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Letters

Vol. 23 No. 15 · 9 August 2001

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People in Glasshouses

I was interested to see that Murray Sayle’s article on hydrocarbon culture (LRB, 21 June) prompted the Times to follow closely in his footsteps when the moment came to produce their own lengthy piece on global warming in Section 2 on 9 July. Sayle mentions Cape Grim, and so does the Times. Sayle calls it ‘a 300-foot sandstone spike projecting into the Southern Ocean on the wind-whipped western coast of Tasmania’. The Times calls it ‘a 300-foot sandstone spike that sticks out from the windy western coast of Tasmania, Australia’. Sayle tells us that Cape Grim is squarely in the track of ‘the steady westerlies known by sailors as the Roaring Forties, which in those latitudes blow uninterrupted around the planet; the nearest land is the southern tip of Patagonia ten thousand miles away’. The Times, too, speaks of ‘powerful westerlies known to sailors as the Roaring Forties, which in those landless latitudes … blow virtually uninterrupted’, although they disagree on distances: ‘the nearest land is Patagonia, a thousand miles away.’ Sayle says: ‘The present level of co2 in the air has not been higher in the past 420,000 years … The present rate of increase has no precedent in the past 20,000 years – that is, since the last Ice Age. How do we know all this? By analysing air bubbles trapped in samples brought up from boreholes some two miles deep in the Antarctic and Greenland icecaps.’ The Times agrees, more or less: ‘By analysing the air bubbles trapped in samples brought up from undersea boreholes in the Antarctic and Greenland, IPCC scientists have shown that the amount of carbon dioxide now in the air is the highest it has been in the past 420,000 years. The amount is increasing faster than at any time in the past 20,000 years – or since the last Ice Age.’ I thought I should draw these coincidences to your attention.

Alistair Elliot
Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Editor, ‘London Review’ writes: But note the differences of style. Sayle explains that if the sea level continues to rise at the present rate, ‘Miss Liberty may well be up to her bodice in New York Harbour,’ while the Times says simply that the water ‘could eventually reach the waist of the Statue of Liberty’. Efforts to avoid slavish imitation must be given their due. Where Sayle says, for instance, that ‘the concentration of carbon dioxide in the pure sea air … has risen by 10 per cent, and the rate of increase is accelerating,’ the Times prefers: ‘The concentration of carbon dioxide in the pure sea air … has risen by 10 per cent, and the rate of increase is getting faster.’ Etc. The following day, the Times published an article in Section 2 which generously attributes a summary of possible approaches to global warming to Sayle, ‘writing in the London Review of Books’. We’re grateful for any acknowledgment we get.

Yah-Boo

We have fought 13 Parliamentary elections, and have never read a more pertinent reflection on the hustings published within a month of polling day than Ross McKibbin’s (LRB, 5 July). Nowhere else, for example, have we seen the connection made between the Europeanisation of British sport and Hague’s harping on the Euro. Yet, now that Glasgow Rangers fans idolise Amoruso, Caniggia and Nerlinger in an Ibrox side that often includes only one Scot, and many Celtic fans name their children Henrik or Larsson, after Parkhead’s prolific Swedish striker, McKibbin must be right that these fans are less likely to ‘fuss much’ about Europe. McKibbin is also correct about the honourable and benign role of comprehensive schools. Alastair Campbell should have apologised or been dismissed.

Tam and Kathleen Dalyell
House of Commons, London SW1

Keith Kyle (Letters, 19 July) makes the point that an elected second chamber would merely replicate the rush to slogan, spin and mantra, of which the Commons delivers a sufficiency. How about a second chamber divided between appointees of some distinction and interest (not party hacks, retirees and donors) and members of the public chosen by lot, like jurors?

George Schlesinger
Durham

Bach’s Uncles

Edward Said claims that illness prevented J.S. Bach from concluding the last piece in The Art of Fugue (LRB, 19 July). Said should know that you can’t compose a quadruple fugue without writing the ending first, and that the ‘missing’ final page of Bach’s final work, a self-inscribed musical epitaph Busoni re-created in his Fantasia Contrappuntistica, must have been misplaced – probably by one of the composer’s sons.

Kevin Kopelson
Iowa City, Iowa

Why does Edward Said accept the standard, heroic view of the history of Western music? If this history is indeed ‘dominated by a small number of composers’ the reason is that for the most part we simply do not get to hear the music of the others (or of almost anybody before the mid-16th century), unless we deliberately seek them out, and even then there are limits on how many we can reach in this vast field of posthumous silence. How many of Bach’s uncles or Mozart’s rivals has Said listened to? I find it undemocratic, and rather quaint, to imagine that the whole thing is the work of half a dozen monolithic geniuses.

Peter Riley
Cambridge

Cultural Vandalism

In his review of John Evelyn’s Elysium Britannicum, Keith Thomas (LRB, 19 July) feels that there was something ‘precious and unrealistic’ about Evelyn’s suggestion that marble columns should be procured from classical ruins to use for rolling lawns. However, at least one of Evelyn’s contemporaries took the suggestion at face value. James Theobald acquired a section of a fine classical column for his house at White Waltham, where it was indeed used as a garden roller. It didn’t, as Evelyn had suggested, come directly from Smyrna; Theobald excavated it himself from a Lambeth rubbish dump where the less noteworthy of the Earl of Arundel’s marbles had been dumped after the Civil War. Theobald’s ingenious adaptation – which I had previously taken as a particularly inspired piece of cultural vandalism – now seems to have a literary precedent, suggesting that Evelyn’s manuscript may have had some limited circulation, or that he had cribbed the idea.

Jon Newman
Oxford

John Evelyn’s belief in the spontaneous generation of insects suggests to Keith Thomas that he was not at the ‘cutting-edge of contemporary entomology’. But Evelyn’s belief would have been considered perfectly sound in the 17th century (and fly-plagued Australians are tempted to believe it still).

Mick McManus
Leeds Metropolitan University

Apocalypse Two

R.W. Johnson should have told us (LRB, 21 June)that his list of Hutu ‘reprisal killings’ of Tutsis, which begins with 1962 and ends with 1993, is partial. They began in 1959 and there were ten in all. He notifies us of five. He also tells us that the plane of the Rwandan President, Habyarimana, was shot down on 5 April, but it was on 6 April – the day the genocide began and on which it is now commemorated every year, and not only in Rwanda. Johnson says that the killings were carried out in ‘April and May’, but they continued into July. General Dallaire was not ‘the head of the UN Assistance Mission’ in Rwanda, but the military commander. J.R. Booh-Booh was the ‘head’. Johnson identifies Herman Cohen as Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of State for Africa. But he was a member of the Bush Administration. How could Cohen have been ‘so busy in Rwanda in 1994’ when he was out of office? Finally, Clinton did not withdraw his troops from Somalia ‘on the spot’ after the deaths of 18 US Rangers in 1993, but gave six months’ notice of doing so.

Elaine Windrich
Stanford University

R.W. Johnson writes: I plead guilty of absent-mindedness on Herman Cohen’s tenure. And of sloppy writing on the matter of the withdrawal of US troops from Somalia: it was the announcement that was immediate. Yes, I might have listed every single massacre and alleged massacre of Tutsis in the thirty or forty years before the 1994 genocide and I might have called Booh-Booh by his full title, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Rwanda, but everybody used (and uses) the acronym UNAMIR (UN Assistance Mission to Rwanda) to denote the UN military force or, as I say, ‘the small force under Dallaire’, which was all that counted at the time. Booh-Booh was quite ineffectual.

Backdated

‘Expect the unexpected,’ Iain Bamforth tells us (LRB, 19 July), is Tomi Ungerer’s slogan ‘and dates back to the 1960s’. In fact it belongs to Heraclitus, and dates back to the 69th Olympiad, about 504 to 500 BC.

Patrick Hughes
London EC2

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