On France, hotels, Heathrow, Iran, William Petty, films, our “country of the year”


Deconstruct France

SIR – “Bleak chic” (December 21) argued that many countries rank well above France in terms of happiness. Yet happiness is inherently difficult to measure, and these “global barometers” rely on a naïve, capitalist scale to measure it. I am also not surprised that countries hit by austerity are happier, because in their world of instant gratification, a simple trifle is enough instantly, even briefly, to satisfy them. Your article almost stumbled upon the truth – but rather faltered on the doorstep – when it said that people around the world are more than likely to say they are happy. It’s the people who don’t know better who are likely to say they are happy.

In addition, you read “Candide” out of context. It was written in response to the optimistic doctrine that ours is the best of all possible worlds. Rather than promoting pessimism, he avoids a potentially dangerous optimistic attitude. Voltaire was opposed to a certain illusory and happy resignation, which he believed had to overcome, because otherwise why would we need to cultivate our gardens?

Existentialism offers an authenticity that could easily be confused with boredom by the uninitiated, but in reality goes further than that. The French are the nation of absurd men of Albert Camus, and they would rather face the truth of life than live in ignorant happiness. A baby laughs at the most insignificant thing and thinks he is happy; an adult does not. The French believe that fun must triumph over office slavery and simply know better.

Kenneth charles curmi
Hamrun, Malta

* SIR – The examples you use to justify French melancholy are contradicted by many examples of “happy” literature and sociology. Most French people don’t care about past colonies or Napoleon. French philosophers have no influence in society. “Trend negativism” is the reserve of a few Parisian intellectuals who represent no one other than themselves.

The pessimism stems from the fact that despite numerous elections and political personnel changes over the past 30 years, French society is still dominated by groups that derive their power and finances from public money.

Christophe Baudic

Hotel verification

SIR – To say that “the age of the grand hotel ran from 1860 to 1960” is to make believe that the Grand de Paris had no antecedents (“Be my guest”, December 21). The era began in the 1820s with the Tremont House in Boston (1828) followed by the first Astor House in New York (1834) and the Burnet House in Cincinnati (1848), none of them the size of the Large but all larger than all of the above.

The Illustrated News from London called the Burnet the best hotel in the world. All initiated the standard of comparative luxury extended by subsequent hotels. All were designed by an underrated pre-war architect named Isaiah Rogers, and he is now recognized as the father of the luxury hotel.

James o’gorman
Honorary professor
Wellesley College
Wellesley, Massachusetts

Pay to use Heathrow

SIR – Your leader on the Heathrow Airport expansion barely mentioned pricing (“Go west”, December 21). Last October, the Civil Aviation Authority announced that airport charges at Heathrow should be set in real terms until 2019. It’s crazy. Heathrow is at full capacity and monopoly regulation is therefore counterproductive: prices should clear the market.

Consumers would pay eventually, but this is just an extension of the rush hour pricing principle, which we accept for train travel but for some reason not for air travel. And passengers have in any case done quite well over the last two decades of low cost airlines; they have also rationally directed demand to other airports where there is still spare capacity. Higher prices at Heathrow would further encourage this trend.

If there is an increase in capacity, consumers should pay the price. Allowing the market, rather than the Civil Aviation Authority, to determine what consumers pay to use Heathrow would be a good way to start this process.

Stephen wright
Professor of economics
Birkbeck College

SIR – The sprawling megalopolis of South East England is expected to have more than one world-class central airport. The solution is to replace Gatwick’s glorified portakabins with suitable terminals, add more runways and build a high-speed rail link to Canary Wharf. It would become the airport of choice for anyone traveling to or returning from the city. Moscow proves that it works with two real airport hubs: Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo.

Loren Gerlach

America and Iran

* SIR – I respectfully point out that Jerry Harte’s assertion (Letters, December 14) that the US actions towards Iran have been benign despite Iranian belligerence are false. After Iran publicly condemned the 9/11 attacks and even helped Americans in Afghanistan after the expulsion of the Taliban, George W. Bush included Iran, to his shock, in his “axis of evil”. despite the latter’s attempt to reconcile. . Another effort in 2003 was killed by hardline Republican supporters, even berating the Swiss ambassador for forwarding the proposal.

In 1980-88, the United States supported Iraq in its war with Iran, culminating in the destruction of an Iranian civilian airliner killing all 200 people on board; that the United States would claim it was an accident did little to appease an enraged and besieged people.

Finally, and truly the genesis of contemporary Iranian animosity, the CIA-sponsored overthrow in 1953 of a democratically elected popular Iranian government, which the latter viewed as a betrayal, fundamentally altered Iranian views on human rights. United States. Indeed, US-Iranian relations before the coup had always been cordial and the US was still viewed in a positive light compared to the hated British imperialists.

As an independent observer, I have neither great love nor animosity for the Iranian regime. What I dispute is the image of the United States as being immaculate and not having “reciprocated by despicable actions” of its own accord.

Redmond Alejandro Lim
Foreign Affairs Research Specialist
Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies
Pasay, Philippines

Petty’s Cash Ledger

MONSIEUR – You attribute to William Petty the invention of economics in the 17th century, but you did not do full justice to his cost-benefit calculations (Free Trade, December 21). The good doctor estimated a person’s value to be between £ 60 and £ 90 and in “Political Arithmetick” he suggested that these values ​​could be used “to calculate the loss we have suffered” from the plague. and war. In 1667 he claimed that given the worth of an individual and the cost of transporting people away from the plague in London and of care, each pound spent would earn £ 84 as the probability of survival increased. (He also suggested that an individual in England was worth £ 90 and in Ireland £ 70.)

In a lecture on anatomy in 1676, Petty argued that the state should step in to ensure better medicine, which could save 200,000 subjects per year and therefore was a reasonable public expenditure. Today’s economic estimates are more refined and the data more accurate, but the arguments made by Petty still resonate in public policy.

Rashi Fein
Emeritus professor of economics of medicine
Harvard Medical School

Cinema reviews

* SIR – To illustrate the difficulty of predicting how a Hollywood movie will be received, you debated why “Gravity” was so much more successful than “The Lone Ranger” last year (“Even now no one knows nothing “, December 21). You seemed puzzled that the studios’ perspective on films (“apprehensions” about the first versus “high hopes” about the second) doesn’t seem to be an accurate indicator of box office performance.

Rotten Tomatoes, a website that collects reviews from movie critics, shows that “Gravity” had 97% of critics’ approval and “The Lone Ranger” only 31%. Could it be that, rather than being an impenetrable mystery, the main determinant of a film’s success is simply its quality?

Matthew Gertner

Put back the gong

SIR – As an Uruguayan, I was disappointed that you chose Uruguay as “country of the year” (“The Earth has talent”, December 21). Have you read the law that “legalizes” marijuana? It adds new Soviet-style measures where marijuana users must register, pharmacies must sell the product, amounts for producers and users are rigidly set, licenses for cultivation are required and new bureaucracies. regulations are created. I would add that the Uruguayan government is not known for its efficiency. Why hasn’t marijuana just been decriminalized?

We have other more pressing problems, like the drop in grades in the latest PISA surveys, which show that 40% of young Uruguayans do not finish high school.

Ines Coduri
Montevideo, Uruguay

SIR – You like the President of Uruguay because he flies economy class and drives a Beetle, not to mention that he ignores the constitution by passing numerous decrees and handed the state airline over to an obscure investment group against any recommendations. You concluded that Uruguay is “bold, liberal and fun loving” even though it is the opposite of all of those things. Please pass me the joint you were smoking.

Mario Navarro Pizzo
Montevideo, Uruguay

MONSIEUR – I was delighted to see that Somaliland was selected for the country of the year, for having kept piracy and Islamic extremism at bay. Just a point to clarify. You state that Somaliland “by all accounts” is not a country. By most calculations, we most certainly are. We have a strong legal case for recognition as an independent nation state, backed by historic precedents and the overwhelming support of the people of Somaliland who voted for independence in 2001. We have a democratic government, stable institutions and a thriving market economy.

Mohamed behi yonis
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Somaliland

* SIR – You mentioned Kiribati as a country of the year candidate on the grounds that “no report of prejudice or excitement has come” from the Pacific island chain. Yet its president once again called on his people to migrate “with dignity” as climate change threatens to overwhelm the country. One of its citizens applied for asylum in New Zealand arguing that his life was in danger due to global warming (his plea was rejected). Comparatively speaking, 2013 may have been “a quiet year” for Kiribati, but there may not be too many left.

Sara lincoln

* The letter appears online only

This article appeared in the Letters section of the print edition under the title “On France, hotels, Heathrow, Iran, William Petty, films, our” country of the year “.