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Tuesday 24 October 2006
Letters: Britain's teenagers
Don't let fear drive us to demonise Britain's teenagers
Sir: No right-minded reader could do anything other than applaud the valiant attempt of Robert Verkaik and Arifa Akbar to explode the myths surrounding the supposed rising tide of disruption caused by modern teenagers ("Teenagers - the shocking truth", 23 October).
However, in their attempt to be, as ever, fair-minded they deny the obvious truth that the teenagers of whom citizens apparently live in fear are a world away from the four subjects of your interviews, A-level students from London or Northallerton, Yorkshire, whose lifestyles are full of interest, opportunity and fulfilment.
In short, there is paedophobia and it is paedophobia towards what used to be called working-class kids, who find no adequate representation of themselves in any sector of life which portrays them as anything other than wasters, slackers and white or black trash.
With social mobility at a 50-year low, their prospects are bleak in an education system which favours the better off, a job market that favours those who will work for the least and shrinking opportunities in sport, even rock music, once the preserve of the working-class, where the well-heeled stand more chance than anyone of succeeding simply based on who they know.
Sir: Entire groups should not be collectively demonised, but as someone who has twice been attacked by young hooligans in a small seaside town and heard a police chief say her first concern was the safety of her own officers, and who knows personally of horrifying injuries
inflicted by drunken youths elsewhere in England, I understand the feeling among thousands of elderly folk that it is better to be safe than sorry after dusk.
These genuine anxieties are hardly allayed by your report, however welcome, on a couple of A-Level students, one of them a Scout leader and aspiring barrister from a literate North London home and the other a tennis-playing pianist intending to study medicine at university. If only they were typical.
Sir: I read with interest the IPPR research that shows that Britain is becoming a nation fearful of its young people - and who is surprised? Since Labour came to power, they have systematically disempowered the police, teachers and parents. Teenagers know that if an adult intervenes with their behaviour, it is the adult who is at risk of ending up in the dock. Labour has sowed the wind, and now we must reap the whirlwind.
Good intentions do not justify Iraq war
Sir: Bruce Anderson's statement: "If you break it, you have to try and mend it" underlines both the operational and moral weakness of neo-conservative idealism ("Those of us who advocated this war have a duty to ask how it turned out so terribly", 23 October).
The interventionism of this approach is always justified in terms of its intended consequences, without the slightest recognition of the costs - the greatest of which is that the dead are reduced to the means to an end. In terms of the Iraq debacle any analysis must begin from consequences rather than professed motives and must lead to the conclusion that foreign policy, when not an act of self defence, must start from the Hippocratic injunction, "First,do no harm."
Sir: Bruce Anderson should be hanging his head in shame. In the biggest political demonstration in British history, over a million people marched through London in February 2003 to protest against the proposed invasion of Iraq for exactly the reasons he now deigns to identify.
How dare he presume to pontificate about "what went wrong" when it was so blindingly obvious, not just to the experts whose advice he admits was ignored but even to the most humble man in the street, that this arrogant exercise in post-imperial hubris was bound to "turn out terribly".
For what went wrong was not simply that no one had thought through the likely consequences; the greater failure was that no one had thought through the premises for an action that was not only illegal, but a moral affront in a world where war is no longer the answer.
As a penance, he should be made to walk to Baghdad in sackcloth and ashes - taking Mr Blair with him.
Sir: Stan Rosenthal blames the chaos in Iraq on death squads "spurred on by the defeatist headlines of newspapers like The Independent" (letter, 20 October). Recent Independent front pages have reported on the failure of our government since the invasion of Iraq to restore law and order, to provide timely and adequate support to our troops and to prevent the murder of two thirds of a million Iraqis.
If Mr Rosenthal seriously believes that such headlines are to blame for the turmoil in Iraq he would, presumably, prefer to see such trivialities inside the newspaper, or not printed at all. I would like to congratulate The Independent for consistently highlighting our government's misguided and arbitrary approach to the occupation of Iraq, the ongoing slaughter there being a direct result of our government's misguided and arbitrary invasion in March 2003.
CANVEY ISLAND, ESSEX
Sir: Keith Gilmour (Letters, 23 October) advocates: "More and better equipped troops in place from day one; armouries and borders secured; the Iraqi army kept on the payroll; extremists unlikely to be won over eliminated en masse".
What a shame then that Saddam Hussein, who was vigorously pursuing all of these objectives, was illegally overthrown and is now on trial for eliminating those extremists.
EZKURRA, NAVARRA, SPAIN
Alternative to the veil: go naked
Sir: I have been following with great interest your coverage of the niqab debate which has prompted me to explore alternative forms of dress prescribed by different religions. The opposite extreme to wearing the niqab seems to be the complete undress practised by the Digambara Jains of southern India, who, since they renounce all attachments and possessions, certainly clothes, are known as "sky-clad."
Their order was founded by Mahavira in the 6th century BC and no one can doubt the extremes of devotion he required of his followers. A Digambara Jain is required to fast for at least one whole day of each week; he may never actually satisfy his hunger; he must reject all possessions, live in isolated places and mortify his body. Two utensils, however, are considered essential, a cleansing bowl for washing his hands and feet and, since he may not injure even the least of living creatures, a whisk of discarded peacock feathers for brushing insects away.
Such a Jain may not even carry a begging bowl, accepting only what is offered into his cupped open hands, remaining standing whilst he eats. He must walk everywhere, accepting no conveyance of any kind nor, except in the rainy season, may he stay anywhere for more than a single night. He must remain forever silent unless invited by others to address them on spiritual matters. By such means he will hope to achieve perfect non-attachment.
One is in no position to compare states of grace achieved by these very different means. Some of your correspondents argue that ours is a "free" country because one of the extremes is allowed to wander openly in streets. If that is so, however, then why not the other? Given any kind of choice between a black-clad, niqabbed Muslim woman and a "sky clad" Indian monk, I certainly perceive the latter as far less of a potential threat. He after all, has nothing to hide nor any means of hiding it.
PROFESSOR GEOFFREY BROADBENT
Darwin's debt to the geologists
Sir: Richard Dawkins's take on Darwin (20 October) is misleading. Many earlier researchers, many of whom were plant or animal breeders (Darwin himself was a keen pigeon-breeder) had noticed that the development of species in nature seemed to have gone along similar lines to the results of their activities.
The real impediment to their concluding that natural selection was the main mechanism in speciation was their belief, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the world was only about 6,000 years old. They knew that a much longer time would be needed to get all the way from a worm to a primate.
The breakthrough was the realisation by geologists, around 1800, that the world must be much older, and their ability to prove this in a way which convinced the whole scientific community (if not the churches). By around 1850, therefore, it had become more or less inevitable that a painstaking and methodical biologist would "join the dots". Darwin won that race, but only by a short head.
I don't wish to belittle Darwin's achievement at all; anyone who reads his book will marvel at its meticulous analysis of a huge body of data, and at the author's modesty, which enhances the persuasiveness of his conclusions. As Dawkins says, it is the most important scientific work of the 19th century, and everyone should read it.
ST ALBANS, HERTFORDSHIRE
A real effort to fight climate change
Sir: Our commitment to tackling climate change, to boosting renewable energy and promoting energy efficiency is no sham (leading article, 14 October).
The Government's investment in the Carbon Trusts "Partnership for Renewables" is no exercise in spin, but a decision based on the scheme's potential to unlock up to half a billion pounds in private investment and to produce 500 megawatts of renewable energy - enough to power homes in Exeter, Oxford, Norwich and Newcastle combined.
My interest lies in ensuring that public funds are used to best effect as well as looking at how to get quick and substantial carbon reductions. This is not a question of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" as you claim. And the money is not being lifted from an "existing official scheme to promote double-glazing and insulation".
The £10m being invested is being taken from the £20m announced by the Chancellor in this year's Budget. He set out "£20m over the next two years to help local authorities and others work in partnership with energy companies to promote and incentivise energy efficiency measures to households" .
And this investment does not come at the expense of our work on energy efficiency, which is a key part of our strong UK domestic programme to tackle climate change.
The first phase of the Energy Efficiency Commitment has generated £600m worth of investment and has helped 10 million British households to cut fuel bills and help the environment. And we have given £27.6m to the Energy Saving Trust this year to promote household energy efficiency.
ENVIRONMENT SECRETARY DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS LONDON SW1
State power is always abused
Sir: I suspect that Martin Copsey (letter 21 Oct, in which he argued that recent legislation has not restricted his civil liberties) does not go on demonstrations, nor is active in his community through protesting against a mobile telephone mast being put up close by his children's school or similar.
He may think that state knowledge of his benign activities is no threat to him, but what about his friends or business and work associates? Are they engaging in an activity that is a serious crime, or one which simply displeases the Government? He is linked to them. Just remember that the more power the authorities have, the more it can and probably will be abused.
Sir: After your recent excellent article on the plight of the hare in Britain, it is disappointing to see you printing a recipe using hare legs and blood (Food and Drink, Magazine, 21 October). What sort of Dracula of a chef can "love the hare's unique flavour" by enriching the sauce with its blood?
Sir: As there are many unpopulated islands off our coasts, surely it would be more economical to erect prefabricated buildings on such islands to house the prisoners, than in the proposed prison ships. Security need only be minimal as the sea would provide a secure perimeter and the facilities would make reform and rehabilitation more possible than in a prison ship.
TYDD ST GILES, CAMBRIDGESHIRE
Sir: I presume that the PayPoint outlets to which Chris Reed of BBC TV Licensing refers (letter, 23 October) will all be opening in locations where they are most needed, namely remote villages that have lost or are in danger of losing their post offices. However as they don't seem to have just yet, perhaps he is planning to distribute his anticipated £100m savings so that elderly people in such villages who do not trust plastic or direct debits can purchase the equipment to contact Mr Reed's licensing website.
Some like it accurate
Sir: I enjoyed Paul Wellings' article "We're talking magic" (20 October) very much, but I noticed one glaring error. The line "Well, nobody's perfect" was addressed to Jack Lemmon in drag, not to Tony Curtis as stated. Some Like It Hot was voted the best comedy of all time by the American Scriptwriters Guild a few years back, and anyone writing a book about films should know this.
AIRPORT WEST, GHANA
Sir: "A life-sized, stuffed, and dead, polar bear" reads the caption to a photograph taken at the Horniman Museum (23 October). It's a brave man who tries to stuff a live one.
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