Letters: Blair's charm and wisdom

It's our fault that the Prime Minister rates charm over wisdom
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The Independent Online

It is tempting to condemn the individual, but it must be acknowledged that this shortcoming is just another aspect of the infantilisation of Western society. It was quite right that children should no longer be unseen and unheard, but regrettable that not only have young people come to dominate most areas of the lives of their elders, but also that many adults have taken to aping some of the less attractive attributes of "yoof". So we have Big Brother, vacuous celebrities, increasing binge drinking and a generation of parents unable to guide their children towards decent behaviour because they are, in spirit, merely children themselves. We know our rights but are often unwilling to bear our responsibilities. Our politicians spend large sums on improving their image so that we will vote for them because we like pretty people; they feel little necessity to tell us what they actually intend to do.

It is to be hoped that the pendulum will, as pendulums do, swing in the other direction sooner or later, but in the meantime we have a Prime Minister who puts charm before wisdom, and we have only ourselves to blame.



Bruce Anderson is heartless and wrong

Sir: Your pugnacious columnist Bruce Anderson, in the most heartless commentary I have read on the impact of Hurricane Katrina (Opinion, 5 September), whereby he blames the victims, asserted: "there is no evidence that the incidence of hurricanes is increasing," adding "Climate change is still a combination of hypothesis, inexact science and political hysteria". Wrong on all counts!

There is now no argument that climate change - as against merely global warming - is a reality: the argument lies over the degree to which is it caused,or exacerbated, by human industrial and agricultural activity.

If Mr Anderson were to extend his reading beyond A Confederacy of Dunces to the internationally respected scientific journal Nature, he would have been able to read, as recently as a month ago (Volume 436), a fascinatingly apposite paper by atmospheric scientist Professor Kerry Emanuel, of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, which demonstrates that there has been a marked increase in hurricane intensity since the 1970s which is forecast to continue. Professor Emanuel also shows how this analysis "suggests that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclones destructive potential, and - taking into account an increasing coastal population - a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the 21st century".

I think such academic analyses are more likely to reflect reality than Mr Anderson's unconscionable bile against the poor.



Sir: While Bruce Anderson is blaming the poor blacks of New Orleans for the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, why doesn't he blame hospital patients for their MRSA infections? Blame nomads in Niger and Mali for the current famine? Blame goat herds in Afghanistan for the atrocities of the Taliban and subsequent US occupation? Blame the tribes people of Darfur for the genocide? I don't suspect Mr Anderson would blame the stockbrokers in the World Trade Center for the events of September 11, but, really, they were just as complicit.



Sir: How on earth does Bruce Anderson know that "None of the looters was a neoconservative"? Neocons have, after all, been happily looting America's environment, most non-military items in the federal budget, the Louisiana National Guard's manpower and Iraq's oil for some years now. Perhaps he simply assumes that they are after bigger fish than a mere trolley of groceries from Wal-Mart. In any case, isn't not looting supermarkets a rather narrow basis on which portentiously to recommend neoconservatism, even to Americans?



Sir: I spent much of the weekend speculating how Bruce Anderson would square the circle and loudly proclaim that George Bush was not to blame for his country's disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina. His column on 5 September was, as ever, wonderfully entertaining, but I was a little disappointed that he limited the guilty parties to just the founders of New Orleans, African-Americans, single mothers and the BBC. Surely there was room on the charge sheet to include gays, feminists, liberals, the European Commission and Kenneth Clarke?



Lord Falconer and electoral reform

Sir: Lord Falconer claims that there is no consensus for Electoral Reform (The Monday Interview, 5 September), but how is it possible for such a consensus to be established?

Last year the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust's annual "State of the Nation" opinion poll found that 63 per cent of respondents agreed that "This country should adopt a new voting system that would give parties seats in Parliament in proportion to their share of votes". This was before a General Election whose skewed result brought electoral reform to the fore. The Independent's Campaign for Democracy now boasts 40,000 supporters, while Charter88's campaign for a fair and modern democracy has over 80,000 signatories.

Labour's 1997 election manifesto promised a referendum on electoral reform. Labour introduced the right for local people to petition their local authorities to elect their own local mayors, including the guarantee of a local referendum on the subject should a set number of people sign.

Rather than simply saying that no consensus exists, Lord Falconer should explain how people can demonstrate their support for electoral reform and at what point that consensus should lead to a national referendum.



A living wage for sweatshop workers

Sir: Andrew Shilling (letter, 3 September) makes a valid plea for more "fair trade" clothing in our shops. Workers in Third World sweatshops get paid a few pence for each garment, so it would seem that doubling or tripling their wages should make little impact on the final price in first world shops. The problem is that as a garment passes through the supply chain, each business handling it adds not a fixed amount but a percentage mark-up to the price, so that doubling the price at which it leaves the factory results in doubling the price in the shops.

Surely a system could be devised by which an increase in the factory price was fed up through the chain as a fixed amount. Workers could then be paid a living wage while consumers here would barely notice the difference.



Sir: Discarding unfashionable clothes need not "contribute to landfill overload" (letter, 27 August). They can and should be recycled (it has been pointed out that if this were universal, we could all have new wardrobes every few months without harming the environment). Ellie Levenson is not necessarily right, however, in saying cheap clothes save us from snobbery (Opinion, 26 August): it is an attitude of mind which can be directed against wearers of out-of-date clothes just as much as against wearers of cheap ones.



No dumbing down post-Dimbleby

Sir: You are correct in reporting that after a distinguished 10-year run we are planning to end the Jonathan Dimbleby programme when its contract ends in December (report, 25 August).

However, it would not be right to assume that this will mean an end to political interviews or that our new programme will be "populist" or "dumbed down". The updated show will have a similar run to Dimbleby's current number of episodes, an enhanced budget, an exciting new slot and will incorporate in-depth political interviews. This will be in the proud tradition of ITV's political programming from Sir Robin Day, to Brian Walden and Jonathan Dimbleby.



Don't underrate Jane Austen's genius

Sir: As a 15-year-old Jane Austen fan, I agree with Liz Jones (3 September) that Pride and Prejudice is the greatest novel in English literature. However, to suggest that it "doesn't address the social problems of the day" is ridiculous. Throughout the book Austen deals with a very important social issue: feminism. Mr Darcy believes in education for girls, saying that in addition to the more traditional feminine "accomplishments" such as embroidery and dancing a woman should possess "something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading". Lizzy quotes Mary Wollstonecraft, the radical early feminist, when she implores Mr Collins to view her as a "rational creature".

Most upsetting is that Liz Jones states that the new film will "prompt a new generation of young women to read the book". She hereby perpetuates the myth that Pride and Prejudice is a "women's book" and that Jane Austen's witty narrative, spot-on characterisations and deep exploration of human emotions are not relevant to the male mind.



To beat terror, we must understand it

Sir: I am baffled by the widespread inability of our politicians, public figures and the media to distinguish between "understanding" and "justifying", "excusing" or "condoning".

Oncologists treating cancer patients try to understand the origins and causes of the disease: that does not imply that cancer is a good thing or that medical science should not seek to eliminate it.

Of course Mohammad Sidique Khan's message is sickening (report, 2 September). All festering disease is. It should however be obvious by now that terrorism, like cancer, is merely the outward manifestation of a deeper pathology. Repression merely attacks its symptoms. Condemning terrorism is easy. Accepting our share of responsibility in its causes is much more difficult.



All teachers are English teachers

Sir: I read with some horror in "Trainee teachers failing basic maths and English tests" (30 August), the NUT spokeswoman's comments that English and maths are unnecessary for people teaching Art and RE. I taught art in schools for 36 years. In my second year as a teacher, the headmaster, on a tour of inspection, saw on a pupil's design a spelling mistake that I had missed. He took me to one side, pointed out the error saying: "Mr Astwick, every teacher is a teacher of English".



Standardised spelling

Sir: Rob Churchill's letter (3 September) suggesting that Masha Bell ought to spell her name "Masher" points up the difficulties caused by regional variations in pronunciation of English. Foreign borrowings, dropped aitches and the intrusive "R" lead, for example, to the well-known fast-food chain being referred to as "Peetsa Rut". The discrepancies accumulated over centuries between written and spoken English won't be resolved until we have a generally agreed "higher" English used worldwide, and that this would be largely American English may be the price to be paid for better communication at the expense of cultural diversity.



Sir: Wen eye red awl yore male about spelling (letters, 5 September), eye laughed allowed. To me, its always bin easier to use won word wear to wood seem to bee to many. What a brake! Watts wrong with "the pallbearers were carrying the beer"? Seams fine to me. Or what about "the bare malled its pray"? Bring it on, after awl, its a mad whirled.



Old, but effective

Sir: Alan Carcas asks, while suggesting that Kenneth Clarke is too old at 65 to become leader of the Conservative party, if anybody can imagine a Prime Minister aged 70-plus (letter, 3 September). There is no need for imagination, since Winston Churchill celebrated his 70th birthday as leader in 1944 and became Prime Minister, for the second time, at the age of 77 in 1951. More recently, the Americans gave Ronald Reagan the top job when he was 70. He served two terms, retired when he was 79, and did more for world peace than the current president or our own "youthful" prime minister.



Sign language for all

Sir: Your article about the fad for teaching babies sign language (30 August) and a number of letters on learning languages in your correspondence section prompt me to suggest that the answer to Babel is not for us all to become multi-linguists like the Swiss or the general adoption of Esperanto but for everyone around the world to learn one of the sign languages now used by the deaf.

Sign language is known to be as rich as speech and is quite capable of dealing with abstract ideas and is as easily written down. It would also help to integrate the deaf into our society.



When is 'dinner time'?

Sir: Following up on your correspondence about the timing of "dinner" (letters, 1 September), I can forsee occasions arising when one has a Wedding Breakfast after dinner.