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28 June 2023

Letter of the week: I am Waterstones Dad

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

I was amused by Gavin Jacobson’s takedown of “Waterstones Dad” (Critic at Large, 23 June), because I tick all those boxes (Top Gear, tick; Dominic Sandbrook, tick; Master and Commander, double tick), but his argument runs out of road.

Having enjoyed a level of self-determination, health and opportunity never before within reach of common folk in the entire history of civilisation, I count myself extraordinarily fortunate to have been born when I was, where I was, and at 68 a day doesn’t go by when there isn’t something to remind me about that. So I’m not, as Jacobson suggests, haunted by the question of what it’s all been for.

No, what bothers me is far more troubling than the mere self-doubt Jacobson identifies. It’s the fact that all this comfort and security, the travel, the abundance, heat and light and advanced healthcare that are bedrocks of my good life come at an enormous cost, in the form of global warming that will punish not so much me as my children. That’s a lot bigger than whingeing about Brexit, and I reckon I’m looking into a much deeper and darker abyss than Jacobson has imagined for me.
Peter Grimsdale, London SE21

[See also: Letter of the week: House rules]

Big dad energy

Gavin Jacobson’s brilliant characterisation of Waterstones Dad, with its wonderfully judged illustration by Dominic Bugatto (Critic at Large, 23 June), left me speechless. I have often wondered why I come out in hives when I pass a high-street bookshop. Now I know.
David Perry, Cambridge

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THANK YOU

Gavin Jacobson’s attempt to lampoon a soul lost in the tumult of today’s politics reveals a much clearer type – his own. Characterised by sneering at far more accomplished writers – Beevor, Behr and Campbell, to name three, he falls into the student-rag trap of cleverer-than-thou dismissals.
Dylan Jones, Uppingham, Rutland

Is “Waterstones Dad” the New Statesman version of Dan Ashcroft’s “The Rise of the Idiots” from Nathan Barley? A complete send-up of some of the magazine’s readership that they will be oblivious to?
Bryn Evans, Somerset

Has Gavin Jacobson been using AI to stalk me? If so, he missed the New Statesman from the illustration.
Mike Moran, Penrith, Cumbria

AI’s hard problem

Harry Lambert’s great article on AI (Cover Story, 23 June) means I now feel I have a good grasp of the fundamentals. Worryingly, perhaps, consciousness is a red herring – once superhuman AI combines its knowledge and decision-making capacity with the unsustainable impact of the human species on the planet, there is only one outcome, isn’t there?
Jon Ord, Tavistock, Devon

I find myself unexpectedly reassured by your cover story. Geoffrey Hinton’s view that consciousness is an idea that he can do without is, ironically, the modern equivalent of the position that thought is entirely dependent on language. If the argument that AI is going to destroy us all is dependent on this sort of hand-waving, then we can sleep soundly for a while yet.
Peter Wright, London W5

Young at art

Andrew Marr missed an obvious trick in his thoughtful column on Labour and culture (Politics, 23 June). If Labour really wanted to differentiate its own “vibe” from the Tories, it could invest, seriously, in arts and culture: a cultural entitlement for all young people until 18 (with specialist arts teachers for primary schools); a trebling of national arts spending with, yes, some bias for people and organisations outside of London; and financial and development support for freelance workers and emerging artists.
Joe Hallgarten, London E9

Lockdown’s toll on children

It is no surprise to read about the devastating impact of school lockdowns on children and families (Out of the Ordinary, 23 June). Our research found that at least 1.7 million children have fallen behind with talking and understanding words since the pandemic – an increase of 200,000 children since 2021. Our education system is not set up to respond to this huge change. Half of recently trained teachers say they have not had adequate training in this area. We need serious thinking by all parties on how to deal with this mismatch.
Jane Harris, chief executive, Speech and Language UK

Green grievances

The Greens’ remarkable success in rural England (Letter from Suffolk, 23 June) seems unlikely to be replicated in Scotland. Concerns over the Scottish Greens’ governmental role in coalition with the SNP – including a botched bottle-recycling scheme – are increasingly voiced in rural Scotland, where centralised rule from Edinburgh is much resented.

Significantly, the Scottish Greens’ best MSP, the respected rural land-reform campaigner Andy Wightman, resigned a couple of years ago, forced out by intolerance towards anyone who dared question the party’s gender policies. Sadly, I also no longer recognise the party that so inspired me with its environmental message 40 years ago.
David Spaven, Comrie, Perthshire

Anoosh Chakelian mentions the wiping out of the Greens in York. They joined a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2019 and gained two key portfolios, transport and housing. However, York saw no Green influence from this opportunity. Instead, they introduced policies that excluded disabled people from the city centre. The Greens did not govern well in York and were punished by the electorate for it.
Ruth Potter, Stamford Bridge, East Yorkshire

Burning question

Regarding Kate Mossman on The Wicker Man: “And who hasn’t thought how wholesome it would be to have sex on a gravestone, with life and death united in one place?” (Film, 23 June). Err… I guess it depends whether the idea of revenants, possession, or even the life of the world to come has ever crossed your mind. As Andrew Marvell wrote: “The grave’s a fine and private place,/But none, I think, do there embrace.” Sex on a gravestone! Brrr.
Christina Zaba, Bristol

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[See also: Letter of the week: The Treasury tyranny]

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This article appears in the 28 Jun 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The war comes to Russia