Family courts, Political correctness and others

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The Independent Online

Mothers suffer just as much as fathers in family courts

Mothers suffer just as much as fathers in family courts

Sir: Both Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (article, 22 November) and Fiona Bruce (BBC1) have been brave to point the finger at the deep misogyny that runs through fathers' pressure groups like Fathers4Justice.

Many divorced mothers, like myself, must be worried how these organisations have hijacked public debate on the fraught subject of what happens to children after divorce. They would have us believe that fathers are the "victims" of an antiquated judicial system. But as any mother who has been through the closed family courts will know, they are hardly love-ins for mothers either.

For at least 10 years there has been a strong bias to "shared parenting", which means that judges and welfare officers bend over backwards to accommodate fathers' wishes. To this end mothers will often find themselves pressured, by judges and solicitors, into making inappropriate contact arrangements that are more about compromise between adults than reaching the optimum outcome for the child.

Mothers' concerns about contact - especially for the under-fives, and contact with ex-partners with a history of instability or domestic violence - are often sidelined in order to meet fathers' demands. A courtroom is the only place where a mother is asked to override her maternal instincts. It's our children who pay the real price.
Name and address supplied

Political correctness and toleration

Sir: As a gay man I fully agree with Johann Hari's article on my MP Michael Howard and his anti-PC strategy (Opinion, 26 November). Several times this year I have challenged Mr Howard on his supposed new attitude towards gay people, but he has sidestepped the issues almost every time.

Though he voted for the (second best) Civil Partnerships Bill, most of his Shadow Cabinet appeared not to. Earlier this year he flatly refused to rebuke or expel Lord Tebbit and others when they made homophobic comments. The views were dismissed as mere "opinion". Had they made racist remarks they would surely have been expelled.

Further, and more importantly for us in Kent, he has steadfastly refused to use his influence to get Kent County Council's retention of the anti-gay Section 28 removed. He says he cannot intervene, but does so on other local issues when it suits him.

Folkestone, Kent

Sir: Johann Hari sketches a narrow view regarding political correctness. Nowadays it goes far beyond the colour of a person's skin, it impacts all sections of our lives. For example, an employer cannot advertise for "a hard-working person". According to Jobcentre managers such a statement discriminates against the person who cannot work hard.

Merthyr Tydfil Council will not allow "brainstorming" sessions, as they could offend people with head injuries. Enid Blyton's children books are banned from many public libraries - Mr Plod is a nasty man.

As Christmas approaches many councils (and some other organisations) will be sending "seasonal cards"; one should not mention Christmas as it may offend people of different religions.

Evidently words spoken in society must be so bland that no one can take exception to them. It only requires people to have a little tolerance; this attribute, however, appears to be a thing of the past.

North Berwick, East Lothian

Sir: Johann Hari thinks the banning of "Baa-Baa Black Sheep" was an urban myth? Untrue. My child went to a day nursery in Brent in the 1980s and it was banned. The children were allowed to sing Baa-Baa Green Sheep.

Harrow, Middlesex

Was Marx right?

Sir: I agree with Adam Roberts in his reply to Tim Hammond (letter, 19 November). However, although the Marxist criticism of capitalism may still be correct, the failure of Marxism (as interpreted in Russia and China) to provide a viable alternative has, as he seems to admit at the end, led to the triumph of capitalism and, unfortunately, to the right winning the economic argument, at any rate for the time being.

At the moment, the advocates of unrestricted free-market (Anglo-Saxon) type capitalism reign triumphant. The whole world is having to conform, and there is no doubt that it has been extraordinarily successful, not least in the way in which it has harnessed technology in its service. Herein lies the problem. Since the fall of Communism, success seems to have gone to the heads of our 1 per cent of capitalist billionaires and "movers and shakers" (successors to the 19th-century mill owners and steel magnates) and they now seem to feel they can do no wrong.

The side-effects are becoming increasingly obvious in increasing disparities of wealth, appalling poverty and starvation in much of the world, and threatening environmental catastrophe. The whole thing is becoming like some gigantic monster which is eventually destructive of everything: traditional beliefs, social and family cohesion, the natural world, cultural values, original thought.

One would have thought that governments would have felt some obligation to try to control and modify this process.

Whitchurch, Shropshire

Sir: Of course, Marx was right (letter, 19 November). He predicted (1) that capitalism might be able to bring material prosperity to the masses; (2) that in an era of economic imperialism (what we today call globalisation) the gap between rich and poor would widen (ie, between rich and poor countries); and (3) that capitalism could create unlimited "needs" (what we call consumerism) that would enslave people to the economic system just as effectively as dire necessity did in his day.

Marx's main concern was not material prosperity (or which economic system could best create it) but the scourge of alienation. This may be difficult to define, but its symptoms are easy to measure. The fact that the prevalence of many of these symptoms, such as crime, vandalism, random violence, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, mental illness and marital (or partnership) breakdown have all been increasing demonstrates Marx's view that all systems carry within them the seeds of their own destruction.

London NW11

The right to life

Sir: Deborah Annetts of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society should ask if the benefits of legalising euthanasia for the terminally ill outweigh the dangers (letter, 26 November). I have never heard of a case where somebody has been sent to prison for a genuine mercy-killing. Had Diane Pretty's husband helped her to die instead of resorting to litigation the law would have pretended the balance of his mind was disturbed and he would have received a suspended or community sentence. By all accounts, doctors carry out euthanasia in extremes.

On the other hand, legalising euthanasia would impact on the doctor-patient relationship. If you had to go to a court, tribunal or licensed euthanasia clinic, the state would be authorising someone's death. Don't let the genie out of the bottle. The right to life is more fundamental than any right to die.

Esher, Surrey

Mast dangers

Sir: Terry Kirby, in his excellent article on Tetra (23 November), quotes from my article in The Ecologist with reference to scientific opinion on the safety of this system. One of the key scientists researching in this area was Dr Neil Cherry, whose concerns included the link between this type of technology and motor neurone disease.

Cut to Drumcarrow Hill, Fife, where a Tetra-type transmitter has been "live" for several years. It is a tiny community, of 200 people, yet there are five cases of motor neurone disease, diagnosed since the mast went live. (The normal incidence is about one diagnosis per year in every 50,000 to 100,000 people.)

Dr Cherry died recently - of motor neurone disease - convinced he contracted it in the course of his work. MND has been linked to calcium imbalance in the brain, and there are concerns that calcium leakage can result from the Tetra frequency. Proponents of Tetra claim that these worries are based on "unreplicated research from the 1970s". Not so. There have been several studies on this, the last done in 1999. Of the studies, eight show calcium leakage: four do not.

London SW10

Net discount  

Sir: It may be cheaper to fly to New York and shop for certain items rather than to take the train from Manchester to London to buy the same (report, 27 November). However, a casual five-minute shop on the internet, where all sensible people do their shopping, reveals the following:

Apple 20Gb iPod - £207.99 (free postage)

Nike Air Max 95s - £110 (free postage)

Seven For All Mankind jeans - £220 (plus £4 postage)

Nintendo Gameboy Advance SP - £64.99 (free postage)

Five chart CDs - CDWow £8.99 each (free postage)

The only non-Web purchase would have to be the Gap jacket. Gap are obviously so Post-modern that they don't need a website. In any case, most large towns have a branch.

Total price delivered - £719.93, a saving over your New York shopping trip of £262.92 and letting you stay in the warm and buy an extra iPod for yourself.

Ipswich, Suffolk

Cure for TB  

Sir: Matthew Sweet recounts the conditions in the luxurious TB sanatoria in Davos in 1912 ("A last gasp on Magic Mountain", Review, 25 November). In the same year my mother was born in Clapham in London and by about five was diagnosed with TB. She was sent to the open-air school on Clapham Common. The classrooms were open-air bandstands and the only time the pupils, of whom there were many, were taken indoors was during fog. In all other weathers, summer and winter, they sat at their desks on the bandstands wrapped in blankets or waterproofs according to the conditions.

My mother was not expected to survive her childhood and during her schooling my grandparents were visited by means-test inspectors, so there was little money for any special foods. Compare this with the menu of "as much yoghurt, butter, soup, chicken and cake" as you could eat available at Davos.

My mother worked hard in a variety of jobs all her life. She died in 2000 aged 82. Clapham or Davos as a "cure"?

Amersham, Buckinghamshire

Not the smelliest

Sir: I am sorry to lob a pail into the churn, but the claim that Vieux Boulogne is "the world's smelliest cheese" (report, 26 November) seems to be based on a very narrow sample dominated by France and Italy.

My own recommendation for this accolade would be the exquisite Irish farmhouse cheese Milleens, which has a browny-red crust, a soft white interior and smells like a bad case of bromidrosis. Fans of Frank Zappa will recall that this is more succinctly known as "stink foot".

Hove, East Sussex

Trusting profession

Sir: The six Hyde GPs ("Six family doctors 'ignored alarm bells'' alerting them to Shipman's murder spree", 23 November) stand accused in front of the GMC of acting in the same way as thousands of GPs every day. We all sign the second part of cremation forms routinely based on the description of events by the GP signing the first part. Dr Shipman brought a lot of distress to his community and has caused much damage to the medical profession. It is however a sad day when trusting your colleagues becomes a mark of professional misconduct.

Kettering, Northamptonshire

Political pasta

Sir: I am mightily relieved to read that "artisan pasta" is made "without conservatives" ("Italians admit 'posh pasta' is little more than dried macaroni", 25 November).

As new Labour has long forgotten about artisans, can we assume that purchasers of posh pasta are displaying their Liberal Democrat credentials?

Ruthin, Denbighshire


Sir: I was pleased when you published my letter "In the Bag" (4 November). I was delighted that this morning (27 November) the paper, no smaller than before, was delivered without a bag. Congratulations.

Please maintain your role of leadership by example.

London E9

Sir: John Abrehart might not be able to use the compact Independent to draw his fire (letter, 27 November), but it crumples up much easier to put in the fireplace to start the fire. Perhaps he should invest in some bellows.

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Cough or cup?

Sir: In its entry for the word "hiccup" (letter, 24 November), the Oxford English Dictionary says: "Hiccough was a later spelling, apparently under the erroneous impression that the second syllable was 'cough', which has not affected the received pronunciation, and ought to be abandoned as a mere error."

Thornbury, South Gloucestershire