Footballers; Ken Livingstone and others

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'Scum' footballers set bad example to school children

'Scum' footballers set bad example to school children

Sir: I am not a great fan of Alan Sugar, but I do support some of his views on footballers ("PFA attacks 'offensive' Sugar", 15 February).

Loyalty in particular is lacking. My team, West Ham, are a case in point. The season they were relegated the players were poor and they admitted it. Did they stay to put things right? No chance.

Pundits, football managers and football institutions regularly make excuses for appalling behaviour. Ranting at referees and other players is mistaken for passion. Diving and other cheating is mistaken for gamesmanship. Managers and chairmen do not have the power to insist that a player behaves and the players, not all but most, are not at all concerned about poor behaviour.

As a teacher at a local comprehensive I am aware that the effect these sporting icons have on young people is immense. School football matches mimic these "professional" games. No game is complete without pupils arguing with the referee, parents swearing at the referee, parents swearing at pupils. And why? Because things haven't totally gone our way. Unfortunately, a knock on effect is that the classroom is also seen as an appropriate place to question the most basic of instructions.

Where I differ from Sugar is that it is not just the players who behave shamefully, it is also the clubs and the FA.

JOHN KITLEY
Brentwood, Essex

Mayor is latest target of stirred-up outrage

Sir: I take offence at the increasing debasement of taking offence. It has become a bandwagon. People are taking offence at every opportunity, and often not because they are genuinely offended but simply to make mischief.

Muslims over a play in Birmingham, Christians over a show on the BBC, Jews over Labour posters and mayoral comments - such opportunistic fuss-making is callously encouraged by people in the media or politics who see advantage in fuelling it.

Rather than giving it currency by responding with defence, defiance or cries for blood, we should all simply dismiss it. And if the stirrers persist in deliberately whipping up froth, we should dismiss them, too.

RAY CHANDLER
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex

Sir: As someone of Jewish origin, I don't believe Ken Livingstone meant any offence to Jewish people with the phrase he used to an Evening Standard reporter, but he should recognise how it could be interpreted and consider its insensitivity.

It is worth pointing out that the Standard's parent company includes the Daily Mail. In 1936 they not only used the headline "Hurrah for the Blackshirts", but carried adverts for Mosley's British Union of Fascists. I do not believe that the Daily Mail ever apologised to the Jewish community in Britain for comments which were unambiguous. I rather feel that Ken Livingstone won't take quite so long to acknowledge offence to the extent that it has been caused.

RAY SIROTKIN
London SE4

Sir: A politician is in the dock for insulting a journalist? And an Evening Standard journalist, at that? This is beyond irony.

ROBERT SATHER
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

Child leukaemia

Sir: Dennis Henshaw (Letters, "Childhood Cancer", 8 February) is setting up straw men. Neither I personally nor the Leukaemia Research Fund maintain that childhood leukaemia is a simple disease with a single cause. Where we agree with the overwhelming majority of experts in the field is that the most plausible aetiology of these cancers, affecting cells of the immune system, is a rare and aberrant response to an infectious agent. Since the infectious agent is probably common or even ubiquitous, and only the response is rare, there has never been a search for a "childhood leukaemia virus" and therefore the failure to find one is unsurprising and has no impact on the case for an infectious trigger.

Mel Greaves, one of the leading experts on biology of childhood leukaemia, has suggested that the in-utero "pre-leukaemic" changes may represent "normal developmental accidents". These changes appear to lead to leukaemia in less than 1 in 10,000 children and they result from mechanisms designed to make the immune system more effective; a vital defence against the devastating mortality from childhood infection - up to 50 per cent in parts of the developing world.

The increase in adolescent cancer is important and of interest in its own right but is irrelevant to study of childhood cancers. The latter are different biologically and therefore probably aetiologically, from cancer in older people. The increase reported is likely to be no more informative about causes of childhood cancer than a study of cancer rates in the middle-aged and elderly would be.

A number of studies on childhood leukaemia in areas of high traffic-density have failed to show any persuasive evidence of a link; the larger and better designed the study, the less likely it is to report an association.

Light exposure and cancer has been the basis of much speculation but little or no concrete evidence has yet emerged. What little data exists to support a link relates to adult cancers, such as breast cancer, and cannot be applied to childhood cancers. If this hypothesis has any grounding it is difficult to explain the absence of cancer epidemicity in Arctic and near-Arctic regions - the land of the midnight sun.

KEN CAMPBELL
Clinical Information Officer
Leukaemia Research Fund
London WC1

Moderate religion

Sir: Johann Hari's review of Sam Harris' book The End of Faith (11 February) quotes approvingly, "The only reason anyone is 'moderate' in matters of faith these days is if he has assimilated some of the [non-religious] fruits of the last two thousand years." Yet there are teachings in the New Testament such as, "It is more blessed to give than receive" (Acts 20:35) and, "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1) which are not immoderate and which do not stem from "secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance." In the same context as the latter quotation is, "Why do you observe the splinter in your brother's eye and never notice the plank in your own?" (Matthew 7:3). Hardly fanatical.

The reality is more complicated than that presented in the review.

THOMAS MERRIAM
Basingstoke, Hampshire

Sir: With all due respect to Peter Sagar (Letters, 14 February), I must point out that religion did play a part in Hitler's thinking. A perusal of Mein Kampf will show that he laboured under the illusion that he was doing the Lord's work.

He was brought up a Catholic and his views regarding homosexuals and women's place in the home are part of conservative Catholic belief, which may explain why German MEPs took such a dim view recently of Mr Buttiglione when he was shown to hold similar beliefs. It is also worth noting that anti-Semitism was part of both the Catholic and Lutheran doctrine during Hitler's formative years.

There has been much debate over the last 60 years about whether he was a Christian or not, and historians and revisionists are still battling it out. Even the Catholics are split on this one.

PATRICIA WILSON
New Barnet, Hertfordshire

Science and trust

Sir: In his article (the Sceptical Inquirer, 9 February), Lewis Wolpert states that in order to improve understanding between the public and scientists, "the issue of mutual trust is central".

If we look at some of the more headline-grabbing scientific issues of the past decade, such as GM crops, the problems of mistrust can be traced to lack of involvement of the public at the early stages of development.

To avoid these problems in future, it is crucial that scientists and society engage in dialogue. The public should be involved at early stages of research and scientists must be prepared to answer questions on what is driving their science.

Nanotechnology is an emerging research area in which this dialogue is essential, and that is why a number of organisations are collaborating to involve the public. (www.smalltalk. org.uk). By involving all stakeholders - scientists, the public and policymakers - we can develop robust policymaking whilst helping build a climate of trust and openness.

ROLAND JACKSON
Chief Executive
British Association for the Advancement of Science
London SW7

Blair v Howard

Sir: Tony Blair is trying to turn the election into a choice between two unsavoury political leaders; yet he now claims to be "older and a little wiser" ("Blair: this time it's personal", 14 February). I voted for Tony Blair twice, but I will not vote for him again, because I will not vote for a politician who has lied to me for political advantage.

This is about statements made to Parliament and to the country which proved to be demonstrably untrue. These statements were prepared at the behest of Tony Blair and read to Parliament by Tony Blair. Although these statements are now accepted as false, no one will accept any liability and no one is to blame.

According to Tony Blair, it is no one's fault; instead it is the entire political system devised and instigated by Tony Blair which is to blame for the whole fiasco; but still he refuses to admit any responsibility and continues to refuse to resign from a political party too weak to sack him.

Tony Blair is betting the future of the Labour Party on the assumption that Michael Howard is perceived as sufficiently more unsavoury than Tony Blair to make the Tory party more unelectable than Labour.

MARTIN LONDON
Denbigh

Sir: Well before the election has been called, Mr Blair is again seen to be spinning furiously, saying he needs to win back the voters' trust to stay in power. I expect that if he does stay in power, the logic post-election will be that he has indeed won the voters' trust, whatever the turn-out or percentage of the vote his party receives. Haven't we heard this circular logic before, over non-existent WMDs?

CHARLES EDWARDS
Twickenham Middlesex

Sir: Mr Blair now admits that he is an electoral liability to his party. His promise to stand down if that became the case has evidently gone the way of all pledges.

R I MOORE
Newcastle upon Tyne

Frosty reception

Sir: "Stormy weather" indeed ! (report, 11 February). For some years a deep depression has centred over East Sussex as we have seen increasing emphasis in TV weather forecasting on style and presentation rather than content. The messenger, not the message, has become the focus.

Clouds and frontal systems have assumed human form, "tripping gently down the east coast" and "marching strongly in across Northern Ireland". We see now frustrated actors performing the forecast rather than telling us if it's going to rain or not.

It was particularly rich that Sian Lloyd resented the idea of the weather as "a bimbo thing". Herself a journalist rather than meteorologist, she has exemplified this creeping cult of personality in TV weather and her irritatingly mannered presentation and archly knowing delivery get in the way of the often vital information she is purporting to convey.

Come back, Bill Giles - all is forgiven.

DEREK WATTS
Lewes, East Sussex

Threat to the Tories

Sir: UKIP may be seen as irrelevant now, but it is still costing the Tories seats. In a North Somerset council by-election this month, the votes were: Lib Dem 476, Con 434, UKIP 118, Lab 59, giving the Liberal Democrats a gain. In the town council election on the same day with the same voters, the result was: Con 505, Lib Dem 500, Lab 80. Liam Fox will have noticed this result in his constituency, even if Michael Howard hasn't.

Sir DAVID WILLIAMS
Richmond, Surrey

Motorway speeds

Sir: Eighteen years ago, as an experiment, I drove at a steady 70mph between junctions 20 and 25 on the M1. Neatly as it transpired, 99 cars passed me and I overtook 11 (I excluded lorries and vans). So at that time the percentage of drivers exceeding the speed limit was nearer 90 compared to the 97 per cent that one your correspondents suggests is now the case. However if I was to repeat the experiment today, with the increased use of this section of the motorway, I suspect that I wouldn't even be able to do 70.

HYWEL WILLIAMS
University of Glamorgan, Pontypridd

OAPs made to pay

Sir: Peter Forster complains (Letters, 12 February) of the restriction in theatres when wishing to book a "last minute" OAP's concession seat when accompanied by a younger person. He is lucky to be able to get reduced-price tickets at theatres for himself. The old- established concession from the ENO at the Coliseum, for any seats unsold three hours before a performance to be available to senior citizens at a reduced rate, has now been withdrawn altogether.

ARTHUR GRIMSHAW
Cudham, Kent

Ancient feud

Sir: It was heartening to see that a Campbell (Naomi) was friendly with a Macdonald (Julien), and that Glencoe was but a memory ("Macdonald goes back to fashion school after his French leave", 14 February). Having married a Macdonald, one knows of the treachery of the Campbells.

JOHN TRAPP
Cambridge

Camilla's title

Sir: If Camilla Parker Bowles becomes queen when Charles becomes king, what will her title be when Charles dies and William becomes king? Queen Mother? Surely not!

GILL BOYLE
Felixstowe

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