might be – there is no line drawn on the ground – but arbitrary it is not. The Arctic Circle is at latitude 66.5º (approximately), which is 90º (the location of the North Pole) minus 23.5º, the tilt of the Earth’s axis with respect to the plane of the Earth’s orbit. More exactly, in 2000, the latitude for the Arctic Circle was 66º33’39”. The tilt of the Earth varies with time, so the Arctic Circle is not at a fixed latitude. Some very real phenomena occur above the Arctic Circle and not below it. For example, above the Arctic Circle, the sun is above the horizon for at least 24 continuous hours once a year (the midnight sun).
James Hamilton-Paterson’s review of two books on the North mentions the icebergs outside the harbour in St John’s, and notes that the destruction of the cod stocks on the Grand Banks has had a bad effect on the Newfoundland economy. However, St John’s is a full degree south of Paris, while the UK, which is located north of latitude 50º, is not normally taken to be part of the North. The icebergs outside St John’s harbour in springtime are a consequence of the north-south Labrador Current, which has the opposite effect on the Newfoundland climate to that produced by the south-north Gulf Stream on the UK.
St John’s, Newfoundland
In her richly allusive review of Michael Cunningham’s richly allusive new novel, Jacqueline Rose writes fascinatingly on the subject of Cunningham’s extensive debt to Whitman and to Freud (LRB, 22 September). It is disappointing, though, that in a discussion of a story set in the future, in which ‘“simulos” … are being exterminated as their unpredicted complexity (they are capable of dreaming) interferes with their function,’ there should be no mention of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Peter Campbell’s ‘lead-guessing’ is a nice take on Bleigiessen (LRB, 6 October), but the correct translation is ‘lead-pouring’. May his shapes ever be auspicious.
Nicholas von Maltzahn
He’s a Man!
There was a mistake in Robert Irwin’s review of Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi (LRB, 18 August). Hanna Mina, the author of Fragments of Memory, is a man, not a woman.