A quotation leapt to mind when reading “Gene editing ‘would allow us to create hardier farm breeds‘ (News): “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong” (HL Mencken). Application of magic bullet “solutions” has got our species into many disastrous situations, from Australian cane toad waves to an explosion in obesity linked to the prescription of low-fat diets.
To support environmentally disastrous factory farming by modifying animals to resist one disease would only invite the spread of more pathogens that threaten humans and other animals.
A simple flick of a genetic switch in a giant monoculture crop to enable greater drought resistance would have widespread impacts on soil ecologies, water and nutrient cycles, promote continuation of disastrous farming practices and more “superweeds”.
Food security and a healthy planet and human population demand an end to trying to cosh nature into submission and instead building our knowledge and understanding of natural systems, innovation that builds healthy soils, increases genetic diversity within crops and animals, the use of a wide range of crop species and an end to the food waste of factory farming.
Natalie Bennett, Green peer
House of Lords, London SW1
Plight of mothers in jail
Reading about the 18-year-old woman on remand having to give birth alone in a cell after her requests for help were ignored, and the subsequent death of her daughter, one wonders how much longer the jailing of pregnant women and young mothers can be justified on safety and moral grounds (“Prison guards get counselling after baby dies in cell – but not mother“, News).
What did John McDonnell do?
John McDonnell accuses Keir Starmer of “reaching for the Blairite playbook” (“Dump the New Labour playbook, Keir, and set out your programme for radical change“, Comment). Through being in office, Tony Blair’s Labour introduced the minimum wage, invested massively in schools and the NHS and reduced inequality. What did Messrs McDonnell and Corbyn achieve, apart from losing two general elections?
Lisa Bachelor asks what can be done to make Britain safer for women (“When will women feel safe on our streets?“, special report). Sexual harassment of, mainly, women and girls has escalated, and recent cases of femicide have triggered responses of fear and outrage, with calls for changes in the law and police responses to these crimes. These changes are necessary, as is the need for schools to introduce awareness of the harm caused by abuse and harassment and bullying. But increased charging and sentencing will not work unless we also address possible causes.
What we should be asking is: why do men and boys carry out abusive and violent assaults on women and girls? In cases where the victim is unknown to the assailant, does the perpetrator have a history of watching pornography or other videos depicting violence against women? When the victim is known to the perpetrator, is there a history of abuse and violence in the assailant’s childhood?
In Rubens’ name
It came as no surprise to me that new computer analysis of the National Gallery’s prized Samson and Delilah shows a 91% probability that it is not actually by Rubens (“Was famed Samson and Delilah really painted by Rubens? No, says AI“, News). As far back as 1992, with fellow artists Steve Harvey and Sian Hopkinson, I submitted a report to the gallery laying out clear stylistic, technical and documentary evidence against the painting. This report is available, along with a new video summarising the case, at www.inRubensName.org.
Our research then and subsequently has been sidelined and often ridiculed. The National Gallery has too often fallen back on the authority of a small group of Rubens experts, while ignoring the commonsense evidence in plain sight. Surely there can now be little doubt that this contentious work, bought for a record sum by the gallery with public money, was a costly mistake. But after three decades of obfuscation, what is really at stake here is the credibility of the art establishment as a whole.
In 1997, the gallery promised to arrange a public debate on this painting. There is an opportunity now for them to finally deliver on that promise, with the openness and transparency we expect from all our public institutions.
Feminists, work together
Sonia Sodha’s article was a blast of fresh air (“‘White feminists’ are under attack from other women. There can only be one winner – men“, Comment). We deeply need such voices to take issue with the vogue for making women – and white feminists in particular – the source of all ills. Rafia Zakaria’s book Against White Feminism exemplifies this unappetising trend.
Over the past 40 years I’ve been involved in a plethora of feminist activities, from raising funds for women and girls’ education in developing countries to establishing a rape crisis centre in Sheffield. And I know many other women doing the same. Using guilt and blame to paralyse ordinary women like me – grassroots activists who bring about radical advances – is so counter-productive that it’s tragic. As Sodha says, the one thing attacking women like us “will never ever do is change the world for the better”. We’ll continue to try to bring about that change, even if we have to brave Zakaria’s contempt and ridicule in the process.
I genuinely expected the article “‘Elite v plebs’: Oxford rivalries of boys who would never grow up to be men” (News) to be about the composition of our current government.