Culture of respect needs police backing, The language of academic sages and others

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Blair's culture of respect needs the backing of more police

Blair's culture of respect needs the backing of more police

Sir: The "culture of respect" which the Government has undertaken to promote provides a welcome commitment in dealing with low-level violence and anti-social behaviour. The plethora of initiatives and schemes already available, such as dispersal orders, anti-social behaviour orders and alcohol disorder zones provide an impressive range of strategies in dealing with such behaviour.

Indeed, there is already sufficient legislation in place to deal with the growing menace of anti-social behaviour. The problem is, and has been, deploying adequate resources to enforce that legislation. A major factor in the mind of a potential offender is the chances of getting caught and punished. The chances of being apprehended are very low so the incentive not to offend is greatly weakened.

This sense of immunity from arrest and prosecution is not exclusive to young people who engage in anti-social behaviour, but is learnt elsewhere in society from motorists who blatantly ignore a ban on mobile phones while driving, to fly-tipped beds and fridges dumped by our roadsides.

The "culture of respect" is to be welcomed and reformative measures encouraged. But the bedrock in building that respect must come from enforcing the laws we already have by increasing the numbers of fully trained police officers on our streets.



Sir: Michelle Watts (letter, 19 May) rightly criticises Deborah Orr's simplistic view of rap music as a cause and not a symptom of crime. She then goes on to list the "negative experiences" of life that engender such crime.

Yesterday I sat in a busy inner-city clinic, listening to a litany of such traumatic experiences among my patients. Not one had sunk to the level of gun-toting, but instead they had risen above their distress as survivors, not victims. It was perhaps an atypical clinic, but I was disturbed by Ms Watts's depiction of people as passive and lacking autonomy. People don't get "excluded from schools" or "caught up in crime", or wake up one morning to find "drugs infiltrating their lives". They make moral decisions to commit crime, to smoke crack or to behave in such a way as to be excluded from school.

Yes, the circumstances in which they live make it hard to resist, and I am safely protected from such temptation. But it does no favours to the many who, despite poor parenting, "make good", if those who "make bad" are let off the moral hook by sociological explanations of their behaviour that take away their responsibility and hence their freedom.



The language of academic sages

Sir: I'm the person who asked about "matrilineal issues" in colonial Singapore following a lecture by Michael Gilsenan at the American University of Beirut, referred to by Robert Fisk in his column of 15 May.

Like Gilsenan, I am an anthropologist. "Matrilineal" is therefore a word that I learned early in my training. It is by no means an obscure term, but one every anthropologist knows, and one the general public can grasp if they just try.

But Fisk didn't try. After the talk, all present were invited to migrate with Gilsenan to a local pub. A few of us did, where we kept the conversation going. Fisk would have been welcome to pull up a chair and sip a pint with the group and put to rest his long-standing curiosity about the terms "emic" and "etic".

Don't believe his anti-intellectual chest-beating. As a journalist reporting from the Middle East, Fisk regularly pontificates, often obscurely, brandishing his inside knowledge about, for example, the Lebanese civil war.

Fisk simply can't have it both ways. There can't be "great anthropological sages" like Gilsenan if such folks aren't allowed to use specialist language when giving a talk on a university campus to an audience populated mainly by postgraduate students and professors. What is a sage if not someone who explores a subject in greater depth than a layperson?



Sir: Bravo to Robert Fisk for his article on academic claptrap! It is especially prevalent in the world of film appreciation. I meet students who are appalled at having to learn a new language in order to understand the world's most democratic art form. I have never met a film-maker who understands it, but according to the practitioners this is not necessary.

An example I came upon recently: "The adversary possesses such weaponry as a structuralist grid focused around the frontier's dialectical play of forces embodied in the master binary opposition of the wilderness and civilisation." And this from a book about Westerns! As on old silent film director put it, "There are more horses' asses in the world than there are horses."



Sir: Robert Fisk complains that anthropologists have a specialist vocabulary, for example "matrilineage". Just to clarify: a "matrilineage" is a family group consisting of all the descendants of a single female ancestor, but not their husbands. A "patrilineage", in contrast, comprises all the descendants of a single male ancestor, but not their wives. Families of these two types are found, for example, in Africa and they are different from the kind of families common in Europe and America. An anthropologist studying in Africa needs workaday words for these types of family. What other words does Mr Fisk suggest?



Sir: Robert Fisk has opened a can of academic worms. His attack on the poisonous elitism found in universities is, though broadly justified, slightly wide of the mark. Many who work in higher education do try to engage in a public dialogue.

The problem in Britain is not so much the existence of a "language of exclusion" but exactly the obsessive "networking" which Fisk also identifies. If this becomes the chief priority, in a job which is meant to value what (not who) you know, then students will continue to be treated as an inconvenience.



Lobby fodder and wasted votes

Sir: For 35 years I have lived in a constituency where the Tory vote would go to a cow if it wore a blue rosette. Of course there is voter apathy. What earthly point does my vote have?

This thought must have occurred to millions of people in seats where the odds are heavily weighted against change. I do vote at elections out of a misguided sense of civic duty but the system makes nonsense of the ritual.

I don't care if PR brings coalition government. It is no bad thing if policies have to be modified or scrutinised more carefully in order to gain a majority. This is hugely more democratic than the lobby-fodder system prevailing today, and might even have kept us out of an illegal war. I will be supporting your Campaign for Democracy initiative.



Sir:I have been following the PR debate, and I am grateful to The Independent for providing the forum. I used to be very much in favour of PR, but now have some reservations. I am not convinced that, under the present system, votes for a non-winning candidate are "wasted".

A friend of mine didn't vote because he thought his vote (for the Green Party) would be "wasted". After further probing it turned out that he would have voted Green if he thought they had a chance of getting in. What would make him think they had a chance of getting in? If they had got more votes at the previous election. How would they have got more votes? If people who believed their vote was "wasted" actually voted. (He's going to vote next time.)

Voting for a non-winning candidate sets up that party for the next election by showing enough support to get more voters on board, and is therefore a very important vote, the sowing of a seed that bears fruit five or 10 years hence. Sweeping political changes don't happen overnight, and nor should they. When the minority party you have chosen to support finally gets to power and appears to have more than its fair share of the parliamentary seats, it is as if all the "wasted" votes from previous elections have carried forward. Over the long term it evens out.



Sir: Tony Gould (letters, 17 May) has an interesting idea when he suggests the United Nations should invade this country and impose democracy. It would never work. Any such invasion plan would be vetoed by the Russians and the French. As with Iraq, they have far too many business interests to protect.



Galloway's answer to genocide

Sir: George Galloway opines that 100,000 have died in our war to replace genocidal dictatorship with representative democracy - the same number killed annually by UN sanctions (which Galloway also opposed).

These options having been ruled out, his "solution" was always to leave in place a warmongering despot who invaded his neighbours, tortured his opponents, duped weapons inspectors, encouraged suicide bombers and ignored UN resolutions.

Reminding us that Donald Rumsfeld once backed Saddam against the then greater threat of Iran serves only to highlight Mr Galloway's embarrassing inability to grasp key concepts such as "the lesser of two evils".



Sir: Here's one US citizen who was enthralled to see your Mr Galloway standing up to the spineless Democrats and nasty Republicans in the US Senate. Would that we had more real politicians like him here. Thank you Mr Galloway for speaking the truth to our clueless leadership.



Sir: Rupert Cornwell in his article on George Galloway (19 May) sees the maverick MP's testimony on Capitol Hill as belated revenge for the English football team being beaten 1-0 by the US team in the 1950 World Cup.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. For the US team had a Scottish manager and a Scottish captain. It was simply the case of a few Scots undermining widely held assumptions that one nation ruled the world in one particular field of play. I believe that is all George Galloway did.



We must shame uban 4x4 drivers

Sir: Your editorial on the urban use of 4x4 vehicles (17 May) calls for alternatives to car-dominated culture, but fails to understand why a campaign against urban 4x4 use is needed to bring about such alternatives.

Most urban motorists who buy 4x4s do so for reasons of vanity and self-delusion - or for a lack of imagination as to their effect on other road users. Over-sized for British streets, over-assertive and aggressively styled, 4x4s represent the worst excesses of carmakers' delusional marketing to urban drivers who have no objective need of them.t.

As 4x4s proliferate in towns, it is entirely legitimate to target them, and shame urban 4x4 drivers into thinking of a good other than their own. We will only move away from the car- obsessed culture by resisting and reversing its worst excesses.



Vibrant Vauxhall

Sir: In your recent report on the arrest of a mafia mobster in south London, you describe Vauxhall as "a traffic-choked and distinctly unglamorous area" (17 May). Having recently relocated to this vibrant and dynamic part of London my staff and I find such comments wholly inappropriate.



Missing the point

Sir: In the final paragraph of his article Tales of the City (19 May), John Walsh is "pissed off" with receiving a "Draconian" disqualification for driving at 39mph down Ludgate Hill. He didn't. My guess is that for this offence he received only three penalty points. The disqualification was for still continuing to put other road users at risk by ignoring the previous awarding of points to the extent that he now has 12.



Orchard of England

Sir: Miles Kington claims that "it is almost impossible to get a warm enough year in this country to grow sweet chestnuts" (17 May). Sweet chestnuts grow freely in east Kent. I refer Mr Kington to mature sweet chestnut trees growing on the campus of the University of Kent at Canterbury, in the grounds of the nearby St Stephen's Junior School and wild in woodland on the St Stephen's housing estate. I have harvested and cooked sweet chestnuts several years running from all of those locations.



Hooded and proud

Sir: Ann Ayling at 66 obviously wears her hoodie with pride (letter, 18 May), which I hope won't be dashed if I say that it was about that trendy age I bought my own first hoodie. There is no more practical wear, as I've discovered in the last six years, for coping with East Anglian weather. I've found the attitude of the young to be friendly rather than hostile. I've just booked for a head-shave, but can't yet find an ad for skateboard lessons.



Enemies of peace

Sir: Your headline "Israeli missile attack endangers truce" is misleading. The first paragraph of the article clearly states: "An Israeli missile attack killed a Palestinian militant after a barrage of mortar attacks on Jewish settlements in Gaza." Surely then the headline should read "Palestinian mortar attack endangers truce"?



Scrabble dilemma

Sir: I'm afraid I can't match Nicholas Gough's Scrabble scoring hat-trick (Letter, 19 May) but maybe I can match its audacity. I once drew out, with the very first seven tiles of a game and with each letter in the right order, the word SCROTUM. While thrilled that I would walk away with the game using my very first word I did have a brief giggly panic over whether it would be appropriate to use. I was playing against my elderly aunt.