Schools aren’t clubs
From Nicholas Nelson
Sir: Have you given proper thought to the reason that we have an education system (Leading article, 11 March)? Our schools have an essential list of objectives which includes ensuring that young people absorb a body of knowledge and acquire skills that match their potential, and emerge as adults with an ability to assess their world critically and communicate with their fellow human beings. The way you would do this is to hive off 25 per cent or so into exclusive clubs so that they leave school with a strong body of knowledge but no clue about how to communicate with the other 75 per cent. This is why members of the political class are so often completely divorced from the many millions who would rather vote for Big Brother than for any of them.
Where trendy Parisians go
From Daniel T. Perkins
Sir: I agree with Allister Heath’s view of the Imprimerie Nationale and the passport debacle (‘300,000 Frenchmen can’t be wrong’, 11 March), but the remainder of his article is unfair. Rather than being hemmed in by posters of Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise, the streets of Paris are lined with ads for domestic films, lingerie and Johnny Hallyday. Meanwhile the branches of Starbucks in Paris are full not of trendy young French things but of American tourists who, having travelled 3,000 miles to gawp at Parisian architecture or tick off EuroDisney on their list of ‘visited’ theme parks, prefer a coffee shake in an American chain to trying a genuine café. Anyone with an ounce of ‘trendiness’ will be found in the very cafés Mr Heath claims are disappearing in the largely tourist-free 10th and 20th arrondissements. And in France Gauloises are not so much being squeezed out by Marlboro Lights as being stubbed out entirely, as cigarettes are throughout Europe.
Daniel T. Perkins
Our disappearing rivers
From Alastair Harper
Sir: Lord Lawson in his otherwise commonsensical perusal of ‘global warming’ should be reproved for his assertion that ‘the volume of water flowing down the world’s rivers has increased over the 20th century as a whole’ (‘Climate of superstition’, 11 March). In 1999 the UN-sponsored World Commission on Water reported that over half of the world’s major rivers were dying, either starved of water due to overuse or poisoned by pollution. The Yellow River, which irrigates China’s most important agricultural region, ran dry for 226 days in 1997. The Colorado River, which is used to irrigate 1.5 million hectares in the western USA, has been reduced downstream to desolate salt marshes.
Better by far to heed the practical advice of your correspondent Nick Reeves (Letters, 11 March) on our ‘ecological overdraft’ and encourage a smaller population at home and abroad.
Politics is for hypocrites
From Dr Michael Lynch
Sir: Ferdinand Mount should take comfort, if not joy, from the refusal of the young to be hoodwinked by the so-called democratic process (Letters, 11 March). Government and parliament are dominated by hypocrites, charlatans and self-publicists. Anyone of integrity and independence of thought who enters politics is soon isolated and marginalised. The party system is such that dishonesty is not an aberrant but a defining aspect of its character.
School of Historical Studies,
University of Leicester
The charming Mrs A.J.P.
From Richard Ingrams
Sir: Paul Johnson (And another thing, 11 March) describes A.J.P. Taylor’s third wife Eva as ‘a Hungarian communist, a sour-faced lady. What A.J.P. saw in her I could not fathom.’ Eva may well have been sour-faced when confronted by Paul Johnson. I knew her as a charming, humorous companion with a lively interest in all things English. She was an excellent historian and her short memoir of her husband — to whom she was devoted — is a delightful book. Sadly Eva died in Hungary last October and I read only one obituary of her, in the Guardian.
From Andrew Smithers
Sir: Paul Johnson puts forward my grandfather, Waldron Smithers, as a candidate in his article ‘Who was the most right-wing man in history?’ (And another thing, 25 February). Smithers provides excellent support for Johnson’s comments on the way in which the use, or misuse, of the word ‘conservative’ changes over time. One of his favourite catchphrases was, ‘If goods can’t cross frontiers, armies will.’ In the early post-war period his views on economics seemed right-wing, as he greatly admired Friedrich Hayek. Nowadays these views would be generally accepted as old-fashioned liberalism and, being at the opposite end of the spectrum from both socialism and fascism, can be labelled as either right- or left-wing.
It seems to me, however, that Paul Johnson’s definition of a conservative is generally a better fit for a 19th-century liberal, with the exception of the firm belief in one beneficent god. While this was strongly held by my grandfather, it is surely optional for both liberals and conservatives unless, in the latter case, a singularly odd view is taken of Sparta and Republican Rome.
False news from Berkeley
From Dr Ian Mortimer
Sir: Jonathan Sumption implies in his review (Books, 25 February) that my research on Edward II’s death — which concludes that he was not murdered, and that news of the death was the result of deliberate misinformation from Berkeley — is an ‘impossible proposition’. This new theory has gone through four rounds of peer review, and was published in the December 2005 edition of the English Historical Review, the leading scholarly journal in the field of English mediaeval studies, published by OUP. Thus it is safe to say that a number of academic specialists do not feel it is an impossible proposition, nor that my methods are anything less than scholarly.
University of Exeter
Gordon’s dress code
From Basil Dewing
Sir: Irwin Stelzer is wrong to write that ‘Brown wouldn’t be caught dead in a dinner jacket, much less white tie’ (‘Cameron is the Tory Muhammad Ali’, 11 March). The Telegraph has published photographs of Gordon Brown wearing white tie in Scotland and America. Is his uncouth behaviour at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London a deliberate display of his contempt for the English?
Great Malvern, Worcestershire
Jesus the literate
From Roy Ford
Sir: Lloyd Evans (Books, 11 March) is incorrect when he writes that Jesus could not read. Please see Luke iv 16ff. He could also write: John viii 6-8.