LRB Cover

Send letters to:

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London WC1A 2HN
letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and work and home telephone numbers.

Letters


Do as the Germans do

Neal Ascherson writes that ‘in property terms as in everything else, Germany in 1945 started from zero’ (LRB, 6 June). In fact, in 1945 Germans started from zero in everything except property. Land and buildings (if they were not turned to rubble) were the only form in which wealth survived the Nazi period, and the few who could reclaim their buildings were the only ones who started out with more than the statutory fifty new Deutschmarks per person. At that time, property ownership was seen as the only possible hedge against disaster, and what ensued was the introduction of a legal and economic policy aimed at balancing the rights of property owners with the need of the rest of the population for secure tenancies.

Germans remained tenants for three principal reasons. First, lenders exercised extreme prudence. Banks would rarely lend more than 60 per cent of the purchase price, and the prospective purchaser would have to provide at least 40 per cent of the equity in cash, which excluded most would-be buyers during the decades of economic recovery and beyond. Second, Germany’s fiscal structure provides no tax relief for home ownership. The German taxpayer can only deduct costs and expenses related to income-producing property, so that it is often better to purchase a property, rent it to someone else and live oneself in a rented flat. Third, tenants have powerful rights. For instance, a leasehold cannot be terminated unless the owner can prove (in court) that they need the premises for their ‘own use’. Even then, landlords will generally need to give a minimum three years’ notice. Residential premises are rented ‘naked’: the tenant installs all the fixtures, including the kitchen, lighting and closets. Such a level of investment on the tenant’s part couldn’t be justified without long-term tenancies secured by law.

These banking practices, tax structures and legal protections have worked together to establish tenancy as the norm, and have made it possible for Germany to avoid the property ‘bubble’ from which other economies have suffered so gravely. Germans did not elevate home ownership to the status of a basic human value, but instead encouraged risk-aversion, stability and social justice. Paradoxically, the system of tenancy results in less mobility than is found in most countries where ownership is the norm. Tenancies can last a lifetime and often do.

Christine Rossini
Cologne


An Exercise in Scapegoating

Jonathan Portes says my letter in the last LRB is more ‘coherent’ than the 416-page book I wrote ranging over a large number of subjects related to postwar immigration and its management (Letters, 4 July). But this is apples and pears. You cannot judge a book like The British Dream by the standards of an academic paper. There are a very small number of factual errors in the book, which I will correct. None of them has any bearing on the book’s main arguments. In the few cases where the detail is wrong (or more often unclear) the bigger point remains correct: whether it is the worrying level of genetic disability deriving from cousin marriage among British Pakistanis in Bradford and its knock-on effect in schools, or the very significant increase in the level of British immigration (both net and gross) after 1997. Does Portes deny either of these?

Portes sniffily rejects my use of the terms ‘Saudi Arabianisation’ and ‘little Somalias’. Saudi Arabianisation is a metaphor. I do not mean that our labour market has literally become like Saudi Arabia’s, but in some parts of the country too many British citizens are ‘parked’ in unemployment or inactivity while newcomers with lower wage expectations fill many of the low-skilled jobs. And of course Somalis cluster together (often in social housing) in many parts of the country, as minority groups always have done, at least initially. If Portes went to parts of Leicester or West London he would hear people talking about ‘little Somalias’, including the Somalis themselves.

Portes was one of the architects of Labour’s immigration policy and has to defend it against my critique. He claims that I am wrong to want to return to net immigration of around 100,000 a year, but where is his evidence of the economic benefit to existing citizens in the bottom half of the income spectrum from the much higher levels of immigration in recent years? And what about the worrying evidence for continuing ‘parallel lives’ in some parts of the country? Instead of responding to the main challenges set down in my book Portes has been sniping in the footnotes.

David Goodhart
London SE1

Jonathan Portes writes: So The British Dream contains ‘only a small number of factual errors’. How would David Goodhart know, when by his own admission he doesn’t check facts or cite sources? As I pointed out to him, his discussion of the US welfare state contains three factual errors on a single page. Fortunately this has no bearing on the main arguments. We can leave to one side the question of why Goodhart discusses subjects of which he’s ignorant: his central theses are also full of holes.

He refers to ‘worrying evidence’ for ‘parallel lives’. To support this he has repeatedly, most recently in the Financial Times, claimed that the number of ‘white British’ people leaving London tripled between the 1990s and the 2000s, and that this is strong evidence of ‘white flight’ – a phrase he is single-handedly attempting to introduce to the UK debate. The problem is that the 1991 Census he refers to did not include a ‘white British’ category. When asked to support his assertion, he cited Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck College, who responded publicly: ‘Will know firm numbers soon. But there isn’t “white flight”.’ And when it comes to the labour market, he defends his use of the phrase ‘Saudi Arabianisation’ as just a ‘metaphor’ – presumably because he ran out of evidence, accurate or otherwise, to back it up. If such things didn’t matter, Goodhart’s book would be merely amateurish. But they do. My verdict that The British Dream is ‘dangerous’ stands.

London SW1

As a resident of Bradford, a city often (unfairly) singled out as an example of the poor integration of immigrant communities, I found David Goodhart’s stereotyping of the city’s immigrant communities in The British Dream offensive, patronising and misleading. There are some difficult socio-economic issues in Bradford but to claim they are the fault of immigrant communities is wrong.

Goodhart is right to point out that researchers need to go beyond the data by talking to ‘real people’, but it seems he has been very selective with the people he has spoken to and the stories he has chosen to include. Why has he overlooked the fact that Bradford was riot-free in 2011 while the rest of Britain burned? Why has he ignored the story of Bradford’s last remaining synagogue, now given a financial lifeline by Muslims? And why has he failed to notice the successful community-led effort to save the city’s iconic Odeon cinema?

Mahmoona Shah
Bradford


Determination of Death

Wayne Sumner gives a misleading account of the way brain death for organ donation is diagnosed, suggesting that both spontaneous respiration and circulation may be present at the time of diagnosis (LRB, 4 July). In fact in the UK since 1976 brain death has been based on the diagnosis of brain stem death. This is an irreversible condition characterised by, among other clinical tests, the absence of spontaneous respiration. Potential donors for organ transplantation usually have a severe head injury and end up in an intensive care unit, where they may be placed on a ventilator. If in due course a diagnosis of brain stem death is made, disconnection from the ventilator will result in cessation of heartbeat and hence circulation within a very few minutes. However, if the individual had previously indicated consent for their organs to be used for transplantation, artificial ventilation is continued for a few more hours so that when the organs are removed they are in good condition. This in no way constitutes what Sumner describes as a sleight of hand designed to determine death in such a way as to acquire desperately needed organs for transplantation.

Terence English
Oxford


Death in Plain Sight

Marina Warner makes no mention of the part played by the constitutionalist movement in the struggle for the vote (LRB, 4 July). It was the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, led by Mrs Fawcett, not the Pankhursts’ Women’s Social and Political Union, which arguably – and it’s a very strong argument – eventually won the vote for women of thirty and over thanks to its non-militant tactics. And Warner’s assertion that Davison’s death converted the public to ‘sympathy for her cause’ is not borne out by the evidence. By 1914, the dangerous escalation in militant violence, with its threat to human life as well as to public and private property, had largely alienated public sympathy from the suffrage campaign. As the Labour MP Philip Snowden, a supporter of votes for women, declared in the summer of 1914, the suffragettes’ actions in the past year ‘had so far set the clock back that the suffrage question was temporarily as dead as Queen Anne’.

Mark Bostridge
London NW3

Marina Warner might be pleased to learn that the opening ceremony at last summer’s Olympics included more than a ‘glimpse’ of the suffragettes. The Pandemonium section included a re-enactment of the death of Emily Wilding Davison, directed by Toby Sedgwick. A photo of the memorial plaque from the broom cupboard in St Mary Undercroft appeared in the official programme, and the very sash that she wore was carried in the procession. Admittedly no one knew except the organisers. But it gave us all what Father Dougal would call ‘a great buzz’ to know it was there. We felt that she was walking with us.

Frank Cottrell Boyce
Liverpool


A Diverse Collection of Peoples

Since the initial publication of my first book, The Invention of the Jewish People, in Hebrew the book has been the subject of dozens of reviews, some praising it and others taking a more critical tone. As a result, I have long since become used to the fact that some people do not appreciate my historical work. However, most of my serious detractors at least bother to read my work carefully before criticising it. Daniel Lazare has not done so (LRB, 20 June). Instead he has restricted himself to compiling a collection of points in it that he didn’t like.

This is not the appropriate place to enumerate all the factual errors contained in Lazare’s review. Instead, I would like to offer the readers the following extract from it, which effectively illustrates the degree of negligence in his reading and writing:

Sand thinks of Jewish influence as proceeding in one direction only: from Judah outwards. He tries to show that the notion that the Jews were forcibly expelled from their homeland after the abortive Jerusalem revolt of 66 to 70 is a myth and that many simply drifted off in search of economic opportunity: ‘Jewry’s amazing expansion between 150 BCE and 70 CE was the result of an extensive migration of Judeans to all parts of the world … [a] dynamic, if painful, process that produced the thriving Israelite diaspora.’

The problem is that in the passage from which that quotation is taken, I am advancing precisely the opposite argument. I am not only critical of the myth of exile, but I explicitly criticise the thesis that the Judeans ever migrated away from ‘their homeland’ of Palestine in the first place. Throughout the book, I seek to show that Judaism was not the product of massive migration but rather the outcome of a dynamic process of conversion and the spread of an important monotheistic religion. Jews did not ‘disperse’ from Judah and certainly never lived in a diaspora. This, in fact, is the main thesis of my book. It is also a point that, for reasons known only to him, Lazare apparently had trouble understanding.

Shlomo Sand
Tel Aviv University

Daniel Lazare writes: Shlomo Sand accuses me of numerous factual errors, but doesn’t say what they are. He insists that my quotation from The Invention of the Jewish People is misleading because it is part of a passage in which he presents ‘precisely the opposite argument’: that the dispersion thesis is incorrect and that Judaism is really the result ‘of a dynamic process of conversion’. To be sure, he takes issue with the dispersion thesis by questioning how many Judeans actually went abroad. But nowhere does he question the underlying assumption that Judaism was something that flowed from Judea into the wider world when in fact ideological influences flowed in the opposite direction as well.

In fact, we know that Judea was part of an international Yahwist movement and that ‘mono-Yahwists’ who advocated the exclusive worship of Yahweh were an even smaller element. The story of Judaism’s coalescence out of this broad Yahwist milieu is much more complex than both he and the Zionists realise.

New York

Daniel Lazare mentions a study from 2010 which ‘found that Ashkenazic Jews are more genetically diverse than a comparable sample of non-Jewish Europeans, possibly because they “arose from a more genetically diverse Middle Eastern founder population” than previously believed.’ This does not necessarily follow. The study could be read as supporting the opposite of Lazare’s interpretation, and as bolstering the traditional case for the Middle Eastern origin of Ashkenazic Jews, if one allows for the possibility that in the course of the presumed initial exile and the subsequent migrations that wound up in Northern and Central Europe, and then in subsequent attacks, there were extensive episodes of rape. The heightened Ashkenazic genetic diversity would then flow from the history of where they lived and who was besetting them. The heightened ‘Italian and French’ genetic contribution (especially if one includes Roman soldiers) would make sense in this context.

David Kronenfeld
University of California


Complaints about the BL

My experience of applying for a British Library ticket in the days of scarcity makes for an interesting comparison with that of Richard Davenport-Hines (Letters, 6 June). The application form was awkward: I was not preparing a thesis; nobody sponsored me; my qualifications were modest. My need was simple: to consult Paul Hamburger’s translation of Das Brandopfer by Albrecht Goes, a work about the Holocaust that I had recently translated myself.

Disappointed applicants were regularly extruded from the interview room. Eventually I was sat across a desk from a stern middle-aged woman, whose head reminded me of a tank turret. I smiled, handed over my form and explained that a ticket for one week would suffice. She sniffed. I then produced a letter from my local library advising me to apply to the BL, which held the only copy. Her head swivelled towards the paper, eye-slits glinting ominously. I murmured that I could make do with a one-day ticket if need be. ‘Sit back!’ she suddenly barked. There was a flash and a whirr and she passed me a five-year ticket, content I suppose with supplying the opposite of what I had requested.

Roger Morsley-Smith
London W4


Who Won?

David Runciman gives an account of Margaret Thatcher’s handling of the Irish hunger strike of 1981 that is uncomfortably close to the British government’s line at the time (LRB, 6 June). First, the IRA leadership, far from being ‘perfectly willing to see its men starve themselves to death to make its point’, were in fact against the hunger strike. It was the prisoners, both IRA and INLA, who insisted on it. Second, to suggest that Thatcher somehow won the contest also reflects her propaganda of the time. Though the surviving strikers accepted food, they obtained for all the paramilitary prisoners (republican and loyalist) what they had been fighting for since 1976 – the right to free association, civilian clothes, their own command structures and the rest – in what was effectively a complete reversal of the government’s criminalisation policy. Third, the election of Bobby Sands to the British Parliament became the opening salvo in Sinn Fein’s electoral strategy, which came to win them electoral dominance in the nationalist community (over more moderate opponents favoured by the British government) and eventually a partnership in the running of ‘the province’. Finally, to refer to the hunger strikers and their ‘IRA masters’ also has a whiff of the old propaganda. Bobby Sands, as Officer Commanding of the IRA in the Maze, was dictated to by nobody, except perhaps his long-protesting men.

Robert Bell
Copenhagen


Another New Iniquity

Francis FitzGibbon’s protest against the cuts in legal aid and reduction in the scope of judicial review does not extend to the meanest of the ‘reforms’ (LRB, 6 June). This is the imposition of substantial fees on worker claimants in employment tribunals even where the value of the claim is close to, or less than, the level of the fee. (In the simplest cases, the fee will be £390; £160 to lodge the claim and a further £230 if there is a hearing.) This will deter many workers from making small claims for such things as wages unlawfully withheld by employers, holiday pay, pay in lieu of notice etc. There are currently thousands of such claims every year and a high proportion of them are successful, either at the hearings or via out-of-court settlements negotiated by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. The government knew this when it introduced the fees, which are a blatant example of the coalition’s exploitation of the working poor in favour of bad employers, many of them the small and medium-sized employers so beloved of Vince Cable.

Chris Purnell
Orpington, Kent


What’s a kompjoeter?

Benjamin Moser writes: ‘The cumulative effect of a century’s reforms has been to cut the Dutch off from their literature’ (LRB, 23 May). This goes too far. In Moser’s example of the arbitrarily selective style of reformed spelling used by Nescio, only werti and datti would give pause to a Dutch reader, but (speaking personally) not for long. As Moser notes, there have been and still are many schools of language reform in The Netherlands. A particularly ugly example is the phonetic Dutch spelling of kompjoeter for ‘computer’. The only ordinarily noticeable instances of reformed spelling in Dutch, dating from the 1930s, are the elimination of the ‘n’ formerly tacked onto the end of nouns, adjectives and articles used in the dative case, and the elimination of one of the phonetically unnecessary double vowels in words such as eindelooze, now eindeloze. These changes are too insignificant to slow a reader down even slightly.

Fred Haeseker
Calgary, Alberta


Well, yes

‘The sort of place you only choose if the situation is desperate,’ Sheila Heti writes (LRB, 6 June). Well, yes, Akron. A miserable place. Chrissie Hynde was born there. Hart Crane lived there. The punk band Devo lived it. Ruth McKenney places the first non-fiction novel in America, Industrial Valley, there. Place is what it is. It will do to you what it does. What you make of what it has made you is the trick. What men do to women is unspeakable, but it seems it will always be Akron wherever Kate Zambreno is. A miserable place.

Robert Buckeye
Middlebury College, Vermont


Too Casual

In her discussion of the Redgraves, Bee Wilson casually refers to Tony Richardson as Vanessa Redgrave’s ‘second-rate film director husband’ (LRB, 6 June). But if one were to list the best British films of the 1960s, A Taste of Honey and Tom Jones would surely be near the top.

Julia Prewitt Brown
Boston University


Still Standing

Emily Cooke, writing about Dorothy Baker’s Young Man with a Horn, mentions the film adaptation (LRB, 6 June). On its release in Britain, it was coyly retitled Young Man of Music. Wikipedia assures us that as of 4 July 2013 its three stars were still alive: Kirk Douglas is 96, Lauren Bacall 88 and Doris Day 91. They all did better than Bix Beiderbecke.

Inigo Kilborn
Collobrières, France