Fitness, US ballot and others

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Exercise cannot be integrated into our modern way of life

Exercise cannot be integrated into our modern way of life

Sir: The Prime Minister is rightly concerned with the decrease in exercise taken by British people ("A new generation of superfat Britons", 14 October). But almost everything in the way we have set up modern life militates against integrating exercise into daily life.

Town planning and house prices are widening the gap between home and work. You can't walk 25 miles to the office. Cheap personal transport allows this widening to go unnoticed. Sixty-mile round trips are not unusual. The high cost of housing requires us to spend more time at work and less on other things like exercise.

As long as so many people accept one and two hours of commuting then there will never be the spare time to allocate to sports. When people feel five nights at the gym is what it takes to be fit then they are discouraged from starting if they can only do fewer. Compared to using the car and sitting for yet another night on the sofa, exercise in addition to the hours spent eating, sleeping, working and commuting will never appear attractive.

Finally, there are bizarre attitudes to exercise. My half-hour cycle trip to work was viewed by my colleagues as a form of insanity. And we have heard that schoolgirls who play sports are viewed as uncool and unfeminine by their peers. Safety fears lock kids into their parents' MPVs for the school run.

Chafford Hundred, Essex

A radical answer to US ballot woes

Sir: The whole voting machine thing seems just a little bit suspect ("All the President's votes", 14 October). No paper trails? Broken machines? Missing memory cards? I think we here in Ontario, Canada, have found a radical and ingenious solution to all these problems.

We just had a provincial election and the way we vote goes like this. We're given a little bit of paper with a list of all the candidates' names. Beside each name is a little box. Now here's the clever part: to vote for a particular candidate we put an X in the little box beside his or her name. We then fold the little bit of paper and put it through a little slot in a ballot box. Later, after the polls close, people count the votes and the candidate who receives the most little Xs is declared the winner.

This might sound like a long and tedious process but six minutes after the polls had closed some ridings had already tallied all the Xs on the little bits of paper and declared a winning candidate. By the time the 11 o'clock news rolled around almost all the Xs had been counted and we all went to bed knowing who our next provincial leader was going to be. No corporation had secret control of the process nor did they control the little bits of paper, which could be counted and recounted ad nauseam. No party-affiliated judges were called upon to sort out minor problems and discrepancies. The only way a ballot was ruined was if you accidentally put two Xs on it, in which case you could just ask for another piece of paper. I don't understand all this fiddling about with voting machines when there is a more modern and accurate way.


Sir: Sixty years ago the US committed itself to saving European democracy. In view of your disturbing report about the use in American elections of suspect voting machines manufactured by Republican sympathisers, I believe it is time we returned the favour.

As a computer programmer I am well aware of the risks of applying unnecessarily complex "techno-fixes" to problems that can be solved more simply. So I propose that everyone in Britain should send a British voting machine, that is a pencil (2B probably), to the US embassy in London for them to pass on to the appropriate authorities in the US.

If the US needs further technical support, such as in acquiring sufficient pieces of paper to support the voting process, then we should be only to happy to oblige. To the stationers - for democracy!


Sir: Some clever lawyer should be able to argue that "All the President's votes" is the final proof (along with Schwarzenegger, gerrymandering, insane tax cuts etc) that the US is politically and economically bankrupt and that the government should be placed in administration, perhaps with the previous owners.

Conveniently, Bush is visiting Britain next month, providing the perfect opportunity for him to swear allegiance to the Queen, in exchange for the promise that if the US looks capable of governing itself (never mind anyone else), Americans might get their independence back.

London W5

Victims of war

Sir: Of course the suffering of 12 million displaced Germans should be acknowledged ("German victims of Red Army demand 'centre of suffering' ", 13 October). But this should not be in a context of blame nor only about Germans. Blame can only generate more vengefulness and hate.

Chancellor Schröder's suggestion should be taken up at an international level to create a museum and education centre to acknowledge the suffering of all displaced civilian communities resulting from two world wars and the subsequent instability of national borders. The German vertriebenen ("expellees"), as they like to call themselves, were displaced as a consequence of Russian hatred and revenge generated by Nazi atrocities. Many other groups were displaced or annihilated by Nazi policy and the subsequent hatred and havoc across Europe and the Middle East that persists even today.

The German vertriebenen might do well to ponder earlier atrocities, such as the genocide of the Armenians in the First World War whose suffering was ignored after the war and is still not fully acknowledged today by the perpetrators and most Western governments. This failure provided the impunity with which the Nazis planned and executed their atrocities and the Red Army and many others have done likewise ever since.

London NW6

Images of India

Sir: Phil Reeves ("India's young brides rebel against dowry demand", 10 October) has either been in India too long or for too short a while. He has been there long enough to pick up the jargon without picking up the facts. Rebellion against dowry has been occurring for some time.

The earliest I can remember was in the 1970s when a young woman in Pune announced just before the religious ceremony was about to commence that she would not marry the man who was refusing to proceed to the ceremony unless he was given an expensive watch. She said that she was unwillimg to marry a man who could humiliate her father, who was in tears. She said she would much rather remain unmarried, but offered to marry any man who was single and of good character.

Her father was a primary school teacher. Many of his old students had come to the wedding. As luck would have it, one of them offered to marry the girl on the spot. In true Bollywood style the bride married a different bridegroom and the original man and his party had to steal away in disgrace.

This is not the first time that a young woman has had the guts to object to dowry. Nor will it be the last. But until young people marry because they like each other, one aspect of marriage on both sides will continue to be the financial consideration.

Visiting Fellow
St Hugh's College

Sir: It is not often that I agree with anything that Johann Hari has to say in your paper, but it is even rarer that I am outrightly insulted by what he has to say.

Today he has managed to do exactly that by equating a bunch of spoilt, petulant, ill disciplined, uncivilised footballers with the Hindu pantheon ("These badly behaved footballers are just an unpleasant reflection of our society", 8 October). His glib statement that Hindu deities "were fond of descending to earth and trashing the place for a few centuries" is insulting and highlights his ignorance.

I do not recall anyone suggesting before that 800 million people worship gang rapists, cocaine addicts, cheats and petulant children. The last time Western ignorance of Hinduism mingled with football was Glen Hoddle's bizarre notions about karma. Somehow all too many commentators find it easy to dismiss Hinduism and India as a backward, war-mongering, uncivilised society, that its ancient and contemporary history along with the recent poaching of hi-tech IT jobs easily belies.


Turkish disease  

Sir: From the BBC Radio Five Live commentator, in the early stages of the build-up to the Turkey vs England game, on Saturday: "The Turks are marvellous people - but something happens to them when they get near a football stadium." Not like us then.

London N8

Resist this usage

Sir: Your headline (13 October) reads : "Iraqi resistance targets CIA, killing six in suicide bomb". In fact, you go on to say that the bombs killed six Iraqis and injured 32 mainly Iraqi citizens. Few of us applaud the coalition's presence in Iraq but "Iraqi resistance"? You'll be referring to suicide bombers as freedom fighters next. Let's call a spade a spade: a suicide bomber is a terrorist. The indiscriminate killing of Iraqis, United Nations workers and clerics should really not be graced with the term "Iraqi resistance".

London N10

Eton is cheaper

Sir: Oliver Letwin is pondering if we should send children in council care to independent schools (letters, 14 October). This has much to commend it, not the least being that most independent schools provide an education more cheaply than councils can provide care.

Adam Smith Institute
London SW1

Ulster problem

Sir: In the article on counterfeit goods ("Who are the real fashion victims?", 13 October), James Sherwood writes: "Northern Ireland, particularly Ulster, is one of the UK's counterfeit hotspots." Could he mean: "Ulster, particularly Northern Ireland, is one of the UK's counterfeit hotspots?" Northern Ireland is in Ulster, not the other way around. At least he is trying; most British journalists use the two terms interchangeably.

US Correspondent
Belfast Telegraph
New York

Last word

Sir: Have you ever heard of a penultimate ultimatum? Isn't it even sillier to speak of an ultimate ultimatum - or a final one? ("Qureia gives Arafat last ultimatum," 13 October).