Iraq, pensions and others

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Iraq: raw power is no substitute for British moral authority

Iraq: raw power is no substitute for British moral authority

Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith in his article (11 October) demonstrates convincingly how Britain's moral authority in the world has been undermined by our participation in the invasion of Iraq. My only quibble would be on the degree to which Blair should be singled out for individual responsibility.

As Robert Fisk points out in his article on the same page, the roots of our military engagement in the Middle East go back a long way. Surely the most cowardly episode was our conniving in Saddam's use of chemical weapons against Iran and his own people. What is new, and what it took the genius of Bin Laden to provoke, is the overt nature of the current venture and the stripping aside of any pretense at legality.

The danger now is that devoid of moral authority we will become all the more dependent on force rather than argument or negotiation in settling international disputes, thus instigating a vicious downward spiral. The more we portray our enemies as beyond the pale of humanity the more we will appear to them in the same light.

We may comfort ourselves in our vastly superior strength, but therein is our weakness - a weakness the enemy has finally learnt to exploit. If by some chance the very enormity of the current crisis should serve to awaken us from our idolatrous infatuation with power, then surely our response should one be of profound gratitude.

JEREMY CRANSWICK
London SE21

Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith's argument that Tony Blair is responsible for Ken Bigley's murder is not convincing.

There is no doubt that the coalition badly misjudged the aftermath of the war. To expect the overthrow of a tyrannical dictator responsible for millions of deaths to be followed seamlessly by a well-functioning democracy was naive in the extreme. However, in the big picture, it is better to have a period of lawlessness and even some kidnapping and see progress towards democracy, of which there is now some evidence, than perpetuate the tyranny. Afghanistan is showing that regime change can lead to a better life for the people.

Secondly it is distasteful to compare the actions of the USA and UK troops, however inexcusable, to those of a murderer like Muqtada al-Sadr. If Mr Whittam Smith seriously thinks that negotiations with Sadr would ever have led to Ken Bigley's release he is living in cloud-cuckoo land. Unfortunately Ken Bigley's fate was sealed when he was kidnapped.

DANIEL RUBIN
London W9

Bungling to blame for pensions 'crisis'

Sir: Why, suddenly, do we have a "pensions crisis"? The population of Britain has not mysteriously aged over the weekend. There is a wealth of mortality statistics to tell the Government what percentage of people born in any one year will survive to retirement age. Thus governments of all stripes have had decades to prepare. The crisis in the state pensions system is, like the railways and much else in Britain, the consequence of decades of mismanagement and dissembling.

Given its record over the last twenty-five years - dodgy personal pensions, duff endowment mortgages and a host of other scandals - why would anyone trust the financial services industry? How are people expected to save for retirement when British companies are only to eager to sack anyone over fifty? Saving requires adequately paid employment. Finally, can the Government guarantee that I will have an old age?

Why should we pay for the incompetence and dishonesty of governments and financial institutions over past decades?

CHRIS WALLER
Bristol

Sir: If I and countless others hadn't been burdened with thousands of pounds' worth of debt as a result of tuition fees maybe I'd be able to develop a pension plan.

STEPH GREENWOOD
(26, postgraduate student, part-time bar person and eternal drain on my parents' pension)
Standish, Greater Manchester

Sir: So the pensions system is in trouble. As if that was a big surprise to anyone. Mr Blair and others repeat the mantra that we should all be saving more for our old age. Saving out of what, exactly?

Huge numbers are on very low wages, have enormous debts and are taxed on income as well as spending. In the unlikely event of anything left in the kitty after we have fed, watered and housed ourselves it is not surprising that it is more likely to be spent on spreading a little happiness now than squirrelled away for the downpour yet to come.

MICHAEL WRIST
Thrapston, Northamptonshire

Sir: I have read many doom-laden reports about pensions. At no time have I seen any reference to the potential offsetting benefits arising from the growth in property-owning leading to a massive increase in the proportion of the "at risk" population who will benefit from inherited wealth.

I am now over 70 and in my youth neither I nor my friends even knew people who owned their house. Today most of those same people are houseowners with wealth to pass on to their offspring. With increased house values the sums involved could well provide the sorts of nest-egg suggested by the savings industry. So am I being cynical in thinking that the problem may not be as widespread as reports suggest and, perhaps, the media is being manipulated by the financial services industry (and the Government)?

V H LUCOCK
Nottingham

Justice for the children

Sir: The letters entitled "Fathers for justice" (4 October) and "Mothers for justice" (9 October) prove the point that all conflicts relating to child contact or custody should be settled on a case-by-case basis. The courts must continue to enforce the present law, which focuses primarily on the needs of the children, irrespective of what the parents may perceive their own rights to be.

Statistically, more mothers will be given custody of their children, mainly because they have been the principal carer and continuity of care is beneficial to the children. As long as women tend to earn less than men and as long as women continue to become pregnant and give birth they will inevitably be more likely to be the main carers of their children. Shared custody is rarely an ideal solution, as children are not commodities that can be divided down the middle for the convenience of the parents.

Despite the impression created by recent publicity stunts it is only a tiny minority of divorcing parents who fail to understand these facts of life. Thankfully, the vast majority of divorcing parents manage to work it out for themselves.

B WALKER
Woodbridge, Suffolk

Sir: I read with astonishment the letter from Chris Othen (27 September). As a solicitor I am surprised he has completely misunderstood what Fathers4Justice stands for. Their problem is not how the Children Act is written, it is how it is interpreted and applied by the majority of people working within the family judicial system. Clearly Mr Othen has no idea how virtually impossible it is for an estranged father to fight an unreasonable mother whose sole intention is to obstruct a natural and loving relationship between father and child.

I am a solicitor and father myself and was horrified to experience the prejudice shown against me when I took my fight for reasonable contact to court. I was as naive as Mr Othen in that I believed as a loving and stable father that everyone I met at court would treat me with the respect and understanding I deserved for wanting to do the right thing for my child. How wrong I was. The only thing the court/welfare officer was interested in was not upsetting the mother too much, which would in turn have an adverse effect on our child. And even if an order was made the mother knew the court would have little or no teeth to enforce it.
Name and address supplied

Sir: Reading over recent correspondence regarding parental "rights", I am concerned there is a danger, in the current climate, of creating a new kind of "political correctness" where "fathers' rights" become the priority even when these might clash with children's needs. The existing priorities of the courts are correct - putting the children's best interests first and judging each case on its own merits. They should have the confidence to stick to these vitally important principles. Any emphasis should be on children's rights and parents' responsibilities.

C TOLLEMACHE
London W6

Beat the phone scam

Sir: Phil Bishop (letter, 12 October) should have no difficulty tracing details of his internet phone scam via http://www.icstis.org.uk if he is a victim of the same scam as ourselves. We identified the problem on our September bill and found a bank of 09099 numbers were associated with a user in Spain.

We immediately advised our telephone service provider of the problem. We have disputed the account, asking them to understand that we are the innocent victims of a criminal fraud, just as we understand that they are currently its innocent accomplices. Only by actually paying the fraudsters would the telephone company become active and aware accomplices, thereby potentially laying themselves open to criminal prosecution in this country.

They have accepted there is now an "ongoing query" on our account and are making sure that no direct debit is taken until the "dispute" is resolved.

ALAN CORNISH
London E18

Circumcision choice

Sir: It is nice of Mr Straub (9 October) to share his circumcision story with us, but it is somewhat simplistic for him to suggest that his positive experience in this regard is applicable to every other man.

Thankfully Kenneth Fink and his colleagues published a study on this exact subject in the May 2002 edition of the Journal of Urology. The study reported that adult circumcision appears to result in worsened erectile function and decreased penile sensitivity and that 38 per cent of men circumcised as adults reported harm to sexual function, 50 per cent reported improvement and 12 per cent reported no change. Moreover, the subjects were mainly men circumcised to solve various medical conditions, all of which would have had an adverse effect on the man's sexual experience before the operation.

Therefore whilst Mr Straub's story may be common it is far from universally applicable. As an adult with the good fortune to be given a choice, he should advocate giving the same choice to others.

Dr PETER BALL
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Types of diabetes

Sir: Just as Jon Sutcliffe, who suffers from Type 1 diabetes (letter, 9 October), does not wish to be seen as greedy and feckless, neither do I. As a Type 2 diabetic I am tired of being made to feel that I have brought this condition on myself by poor diet and lack of exercise. I eat a very healthy vegetarian diet, have never been obese and enjoy plenty of exercise.

Whilst I accept that some Type 2 diabetes can be solely attributed to bad diet and lack of exercise, the most likely cause of my diabetes (and many more like me) is genetic and I would ask Mr Sutcliffe and others like him to stop making the assumption that we have nobody but ourselves to blame for our illness.

ANN KAY
Skipton, North Yorkshire

Howard and migrants

Sir: Michael Howard's attitude to immigration (letters, 7 October) can be summarised even more succinctly: "Pull up the ladder Jack, I'm all right."

Dr CHRISTOPHER CHESNEY
Exeter

Sir: Michael Howard may well be developing "a new, softer style" (Andrew Grice, 8 October) but there is still something of the early evening about him.

STEPHEN SHAW
Nottingham

School cuisine

Sir: You report on "deeply unsavoury" meals served in British schools (11 October). At the school attended by my four daughters, along with approximately 70 other children, they are able to enjoy a healthy three-course meal at a cost of just over €2 per child, cooked by the resident full-time chef, Patrick. Do you think there is any connection between this and the fact that you don't see many fat French people?

MARTIN HOLLYWOOD
St Samson-sur-Rance, France

The hunt is up

Sir: There are many people living in our countryside who hunt foxes but will be prevented from doing so when the new anti-hunting laws come into effect. I should like to suggest alternative quarries for such people; these are much scarcer than foxes but many hours can be spent trying to track them down in our country districts. My suggestions are: post offices, pubs, banks and primary schools.

Dr NIGEL DIPPER
Bishop Auckland, Co Durham

Rush to be Irish

Sir: Like Chris McClelland (letter, 7 October), I am taking up a right to Irish citizenship - partly in disgust at the Bush/Blair war in Iraq, but also in despair at the growing chauvinism on the right and left of British politics which has left the population in the thrall of anti-Europeans and Little Englanders. I might have thought again if my own Celtic nation had the slightest hope of gaining its own independence as "Wales in Europe". However, like Mr McClelland, I will bear my new citizenship proudly.

R J EVANS
Echenevex, France

Enlightenment

Sir: Thanks for the obituary. I knew Foucault about Derrida before I read it.

JENNY WILLAN
Uffculme, Devon

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