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Vol. 25 No. 15 · 7 August 2003

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Armageddon Now

John Sutherland (LRB, 5 June) had me wondering how many generations have now lived through ‘the end times’? My friend John (he died in his twenties in 1975) spent a week, as an eight-year-old, in the woods near his home in British Columbia, believing he had been ‘left behind’. He’d come home from school to find his minister father, his mother, his siblings, all the Christian neighbours and members of the congregation he’d tried to contact, missing – ‘Raptured’, he thought.

I passed many long Sunday morning sermons – the evening ones were fire and brimstone and worth staying alert for – reading the Christian romance novels written in the 1930s and 1940s by Grace Livingstone Hill, and available from the Sunday School library. It was considered one of her ‘failings’, I was delighted recently to learn, that she described evil in too much detail. I remember a scene in which a young woman was tortured by the Antichrist or one of his minions by being tied to a stake on the Temple Mount, covered in honey, then set upon by ants. She kept true to her faith, however, and although she died, was ‘saved’.

I could never keep straight the prophetic meanings found in the Books of Daniel and Revelation. The Eagle had to be the United States and the Bear the Russians. But what did they do, and when? It was worrying. It made a kind of sense when evangelists warned that the Common Market was the first step towards World Government and domination by the Antichrist. In Canada, the introduction of social insurance numbers in the 1960s, and later of bar codes on merchandise, were seen by my parents’ church as crucial steps towards the universal stamp of 666. Nowadays, politicians appear to see themselves as instruments of biblical prophecy. This doesn’t seem to me much different from the woman who’s told by the palm reader that her future includes a tall dark stranger, and then goes out to find one.

Marilyn Bowering
Sooke, British Colombia

Different Class

As a footballer in the 1930s and 1940s, R.W. Johnson’s father (LRB, 24 July) would certainly have known the Liverpool legend Billy Liddell, who refused to turn professional and played simply because he enjoyed the game. As Johnson says, footballers then received very low wages, and clubs such as Liverpool fostered the ethic of ‘wearing your shirt with pride’ – there was little else to persuade players to put their shirts on. Liddell earned most of his money – and spent most of his time – working as an accountant, training only as often as his job allowed. As late as 1971 Ian St John earned £40 a week, about the same as Ford workers on Merseyside. Only in 1998, when Roy Evans was replaced as manager by Gérard Houllier, was the cap removed from Liverpool players’ wages. When Harry Kewell signed for Liverpool this summer he claimed that it was the realisation of a childhood dream rather than the promise of being joint top earner at Anfield (£60,000 a week) that encouraged him to join the club. Money now prevails in the Premiership and it’s little wonder that many workers on Merseyside who once enjoyed parity of income with the players they supported, can no longer afford to go to games.

David Rose

R.W. Johnson names Everton and Liverpool along with Celtic and Rangers as teams whose support divides along religious lines. The first football club in Liverpool was Everton, which was founded in 1878 and had its ground at Anfield. Liverpool FC was founded in 1892 after an Everton boardroom row involving John Houlding, who owned Anfield. After that, Everton was forced to find a new ground. The emergence of the two Liverpool clubs had little to do with religious sectarianism, but had its origin in a quarrel about money and property. Today, Liverpool families commonly split along football lines. They should not be seen in the same sectarian league as followers of the Old Firm.

Brian Towers

Showing Off

In his review of Richard Lindley’s book on Panorama, Andy Beckett (LRB, 10 July) mentioned Lindley’s and my coverage of the Yom Kippur War. I’m not sure what Beckett meant by referring to our ‘showing off’, but let me now do so! We didn’t just beat ‘the rest of the BBC’ into Egyptian-held territory in Sinai, we beat the rest of the world. We also got an exclusive with President Sadat. In those pre-satellite days, Sadat’s aides then helped us get our footage back to London. I was rushed to the airport by two senior Egyptian Army officers and ushered on board an EgyptAir Boeing. With me as the only passenger, the jet headed down over Africa – to avoid interception by Israeli fighters – and then across to Jeddah. From there I was able to ship the film to London for transmission before the temporary Egyptian victory turned into a rout.

Anthony Summers
Co. Waterford, Ireland

Dip in

Those interested in the ‘initiative’ type of referendum mentioned by David Runciman (LRB, 10 July) might like to dip into the Swiss Constitution, which, in Articles 138 to 142, sets out the uses of the initiative (changes in the Constitution requested by 100,000 citizens) and the referendum proper, the latter coming in two versions: compulsory (changes in the Constitution and laws that have to be put to the vote) and facultative (when a vote on new laws or treaties is requested at the federal level by 50,000 citizens or eight cantons). These tools are open to abuse, by powerful interest groups for instance, but citizens called to the ballot box several times a year are not so easily duped. It is true that low turn-outs are worrying: not so long ago there were plebiscites in parts of Europe with participation/approval rates of 99.9 per cent. But does the right of vote not also include the right to abstain?

Wilhelm Schmid
The Hague

David Runciman wonders what to make of Giscard’s prefacing of the draft European Constitution with a well-known line attributed to Pericles from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. Since this is the story of democracy subverted by demagogues, chancers and mediocrities on the make, any reference to it in the European context is happily apt.

Michael McManus
Leeds Metropolitan University

David Runciman mentions that Paul Scofield played the writer Carl van Doren in the film Quiz Show. In fact, Scofield played Carl's brother, the poet and critic Mark van Doren, a professor of English at Columbia and the father of Charles, the quiz contestant who was inveigled into cheating. After the scandal Charles van Doren went to work for the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Jill Kitson

Stopping Motion

Anne Hollander (LRB, 24 July) is remarkably generous to Rebecca Solnit’s Motion Studies: Time, Space and Eadweard Muybridge, despite Solnit’s unfounded suggestion that Muybridge should be considered as the ‘father’ of motion pictures.

Muybridge was not the first to produce sequences of projected images. In 1864 Louis Ducos du Hauron, who is also credited with the first effective colour photographic system, patented a camera which used up to 580 lenses to capture motion. In 1870, two years before Muybridge took his famous stop-motion shots of a trotting horse, 1600 people in Philadelphia bought tickets for a lantern show on a February Saturday. They saw the Phasmatrope projecting moving photographic images of an acrobat and of a couple waltzing to the accompaniment of a live orchestra.

On another February Saturday, this time in 1888, Muybridge projected stop-motion photographs and brief moving sequences of drawings (not photographs) in his Zoopraxiscope to an audience in Orange, New Jersey, where Thomas Edison lived. On the Monday he visited ‘the Wizard’ and suggested that Edison’s new phonograph could be combined with the Zoopraxiscope. Edison didn’t follow this up, but he did add the capture of photographic motion to the subjects to be researched by his lab. His interest had probably already been roused by a recent meeting with Muybridge’s French opposite number, Etienne de Marey; and he must have known about Eastman’s celluloid film, which had been widely advertised from 1885.

There are errors, too, in the story of subsequent events as recounted by Solnit. For example, the famous Lumière screening in 1895 was not the first paid-for public show that year but the fourth. Unimportant in themselves, such mistakes mask her more important error of crediting the cinema to ‘eureka’ advances by solitary great men. Like all such ‘inventions’ it owes far more to social forces than that. Attempting to position Muybridge as a significant player in the history of cinema goes against the grain of his most famous work in any case. Like Marey, but unlike du Hauron and those who followed him, Muybridge was essentially aiming to stop motion, not to re-create it.

Brian Winston
University of Lincoln

Aids and the Polio Vaccine

Just as Stanley Plotkin’s latest letter was being published in the LRB (Letters, 10 July), I received a communication from him – a postcard with the caption ‘Punishment of the Apple Stealers’. The photo showed one figure cracking another over the head with a club, and the message read: ‘Dear Ed, Thinking of you. Stanley Plotkin.’ There were, however, no answers to the key questions that have been put to him over the last nine years.

Plotkin’s undocumented assertion that the titre of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) fed early in 1958 to 215,000 people in the Ruzizi Valley (between present-day Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo) was measured at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, and that the vaccine was then diluted 60-fold by Ghislain Courtois in Africa, contradicts the medical literature. Dr Courtois wrote that it was the specifically the ‘mother-solution’ of the vaccine that was stored in the freezer at Bujumbura that had a known titre (of about 15 million doses per millilitre), and that this vaccine was then diluted 60-fold to reach the accepted immunising titre of 250,000 doses. Virologists in the 1950s were well aware that OPV rapidly loses titre during transportation and when its temperature rises. So if Plotkin is correct when he says that the titration was done in Philadelphia, this would mean that the vaccine fed in Africa was of unknown titre.

Studies conducted in the 1950s by the National Institutes of Health revealed that the titre of OPVs fell between two-fold and eight-fold when moved between different labs in the United States, and an even greater loss of titre would be expected during the process of transporting OPV in an ice-box to Africa. After the further 60-fold dilution, such an under-strength vaccine would (according to the Wistar’s own test data) have immunised only between 33 and 67 per cent of the target population, which would have rendered the world’s first OPV mass-trial meaningless. If it did come from Philadelphia, why was the vaccine not titrated again in Africa, to allow its concentration to be properly established?

Edward Hooper
Bridgwater, Somerset

Wrong Platform

John Lanchester says in his Diary (LRB, 10 July) that Tony Blair ‘bounded out towards Euston and the train north for his constituency’. He would have found his train more easily if he had gone to King’s Cross, which is where trains for the North-East of England normally depart.

Martin Staniforth

Wrong Name

The Syrian Intelligence chief I referred to in my piece in the last issue (LRB, 24 July) was Bahjat Suleiman, rather than Majid Suleiman, as I had it.

Charles Glass

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