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Friday 21 October 2011
Letters: Await the first bullets - a revolution is imminent
Andreas Whittam Smith (20 October) deserves high praise for daring to discuss the coming revolution. For me, it has been coming for 15 to 20 years. I have had the advantage of spending most of my working life in America, where the polarisation is quite obvious.
In the US the disparity of incomes has been higher than in Europe for a lot longer and is, to this day, higher even than Britain. What makes the US different is the ownership of guns – many families have at least one and, of course, the ammunition to go with it. There is an armed police force and each American state has its own army (the National Guard). The shooting could start at almost any time. It is only a matter of time before the first demonstrator is killed and the crowd starts shooting back.
If the US blows first, it may be a salutary lesson to our politicians, encouraging them to institute reforms that will head off a revolution.
Port Solent, Hampshire
The protesters in London's financial district are not opposed to capitalism, per se; they are opposed to the abuse of power, the greed and the corruption which have led so catastrophically to spiralling unemployment, massive national debt and the dismantling of our services and infrastructure.
Despite all the banging on by politicians and financial institutions about the failure of communism and how capitalism is the only system which works, it was their decision to shift virtually all manufacturing to the communist state of China – which has somehow led to reduced production costs and yet not yielded a corresponding reduction of prices – that has been largely responsible for the collapse of western economies. This manoeuvre provided a massive short-term gain to the directors and shareholders of the companies who took advantage of the cheap, unregulated labour market, but at an incalculable long-term cost to our own industries and our workforce.
Combined with other dubious money-market activities such as gambling in commodities which may or may not exist, and trading in debt, this has been a very dangerous game. Now real people are paying with their livelihoods and with the futures of their children.
Yet still we hear the wearisome whine: "Tax the rich to excess and they'll leave our shores." Please, let them shift their tax-avoiding activities elsewhere – after all, they've already shipped all the jobs; their contribution to society is negligible and their denial of responsibility is offensive in the extreme.
Protesting against capitalism is easy, but living without it is much harder. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the music we hear – even the tents put up by protesters in St Paul's churchyard – were produced and marketed by someone for profit. State expenditure on health, on education, on housing and defence would be impossible without the market economy.
The protests should be welcomed in so far as they invite us to think about the system we live within – and indeed its many failings. But the protesters' case needs to be thought through if it is not to appear self-defeating.
The feeling that I have at the moment, with the "occupy" protests and the turmoil in the financial system, is that we are at the end of an enormous game of monopoly: the winners (banks, corporations and the super-rich) have been able to accumulate astronomic wealth and the other players (us) and the planet are now running out of resources to feed the demands of the monster that we have allowed to develop.
If the elderly downsize, how will family visit?
I agree with Joan Bakewell's comments (20 October) on the suggestion made by the Intergenerational Foundation that the elderly should move from large houses.
The first thing that struck me about this idea was that so many of our grown-up children and their families live and work miles away, or even abroad. What are they supposed to do when they come to visit – stay in a hotel?
I fully agree with Joan Bakewell about the pressure being put on the elderly to move from their large homes to make room for young couples. I sincerely hope that the elderly residents who occupy Buckingham Palace are not being subjected to this kind of intimidation.
My mother lived in the family house from 1949 until her death at 85 in 2007. My husband and I, by contrast, decided to downsize in 2005 when our children seemed settled and unlikely to need to return. It was hard, but the right decision, for reasons not solely financial.
"Darling", said my mother, "I had hoped you would have my furniture." I bit my tongue and stopped myself from saying that, had she downsized at the age we were then, we'd have been delighted, but that it was too late.
She died two years later. Dismantling our childhood home was truly distressing for us and I am relieved that my children won't have to take on that task when their turn comes.
Thank a free press for Fox's downfall
Liam Fox's attempts in the Commons to blame a "hateful, vindictive media" for his downfall were as dangerous as they were delusional. But desperate attempts by discredited politicians to shoot the messenger have become par for the course since newspapers exposed the parliamentary expenses scandal.
If it were not for a persistent, probing and free press neither Parliament nor the electorate would have known anything of Mr Fox's breach of the ministerial code, his bizarre, career-crashing loyalty to friend and faux adviser Adam Werritty and their links to generous right-wing figures whose views were often at odds with that of the government in which Dr Fox occupied one of the most sensitive Cabinet seats.
Let's hope Lord Leveson and his inquiry panel are taking careful note of the Fox scandal and the fallen minister's unworthy squeals of protest against the press who found him out.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Perhaps if Liam Fox had been less of a blind idolator of US values he would not have allowed his political career to be besmirched by them. He and Tory politicians of his ilk should really do a mass relocation to Washington, where they could wallow in the flattering attentions of crooked lobbyists without fear of being held to any standards, except greed and ambition. Good riddance.
The Hague, Netherlands
An unknown, unappointed, unelected and unvetted individual accompanies the Defence Secretary on numerous overseas trips, arranges meetings for him and uses a false "business" card to pretend he is the minister's adviser. Aside from the foolish arrogance of the minister concerned, what on earth were the security agencies doing?
East Horsley, Surrey
I watched very carefully the Tory MPs rally behind their friend and colleague Liam Fox in the House, when he was asked to answer questions about the shady goings on with his pal Mr Werritty.
After the debacle of the MPs' expenses scam, you would think they would be a little more sensitive to public opinion, given the pasting that voters are now taking thanks to their and the bankers' reprehensible behaviour.
Newton Aycliffe, Co Durham
Where's Werritty? My daughter and I always thought finding Wally was difficult, but this is getting ridiculous.
Unemployed must join the real world
Tony Probert's objection to the Government's proposal to require the unemployed to consider jobs that mean travelling for up to an hour and a half (letter, 13 October) is a little naive.
A 12-hour door-to-door working day may not be ideal for family life, but if I had applied the same test myself for the past 32 years I would have been out of work for the vast majority of them. We should try to welcome the unemployed back to the real world if we are serious about changing what is now several generations of benefit culture.
Success for Team UK at the WorldSkills competition
The past few weeks have highlighted some good news and bad news. First there was the magnificent performance of the UK skills team at the WorldSkills competition held in London. Coming fifth in the world, Team UK won five gold medals, two silver, six bronze and 12 medallions of excellence in competition with some of the manufacturing and trading power houses of the world shows that we have the ability to develop vocational skills to the highest levels. Watching these young people delivering at the height of their game is nothing short of humbling and is a credit to their skills and commitment and that of the employers who supported them and helped them prepare for the competition.
The medal haul and world ranking were a cause for celebration and pride in the levels of skills and abilities of our young people. What a shame that such good and positive news is under reported in the media whilst literally within the next few days we read headlines about the growing levels of unemployment, particularly amongst young people.
We see a connection between these two events. We are employers who are committed to Apprenticeships and the acquisition of skills in the work force. We know that apprentices are good for business because we have seen firsthand the interest, enthusiasm and motivation of the apprentices we employ. In addition to this, it is a fact that, in the main, the training costs are funded in partnership with government.
If we are going to lift and grow the economy it is crucial that we have skilled workforces to undertake the challenges ahead. Now is the time for organisations in all sectors to invest in Apprenticeships. And we do mean invest, because all of our research shows a positive return on investment in a relatively short period of time. There are over 200 different Apprenticeships, covering most sectors. Encouragingly, there are also plans to increase the number of higher level Apprenticeships, recognising the need within industry to grow skills.
We need to increase our skills base and young people are desperate for opportunities to develop rewarding careers in which they grow and have the chance to progress. Increasingly, Apprenticeships are offering them an attractive alternative to an academic education. The only stumbling block is that there are not enough employers who will consider running an Apprenticeship recruitment programme.
We urge employers of all sizes and sectors to consider offering an Apprenticeship to fill their next vacancy. Let's raise our aspirations and drive our economy from its current stuttering growth into a thriving recovery by giving opportunities to our young people.
Sir Roy Gardner, Chairman, Compass Group plc and Chairman AAN
David Bell, Chief Corporate Development Officer, JC Bamford Excavators Ltd
Stuart Britton, Chief Executive, RDL Corporation
Clare Chapman, Group People Director, BT Group
Mark Clare, Group Chief Executive, Barratt Developments plc
John Cridland CBE, Director-General, CBI
Ian Ferguson CBE, Chairman of Trustees, MetaSwitch Networks & Data Connection Ltd
Christine Gaskell, Member of the Board for Personnel, Bentley Motors Ltd
Roger Goodman, Group Corporate Development Director, MITIE Group plc
Richard Harpin, Chief Executive, Homeserve plc
Rod Kenyon, Director, Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network
George Kessler CBE, Joint Deputy Chairman, Kesslers International Ltd
Anthony Massouras, Chief Executive, Mimosa Healthcare Group Ltd
David Owens, Chief Executive Officer, Enserve Group Ltd
Greg Penn, HR Director, Nissan, UK Operations
Tony Pidgley, Chairman, Berkeley Group Holdings plc
Martyn Price, Managing Director, CMC Ltd
Rear Admiral Al Rymer, Director of Training & Education, Ministry of Defence
Ian Sarson, Group Managing Director UK & Ireland, Compass Group plc
Simon Swords, Managing Director, Atlas Computer Systems Ltd
Hayley Tatum, Executive People Director, Asda
Mike Turner CBE, Chairman, Babcock International Group plc
Nigel Whitehead, Group Managing Director, Programmes and Support, BAE Systems plc
DNA discovery in Cambridge pub
May I refute Michael Tombs' aspersions about the inspiration for the structure of DNA? (Letters, 15 October.)
I and my late husband, who was working with Francis Crick at the time, were actually there, having lunch with Francis in the Eagle in Cambridge, waiting to be served, when Francis fiddled with his duffle-coat pocket and pulled out about six inches of string and absent-mindedly started twiddling with it and it started to unwind. He stopped after a moment and said, "That's interesting."
Add to that Francis's habit of wandering about looking at other people's work – he "happened" to see some X-rays of Rosie Franklin's – and voila! He had to consult Maurice Wilkins to do the maths – hence the collaboration.
Sadly my husband, a physical chemist, is no longer with us to corroborate this, but I was there myself. So please, Michael Tombs, let the Eagle have its moment of glory.
Hartsbourne, South Derbyshire
Perhaps I might put the question of credit for the elucidation of DNA structure into perspective for puzzled younger scientists.
In those distant days brilliant but modest female scientists led the crystallographic field. This irritated neanderthal male scientists, who airily dismissed Dorothy Hodgkin's Nobel Prize for the structure of Vitamin B12 as a reward for "three-dimensional knitting". In such a climate, who is to say how fairly Rosalind Franklin's work on DNA was judged?
A bit of a trial
E Jane Dickson thinks the "saturation" coverage of Conrad Murray's trial (13 October) has become distasteful. However, the coverage has revealed the dysfunctional US trial system with its endless micro-analysis of irrelevant detail and the exposure of hapless defence counsel. No wonder the US did not try the Guantanamo detainees in the civilian courts – it would have taken 100 years at this rate.
What doctors do
GPs have shorter hours than plumbers? (Matthew Norman, 20 October.) I wish. My typical working day is 11 hours. And we do more than "scrawl amoxicillin" as Norman might discover if he gets a real illness one day. Of course I hope he doesn't.
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