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Pictures the world forgot

Atrocities committed by UN troops in Somalia are finally coming under scrutiny in the wake of charges against members of Belgian and Canadian regiments, and a government inquiry in Italy. Can we now expect a more questioning attitude towards any future 'humanitarian' interventions in the Third World?

The Observer published a photograph of UN peacekeepers roasting a Somali child alive above a blazing fire. Another photograph showed a UN peacekeeper forcing a small child to drink salt water and swallow his own vomit. Why are their political masters in the West not brought before a War Crimes Tribunal? Are the world policemen who set and enforce the law also above it?

In spite of a massive media presence in Somalia at the time, these atrocities went largely unreported. Living Marxism was an honourable exception, challenging the humanitarian credentials of Operation Restore Hope and publishing photographic evidence of atrocities in 1993, four years ahead of the Observer. At meetings and protests supported by Living Marxism, I saw film of UN troops firing live ammunition into crowds, and footage of terrified people fleeing as UN helicopter gunships shelled their homes and public buildings, including a hospital. British television journalists did not see fit to broadcast these pictures. Why not? I for one question the infallibility of Western journalists. I am reluctant to question their integrity in case I end up with a libel writ. Anyway, here's a few quid for your Off The Fence Fund.

Pauline Hadaway

Belfast


Genes and intelligence

In his response ('A fool's errand') to the article 'The sense we were born with?' (July/August), James Heartfield argues that intelligence is neither fixed nor 'a natural property of individual human beings'. This may be true, but it is irrelevant to the issue addressed in my interview with Professor Plomin: not whether intelligence is fixed or natural, but whether genetics can have an impact on variations in cognitive ability.

The evidence for this is substantial and compelling. Numerous twin and adoption studies have now demonstrated an important association between familial inheritance and variation in cognitive performance. Indeed there is no trait in the behavioural or medical sciences for which substantial genetic influence is better documented. It was the enormous body of evidence implicating genes in cognition that has led several groups to begin searching for the underlying genes.

Heartfield continued by arguing IQ to be a 'bastard concept' unrelated to intelligence. IQ tests measure performance via an examination of spatial, verbal, mathematical and general logical skills. IQ results strongly intercorrelate with more 'traditional' measures of excellence including academic and job performance. If Heartfield wants to reject IQ as not being related to intelligence, then he will be rejecting many different techniques of assessment - not just those for the 'nerds in Mensa'.

Should Heartfield shake off his disbelief and examine the data, he will find a range of issues that are fascinating. Why, for example, does the variation in IQ become more closely associated with genes than environment during the course of a lifetime? Does this suggest a relation between genes and knowledge? Could the genes be working against environmental variation (selecting knowledge?), and, if so, how is this possible and what might be the implications? I may not have all the answers but I am not so foolish as to remain ignorant of the facts.

Dr Stuart Derbyshire

Research Fellow, University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, USA


Transforming politics

David from Kent (LM-mail, June) concluded from Frank Furedi's article ('Class politics cannot be rebuilt, regenerated or rescued today', May) that the end of class struggle, and disillusionment with human potential, make arguments for change redundant at the present time. While I think David is right to be sceptical of any spontaneous reaction against the anti-political climate of today, it seems to me that he overlooks some very original opportunities in the here and now.

The failure of old working class movements often blinds people to the collapse of positive appeal for any mainstream project. (Tony Blair's 'landslide' took less votes than Major's victory in 1992.) The widespread acceptance of limitations, if left unchallenged, does have a very debilitating effect. But we should not assume from this that conservative ideas are confidently and convincingly held. They are the reflex reaction which reflects only a loss of confidence in any ideas or values.

Challenging this climate is like kicking in an open door, as few beyond Blair's clique have a stake in such a pathetic view of humanity. The paucity of ideas means that it is easier to get a hearing. And many people, who may not agree with all the ideas in LM, nevertheless feel uneasy with the lack of opposition or critical debate. Unprecedented political space has opened up for a 'common sense' challenge to this culture of limits. Contesting this new culture is a political project in itself, and one which can create an entirely new audience for transformative politics. But creating a hearing for such a project does require creativity, imagination, and the confidence to see where it takes us without spending too much time looking over our shoulders.

Tracey Brown Kent


Contrary to media myth (and Colin Whetstone, Letters, July/August), there are plenty of working class people in Chelsea, where I happen to live. Check out the World's End estate. Critiques of my postal address aside, all I was wondering was what Frank Furedi had to say to anyone beyond that The World is dire but You Can Do It! Do what? When? How?

Mike Belbin

London SW3


Taking Pride

Des de Moor ('Almost ashamed of Pride', July/August) presents a crass and stereotyped image of the gay community. The faults he finds (obsession with health and safety, denial of class et al) are not our own special creation but reflect an outlook widespread throughout society. If we have Soho/Islington prejudices it is because they are fashionable; the same reason we have bleached floorboards.

Darling, if you do not like Pride, do not go at all. There should be no reason for you to hide at Pride.

Paul Briggs

London SE24


I appreciate Des de Moor's criticisms of the vacuity of the Pride march, but what is the point of adopting a 'coping strategy' or 'hiding in the cabaret tent'? If he is so disillusioned with the event, why does he bother turning up for it? I suppose it is a question of 'identity'!

Andrew Cox

Cardiff


Wankers, sleaze and LM

Neil Hamilton ('"Wankers of the world unite" seems to be Martin Bell's slogan', July/August) owed his defeat in the general election no more to Martin Bell than David Mellor did to Sir James Goldsmith. You may recall that if Mr Mellor had had all of Goldsmith's votes, the poor fellow would have lost anyway.

The parallel between Hamilton and Mellor is not just the 'sleaze factor', but a fundamental hunger for publicity, any publicity! Just as Mellor lined himself up for radio and television appearances after the 'toe sucking affair', so too did Hamilton, wife in tow, appear on Kilroy, Have I Got News For You, and now in Living Marxism! The man has not got a bone of Marxism in him. In fact I would say that he and his lot are invertebrate! It is ironic that you should picture him holding up a copy of LM depicting Blair's 'authoritarianism'. But who was it who said that the rest of us peasants should 'get back to basics', while they took backhanders, and made women pregnant and dumped them, C Parkinson, T Yeo etc? Martin Bell may now be in office because of a clever ploy by Labour. But maybe the people were just not prepared to be conned by the Mellors and Hamiltons of this world any more. Why is LM being sucked in by the bitter and twisted capitalist agenda? Have you forgotten the workers of the world?

Lucia Katsumbe

London E16


Humanist prejudice?

Contrary to the cursory claim made by Dr Jennifer Cunningham ('Planet of the apes', June 1996), scientific reports in cognitive ethology, field primatology and interspecific communication are filled with examples of the capacity for 'conscious thought, voluntary control of behaviour and ability to learn in advance' of the nonhuman great apes. The alleged discontinuity between us and our closest living relatives has been challenged, as we have gradually discovered in them the presence of cross-modal perceptions, symbolic and linguistic abilities, the capacity for self-recognition in mirrors as well as for imitation and deliberate deception, not to mention planning ahead, toolmaking and the use of tools to make tools.

Dr Cunningham's argument would be that basic moral rights are to be granted on the basis of the possession of favoured characteristics. I am inclined to hold that Dr Cunningham has not realised the implications of such reasoning. There exist many unfortunate human beings - the profoundly intellectually disabled, the brain-damaged, the senile - who are permanently deprived of the characteristics that her argument identifies as a prerequisite for being granted basic moral rights. Consistency would therefore suggest that we withdraw the moral protection they presently enjoy, and recommend a policy of harvesting their organs for disabled-to-normal human transplants.

If we reject such a conclusion, it is because when it comes to humans, we do not grant or withhold fundamental rights on the basis of discredited forms of perfectionism. On the contrary, we strive to implement an even stricter moral and legal protection for the vital interests of the less intellectually endowed and consequently more vulnerable individuals of our own species. The philosophers and scientists who have built up the collective case for the Great Ape Project argue that it is time to make our morality more consistent by beginning to extend our egalitarian stance to those nonhuman beings who most clearly demonstrate the possession of the qualities we deem relevant in ourselves. For such authors, the claim that our interests should come first, far from being an 'elementary point', is the legacy of a prejudice we should attempt to get rid of.

Dr Paola Cavalieri

Co-editor, The Great Ape Project,
editor, Etica & Animali, Milan, Italy


Spain: a passion for death?

The murder of conservative councillor, Miguel Ángel Bianco, by ETA, the Basque Separatists, was the signal for an unleashing of emotional anguish expressed in demonstrations across Spain. Major demonstrations in Madrid and Barcelona were led by Julio Anguita of Izquierda Unida (United Left Coalition), José Marie Aznar and Francisco Álvarez Cascos of the governing Partido Popular, and two leading members of PSOE, Joaquín Alumnia and ex-president Felipe González. The unions organised 10-minute silences. All of the above took place in the same week that 18 workers were burnt to death in the shipyards of Valencia, and demonstrations against the Nato summit were banned in the capital.

Gareth King

Zaragoza, Spain


Chocoholics anonymous

When Dolan Cummings ('The myth of addiction', May) used the example of 'chocolate addiction' to illustrate how we are seen as losing self-control and needing to be saved from ourselves, I felt like telling him to get a grip. That was before I saw a news item on my local Channel 11 TV station, which announced how researchers have developed the 'chocolate patch', similar to the nicotine patch, to be worn by chocoholics on the wrist. The patch releases a calming chocolate aroma. Thank heavens, we're saved!

Natalie Boyd

Pennsylvania, USA


The what's NOT on guide

ALCOPOOPERS: JD Wetherspoon has banned the sale of alcopops in its 194 pubs. 'We simply do no want to be associated with the controversy', said chairman Tim Martin. Let's hope no other drinks become 'associated' with 'controversy' (lager louts, Mother's ruin, a rum do etc) or Wetherspoon's could be the first pub chain to go dry.

UNDERAGE DRINKING: Schoolboys swigging cider behind the cricket pavilion could be in trouble with the law. Home office minister Alun Michael has announced the implementation from 1 August of the Confiscation of Alcohol Act, which empowers police to take alcohol away from under-18s drinking in public. Labour has also announced that 18 and 19-year olds will soon be required to show ID cards before purchasing alcohol. They may be New Labour; but young, never.

BANGED: Fireworks will only be sold to over-18s and some bangers will be banned outright, the home office has announced. The New Labour government is also planning to outlaw replica guns as well as real ones.

SMOKING: Health Secretary Frank Dobson described supermodels who light up on the catwalk as 'disgusting', and the Health Education Authority has criticised men's style magazines for publishing pictures which glamorise smoking. How long before picture editors start cutting the fags out of shots of James Dean and Steve McQueen? Meanwhile City firms are banning their employees from having a ciggy outside their offices, and in the USA Hillary Clinton has criticised Julia Roberts for smoking too much in her new film My Best Friend's Wedding. Guests at the White House are now given sweets instead of cigarettes.

'NAZI' CHOCOLATE WRAPPER: Swissair has withdrawn chocolate bars wrapped in gold foil, in the context of allegations that gold bought from the Nazis during the Second World War contained the melted-down fillings and jewellery of those slaughtered in the gas ovens. 'One or two passengers complained and we decided to withdraw the chocolate', said spokesman Jean-Claude Donzel.

SMALL IS NOT BEAUTIFUL: After complaints that children had been frightened by 'newsreel style' footage in the 'have you ever noticed how protected you feel when you make yourself small?' advert for Volkswagen Polo, the Independent Television Commission declared that 'more cautious judgements should be made about the context in which potentially disturbing material should appear'. Apparently the same sort of material might have been acceptable if it had appeared in an advert for a charity.

OTTERLY UNNECESSARY: As New Labour sets about banning everything, a Guardian leader-writer suggested that it is time to consider a ban on otter hunting, not realising that tailing Tarka was in fact banned two decades ago. Try to keep up, that man.


Reproduced from LM issue 103, September 1997

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