Sir: Jenny McCartney’s ‘wake-up call’ (22 September) reminded me of a 19th-century Scientific American piece I discovered describing a dangerous new trend ‘which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body’. The fad? Chess.
I grew up bingeing on video games and cable TV. I heard similar concerns to Jenny’s from my parents, who were scolded for listening to The Beatles. Before them, books were seen as promoting sedentary behaviour. New technologies are neutral — they reflect both the light and dark sides of human nature. It is worth remembering that smartphones have helped get youngsters out exploring together (Pokémon Go), and taught them engineering and creative skills (Minecraft). Young people now are creative, entrepreneurial and less tempted by vice thanks to the access to information that technology allows. We should celebrate this.
What the people want
Sir: In response to Matthew Parris’s question, ‘Must the will of the people always be respected?’, I fear that the answer is unequivocally: yes. Surely the alternative is oligarchy? In answer to his five ‘what-ifs’, I, like Mr Parris, wobbled (badly, with no. 4 in particular) but bearing in mind Winston Churchill’s adage that ‘Democracy is the worst form of government except all those others that have been tried’ then I would come down on the side of democracy. The alternative, in which a minority seek to overturn a result reached democratically, is what one might call an ‘I know better than you’ culture.
Sir: In this week’s leader (‘Trading Blows’, 22 September) you quote President Donald Trump as saying ‘No tariffs, no barriers. That’s the way it should be. And no subsidies.’ You then go on to inform us of his pointing out the hypocrisy of Canada’s position by drawing attention to its punitive 270 per cent tariffs on US dairy products.
Perhaps you could also point out the US hypocrisy regarding ‘no subsidies’ in light of the fact that their government contributed around $22.2 billion in direct and indirect subsidies to their dairy sector in 2015.
Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada
A love of brown furniture
Sir: Please would you communicate to Max Hastings that there are many thirty- and fortysomethings who dearly love brown furniture and covet mahogany (Diary, 22 September). I know it’s not the done thing, but our house has plenty of rescued old-style ercol (before John Lewis made it light-coloured and trendy) furniture found on eBay and in strange warehouses, and also books. We love them. We don’t want to read from a Kindle. No room looks complete or comfortable without a good backdrop of bookshelves. We only have a little house, but we like it the way it is. So we are ready and waiting should any furniture or books ever become available, and will naturally compensate any heirs who prefer to shop at Ikea.
Don’t forget the Marines
Sir: An oversight diminishes Rachel Sieffert’s otherwise irreproachable review of Helen Parr’s intimate portrait of the Parachute Regiment (22 September). To her assertion that ‘the Paratroopers’ reputation for excellence is rivalled only by [that of] the SAS’ should of course be added acknowledgement of that of another elite force, the Royal Marines. From the mid-1990s, when the UK’s combat operations in Afghanistan gathered momentum, both the Paras and the Marines have excelled; and — crucially — acknowledge each other’s unique and complementary contributions to British fighting power. As an aside, although comprising just 3 per cent of UK defence, the Corps contributes 37 per cent of the manpower for our Special Forces (including the SAS).
Lt Col, Royal Marines (retired)
Sir: Concerning Rod Liddle’s views on girls and maths (‘If girls don’t like physics, it’s down to biology’, 22 September), I was a maths teacher for years, in this country and in Arab and Far East countries, and found clear differences between girls and boys in their needs and abilities. Of course there were exceptions, but I found that girls were conscientious and diligent, boys aggressive and independent. As archaeologists have found, men were the hunters and women the gatherers. I suspect that most women working as scientists are doing the gathering-of-evidence type of work.
Why Rod is wrong
Sir: Rod Liddle berates ‘stupid feminists’ for ignoring scientific evidence and blames ‘innate’ factors for the paucity of girls studying physics. ‘There is nothing you can do about it,’ he writes. But there is: educate girls separately from boys and encourage them to sign up for what’s often seen as a boys’ subject. Girls at maintained single-sex schools are two-and-a-half times more likely to take physics A-level than girls at similar co-ed schools. Indeed, girls’ and boys’ performance at physics GCSE is identical. Putting more images of women scientists in textbooks has been shown to make girls perform better than boys in science tests. There are all sorts of things you can do, which wouldn’t be the case if it were merely a question of innate aptitude.
Mary Ann Sieghart
All Souls College, Oxford
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