Vol. 38 No. 10 · 19 May 2016

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Jacqueline Rose is to be congratulated on her piece on trans narratives, which dealt with a complicated and ever-shifting field as well as anything I have read recently (LRB, 5 May). I have just one point of correction. ‘Transsexual people have to fight the stigma of psychopathology,’ Rose states, ‘not least because any sign of it during medical consultation is likely to disqualify them from surgery, where the only narrative that passes is the one that confidently asserts that they have always known who they really are.’

The view of the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists is that while gender dysphoria is not a mental illness or disorder it can coincide with any mental illness, and that a coincidental mental illness would not necessarily preclude treatment for gender dysphoria. Realistically, most patients in any branch of medicine have multiple conditions at any one time and the social strain imposed on anyone with gender dysphoria is, hardly surprisingly, something which makes coincidental depression, anxiety and so forth not uncommon. Further, autistic spectrum disorders are found much more commonly in people with gender dysphoria than mere chance would allow. Any chronic illness, whether psychological or physical, may affect treatment for gender dysphoria but generally speaking if chronic illnesses are under good control treatment is possible. Such chronic illnesses could be asthma or diabetes, schizophrenia or learning disability, Asperger’s Syndrome or personality disorder; the distinction between psychological and physical illness isn’t anything like as important as how well the illness is controlled.

Patients have already advanced perfectly satisfactorily through all stages of treatment with coincidental diagnoses of schizophrenia, chronic renal failure, paraplegia, emotionally unstable personality disorder, learning disability and autism. Patients currently being treated in the UK include those unwell enough to be detained under the Mental Health Act in a secure hospital.

James Barrett
British Association of Gender Identity Specialists, London W6

Unfair to Merkel

Julian Preece seems to be under the impression that in my piece on Germany and Europe I was most concerned to evaluate the twists and turns of Merkel’s political education (Letters, 5 May). There is lots to be said about this, but my subject was the German belief that other European countries must follow Germany in the name of European unity, and the disastrous effects this has for Europe. As to Merkel herself, when ‘Schroeder took a lead in opposing’ the Iraq War, she travelled as opposition leader to Washington one month before the war began to reassure Bush that ‘Schroeder does not speak for all Germans.’ With her as chancellor, Germany would have joined the ‘coalition of the willing’. Not to forget her recent trip to Istanbul to have Erdogan close the Balkan migrant route in exchange for expedited accession to the European Union, which she had always opposed. Too bad she hasn’t yet made it to Athens or Madrid to end the economic plight of the Mediterranean countries sacrificed on the altar of the German balance of trade and for the sake of the banks that have recklessly lent to them. There is reason to doubt that this will happen.

Wolfgang Streeck

What is money?

It might some day prove useful to Jonathan Harlow to know that Scottish banknotes are not legal tender anywhere – even in Scotland (Letters, 5 May). For what it’s worth – which in practical terms isn’t much – the status of legal tender in the UK is conferred by the Treasury, and is quite narrowly defined in terms of the obligation of a creditor to accept designated notes or coins in settlement of a debt. This status is enjoyed in England and Wales by coins (up to certain limits) and notes issued by the Bank of England. These notes are not legal tender in Scotland, though, like those issued by the Scottish banks, they are approved by the UK Parliament as legal currency.

John McGill
Quoyloo, Orkney

Crisis in Brazil

Fernando Henrique Cardoso writes that while president he had nothing to do with the purchase of votes in favour of his re-election in 1998, and that it is nonsense to suggest he spent more proportionately than Clinton on an electoral campaign, misleading to assert he had any traffic with Delcídio do Amaral, a central figure in the Lava-Jato case, and regrettable that an unfounded paternity should be attributed to him (Letters, 5 May).

The facts are these. Two congressmen from the PFL, his coalition partner, were caught on tape discussing the bribes they had received for supporting the bill allowing him to stand for re-election, shortly before it was pushed through in 1997. His government made sure that no parliamentary inquiry arose from the case, widely believed to be the tip of an iceberg. After leaving office, his debonair comment was: ‘So someone was bought? I never paid them.’ In March, a witness in the Lava-Jato investigation testified that the country’s biggest bank, Itaú, had distributed largesse for the passage of the bill.

Campaign expenditures? Clinton spent $43 million on his election in 1996, Cardoso $41 million in 1994, in a country with a per capita GDP less than a sixth that of the United States (for documentation, see David Samuels, ‘Money, Elections and Democracy in Brazil’, Latin American Politics and Society, Summer 2001). He outspent Lula by more than twenty to one in 1994 and 18 to one in 1998. Delcídio? Director of gas and oil in Petrobras at Cardoso’s pleasure, before changing horses to the PT when it came to power.

Private affairs? They ought, of course, to remain private. In Cardoso’s case, they did; in Lula’s they did not. The difference owes everything to the political protection of one and the blackening of the other by the local version of Murdoch’s empire, the Globo conglomerate, and so became a public issue: the double standards of the Brazilian media. That – not talk of DNA, of which there was none – was the question addressed. The current tangle of accusations, recollections, semi-admissions, retractions – Globo still at their centre – can be left to the parties concerned.

Since I wrote ‘Crisis in Brazil’, the Lower House of the Brazilian Congress, more than half of whose members face criminal investigation of one kind or another, has voted to impeach President Rousseff. At the behest of the speaker, Eduardo Cunha, deputy after deputy, paying no attention to the charges nominally held against Rousseff, rose to invoke God and the Family as they cast their votes in favour of driving her from office. From Rio, the former army parachutist Jair Bolsonaro, exulting that this was a victory like that of 1964, when the military saved the country from communism, dedicated his ballot to the memory of Colonel Carlos Brilhante Ustra, torturer-in-chief of the dictatorship that followed. He had reason to celebrate. Without the 37 votes supplied by his party and the current incarnation of the PFL, the launch to impeachment would have failed. The following day, rejoicing at the outcome, Cardoso enthused that this degrading spectacle was a ‘lovely, positive demonstration of democracy’ – ‘bonita e positiva’, no less. His applause for the charade of 17 April will be a lasting stain on his reputation.

Perry Anderson
Los Angeles

Resistance Myths

In his excellent piece on postwar France, David Drake writes that the Resistance myth ‘enabled virtually everyone to identify with victory’ (LRB, 5 May). This was not true for thousands of women. On returning from forced labour in Germany, women were regularly denigrated as ‘prostitutes’, while their male counterparts were seen as returning heroes of the war effort. Those who developed over-friendly relations with their occupiers were decried as collaborateurs horizontales and publicly shamed, while the vast majority of genuine collaborators were exonerated. In Italy, too, women were excluded from the triumphalist postwar narratives of resistance. In Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City and Italo Calvino’s The Path to the Spiders’ Nest, both written in the immediate aftermath of the war, women are depicted as distracting and pernicious sexual influences undermining the patriotic verve of the Resistance. The balance was not redressed until the 1960s, when there developed a growing recognition of the role that women played as couriers and active participants within partigiani camps.

Alastair Holder Ross

In Suffolk

I very much enjoyed Inigo Thomas’s review of my revision of Pevsner’s guide to Suffolk, which was able to include so many of the ‘nice human bits’ that Pevsner and his successors cannot accommodate (LRB, 5 May). I did spot one mistake. The man behind Snape Maltings is Newson Garrett, not, as Thomas quotes the guide as saying, ‘Newton Garret’. And although it’s not untrue to say that ‘Pevsner is careful to include structures that have vanished,’ it would be more accurate to say that Pevsner’s successors are much more likely to include them; the description quoted, of Sudbourne Hall, is mine, not the master’s, and he would probably have considered it unnecessarily long and detailed.

James Bettley
Great Totham, Essex

Putin in Syria

Jonathan Steele seems intent on downplaying the extent of civilian casualties resulting from Russia’s intensive bombing of Syria (LRB, 21 April). He cites an article published in the German news magazine Focus on 5 March, which reported that a leaked Nato document characterised the Russian bombing as ‘precise and efficient’. ‘Precise and efficient’ at doing what? Steele doesn’t tell us, but the Focus article does: it tells us that the Nato document calculates that only 20 per cent of Russian sorties were directed at Islamic State targets, then goes on to quote the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights to the effect that Russian operations resulted in more than 1700 deaths, including those of 423 children.

Steele draws on another source – Airwars – for data on the victims of coalition bombings, but passes over its monitoring of Russian operations. In a report entitled ‘Reckless Disregard for Civilian Lives’, Airwars estimates that from 30 September to 31 December, ‘between 1098 and 1450 non-combatants died in 192 separate Russian events.’ Russia has, it says, ‘systematically targeted civilian neighbourhoods and civilian infrastructure – including water plants, wells, marketplaces, bakeries, food depots and aid convoys … Russia and the coalition report carrying out a similar number of armed sorties. Yet civilian fatalities from Russian strikes were six times higher … more civilians appear to have been killed by Russia in the three months to 31 December than from all credibly reported coalition civilian fatality events since August 2014.’

Carrying the body count forward to February this year, the Violations Documentation Centre (the statistical source of choice for serious Syria-watchers) produces a final figure of 1989 civilian deaths, 486 of them children, as a result of the Russian bombing campaign.

Brian Slocock

Jonathan Steele writes that before obtaining UN Security Council backing, the United States and France’s initial military campaigns in Syria had ‘no basis in international law’. In fact both governments notified the Security Council that they were acting in defence of Iraq, which had requested their assistance to eradicate IS safe havens in northern Syria. The US also claimed it was acting in self-defence even though, unlike Iraq, it had never been attacked by Islamic State.

Although controversial, there is growing recognition in international law that states can (and do) use force in self-defence against terrorist groups operating out of countries whose governments are unwilling or unable to neutralise the group themselves. In justifying its operation, the US referred to the Assad government’s inability to tackle IS.

This right is by no means universally accepted, but a key indicator of whether a right exists in international law is how other states react when a government asserts the right in question: the only countries that objected to the legality of the US and French campaigns were Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia.

Omar Naqib

Iraqi Healthcare

‘Baghdadis tend to view healthcare as a right rather than a privilege,’ Nick McDonell writes, ‘inadequate though it has always been’ (LRB, 5 May). There can be no doubt that Iraqi healthcare is now in an appalling crisis, placed under an intolerable strain by war and anarchy, but McDonell assumes it was always so. In fact by the 1980s every small town in Iraq had a hospital, funded from the nationalisation of the oil industry in the early 1970s: far from perfect, but pretty good until the financial pressures of the Iran-Iraq War knocked the stuffing out of them. A 2013 paper in the Lancet notes that ‘during the 1970s and 1980s, Iraqi healthcare and medical education were said to be the best in the region. The country boasted free healthcare in 172 hospitals and 1200 primary healthcare clinics. Iraqi medical graduates would often receive specialty training and certification in the UK and Germany.’ This is what has been destroyed.

Iraq had, and still has the remnants of, one of the finer medical education systems outside Europe, established in the 1920s by a young British former army doctor, Harry Sinderson, and later staffed by a long line of Egyptian and Iraqi medical educators. When in 1988 my wife had her baby at Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge she was attended by an obstetric team made up almost entirely of Iraqis.

Martin Rose
Saffron Walden, Essex

Fashion is indestructible

Alice Spawls rightly finds Cecil Beaton’s image of the Vogue model surveying the destruction of the Cloisters of the Middle Temple compelling, but I’d like to suggest that we can know what is happening within (LRB, 5 May). The model is reading the Latin inscription on the tablet affixed to the spandrel of the arcade. The inscription says simply that after the very ancient portico of the Templars had been utterly destroyed by fire in 1678, this new portico (haec nova) was built at the expense of the Middle Temple in 1682. So the model, and those of us reading over her shoulder, should derive some consolation and perhaps even defiance from the tablet’s message: the arts of highly evolved cultures, whether fashion or architecture or photography, are indeed indestructible. The third portico was completed in 1952, as its Latin inscription attests.

Roland Mayer
King’s College London

The Heaneid

Colin Burrow’s learned review of Seamus Heaney’s Aeneid: Book VI misses the mark in selecting its pro forma quibbles (LRB, 21 April). Heaney’s ‘the shore winds loll me and roll me’ for Virgil’s ‘versantque in litore venti’, which the review offers as too ‘simple and childlike’ in its ‘metaphors’, doesn’t recognise the line’s sonic achievements. The spondee of ‘shore winds’ should be heard as the spondee which ends ‘versantque in’, the ‘winds’ echoing the vowel sound of the elided ‘-que in’ (which sounds like the name Quinn). ‘Litore venti’ becomes sonically rendered ‘loll me and roll me’ which perfectly preserves its metrics while simultaneously recalling the l and r sounds of ‘Litore’. The Latin i sound in ‘litore’ and ‘venti’ is heard in Heaney’s twice-repeated ‘me’. The translation chimes admirably with its original, balancing Virgil’s semantics with his sonics. If for poetry semantics and sonics are equally important, as I believe they are, then Heaney’s line, and perhaps his translation broadly, contains more of the original than Burrow suggests the line in question ‘literally’ says.

James Brophy
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Our Daily Dread

Christopher Tayler quotes Don DeLillo’s adaptation/mutation of the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Give us this day our daily dread … forever and never, oh man’ (LRB, 5 May). DeLillo is here echoing (quoting?) Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s ‘Loud Prayer’, as recited by the poet during The Band’s 1976 farewell performance in San Francisco, and recorded in Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Waltz.

Abe Davies
St Andrews


We felt it was important to offer a correction regarding the name and gender of the author of Pornotopia, the Zone book reviewed by Christopher Turner (LRB, 21 April). The review and the cover of the book name Beatriz Preciado as the author. In late 2014, Preciado announced that he was transitioning, and in 2015 changed his name from Beatriz to Paul B. Preciado. Paul’s transition was announced after Zone had published Pornotopia, and unfortunately we were not able to update the cover to reflect the change. We will do so for any future printings.

Michael Newton
Zone Books, New York

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