Vol. 27 No. 2 · 20 January 2005

Search by issue:

On the Arcadian Plain

Tim Flannery says the US ‘is full of geriatric coal-fired power stations … maintained because new plants require pollution control mechanisms’ (LRB, 6 January). In the plain of central Arcadia, near the town of Megalopolis, the Greeks have built two gigantic power stations that run on lignite. This filthy coal is strip-mined locally and stored in long ridges across the landscape. Above the plain rises Mount Lykaio, once the site of a cult of Zeus which involved human sacrifice and werewolves. It was dangerous to enter the sanctuary, which is still there, because you would lose your shadow and die within a year. Pausanias was struck dumb with fear when he visited it. Were he to go there now he would be struck more forcibly by the sight of huge smokestacks sending columns of brown smoke straight up thousands of feet above the plain, the smoke then spreading out in the heat to make a strong-smelling mist across the whole area. But, as my MEP explained, attempting to stop this desecration is futile, because without these generators the lights would go out in Patras and Corinth, and the air-conditioning units in the tourist towns along the coast would fall silent.

Chris Hardy
London SW11

Tim Flannery might not have thought it so mysterious that ‘Mother’ was frequently recorded as a cause of death in the mid-17th century if he’d recalled Lear’s ‘O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!’ The ‘mother’ is hysterica passio, an illness thought to cause choking and shortness of breath. Presumably it is this – rather than, say, infanticide – which is recorded in the necrological data to which Flannery refers.

Peter Morris
Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

Where have all the books gone?

I came across the details of the Penguin Proust a couple of weeks before I read Michael Wood’s review (LRB, 6 January). There is an almost complete listing in the latest catalogue from Postscript Books, the remainder sellers. Penguin remaindered the hardback when the paperback had scarcely had time to reach the shops. In the same issue, you have a review of Peter Hofschröer’s Wellington’s Smallest Victory, which has been in the window of a remainder shop on Watford High Street for a month or more, only six months after its publication. For anyone who reads a paperback and wishes to make the hardback a permanent addition to their library, life is now very difficult, and for an author to find his work available at a remainder price so soon after its publication must be dispiriting.

L.J. Hurst

Why Kerry Lost

Anatol Lieven joins Maureen Dowd, Alexander Cockburn, Lewis Lapham, Jeffrey St Clair and Thomas Frank in arguing for the need to tackle Republican hypocrites head-on and return without apology to core social democratic positions (LRB, 2 December 2004). But am I the only one who finds it eerie that none of these writers talks about Triad systems, the Diebold machines, the possible hacking of the final election count, the glaring exit poll discrepancies, as well as other factors not even in dispute: for example, arbitrary provisional ballot regulations and the strategic allocation of broken voting machines to targeted minority communities? Say what you like about the diminishing returns of conspiracy theories, but even the milquetoast Kerry campaign has finally filed court briefs challenging the Ohio count. This count, if reversed, would change the outcome of the presidential election. Why does the left, in concert with the mainstream press, treat this as non-news? If the rigging occurred, it is not a marginal factor, statistically irrelevant to the larger issue of Bush’s sway over half the electorate: it is instead an organic part of the Republican ‘revolution’ (as the Republicans loved to call it during the 1990s). The evidence that the election was stolen is too abundant to ignore. What needs to be appreciated is that Bush – despite his thuggishness towards opponents, the daily theatre of terrorist alerts, a monopoly press bent on protecting him and a Democratic campaign so cowardly and collusive that no one really wanted Kerry – lost anyway and that, having lost, he was not allowed to lose. If this is the kind of frontier justice we’re facing, then the strategy can no longer be about how to win votes, but how to storm the palace.

Timothy Brennan
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Anatol Lieven appears to be under the impression that until the 1960s Midwestern white Protestants were predominantly Democrats. Midwestern and Northeastern white Protestants formed the base of the Republican Party from its founding in the 1850s until recent times, when there have been defections, especially in the North-East, among the descendants of the party’s founders who tend to dislike their party’s new Southern rulers. The Midwest, however, has largely kept the faith, which dismays observers like Thomas Frank. Kansas, to choose the currently fashionable example, was admitted to the Union in 1861, following its own mini Civil War. Since 1861 the Sunflower State has sent 31 people to the US Senate, 26 of them Republicans. Only three Kansas senators have been Democrats and two were Populists. Since 1939, only Republicans have been elected to the Senate in Kansas – among them, Bob Dole and his successor Sam Brownback, a cynosure of the Christian right. If something is the matter with Kansas, it has been the matter for a long time.

Peter Connolly
Washington DC

Anatol Lieven is wrong to say that there was once ‘state-backed Presbyterianism’ in Massachusetts. The Puritan-founded Massachusetts colonies opposed presbyters almost as much as the pope. The Puritan religion was congregational in organisation, and ‘Congregational’ was the name the descendants of the Puritans later used for their denomination, save for those who split off to found the Unitarian movement in the early 19th century. To this day, Boston has many Congregational and Unitarian churches, but only one Presbyterian church, which wasn’t founded until 1865. Presbyterianism was brought to America primarily by the Scots and the Scots-Irish, who emigrated not to New England but to the mid-Atlantic and the South, and westward into the piedmont of the Appalachian mountains. Woodrow Wilson, born in Virginia, is perhaps America’s best known Presbyterian public figure.

John Henn
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Angrier than You Allow

David Edgar is too dismissive when he writes that in the late 1960s students abroad ‘occupied great universities’ while here ‘they took over colleges of art’ (LRB, 16 December 2004). There was a lot of university agitation here, too – at Essex, Warwick and East Anglia among other places. (I ‘attended’ the sit-in in Norwich in the spring of 1971; the University of East Anglia was brought to a halt for the best part of a week, and the more ill-disciplined sans-culottes broke into Malcolm Bradbury’s office and consumed his whisky.) Edgar also repeats the mantra of earlier reviewers of the Carr book: that there has been little cultural response to the Angry Brigade, apart from a TV film, a book or two, and Alan Burns’s 1972 ‘documentary novel’. There was a far more imaginative take on the Angry Brigade in B.S. Johnson’s Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, a fable about terror, accountancy and anarchy in the UK. Johnson’s protagonist can be read as a gloss on the violent means of the Brigade, right down to the fact that, like them, he issued a series of incendiary communiqués.

Paul Tickell
London W9

On the Mesopotamian Plain

Charles Glass is wrong to describe Britain’s seizure of Mosul in 1918 as motivated by oil (LRB, 16 December 2004). The British in Mesopotamia were driven by strategic concerns: defending the plain would be much easier if a protective ring of mountains was also in British possession. Retaining the Kurdish hills enabled Britain, almost bankrupted by the cost of the war, to control the new Iraq with just a handful of infantry battalions under the overall command of the RAF. The presence of oil in the Mosul region had been known for many decades, but not its potential. A preliminary geological survey in February 1919 showed that the oilfield could be exploited only by a company ‘rich enough to face indifferent success or failure’. At the end of the year further investigation indicated a much greater potential and in March 1920 the cabinet concluded that ‘the oil-bearing regions of Mosul are essential to the revenues on which the future of the whole country will depend.’

On 13 April 1920 the various interested departmental heads convened at the Foreign Office to decide the terms to inflict on the Ottomans. The word ‘oil’ was not mentioned once, not even by the Admiralty (which might have wanted it for the navy). Furthermore, the India Office, still running the new Iraq, offered a hostage to fortune in allowing the northern Kurdish zone (which included the oilfields) to detach itself and join a Kurdish state to the north if such a state came into being. (The wording offered at that meeting entered the Treaty of Sèvres virtually unaltered.) Britain was willing to accept this because it foresaw a Kurdish state as a friendly buffer on the northern border of Iraq. The oil was not so important. What Britain feared above all was a hostile Turkey ready to take a geographically defenceless Mesopotamian plain. Britain and Turkey each made a generous offer on the oil resources on condition that the other ceded sovereignty. Both knew that control of the mountains, not the oil, was vital. The first gusher of the Kirkuk oilfield was not struck till 1926, after the League of Nations had finally awarded the area to Iraq, not Turkey.

David McDowall
Richmond, Surrey

Like Alan Bennett . . .

Alan Bennett wonders whether there were any barbers in Auschwitz (LRB, 6 January). If he were to visit the Jewish Museum in Finchley on a Sunday afternoon, he would be able to talk to Leon Greenman, now 94 years old, who actually was a barber in Auschwitz. Alternatively, he could read Greenman’s book, An Englishman in Auschwitz, published in 2001.

Rod Eastwood
Halifax, West Yorkshire

I was at the same meeting of Camden Council as Alan Bennett last October. I was there as a ward councillor, speaking in opposition to the planning development that he had come to support. Like him, I am a patient of the James Wigg Practice.

Bennett said that ‘trees grow’. Yes of course, but one has to be wary of the contrivances of artists’ impressions or developers’ elevation drawings. I was a member of this Planning Committee for eight years, and have never seen any such illustration include a street packed with cars or spread with graffiti. Indeed the trees are always in leaf (sometimes to conceal some detail that otherwise might be questioned), the passers-by are always smiling and the sky is always blue.

Gerry Harrison
London NW5

Bombers not Martyrs

R.W. Johnson inspires the diffident observation that during the Okinawa campaign Japanese kamikaze pilots sought their ancestors not only on US Navy ships but also on those of the British Pacific Fleet (Letters, 16 December 2004). From the gun deck of the flagship, I saw each of our four carriers hit, some on the first day, Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945.

Rory O’Keeffe

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences