Vol. 26 No. 18 · 23 September 2004

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Not Iran, Not North Korea, Not Libya

It’s doubtless true that, as Norman Dombey suggests, the Bush administration would prefer states such as Iran, Libya and North Korea to be denied the ability to build nuclear weapons (LRB, 2 September). But Dombey also convincingly shows how very far most of those states are from having that ability: even if they have made some progress, none would be able to build enough weapons to constitute a significant military threat. Perhaps we should credit Bush and his negotiators – who bullied the International Atomic Energy Authority into putting a halt to Iran’s indisputably legitimate non-weapons uranium enrichment programmes – with the same knowledge. They do, after all, employ advisers with a fair smattering of nuclear physics. The American diplomatic histrionics over the nuclear threat from ‘axis of evil’ states must therefore have other motives. First among these are financial. Dombey rightly says that uranium enrichment programmes worldwide have generally been initiated in order to avoid having ‘to rely on the United States for fuel, since the US Congress could (and would) impose new conditions on delivery’. The flip-side of this is that US companies which produce and sell enriched uranium are determined to ensure that there are places where they can still sell it. I say US ‘companies’, but in fact there is only one: based in Bethesda, Maryland, it’s called the US Enrichment Corporation, and was born six years ago as a privatised spin-off from the Department of Energy. USEC has a history of influencing government policy: it nearly scuppered the agreement brokered by Clinton whereby Russian nuclear warheads are reprocessed in return for cash (it didn’t want to pay the going rate), and successfully lobbied the Department of Commerce to impose tariffs on imports from its European competitor Urenco. it’s a nice irony that the enrichment facilities Iran was developing were based on advanced centrifuge technology rather than the old-fashioned gaseous diffusion process USEC employs. An American company mustn’t be outdone.

Jim Harper
Waverly, Ohio

Hamlet goes through his paces

Barbara Everett suggests that the key word in ‘To be or not to be’ is ‘nobler’ (LRB, 2 September). Earlier she drew attention to Hamlet’s status as a student, and I think that is relevant here, too. University students were accustomed to debate ‘questions’ as exercises in rhetoric and logic, and a case can be made that this speech is a performance, in the style of a student, perhaps put on for the benefit of Claudius and Polonius. The speech would not, then, be performed introspectively, but with relish at its formal but improvised cleverness, a presentation designed to demonstrate persuasiveness and logic and leading to a conclusion: ‘Enterprises of great pitch and moment … turn awry.’ He could thereby signal to the hidden listeners that he has no immediate plan against the king, perhaps to lull them into a false sense of security.

The conclusion ‘Soft you now,/The fair Ophelia’ has never struck me as being easily spoken to himself alone. A nod in the direction of the listeners – you knew she was here all along and so did I – would be a more interesting way of rounding it off than the usual sort of ‘well well, what have we here?’

Julian Rathbone
Thorney Hill, Dorset

The Truth about Kerry

A few correctives to Andrew O’Hagan’s report on the nomination of John Kerry (LRB, 19 August). First, there is no evidence of John Kerry ‘turning against the war’ in Iraq. In recent weeks he has asserted that knowing what he knows now he would still vote as he did for the invasion, and he continues vociferously to support the occupation. In Boston he was ‘reporting for duty’ as a superior manager of the situation that he, John Edwards and the rest of the all too loyal opposition in Congress created with George Bush. It would have been worth noting that 95 per cent of the delegates at the Boston convention were opposed to the war (a position that a majority of Americans now hold) but not one whisper of dissent could be heard above the roars of approval for the two hawks who head the Democratic ticket.

Second, Howard Dean’s problem was not that ‘he found himself coming over a bit crazed on television’ but that there was a systematic and well-funded effort to destroy his candidacy in order to silence the tens of thousands of people who had been energised by his outspoken opposition to the war, and to thwart the formation of an electoral alliance between them and independent voters (who now make up 35 per cent of Americans). In the 6 March edition of Counterpunch.org, Charles Lewis reported that a group of Democrats calling themselves Americans for Jobs and Healthcare had raised $1 million between November 2003 and March 2004 to run incendiary ads attacking Dean, then the front-runner in the Democratic primaries. The money came from supporters of Kerry and the other big-name Democratic candidates who had been eclipsed by Dean; the group went out of existence shortly after Super Tuesday (when a batch of influential primaries took place) and the Dean candidacy was effectively laid to rest. In a memo circulated in early March to activists in Choosing an Independent President (ChIP), Jacqueline Salit – who was in contact with the Dean campaign in the months leading up to the primary season – wrote: ‘Kerry’s nomination gives the party a stability that a Dean nomination would have threatened. The party opted to destroy Dean and his singular ability to forge a winning coalition with independent voters. Why? The party puts its self-perpetuation above all else – including beating Bush.’

Third, should he be elected, John Kerry will be perfectly ‘able to unsay’ his rhetoric of making America ‘a freer, fairer and more likeable place’. Indeed, the Democratic Party is already engaging in a historically unprecedented attack on the democratic process by seeking to keep Ralph Nader – the only anti-war candidate in the race – off the ballot in as many states as possible, including those where the results are a foregone conclusion.

Phyllis Goldberg
New York

What is ‘die Massen’?

The focus of Freud’s Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse is not, as Jeremy Whitehurst implies (Letters, 19 August), McDougall’s The Group Mind (1920), which deals with stable associations (such as church and army), but Le Bon’s Psychologie des foules (1895), which deals with transient ones (crowds). Therefore to render Freud’s title as Crowd Psychology and the Individual is both to ‘situate’ the critique and to signal his overriding concern with what happens to individuals when they are addressed en masse – i.e. in a crowd – by a hypnotic leader.

Christopher Wintle
King’s College London

Do you do Atkins?

Steven Shapin’s discussion of the forces underpinning the low-carb craze (LRB, 5 August) brings to mind a much earlier synthesis of personal struggle and social critique based on diet. George Cheyne’s The English Malady, published in 1733, invokes Protestant conduct manuals and spiritual autobiographies, while lamenting the effects of colonial expansion on the urban bourgeoisie:

Since our Wealth has increas’d, we have ransack’d all the parts of the Globe to bring together its whole Stock of Materials for Riot, Luxury, and to provoke Excess … Is it any Wonder, then, that the Diseases which proceed from Idleness and Fulness of Bread, should increase in Proportion, and keep equal Pace with those Improvements of the Matter and Cause of Disease?

Writing at a time when Parliament was debating whether to tax ‘foreign luxuries’, Cheyne proposed a home-grown austerity which came with a price tag to fit the affluence of those he criticised. His promotion of ‘regimen’ at Bath and London made him a very wealthy man. While Dr Atkins may not have shared Cheyne’s taste for brown bread and milk, he would have looked favourably on his methods.

Nick Sweeney
Asheville, North Carolina

Blue Periods

I know poems are not arguments, but John Burnside’s poem (LRB, 2 September) in homage to Greta Garbo was lovely enough to count as a good argument. The speaker wakes up to find swallows etching his walls with shadow, and captures a big thing or two about solitariness, if that’s not too juicy a word for loneliness. Garbo, of course, very much wanted to be alone, but there are some quite specific things to be said about her walls too, the ones of the Sutton Place apartment she occupied for years in New York. In one of his ditties, Truman Capote swears (I know, I know, but when it comes to good stories I think it’s a case of any port in a storm) that Garbo’s walls were hung with Picassos. ‘The only problem was,’ he said, ‘they were upside down.’ When pressed, Capote recalled they were pictures from the funny period, two faces and so on, a detail which suits Capote rather well when you think of it. Anyhow, he was backed up. A few other people have sworn that Garbo’s Picassos were upside down. This adds nothing at all to Burnside’s poem, but it might occasionally help him (and the rest of us) out of our blue period.

Hamilton Scott

It’s not my fault

In his piece on Orhan Pamuk, Christopher Tayler says that I have ‘a wayward sense of register’, that my ‘English sentences are often hard to decode’, and that my ‘translations read very awkwardly in a way that all the other translations of Pamuk do not’ (LRB, 5 August). In 1998, Professor Talat Halman said of my translation of The New Life: ‘Güneli Gün … has done an impressively successful translation, faithful and idiomatic. Some critics have characterised the translation as stilted at times, but this is hardly Gün’s fault. Pamuk … occasionally writes some awkward sentences. If anything, the translation has managed to expurgate many of the careless clauses.’ Pamuk, who keeps a sharp eye on his critics, has been modifying and simplifying his language in his last two books, My Name Is Red and, more recently, Snow. But vintage Pamuk can be hard to read. Other translators of his work have phoned me, thanking me for unpacking some of his more enigmatic sentences. Yet I was unwilling to disrupt his prose, because every linguistic puzzle he presented seemed worth solving.

Güneli Gün
Oberlin, Ohio

Locating Nivisons

Elizabeth Thompson Colleary's response to my review of Edward Hopper at the Tate misrepresents the facts (Letters, 2 September). All of Josephine Nivison's canvases, which she bequeathed to the Whitney in 1968, were discarded – either put in the trash or given to local hospitals with no strings attached. They were not loaned, as Colleary claims, and none can be traced at any of the hospitals today. The works bequeathed by Nivison now at the Whitney survived only because they were accidentally identified as by her husband, or overlooked and therefore not discarded, and almost all of these are on paper. I am not aware that the Whitney has accessioned for its permanent collection any work by Nivison, although a recent bequest by her friend, the artist Felicia Meyer Marsh, includes some of Nivison's small oil paintings.

Gail Levin
City University of New York

Beyond Middle Earth

Jenny Diski's diary may have left some readers with misunderstandings about New Zealand (LRB, 5 August). This is a secular country with a population of over four million (not 3.5 million, as Diski has it), the large majority of whom did not appear in Lord of the Rings, were not inconvenienced by the film and have never plummeted from a great height attached to a rubber line. A number of us were, however, captivated by Diski's performance at the New Zealand International Arts Festival held earlier this year.

Joe Baker

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