Hunting is no crime
I am a left-wing, feminist vegetarian. I am also a staunch defender of the right to hunt. Hunting is not an issue for the law. To kill an animal is not a crime. To say otherwise is both hypocritical and unrealistic.
There is more cruelty involved in the rearing and killing of livestock than in the life and death of a wild animal. Yet it is fox hunting and other field sports that sentimental urban dwellers wish to ban. Nature is not cute, cuddly and benign: these are human concepts. Those that live and work in the countryside see nature for what it is. As a non-hunting urbanite I believe that for hundreds of years they have done a grand job in caring for the countryside, and will, if we leave them alone, continue to do so.
I find it deeply worrying that so much money and political consideration is given over to the rights of animals when there is so much work to be done in the area of human rights and welfare.
Amanda Barefoot London N7
The case for kids
In the preamble to her criticism of Ann Bradley's article ('The case for kids', October), Liz Malone writes that 'low expectations and self-doubt are, however, not the defining features of why women are postponing having children' (LM-mail, November). But Bradley's piece was not primarily concerned with 'postponing having children'; it was about the fact that more women are deciding not to have children. Period.
Cressida Coulson's letter also fails to identify the topic under discussion. She talks about the day to day business of childrearing, which is undoubtedly messy and time-consuming - exactly as it always has been. Why then is there an unprecedented aversion to having children today? This is the question which Bradley set out to investigate.
In a society which cannot stop thinking about kids, one might have thought that being a parent would become an increasingly attractive proposition. In fact, as Bradley shows, the opposite is the case. This is because today's obsession with children is an expression of current uncertainties about what adults can expect of themselves and of each other. Jarvis Cocker, for example, is so confused about what it means to be an adult that in the hope of finding an answer he has started tuning to Radio 2.
Nowadays many adults identify with images of children (just look at all the adverts in which children appear), partly because the vulnerability associated with minors is in keeping with their own sense of insecurity. On the other hand, taking the decision to rear a child indicates a degree of self-confidence; it suggests that the adults concerned feel sure enough of themselves to undertake the responsibilities involved. As I understood it, Bradley's article pointed out that even this minimal level of self-assurance is a welcome exception to the numerous trends which reflect the loss of nerve in contemporary society.
Andrew Calcutt London E17
Genes and intelligence
I agree with Suke Wolton (LM-mail, September) and James Heartfield ('A fool's errand', July/August) that there is an important difference between the broad concept of intelligence and what can be measured in written tests of school learning. However, IQ test scores, taken up to the age of 18, are a good indication of employment prospects and income. They are nationally comparable and include abstract thinking skills - two important qualities supported in LM articles on education.
I agree with Dr Derbyshire ('The sense we were born with?', July/August) that variations in IQ can and should be investigated. I expect research to continue to fail to find genetic explanations and for the social origins of the differences to be confirmed, but it is important to support scientific research and then to look at the results critically. I do not agree that there is evidence of the genetic inheritance of IQ, as suggested by Dr Derbyshire. A more rewarding search for the ways in which thinking develops and improves is to be found in the psychological studies following the methods originated by the Russian Lev Vygotsky.
I wish to point out the 'historical' dimension to intelligence. I remember reading that Karl Marx became 'fairly fluent' in Russian in one year. I spent five years at Leeds University studying for a degree in Chinese and Russian, for which I received a first, and I still only reached a kind of intermediate level in both languages. I found myself wondering how Marx could read Russian after only one year, and I am sure that in the excitement of the times, what with the 1848 revolutions and everything, there was every reason for him to push himself. I doubt that he could do it in 1997. The Soviet psychologist Vygotsky said that when children play 'the child is always higher than his average age, higher than in his usual everyday behaviour; he is in play as if a head above himself'. There is also a 'zone of proximal development' in revolutionary ages too, when people are pulled up nearer to their intellectual potential.
When I went for my year abroad in China, I remember great debates among the foreigners there on 'why are Chinese people so stupid?'. Students in the dormitory announced they had become 'racists' after meeting the Chinese. We would discuss why if two people were waiting for an empty bus, one would always push the other out of the way to get on. Was this 'a conditioned reflex', or are the Chinese people just animals? Why did the Chinese not respond emotionally to the sufferings of other people? And why could so many shopkeepers not add five and five without an abacus? These, by the way, are all true examples.
I came home from China fairly convinced that Chinese students getting PhDs in the West were just copying out of books. After all, English teachers in China often receive a dozen essays word for word the same. Yet, apparently, some of the best work in US universities is being done by Chinese graduate students, and there are a few examples of Chinese who gained bachelor's and master's degrees and PhDs within four to five years of touching US soil.
We are faced with a world where the performance of individuals intellectually varies greatly. But as James Heartfield correctly points out, perceived intelligence levels are used as an explanation of social inequality when they should be seen as a product of it. I notice that CLR James had no problem in his history of the Haitian revolution in admitting that the black slaves were wild and uncontrollable, on a lower level of culture. But those black slaves, derided for not knowing two words of French, surprised the world by organising themselves into an army capable of defeating the French, Spanish and British.
David Webb firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennie Bristow misses the point when she defends Chris Brand ('Free speech branded', September). With his crass arguments in favour of child sex, Brand encourages the worst kind of publicity. He is endorsing shock tactics that gain attention from simpletons. I imagine that Brand's Internet indiscretion was a good excuse for his employers to remove someone whom they had employed before realising that he is intellectually sub-standard. Of course the former student of Brand, Helene Guldberg ('Why ban racist Brand?', June 1996), was able to defeat him in supposedly intellectual debate. Sorry, Helene, but all you did was deny a baby his rattle.
Frank Wainwright London
Whose news is it anyway?
I have just attended a discussion in Leeds entitled Whose News Is It Anyway?, organised by various groups/individuals concerned with the freedom of the press. What was relevant about what Thomas Deichmann said related to the moral judgements now being made by Western journalists, especially when dealing with issues which are emotional minefields (no pun intended). The previous Saturday I had watched BBC2's Correspondent - yet another sorry tale of child labour, this time among sugar cane cutters in Latin America. By the end of the report I fully expected the journalist to make the Sponsor a Child appeal. This did not happen, but neither did any kind of analysis of the root cause of such poverty. Hey, just another grim tale from the far side of the world.
When I asked why this dumbed-down kind of journalism is now rife, Duncan Campbell brought it down to the niche marketing of programmes and explained that this was the legacy of Thatcherism. He may have a point, but I did not feel it was the crucial point. The legacy of Thatcherism is a catch-all kind of phrase. Let's face it, the woman has been a political dinosaur for about a decade now. Martin Wainwright did not quite hit the nerve either. His take was that at least such programmes still alert people to world poverty and the evils of child labour. Respect to the man, but we have been journalistically aware of the evils of poverty since the days of Henry Mayhew and his Chronicles of the London Poor.
The bottom line is that the journalism of attachment cannot be valid on any issue, be it football hooliganism or Third World poverty.
Karen Chiverall Leeds
Come clean on football fans
Jackie Smith (LM-mail, November) raises a quandary that seems to perplex many of today's football-goers. 'I want to be able to express my passion for the game, but we cannot let the hooligans return', has become a standard response to the creeping regulation and criminalisation of supporters' behaviour. Unfortunately, Jackie also articulates a prejudice shared by New Labour and the 'fan-friendly' Task Force, namely, 'I know how to enjoy myself at the footie, it's those horrid, uncultured, tattooed, beer drinking scum that spoil it for the respectable fans'.
Instead of rabbiting on about how much they love the game, and how much they have in common with the ordinary fan, I wish people would just come clean. Be honest, you just do not like ordinary football fans - the ones that like a pint before and after the game, and enjoy taking the rise out of the opposition. Perfectly normal footballing behaviour to me, yet the very sort of behaviour which is said by the likes of David Mellor to justify confiscating the passports of England fans.
There is a simple solution to the problem Jackie identifies. If you find certain aspects of watching football offensive and unpleasant, don't go! You are spoiling it for the rest of us.
Libero! the football supporters' network London N22
Blair grants us nothing
Attracting the youth vote was a key strategy in the New Labour general election campaign. The enhancement of educational opportunities was a prime component of the Blairite 'vision of a better Britain'. Yet within weeks the new government announces that the maintenance grant for higher education students is to be abolished, and that universities are to charge for courses.
The opportunities for upward mobility that do exist have been hard won, due in no small measure to the (old) labour movement. The New Labour administration seems only too willing to reverse this process. As the NUS point out, when the likes of Blair and Straw were enjoying a university education, grants were equivalent to £10 000 per annum at today's prices. The grant, meagre as it has become, still embodies an important principle: that of enablement.
A large part of Thatcher's appeal to the working class vote was that she tapped a seam of aspiration. If we are now to pay for our higher education, it looks as if we were better off under the Tories.
If the Labour Party still believe in equality of opportunity, they have a peculiar way of putting their principles into practice. Who can blame young people for being sceptical about politics?
Phil Hadfield Macclesfield
Kate Adie: a correction
Kate Adie has asked us to make clear that a false allegation about her has been unintentionally reprinted in the LM special, Whose War is It Anyway? The Dangers of the Journalism of Attachment.
Mick Hume's pamphlet cites a March 1994 Spectator article which claimed that Ms Adie had wrongly reported an attack on a Bosnian Croat village by Bosnian Muslim forces as if it was a Croat attack on Muslims. In fact the Spectator correspondent appears to be the one who got it wrong; Kate Adie's report for the BBC News on 15 September 1993 made it clear that Bosnian [Muslim] Army soldiers had carried out the massacre at the Bosnian Croat village of Uzdol.
We are grateful to Kate Adie for pointing this out, and happy to set the record straight.
The what's NOT on guide
KIDS' STUFF: The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) called for The End of Alice, a novel written from the point of a view of a convicted paedophile murderer, to be banned. WH Smith agreed not to stock it. The NSPCC also called on publishers to 'exercise their judgement by refusing to publish it and similar material'. The judgement of the censor, of course, prevents other people from exercising theirs. Meanwhile former bad boy Chris Evans described the Myra Hindley painting in the Royal Academy's Sensation exhibition as 'disgusting, abusive, insulting'. Was this the same Chris Evans who in 1996 was reprimanded by the Broadcasting Standards Council for an 'offensive, tasteless pun' about Ann Frank, the 'diarrhoeaist'? Also heading for middle-aged respectability is ex-enfant terrible Julie Burchill. 'Exploitative images of children should be censored', she declares (The Modern Review, November). And what about writers who exploit the fears of the public by calling for censorship?
NO PISS-ARTISTS: Returning from the British Art Show in Athens, the Sensation-al Tracey Emin was told by an airline steward that she could not order any alcohol apart from the mini-bottle of red wine with her meal. The airline which seems to have been concerned that Emin might be an outrageous piss-artist is the same as the one which sponsored Emin, the outrageous Brit-artist: British Airways.
MEN ARE VICTIMS TOO: The Advertising Standards Authority has warned against ads eg, 'Put the boot in' for Lee Jeans, which show women being violent to men. Ad agencies are advised to submit such images for vetting by the ASA.
SELF-CENSORSHIP: At a meeting with public health minister Tessa Jowell, 17 magazine editors and publishers discussed ways in which they could cooperate with New Labour's anti-smoking drive. A spokesman for the Periodical Publishers Association reported that 'everyone wanted to have a role in the campaign'. Local agency INS News Group boasted that it was the first in Europe to exercise self-censorship on a story about Diana's kids, when it gave up a great scoop by refusing to cover Prince Harry's belated birthday party at a restaurant in Reading. Meanwhile the News of the World is asking agencies and freelances to sign a declaration that they will not offer pictures to the paper which have been obtained as a result of 'stalking'.
INOFFENSIVE: Rodney Baker-Bates, IT director at the BBC, sent an e-mail to staff instructing them not to download or transmit pornographic of offensive material. Radio 1 DJ Andy Kershaw reportedly replied to Baker-Bates with an e-mail telling him to 'fuck off'. Kershaw must have known he could not be disciplined for this, as downloading such a message would surely be in breach of the Baker-Bates instructions.
Reproduced from LM issue 106, December 1997/January 1998