Sir: Toby Young was right to raise questions about War on Want’s links to the Stop Trump campaign (4 May). The public rightly hold charities to high standards of behaviour, and charities are required to follow clear rules around political activity. We will be scrutinising the charity’s activities, and the issues raised by Toby Young, closely as part of an ongoing case into the charity. Similarly, we have examined concerns about the activities of a range of charitable thinktanks, and last year issued a regulatory alert to all charitable thinktanks on the register, including to warn them about unacceptable political activity. I can assure your readers that as an evidence-based regulator, we assess all concerns raised with us fairly and consistently against a clear regulatory framework. We will continue to do so without fear or favour.
Deputy chief executive, Charity Commission
Marijuana use is not trivial
Sir: It is difficult to decide whether to condemn Chris Daw QC (‘A bitter pill’, 4 May) for his defeatism, or for his wilful ignorance of the true state of law enforcement in this country. There is no ‘prohibition’ of drug possession, as he claims. Hardly a week passes without some police force declaring that it is not interested in applying laws it is legally obliged to enforce. On 20 April, marijuana’s holy day, 5,000 people gathered in Hyde Park and broke the law, while police stood about. Not one person was arrested for an offence which officially carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and an unlimited fine.
This is the culmination of a de facto surrender which goes back almost 50 years. It is the users who sustain the entire drugs trade. Suppliers and dealers would have no business without their cash. Interdiction of demand would strike a real blow at the trade, while legalisation would put the distribution and sale of marijuana in the hands of immoral businessmen who will make Big Tobacco look compassionate.
Mr Daw asserts that ‘nothing will stop’ people from taking drugs. On the contrary. Japan and South Korea enforce their drug possession laws and have far lower levels of use than countries which do not. In 1960s Britain, enforcement also kept a firm lid on the number of users. Since then the strong correlation between marijuana use and mental illness has become undeniable. Many families have good reason to know that there is nothing amusing or trivial about marijuana use. Yet people in a responsible position, and who ought to know better, swallow and regurgitate the propaganda of one of the most cynical greed lobbies in human history. One day those who fell for this will be ashamed.
Origins of Qwerty
Sir: There are a number of reasons for the dominance of the Qwerty keyboard (Radio, 4 May). When the first typewriters were invented in the 1880s there were several competing keyboard layouts. Many of them followed basic alphabetical order (see the middle row now), but some common letters (e.g. A) were removed to the edges, as frequently used keys tended to jam if they were too close. However, Qwerty really got going when it was used for the first eight-finger touchtyping lessons at the Shorthand & Typewriter Institute, founded in Cincinatti in 1882. The final seal of approval was a speed-typing competition in 1888 between a Longley Qwerty touchtypist, Frank E. McGurrin, and Louis Taub, a four-finger operator on a rival keyboard with six rows and no shift key. Qwerty won hands down and its apparent superiority was established. It was then widely adopted for speed and efficiency.
Lindfield, West Sussex
Bauhaus vs traditionalists
Sir: In Stephen Bailey’s review of two new Bauhaus books last week (Books, 4 May) he puts the boot into traditionalist architects, whom he identifies as ‘the pediment-and-swag brigade’. It is a bit unfair to attack such an endangered species, especially when it is one that has contributed many buildings of beauty.
What the Bauhaus achieved was a universal acceptance of simple, rectilinear, cubist forms, generally finished in white, in order — and this is the crux — to engender an aesthetic of avant-garde sophistication to the building and thus to its perpetrators. It was taken up by the privileged, the Margot Beste-Chetwyndes of the world, then foisted on the poor, the penguins and the public. Talented architects like Wells-Coates were able to achieve architecture with it, but in less capable hands the world has suffered much from the Bland Designs to which the ‘Idea’ has more commonly led.
John Bennett RIBA
Sir: Few people who understand nature would disagree with Mary Wakefield’s assessment of the recent furore about shooting licences (4 May). But I think she may be mistaken as to the assassin of the pigeon in St James’s Park. The scene she describes is typical of death by sparrowhawk, which will have feasted on the still-living pigeon’s breast before the crows, which prefer carrion, came upon it.
Sparrowhawks are often mistaken for pigeons, as part of their flight is very similar. Perhaps Natural England should consider informing would-be pigeon shooters to save them from making a serious (and illegal) mistake.
Ilkley, West Yorkshire
Shop of fools?
Sir: After reading about Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle emporium Goop (Notes on, 27 April), I checked my copy of Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang. This gives the meaning of ‘goop’ as ‘a fool, a fatuous person’. What more is there to say?