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Saturday 19 March 2011
Letters: British courage defies Gaddafi
Britain has excelled itself in taking the lead, spearheading international efforts to protect Arab civilians in Libya. Such courage in the face of economic adversity and global cynicism makes us all very proud to be British. This is a moment to celebrate British grit, values and assertive action at times of exceptional difficulties.
Despite detractors, David Cameron and William Hague deserve praise for their role. It is true that as a country we have legitimate commercial concerns. Yet while we should always make sure that the UK is open for business, we equally need to assert that its fundamental values are never for sale.
The UK should never be a mere convenience to Arab dictators, their sleazy offspring and highly corrupt cronies. Either we are on the side of Arab masses or we assist in their subjugation.
With their brutal ways and espousal of corruption, Arab dictatorships are a relic of the Cold War and a threat to the security of the UK, EU and the US. Building genuine friendships with the deeply oppressed Arab populace is the only way forward.
Dr Lu'ayy Minwer Al-Rimawi
Those who argue that UN intervention in Libya has legitimacy on the grounds it has been requested by the Arab League overlook the fact that this unelected body includes Saudi Arabia among its members.
Saudi troops have played a major role in the brutal and bloody suppression of the revolution in Bahrain. Are we to believe that a state which has the blood of Bahrain's revolution on its hands is concerned about the welfare of Libya's revolution?
The UN has not intervened in Libya to protect civilians from Gaddafi's regime, but to maintain the interests of the world's major powers in the region.
When humans rush to help
I wish to thank Johann Hari for his excellent article "The panicking disaster victim is a myth" (18 March). It should help to restore one's faith in human ability to rise to an occasion in difficult circumstances.
I personally remember the 11 July 2006 train bombings in Mumbai, a terrorist attack on innocent commuters returning home after work. As many as seven bomb blasts took place over a period of 11 minutes in and around suburban railway stations of Matunga Road, Mahim, Bandra, Khar Road, Jogeshwari, Bhayandar and Borivali, killing 209 people and injuring 700.
These areas are not particularly rich, but hundreds of people rushed to the railway line to help the commuters, carrying biscuits, food, water, blankets etc. The technicians worked relentlessly to get Mumbai moving within hours.
This illustrates the cross-cultural response of people to disasters – from Haiti to New Zealand to Japan, described so aptly by Johann Hari as "an evolved instinct inherent to our species".
South Croydon, Surrey
How the new poor law works
I share Julie Partridge's rage, fear and despair at the poor-law antics of our current government in assessing the needs of the vulnerable members of our society.
My learning-disabled daughter, now 50, also has recurring mental health problems. I am now retired, a pensioner in my 70s. Over the past half-century, I have saved governments and my local authority hundreds of thousands of pounds in the care I have provided for her. I have sat on countless committees and chaired my local Mencap.
Recently for the first time I filled a questionnaire purporting to assess my needs as a carer. The thing that would help me most in the continuing care I provide and in my continuing attempts to lead a life in my own right, would be a course of bi-monthly de-stressing massages at a local salon.
These massages cost £100, but if you pay for four, you get a fifth free. So I applied for £400 to help keep me going. I was awarded £320 by an unidentified panel who, it is said, exercised their professional judgement to dock £80 off what I asked, on the grounds that my daughter receives support as somebody who lives independently.
She does not live independently. Her real life consists of regular breakdowns during which she comes to me because she fears to sleep in her own flat. Whichever bureaucrat with a computer lopped off the price of an evening out for anyone with a salary, to calculate that I am only worth 3.2 massages, whatever that means, has put a figure on just how much this government values the people who save it the cost of a whole NHS a year.
The reason audiences are beginning to groan every time another minister blames the cuts on the black hole the last government left, is not because they doubt that cuts have to be made, but simply because all Tory governments over the past 40 years have enacted exactly the same policies.
They start by attacking the benefits system by tarring all recipients as scroungers, quoting extreme examples as if they are the norm. They then attack the public sector, pretending that each often essential system is as bad as a few isolated, indefensible examples of incompetence. They then vilify public-sector workers as if they are lepers ripping off the whole of society.
What makes it worse this time is that they have no mandate to do what they are doing, and that the Liberal Democrats are enabling them to go even further on the rampant capitalism road than they ever would dared attempt alone.
The next time you are told we can't afford another civilising factor in our society, it's worth remembering that we are one of the richest nations in the world. The Tories have always tried to claw back most of the wealth into the hands of the very rich and away from everyone else.
Do you think it will worry the millionaires in the Cabinet that the services the rest of us rely on won't be there any more? They can buy their way out; always could.
Too scared to vote?
John Verity (letter, 18 March) says that the polling booth is "too intimidating". He must live a very sheltered life if he really thinks that's true, for I find many things far more daunting than the polling booth, such as using a self-service checkout, taking a child to be vaccinated, any visit to the A&E department of the local hospital and checking in at Heathrow.
Yet, oddly, most of the population manages to do some or all of those things (it's a rare parent who hasn't been to A&E, and an even rarer child). On the whole, the people who don't vote stay away not because they find the smiling local officials and the school hall just too terrifying, but because they can't be bothered.
Why they can't be bothered is another matter.
Jeremy Walker (letter, 18 March) repeats the armchair political critics' favourite excuse for passivity or abstention: that all parties are the same.
In a liberal democracy, especially given the constraints of Britain's position in the world both geographically and politically, it's inevitable that governments will do much the same in many areas, regardless of the party that leads them.
Fortunately our main parties, remembering perhaps the horrors that political theoreticians of both left and right brought to much of Europe in the last century, now leave extreme theoretical positions to the likes of the BNP or the SWP.
But there are real differences between Labour and the Conservatives. For example, does Mr Walker really believe that, had we had a Labour government in the 1980s, our utility companies would all have been privatised, that income tax rates would have dropped so dramatically, that trade union power would have been curtailed or that the poll tax would have been attempted? Similarly, had the Tories won in 1997, would we now have a minimum wage, pension credits, rebuilt schools or a re-energised public health service?
Even though maintenance of our prosperous and free society depends on keeping the wheels of democracy slowly turning, it's much easier for individuals to complain that politics is dominated by people from "the same narrow class and background" rather than to get actively involved in the often tedious business of helping, albeit in a frustratingly tiny way, in the process.
Racial profiling in TV crime
Midsomer Murders wasn't the first cop show to portray an inaccurate racial profile of Britain. When the once great drama The Bill descended into soap opera its villains more frequently bore Irish surnames. Any other group would have objected. Get out your old tapes and start tallying.
I'm very worried. I work near Wallingford, the model for Midsomer, and I spend a lot of time in Oxford, home of Morse. What does this do for my life expectancy?
It has long puzzled me why there has been no follow up to the excellent TV adaptation of The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Now I know: there were no white minorities in the fictional African village. Clearly, just not acceptable.
There is no doubt that Barnardo's will do its best to ensure the welfare of children being held with their families who have failed in their claims for asylum. But rebranding this part of the notorious Yarl's Wood as "pre-departure accommodation" cannot get round the fact that this is detention by a gentler name. The Coalition government, Nick Clegg in particular, promised to end the detention of children. This is still not being done.
Hammersmith and Fulham Refugee Forum
Perspectives on songbirds and their predators
Let them get on with it
John Taylor (letter, 18 March) wonders why the RSPB protects the predators that hunt the songbirds he feeds in his garden. The answer presumably is that the organisation's purpose, reflected in its name, is the protection of birds – all birds, not just some designated species. Sparrowhawks are inherently as worthy of protection as blue tits or sparrows.
Furthermore, predators do not in general drive their prey species to extinction, but attain a fluctuating balance with them.
Mr Taylor might also wish to consider that tits, thrushes and other garden songbirds are themselves predators, and that some of the caterpillars fed to young blue tit chicks in the spring may well belong to scarce moth species. Perhaps then in the name of protecting butterflies and moths he should consider "controlling" blue tits?
Except in very specific circumstances, we are best to let predators and prey species sort things out for themselves without intervention from us.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Bird table looks like a lunch table
John Taylor complains about the RSPB protecting the predators coming to enjoy the easy pickings of small birds from his bird table.
If he wishes to reduce this predation, perhaps he ought to consider reducing these easy pickings by removing the bird table in order to dilute the local small bird population, so as to make predation more difficult. In a natural environment, food for small birds is rather more thinly dispersed than on bird tables.
Small birds such as blue-tits have evolved to produce large clutches of eggs in order to maximise the survival of their species. In good times, many survive; in bad times, few. They still survive in reasonable numbers.
Modern farming methods and loss of habitat are a much greater threat to small birds than natural predators. Sentimentality has little to do with modern conservation.
West Hagbourne, Oxfordshire
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