Letters: Judging students by achievement is a greater scourge than diversity at any cost

30 June 2018

9:00 AM

30 June 2018

9:00 AM

Harvard’s racial quotas

Sir: While I largely agree with Coleman Hughes that racial quotas are counterproductive (‘The diversity trap’, 23 June), he misuses Martin Luther King Jr to buttress his argument. King said that he hoped his descendants would ‘be judged…by the content of their character’, not by their standardised test scores. The grim pursuit of purely quantifiable ratings for intelligence and achievement in American schools — by Asians and white Protestants alike — is an even greater scourge these days than the illiberal goal of ‘diversity’ at any cost. Harvard admissions may well be covertly, and unfairly, anti-Asian, but by taking into consideration ‘courage’ and ‘kindness’, they might also be doing the right thing.
John R. MacArthur
New York

The purity of bitcoin

Sir: Martin Vander Weyer (‘The myth and menace of cryptocurrencies’, 23 June) doesn’t see the Hayekian purity of a denationalised form of money: bitcoin. This is surprising as he claims to be a Thatcherite. ‘No sensible citizen should dabble in this dark arena,’ he says. Well, maybe the electricity usage in mining bitcoin is worth it. Terrible monetary regimes are plentiful worldwide, despite ‘stewardship’ by the Bank for International Settlements. Ordinary Venezuelans and Zimbabweans love bitcoin. Scalability issues are also sorted now, thanks to the Lightning Network. But what do I know? I’m an ex-Bank of England payments expert ‘libertarian dopesmoker’. Let’s just stick with TSB making our payments.
James Hulme
Tunbridge Wells, East Sussex

Profs on the panel

Sir: Norman Lebrecht is concerned about the inclusion of music professors on international competition juries because of the possibility of the quid pro quo trade-off (‘You vote for my pupil, I’ll vote for yours’, 23 June). In evidence, he tells us of the exploits of the prominent Russian violin teacher, Zakhar Bron, whose own pupils place remarkably well in the competitions he judges or sponsors. The future of music may depend, Lebrecht suggests, on fair play in competition judging.

Or maybe not. Almost 200 years ago in one of his articles in L’Europe littéraire (12 June 1833), Hector Berlioz described the same concern about the judging of the granddaddy of all music competitions, the Prix de Rome. Whatever the talent of the competitor, certain candidates will never be able to place higher than second place, wrote Berlioz. ‘The reason is simple; the competition jury is composed almost entirely of Conservatoire professors who have a considerable interest in the success of their own pupils… It’s unjust, but that’s how it is.’

Nevertheless, Berlioz figured the system out when he won the music division of the Prix in 1830, as did Debussy a half-century later. However, the list of composers who never won the Prix suggests that the threat to music may not be quite as dire as Mr Lebrecht suggests.
James Penrose
London SW1

Mea culpa

Sir: If you are going to write a review pointing out that a book is badly edited then you had better make sure that your own copy is flawless. So I was very embarrassed to receive an email from Steven Spurrier politely pointing out the mistakes in my review of his book Wine: A Way of Life (Books, 23 June). Most notably, that he did indeed attend university, the LSE, gaining a BSc Econ. I’d like to apologise to Mr Spurrier for my sloppy reviewing. I am sure Spectator readers will buy the book in droves and make up their own minds. Indeed in his email, Mr Spurrier pointed out that his book is selling extremely well. Long may it continue to do so.
Henry Jeffreys
London SE13

Great all-rounders

Sir: I am sure that you do not want the correspondence on great all-round sportsmen to continue indefinitely, but before it closes, the late Bill Shankland must be mentioned (Letters, 23 June). He represented Australia at the Olympics in boxing and swimming, also taking part in staged races against Johnny Weismuller and playing cricket with Don Bradman. After moving to Britain, he played rugby league for Warrington, captaining them in two Wembley finals, before turning to golf. He finished second in the British Open at Hoylake and then coached Tony Jacklin at Potters Bar. I was lucky enough to play golf with him at Parkstone towards the end of his life, when he was kind enough to compare my swing to that of the late Peter Thompson. When in his eighties he was confronted by two young muggers, he surprised them by knocking one out with a single punch before the other fled.
Dr John Millar
Cranborne, Dorset

The missing bust

Sir: In his review of the Napoleonic exhibition at Les Invalides (Arts, 16 June), Andrew Roberts incorrectly states that of Napoleon’s seven great captains of history the one whose bust is not present is the 1st Duke of Marlborough. In fact, the missing bust is that of Marlborough’s friend and ally Prince Eugene of Savoy.
Ciarán Connolly
Raheny, Dublin

Blackbirds sing

Sir: I would like to take issue with Simon Barnes, who in his otherwise delightful article about bird-listening writes of ‘the laid-back whistling of the blackbird’ (‘The joy of bird-listening’, 23 June). Blackbirds don’t whistle, they sing! A glorious, golden, liquid song. One of the pleasures of English life is to sit in the garden on a summer evening, glass of wine in hand, and listen to the blackbird singing.
Jane Manley
Byford, Herefordshire

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