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Pure reason

The idea that such a thing as pure reason exists and is the diametrical opposite of what Ann Bradley termed 'emotional, irrational sentimentalism' ('Pro (the sporting) life', April) seems to run right through this journal. This is highly problematic, and leads to the assertion that political views, financial situation or body shape are the products of individuals making calculated choices from a range of rationally presented alternatives. Following Sara Hinchliffe's abusive attack on the overweight ('Less is more', April), will the next issue of LM feature an article on how the homeless have made their choice and must deal with it?

You present a false picture of humanity if you ignore or attempt to combat the role of the emotional subconscious in public behaviour, or assume that 'reason' has an existence independent from emotion or physiology. A world populated by 'active public subjects' sounds like the stuff of an HG Wells novel, and there is something vaguely sinister in Ann Bradley's bluff condemnation of sentiment; perhaps it is sentiment rather than reason that makes us fully human.

Incidentally, Sara Hinchliffe's article revolved to a great extent around the sexual advantages of weight loss. I think Sara is self-conscious about her tendency to balloon in and out, and feels that this verbal assault is a way of warding off the inevitable return of those packets of lard. What was LM thinking, publishing such an 'irrational' tirade?

Philip Seddon Luton

Art criticism for art's sake

While I cannot say enough good things about your excellent magazine, I must admit to being a little distressed by your occasional forays into art criticism. The latest example is Mick Hume's editorial on 'Ghoul Britannia' (May).

I detest the contemporary art world as much as any sane person. However, if I criticised idiots like Damien Hirst or (here in the USA) George Condo, I would be careful to do it on artistic grounds, not because they did not convey a positive or progressive view of the human experience. Trying to interpret art in this way smacks a wee bit of philistinism. Art is not political in the way that Marxists or right-wing ideologues like Hilton Kramer think it is. As much as you may insist otherwise, politics is not a valid basis for judging the aesthetic value of art. Maybe you should add an art critic to the alt.culture feature.

Name withheld on request

Problem pupils

I was disappointed by Brendan O'Neill's article, 'Who's afraid of a five-year old?' (April). Schools are unable to expel pupils because they have 'tantrums', contrary to the impression given by this rather naive piece of writing. As a teacher myself, I believe the issue here is that the educational workers and the union concerned were anxious to prevent the education of the 29 other children in Karl Fitzharris' class being further disrupted.

A lengthy process has to be gone through before any child can be expelled, thus ensuring that the expulsion is in the interests of all concerned. Instead of seeing the real issues here, your reporter seemed content to chat to mums at the bus-stop who would have received their information via their own children. Perhaps such reporting is good enough for the tabloids (which you seem to have joined in your denigration of the teaching profession), but having paid something like eight times more for your magazine I would have expected a corresponding rise in the level of journalism.

Mike Hornsby Poole, Dorset

Marx marches on?

You are too impatient in doubting Marxism as an analytical tool for our society ('The return of Marx (& Spencer), March). With both raw materials and manufactures produced abroad, capitalism is creating a global industrial working class. As happened in nineteenth-century England, this working class will get organised, their wages will rise so that the marginal benefit to middle class workers constantly diminishes, consumerism dies - and with the whole world now capitalist, there is nowhere to go to exploit cheap labour.

Capitalism tends to put a price on everything (and everybody) without discrimination. This engenders a vague notion of human equality, and so there is steady progress in, for example, equal rights for women and gays, formal democracy in Latin America, peace in Belfast. Yet this success increasingly comes up against the economic inequality and exploitation that is fundamental to the capitalist system. A new crisis looming?

Capitalism blocks the deployment of the best technology and renders advanced skills meaningless. The 'events' in Eastern Europe proved that once people perceive that their system is blocking progress they may well decide that the game is over, and then all the propaganda and police surveillance in the world cannot stop them easily sweeping their state aside. So is not the City of London our Berlin Wall? Maybe you should do a thorough analysis before quitting on old Karl, or at least give him another decade or two.

Jim Dixon Cork, Ireland

A nineteenth-century German philosopher said we should not just complain about the state of the world - 'the point is to change it'. Can you recommend any magazines which discuss how change may actually be brought about?

Paul Williams London SE11

Cool India

In the wake of the Indian nuclear tests of 11 May, I would like to say that I am rather enthused by the dynamism of the new government in India led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Western commentators have taken to questioning the value of economic growth, and recently the Thai government announced it no longer wishes to return to 'tiger' rates of growth, but aims for a 'contented economy' instead. By contrast, the BJP aims for growth at seven to eight per cent a year, up from five per cent in 1997-8, with an annual five per cent increase in the agricultural sector to achieve a hunger-free India by the year 2010. 'Let the common patriotic mantra be for one and all: growth, more growth and still more growth', said prime minister Vajpayee addressing industrialists in New Delhi recently.

You could condemn the explosion of nuclear devices as cheap populism. No doubt it is. But I am delighted that such a significant developing country as India has refused to accept that the 'will of the international community' is paramount and that the world is divided between powers responsible enough to have deadly nuclear arsenals and the rest. Diplomatic protests have been registered and economic sanctions against India are being discussed in the USA. I assume that the 19 March decision by the US department of energy to begin a series of underground explosive tests on radioactive plutonium will not feature in the debate. It would be a great shame if a government committed to rapid economic growth found itself the target for sanctions called for by breast-beaters in the West. Hands off India!

David Webb Kent

The what's NOT on guide

NOT ON MESSAGE: When Rosie Boycott left the Independent on Sunday to become editor of the Express, she asked Paul Routledge to go with her as political editor. Routledge accepted, but a few days later he was informed that Boycott was sorry but she could not employ him. What happened? The Observer's Nick Cohen reveals that Routledge, an 'old-fashioned left-wing reporter', is persona non grata with Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair's press secretary Alastair Campbell, and concludes that Downing Street intervened via Express owner and Labour peer Clive Hollick. Cohen observes that 'if the Routledge affair had happened under Thatcher, metropolitan liberals would be screaming about censorship and creeping fascism. But now their friends are in government they are silent'. He also notes that National Theatre director Trevor Nunn rejected a request to stage a satire on New Labour from playwright Howard Brenton and former radical activist Tariq Ali, partly on the grounds that it would offend 'influential members of the government'. Who needs censors when newspapers and theatres seem to be run by the state for the state?

SOFT CORE: The cover and poster picture for Pulp's new album This Is Hardcore has been censured by the Independent on Sunday, among others, on the grounds that the woman lying face down in the picture appears to have been raped. She could just as easily have been the willing but passive participant in either anal intercourse or just plain and simple 'rear entry'; nevertheless the IoS leader-writer adopts the missionary position and tells readers not to buy the record. Dad-rocker Eric Clapton has also been accused of misogyny. The song 'Sick and tired' from his new album Pilgrim is about whether to blow a woman's brains out. A spokeswoman for Wearside Women in Need claimed the song 'is upholding the level of violence that unfortunately permeates a lot of the relationships between men and women'. I don't believe 'a lot' of men are actually shooting their partners, even on Wearside; thinking about blowing their own brains out after listening to Eric Clapton these days, perhaps.

UNHEARD AND UNSEEN: On the day of its official publication, copies of Gitta Sereny's Cries Unheard were noticeable by their absence from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the city where Mary Bell (then 11) killed two toddlers in 1968. The two largest bookstores have refused to stock the hardback but have agreed to take orders for it; in other words, it is available under the counter. Local bookshop Thorne's said that the book would be displayed when it came in but that copies had not yet arrived from the supplier. A spokeswoman added that 'we will only sell this book from a sociological point of view, hoping that certain authorities may learn from its content and to ensure such a dreadful act cannot happen again'. So it's alright for 'certain authorities' to read it 'from a sociological point of view', but the rest of us cannot be trusted with it on the beach.

NOT-SO-HIGH JUMP: May morning in Oxford may never be the same again. Traditionally there is a dawn chorus from the choristers of Magdalen College while revellers, still high from the previous evening's May Ball, jump off Magdalen Bridge into the river below. Not this year. The university authorities and students' union officials got together with the police to dissuade people from jumping; and on May morning Magdalen Bridge was cordoned off by the constabulary on 'safety' grounds that the bridge might collapse, the riverbed had not been dredged for dangerous junk because excessive rainfall meant it was flowing too fast, people might drown, etc. More police officers were 'on hand at other positions along the river-bank' in case anybody tried jumping from a nearby location. In these low times not even Oxbridge high jinks are safe from the safety police.

Compiled by Andrew Calcutt

Reproduced from LM issue 111, June 1998

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