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Feedback | 21 June 2003

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Comment on Why was the Times so eager to do the government's dirty work? by Stephen Glover (14/06/2003)

Mr Glover is correct when he implies that the settling out of court of the action brought by Michael Ashcroft is evidence of the government wishing to avoid the process of discovery and have their lies exposed. The fact that the lies have, and were intended to, tamper with the democratic process is of great moment. Is there no other process in the United Kingdom to further expose the matter?

The increasing willingness of western governments to descend to lies in pursuit of their will is not becoming a matter of public concern. I do not understand why. It threatens those structures that distinguish western democracies from those countries crippled by systems of government that pander to the suppurating side of human nature.

The Times should publicly apologise for its role. It knew the implications of its comments at the time and its cynicism quotient must have alerted it. It appears to have no pride in its output or respect for its glorious past.

The manipulation of information should be something that all in our increasingly complex societies should be wary of. Honourable people in positions of influence should regard it as essential that information that they have a part in making public, is correct as far as is possible.

Mr Ashcroft has been able to set the record straight. Mud will nevertheless stick to him. What of the great bulk of the population that is unable to do so. Small groups of ruthless information managers rule, not honour.

R English

Comment on Why the world would be better off if Saddam were still in power by Matthew Parris (14/06/2003)

How refreshing to see someone demonstrate that humanity, in fact, has the intellectual imagination to create solutions beyond stupid, limiting "ideologies". Unfortunately, such fabulous potentials are smothered by an oligarchy ("democracy" simply not being a reality, at least for me).

Thank you for proving what I have been advocating for years; the greatness of humanity!

Leslee M Hamrick

Everett, WA

Matthew Parris has given the strong impression, these last few months, that his chief objection to war was his fear that it would increase American power. At no time did it appear he was particularly concerned about the impact on the Iraqi people from getting rid of Saddam and his Ba'athist thugs.

The idea that we would be better off with Saddam in power is nothing more than cynical realpolitik, except there is nothing very "real" about it. Saddam has been responsible for the invasions of two neighbouring states, the slaughter of countless thousands of innocent civilians, the use of WMDs against his own people, the sponsorship of terror groups, and the flouting of numerous UN resolutions.

Better off with Saddam in power? I don't think the vast majority of Iraqi people would agree with him. Certainly not the relatives of those folk found buried in mass graves, including hundreds of children.

It's hardly surprising that Mark Steyn, the sanest writer for this mag, nearly thought of resigning a few weeks ago. Parris seems to have lost the plot entirely.

Tom Burroughes

Inasmuch as not going to war to remove Saddam would have resulted in "International law [not having] been violated, swollen-headed neocons would not have gained sway, the yee-hah tendency in US foreign policy would have been restrained, precedents for future unilateral regime-changes would not have been set, NATO would be intact, the UN Security Council would not have been damaged, America's relationship with Europe would have remained good, and Britain would still be on speaking terms with our EU partners" I don't possibly know how anyone could have supported this war.

But wait! What danger is there to US unilateralism (especially when it is anything but unilateral); doesn't the New Republic make more sense than Mr Parris and his Old Con lot; isn't NATO a post-Cold War relic; isn't the UN nothing but a talking shop for dictators where the lowest common denominator prevails; and, could America ever have good relations with (Old) Europe so long as France resents her impotence against Anglo-Saxon power and is determined to use its European influence to sabotage America?

The answers are obvious (to me). (As for Britain's relationship with the EU, it seems that Britain is now stronger in the EU as the leader of the New Europe camp.)

But even if Mr Parris were right, maybe he should ask whether he would feel safer 10 years from now had Saddam had not been removed, the UN had lost its will to enforce its resolutions against Iraq (following French, German and Russian pressure that the sanctions were killing "innocent Iraqis") and Iraq had become a WMD bazaar for Terrorists? Farfetched? Maybe. But would Mr Parris be willing to bet his life (and his City) on it? I know I wouldn't.

Patrick Bechet

Cape Town

Someone needs to buy Mr. Parris a new moral compass immediately.

Holly Watson

Comment on The Trotskyists of the Right by Aidan Rankin (14/06/2003)

I agree that today there is a lot of sycophantic behaviour going on, between alleged free-marketeers and the new governing class. And as such, there is plenty to be sceptical about, especially when they are making decisions that often have the power of life and death over us. But enlightened libertarians are not materialists; after all, isn't the synonym for Marxism "dialectical materialism"? The human spirit is what we are trying to liberate, from excessive taxes and government regulation. Once set free, it can again triumph with creativity, over the mundane stagnation of modern society. The challenge, then, is to sell this vision of a better life – in an all-inclusive way. We need to allow everyone to have a greater "piece of the action." Margaret Thatcher understood this, and it is my hope that we can formulate better policies to make a "people's capitalism" that can truly transform the world. The human mind and its capacity for innovation are truly infinite, as the liberators of the Enlightenment understood. Let's stop trying to be the king's courtesans, and get back to creating better ideas. Then conservatives and libertarians can join forces instead of war-blogging each other!

Brent Bielema

Comment on The grim reefer by James Delingpole (14/06/2003)

Good piece overall, However, I thought the article was a bit overwrought in describing skunk as "a genetic mutation". It's no more of a genetic mutation than a carrot or a corgi. It's a product of selective breeding. There is no question but that the motivation for the selective breeding has been prohibition. In a free market I suspect few would choose indica varieties for everyday use. Make no mistake; skunk is by and large cannabis indica bred for strength. Some varieties may be paired with sativa as a hybrid, but all the characteristics associated with skunk are indica characteristics. The reason indica has been the main focus of selective breeding programs has more to do with its yield potential and shorter growing season than its strength. It also has a higher resin content but this doesn't always mean higher strength.

I used to know a great many marijuana farmers back in the early 1980's and even then most grew a stash of sativa for their own use. They grew skunk for the great unwashed. It's a myth that the indica strains are always much stronger than the sativas. There are frighteningly strong sativas; they just aren't usually grown commercially because of the additional costs/risks.

Personally, I haven't smoked the stuff for many years because it just doesn't suit me any more. It would be interesting to see what varieties emerged in a truly free market. I suspect mid-strength sativas with sweet, fresh aromas would win out overall with a hard-core of people wanting super strength indica. Much like the market for alcohol really.

Name and address withheld

May I point out that while skunk does indeed smell very bad, the name is not derived from the smell?

Instead, the name derives from the growing technique. "Skunk", you see, is a Danish architectural term describing a windowless space between inner and outer walls of a building. Many tenement houses in Copenhagen have these spaces in top floors, and it is in these spaces that the weed was first grown because the plants were then well hidden from inspecting policemen.

This of course makes the comparison with Special Brew, another famous product of Copenhagen, all the more apt!

Dan Kjerulf

Copenhagen, Denmark

Comment on Language barriers by Peter Jones (14/06/2003)

I agree that in the universities there is a certain cloudiness about the language used. For example, in my teacher education program, we were to call ourselves "learning facilitators". Whatever. But I will argue that a lover of words, someone who can taste them rolling off her tongue, will certainly pick "clandestine" over "secret" purely for the poetry and sheer delight of it. Please don't discourage the armchair poets among us...

Sara Register

It has been my observation that academics in America have used similar language for different reasons. The soft sciences (i.e. English and History departments) have felt inferior to the "hard sciences" (Chemistry and Biology) for quite some time. Professors in the hard sciences were paid much more than soft sciences because 1. they could be paid much higher salaries in the private sector and 2. they could attract huge grants from the government for basic research, thus getting buildings built and secretaries paid.

The soft sciences fellows also felt inferior because the hard science guys had a dense and complex jargon that they could not understand. Like a South Pacific cargo cult, the soft sciences started to assemble a dense jargon so they too could get the big bucks.

It did not work out that way to a great extent, but it has made almost any modern literary criticism unreadable to anyone who is not a literary critic.

John R. McCarthy

Comment on It's going to be sunny, or rainy by Ross Clark (14/06/2003)

Having lived through WW2 I am familiar with the anecdotal evidence of Eisenhower's weather guru, Group Captain Stagg, being able to forecast, all those years ago, a break in the weather in the Channel sufficient to enable the invasion to take place.

What amazes me, nearly sixty years and millions of pounds spent on the Met Office later, is that the weather forecasts now are so laughably inaccurate.

Here in the middle of Dorset I look at the Met Office forecast every morning for this area and, being charitable, it is nearly right about a quarter of the time.

The whole exercise should be done away with and the money spent on something less useless; we would be no worse off.

Tom Livingston

Comment on How to win votes for the BNP by James Cartlidge (14/06/2003)

On reading James Cartlidge's little rant about Carlton TV not "Playing The White Man", in the manner required of "...a freelance print journalist with an eye on one day moving into the broadcasting side", I was moved enough to set my yoghourt weaving aside for a few minutes. To have a Little Think about whether any sort of considered response was possible. Not, I hasten to say in sisterly support as a fellow freelance journalist, but as a representative of the woolly, leftist, Rafia Mafia sort of element in society that Mr Cartlidge would expect to support Carlton's principles. So I won't let him down.

Because although the other side of the argument makes for a very dull column and wouldn't have guaranteed three loud huzzah's from The Spectator's subscribers, there are sound reasons why the media need to invite applications from certain ethnic groups. That those ethnic groups do not include the category of "white suburbanites" is as it should be. Unless one is like James Cartlidge and too many of his journalistic ilk whose creeping (and creepy) opinion of "Johnny Foreigner" provides an easy and useful way of earning a bob or two.

Multiculturalism can be an uncomfortable concept - especially for those prone to starting their sentences with "I'm not a racist..." - but Britain IS multicultural and all the better for it. There's still a long way to go before this reality is reflected in the media, though. And a crude headcount of black and Asian TV news reporters simply isn't good enough evidence to back Mr Cartlidge's demand for White Rights.

Roz South

Comment on Banned Wagon by Ross Clark (14/06/2003)

I'm sure Ross Clark would not be quite so disparaging of Sir Edmund Hillary if he knew how much the New Zealander has put into projects aimed at helping the Nepalese.

That he has given unstintingly of his time, energy and, yes, money over many decades to improve their lives is a matter of public record.

Perhaps Hillary's concern is less for some improbable diminution of his achievement than for the extraordinary damage climbers have caused to Everest and its surrounds, and the lack of resources available to the Nepalese - particularly in the midst of a Maoist insurgency - to deal with it.

John Hampshire

Sydney, Australia.

Comment on Science & Nature Special: Ecology by Zac Goldsmith (14/06/2003)

Sir; Irony rarely comes more succulent than when the son of a multi-millionaire, whose fortune came from the profits of large corporations, tells us that the source of all our woes is large corporations.

Out roll Zac Goldsmith's eco canards, such as that half the world's largest economies are corporations. As Martin Wolf and other economists have pointed out, this wrongly equates company turnover with national GDP. But GDP is not a measure of activity but of added value, roughly equivalent to a company's profits. In reality, even the Ukraine is "bigger" than General Motors. Moreover, as repeated forced nationalisations of oil company and other assets over the years have shown, a government has absolute power over any private firm should it choose to wield it.

Goldsmith also manages to link corporations with rising cancer rates, although it is well known that cancer is predominately a disease of aging. Some 65% of cancers occur in the over-65s, the number of which doubled between 1961 and 2001. Since longevity is closely associated with national wealth, it is surprising that Goldsmith doesn't plump for the obvious treatment: make everyone poorer.

Unless of course, that is the motive behind his plea for the Conservative Party to embrace the ideals of the Greens. Never mind that this is the party that is simultaneously infiltrating the LibDems and wooing the trade unions as Real Labour.

Like his patron Prince Charles (another rich man telling the rest of us to live more sustainably) Goldsmith thinks that by a flick of the organic farming switch, banning popular large supermarkets and pretending that the world agricultural market doesn't exist, our rural economies will be transformed. A more likely outcome is more costly produce, less choice, farmers permanently dependent on land-tied subsidies, more food imports to replace lower production levels, and further pandering to the NIMBYs and the affluent who live rural but work (and shop) urban.

Seventy years ago, the National Socialists in Germany won the votes of millions of small farmers and shopkeepers by blaming all their difficulties on department stores and Jewish control of the world financial markets. Today it is the turn of multinationals and American-led globalisation. If this is the road that Conservatism wants to go down, then God help us all.

Robert Blood

Freiburg, Germany

Comment on Science & Nature Special: Nanotechnology by Roger Highfield (14/06/2003)

My comments on your June 7,2003 Issue have layers of concentric complement. First, in general I must thank you for the wonderful "theme" articles on Science. But to be more to the point I must complement Roger Highfield for his critique of "nanotechnology" paranoia.

But I must add a modest layer of humble criticism, in that Mr. Highfield was not harsh enough on his critique. There are those of the fashionably worried who cannot sleep at night at the thought of Satanic "nanobots" seizing the World. Well, it ironic that those who today have paranoid fear of Technology are those who have least understanding of its scale.

The phantasmagorical "grey goo" hypothesis implies a human understanding of Biology such that Humanity could build an Ubermensch entity that in real power is far above anything yet conceived by Nature. Yet, please note, in reality-based terms, we cannot even build a respectable copy of a functional unicellular organism such as an amoeba, let alone anything as formidable and lethal as HIV. The dull truth is this- fashionable hysteria far exceeds the real capacity of dull reality to deliver!

J. Wroblewski

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Comment on Iraq: what must be done now by Mark Steyn (07/06/2003)

Steyn is onto a good idea. The newly forming democracy in Iraq should begin locally. One of the most difficult lessons of democracy is that a citizen's vote matters. It is difficult to believe when your vote is one of 16 million. At a local level, where your vote is one of a few thousand, you can imagine it matters.

The issues of local politics à like whether to improve roads, sewers or schools - are more tangible and less abstract than federal issues like foreign policy. These are the first issues a novice electorate should debate.

Power should be placed in the hands of the local government as much as possible. By removing power from the central government, they will reduce the opportunity and temptation for a dictator to take hold.

Smaller jurisdictions also allow innovation with lower risk. If one town wants to govern according to Islamic law, others don‘t need to. What's more, the others can watch and note which policies are most successful.

Suppose they use a parliamentary system. The coalition should first set up many of the legal institutions, or at least the frameworks for them. Next, draft a constitution that outlines basic rights, government functions and jurisdictions. Then the country would prepare for rounds of municipal elections, preferably not all at once. After people have had a chance to complete all the elections and see their local governments perform for a while, there should be provincial (or state?) elections. Some of the local politicians are likely to leave their municipal positions for the provincial government.

The next stage, but not the final stage, is to hold a federal election à but leave the coalition in control of the constitution. Once this is accomplished, the country can function on its own for years. Canada worked under this system for a hundred years: its best hundred years.

Elected leaders of could change to laws of the land however they want but any changes to the constitution (like cancelling elections) would need coalition approval. The coalition could ensure that changes are reasonable, followed a fair process and reflect the will of the citizens.

There is one more structure that will encourage a stable state: a preferential ballot. A multi-party system can lead to complicated politics if elections are won with a plurality. Proportional representation avoids these problems but allows parties to splinter. A preferential system forces people to listen to parties other than their favourites, if only to decide which to choose second. This will help foster respectful debate. Preferential ballots also encourage moderation since the winning party is always one the majority can accept.

Peter Enns