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Vol. 27 No. 19 · 6 October 2005

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Beyond the Ashes

David Runciman writes that the ‘modern Australian cricket team have never … fielded a non-white player’ (LRB, 22 September). It may not be obvious to him, but Jason Gillespie is of Aboriginal descent. And what of the one player who should have been picked but wasn’t, Andrew Symonds? He has West Indian heritage.

Tony Barrell
Balmain, New South Wales

David Runciman predicts that India will be the cricketing superpower of the future, because they have ‘the manpower, the talent, the raw nationalist passion’ to dominate, provided they can get rid of their administrators. But India have been playing test cricket for decades; they have not dominated because their bowlers do not grow up on the bouncy or seaming pitches that would prepare them to win consistently away from home. (It is essentially because India has such spinner-friendly pitches that Australia felt it was such an achievement to beat them at home.) Pitches, or the lack of them, are also a major reason for the shortage of black faces in the current England side. Too many state schools have sold their playing fields or abandoned cricket. Among them is the school that produced the black England all-rounders Philip DeFreitas and Chris Lewis.

Richard Guy
Tonbridge, Kent

Can David Runciman substantiate his remarkable suggestion that non-white cricketers are being ‘frozen out’ of the England test-match team (as opposed to simply being omitted on merit)? While doing so, perhaps he will explain why his article does not mention that Vikram Solanki and Kabir Ali have been regular members of the England one-day side this year, and clarify which players have made such a compelling case for selection in the test-match team that their omission can be explained only on the grounds of skin colour.

Alasdair Mackenzie
London WC1

David Runciman compares Andrew Flintoff’s record as an all-rounder unfavourably with that of the South African Jacques Kallis. It’s true that Flintoff’s batting and bowling averages (33 and 32 respectively) are inferior to Kallis’s 56 and 31, but comparisons of the two players’ records in matches against Australia are instructive: in his five tests against them so far Flintoff has scored 400 runs at an average of 40 and taken 24 wickets at 27 each, whereas Kallis, in 12 tests against Australia, averages 32 with the bat and has taken a mere 22 wickets at 39 each. Kallis’s test batting average of 56 against all-comers is admittedly impressive, but the dour South African has a reputation for gorging himself on weak Zimbabwean and Bangladeshi bowling. Also, Flintoff scores his runs at 67 per 100 balls, whereas Kallis manages a rather more Boycottian 42 per 100 balls.

Adrian Tahourdin
London SW18

David Runciman is too admiring of Channel 4’s cricket coverage. Only the miserable weather saved the channel from howls of protest when its coverage of Saturday’s play in the final test was transferred to one of its digital outlets, FilmFour, in order to fulfil its contractual obligations to horseracing. The other lesson the England and Wales Cricket Board will have learned from horseracing is that Channel 4 is ruthless in exploiting its dominant position. It repeatedly threatened to abandon its 20-year commitment to horseracing unless the industry paid the channel for the privilege of coverage, rather than the other way round. The EWCB must have realised that accepting Channel 4’s reduced offer to renew its test match contract would expose it to unacceptable risk, including yet further requirements to change playing times so as to ensure that The Simpsons started on time.

By the time the new contract with Sky starts, more than 65 per cent of the population will have digital television, including more than 75 per cent of teenagers; and more than 85 per cent will have access to early evening highlights on the free-to-air Channel Five. Of course, it would be nice if we could all see every test match live on television without paying anything more than our licence fee to the BBC, but rather than condemning the cricket authorities for doing what was overwhelmingly in the game’s interests, Runciman should ask why the organisation to which we already pay £130 a year per household could not make £2 of this available to cover a major national sport.

David Elstein
London SW15

He was, you know

In his review of Leo McKinstry’s Rosebery: Statesman in Turmoil, Ferdinand Mount asserts that the main sources of allegations that Lord Rosebery was a homosexual were ‘the notorious forger and fantasist Edmund Backhouse and the homophobe Lord Queensberry’ (LRB, 22 September). Matters are more complicated than either Mount or McKinstry supposes. As John Davis writes in his article on Rosebery in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ‘references to Rosebery in the diaries of the homosexual proselytiser George Ives and, however spuriously, in those of the fantasist Sir Edmund Backhouse suggest that Rosebery’s homosexuality was taken for granted in homosexual circles.’

Queensberry’s vendetta against Rosebery arose from his relationship with Lord Drumlanrig, Queensberry’s son and heir. Drumlanrig killed himself, according to society rumour, because of fear of blackmail over his relations with Rosebery. Queensberry was obviously a partisan witness but that by itself is not reason enough to dismiss his claims about Rosebery; he was after all correct in his allegations about Oscar Wilde.

McKinstry’s dismissive attitude to the case for Rosebery’s homosexuality goes against the grain of the evidence adduced in his biography. For example, McKinstry admits the ‘homoerotic undercurrent’ of Rosebery’s words about his murdered friend Frederick Vyner; but this is attributed by McKinstry to nothing more than ‘boyish companionship’, even though Rosebery was already in his twenties when he wrote about Vyner. The evidence is circumstantial but so abundant that the plausibility of the case is hard to doubt.

Colin Armstrong

The Wrong Idea of North

We were grateful to James Hamilton-Paterson for his generous discussion of our books (LRB, 1 September). However, we were startled by his suggestion that The Ice Museum and The Idea of North could most usefully be discussed through comparison with Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams. The books are about very different landscapes and themes. Lopez writes about the history and wildlife of the Arctic. He is concerned in particular with the region from Bering Strait in the west to Davis Strait in the east, an area stretching across Alaska and Canada. The Idea of North tries to write about the imaginative responses of the art and literature of Europe, Japan and China, from the distant past to the present, to the concept of ‘North’. The ‘North’ of the book is therefore geographically wide-ranging: in some contexts, Milan is a ‘North’. It is stated explicitly in the opening pages that it is not a book about the Arctic. The Ice Museum aims to discuss the uses of the classical myth of Thule in northern European writing, political movements and cartography. The book is about Britain, the Baltic States, Germany, Iceland and Norway; Canada and Alaska are not among its concerns. Neither book aims at a Lopez-style account of the Arctic. Equally, Arctic Dreams does not offer an account of the myth of Thule or the idea of ‘North’. Hamilton-Paterson explains that he does not really care for the North and much prefers the Far East: an Eastern analogy might be comparing books about the myth of Shangri-La or the idea of ‘East’ to a history of the physical geography of Japan.

Peter Davidson & Joanna Kavenna
Aberdeen & Oxford

Property Not Theft

The notion that ‘property is theft’ is not a ‘Marxist rationale’, as John Jones has it (LRB, 22 September). It was coined by Proudhon, and Marx ridiculed it in The Poverty of Philosophy. Marx’s argument was that property cannot be founded on theft because in order to be stolen, it must have been property in the first place.

Willie Thompson

No Apartheid in Israel?

Edward Luttwak’s misunderstandings concerning employment in Israel’s security industry should not be allowed to stand unchallenged (Letters, 1 September). Apart from the small but loyal community of Druze who serve in the army, a few thousand Arab citizens work in lowly positions within Israel’s security forces. The overwhelming majority of them, however, are not Muslims but Christians, employed as junior-ranking policemen inside their own Arab communities, taking orders from Jewish officers. There are hardly any Muslims in security positions; by law they are excluded from such service, whether in the army, police, Shin Bet, prisons, airports or many other areas of the Israeli economy. Unlike Christians, Muslims are not offered the chance to volunteer. The only exception to this rule is the small community of Bedouins, who despite being Muslims are treated, according to a well-established state policy of divide and rule, as a separate population group. They are allowed to volunteer for the army, mainly because Israel needs desert trackers to work in the Negev.

Jonathan Cook
Nazareth, Israel

Apartheid does not exist in Israel, as a system or as a concept. There is no racial segregation, legal or otherwise: no separate washrooms, drinking fountains, separate seating or the like. Arabs and Jews, in the state of Israel and in the disputed territories, do not dwell apart by law. There are no Bantustans. In fact, it is the Arabs who reject Jews living among them and have done so since 1920, when they first rioted violently against Jews.

Arabs vote in the Knesset and local elections in Israel. Travel restrictions, established ostensibly on security grounds, were abolished four decades ago. Muslims do serve in the armed forces, though their fallen have had their graves desecrated by their co-religionists on nationalist grounds. Arabs have seriously damaged the archaeological remains of the two Jewish temples on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, destroyed Joseph’s Tomb in Shchem/Nablus, torched the fifth-century synagogue in Jericho and burned down Jewish houses of worship in Gaza. No presumed ‘oppression’ can justify such uncultured behaviour.

Yisrael Medad
Shiloh, Israel

There is something dispiriting in reading, together in the same issue, the letter by Edward Luttwak and the article by Saree Makdisi. Luttwak stresses the hypocrisy both of Arab states and of disproportionate criticism of Israel while minimising Israel’s responsibility for conditions in Palestine. Makdisi reduces the withdrawal from Gaza to yet one more act of Israeli victimisation, but is silent about the relationship between harsh Israeli policies and Palestinian strategies and tactics before and during the second intifada, including the failure to create a non-corrupt public authority with a monopoly on force. It is not so much Luttwak’s or Makdisi’s rendition of ‘facts’ that rankles – each has hold of real and doleful, if partial, aspects of reality – but their shared taste for single-vantage morality tales and their failure to treat the conflict’s complex history as one of interaction between responsible actors. As a result, neither helps us to move beyond a pathless politics, widespread insecurity and wasted suffering.

Ira Katznelson
Columbia University, New York

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