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Monday 27 December 2010
Letters: Cable v Murdoch: a grim lesson from America
Vince Cable vowed to wage "war" on Rupert Murdoch. Bravo to him!
This whole affair reminds me of a conversation with a group of Americans that I had on a train recently. They were explaining that for many years a trip across the US was a "listener's paradise". You could tune and retune your radio and always pick up the most entertaining and quirky local stations.
But now, they said, following a liberalisation of the media laws (by Bill Clinton) all you get are the same standard, monotone channels wherever you happened to be.
Previously stations (and newspapers and TV channels) had been protected from the big chains by rules which forbade any one organisation from owning multiple channels of media in any one particular area. This left space for local offerings and even allowed newcomers to break into the field. The removal of these laws meant that local stations were quickly gobbled up and local media became standardised and boring, with local news and local adverts slotted in by computer.
I find it both bizarre and highly disturbing that governments (including the EU) should trumpet the free market but then directly go ahead and allow commerce to be dominated by a few oligarchic corporations.
I am frustrated but not surprised that Vince Cable, as an elected MP and government minister, has triggered a maelstrom of media interest and political opprobrium for expressing a clear opinion about the Murdoch media empire, yet Rupert Murdoch's oft-expressed clear opinions about the kind of government he would prefer, often expressed at a time when Murdoch-owned media can have a significant impact on election results, barely generate more than a shrug of the shoulders of weary journos.
We at least have the opportunity to choose whether Vince Cable continues as an MP at the next election. Rupert Murdoch, whose media control has the potential to make or break political fortunes, seems to be accountable to no one.
Chew Magna, Somerset
The current mischief-making obsession with inducing politicians to put their feet in their mouths can be remarkably counter-productive. By effectively discrediting Vince Cable, the man most likely to have curbed Rupert Murdoch's ambition to take exclusive control of BSkyB, The Daily Telegraph and the BBC have apparently contrived to bring about the thing they fear most – an organisation with the power to dominate this country's media. What's the point of it all?
Can someone explain to me how Vince Cable's well-publicised antipathy to Rupert Murdoch and Jeremy Hunt's well-publicised admiration for Rupert Murdoch make the latter more qualified than the former to judge the merits of the BSkyB deal.
It is clear that no politician can be neutral when it comes to Murdoch, nor can any political party. This is a consequence of Murdoch's trade. It follows that no politician can honourably decide the question of the Murdoch bid for control of Sky. The only honourable solution would be to hold a plebiscite.
C R Leedham-Green
Woodford Green, Essex
Vince Cable is right to find the Telegraph "sting" distasteful. However, it is not damage to the confidential relationship between MP and constituent that worries me so much as the fact that he takes over a surgery appointment – when his full focus should be on his constituents and their problems – to talk about his conduct of government business or boast about his imagined power to bring down the Government.
We seem to be living in apocalyptic times; a politician has been caught red-handed telling the truth. I do not know my Bible well enough to know if such a remarkable event was foretold in the Book of Revelation, but even if the world is not about to end, these are strange days.
Weak case for high-speed rail
Before anyone is persuaded of the merits of the proposed high-speed rail line to Birmingham by the projected reduction in travel time from London, they should remember that current journey times can't be fairly compared with the proposed times.
Present journey times suffer from both the shambolic approaches to New Street station, with low speed limits for the last three miles to the station, and the chaos of the station itself. These problems should be eliminated with the rebuilding of the station, bringing down the inter-city travel times without the vastly expensive experiment of a new 400kph line.
And the proposed HST station is a mile from the city centre.
There is no journey-time case for the new line based on the short London-to-Birmingham trip, and even less of a case given the astronomic expense and the hard economic times.
J E S Bradshaw
I was interested to see that the latest version of the HS2 London to Birmingham railway line continues to put the route directly under Isambard Kingdom Brunel's grave at Kensal Green Cemetery. Will this make him turn in his grave?
A cause for Catholics
Peter Stanford (Essay, 21 December) feels that Catholics should perhaps be less shy than at present. I agree, but would like to cast this somewhat amorphous notion into a practical suggestion for Catholics everywhere.
In Nicaragua, under laws passed under pressure from the Catholic Church, abortion is banned in all circumstances. This means that women with unwanted pregnancies, including those who have been raped, are forced to seek dangerous backstreet abortions. Even those with dangerous ectopic pregnancies are denied treatment.
Now Peter (strangely in my opinion), makes reference to atheists as being "militant" for doing no more that putting forward ideas for discussion, while Catholicism is the direct cause of immense suffering, misery and death, literally as I write.
So come on all you "shy" Catholics – at least discuss the suffering of the women of Nicaragua (and elsewhere) with your parish priests, bishops and archbishops – even write to the Pope – for surely this evil that is being perpetrated in your, or in God's, name is something worth being angry and militant about.
Compared with doing something to address this madness, Peter's suggestion to eat fish on Fridays as a religious statement is selfish and spiritless.
Dr Colin Bannon
Longer wait for an ambulance
The Government has decided to abolish the attendance targets of our ambulance service (report, 17 December).
This means that the ambulance staff will no longer have to worry about how long it takes them to respond to an emergency call and of course gives the pro-privatisation management an opportunity to reduce ambulance and staff numbers in readiness to outsource this service.
I recently seriously injured myself in the early hours of the morning and shudder to think what it would have been like lying in severe pain for ages not knowing when I would be picked up.
The targets have already been abolished in the NHS, and already waiting times are longer and patient numbers awaiting treatment have increased, so this latest move is bound to have the same effect.
Locking, North Somerset
Not ashamed to help addicts
I'm sorry that Julie Burchill (23 December) thinks that we at Thames Reach should be ashamed of ourselves for urging the public not to give money to people who are begging, because the majority of this money is spent on hard drugs.
This is what we are not ashamed of: helping 300 people off the streets of London and into warm secure beds in the past three weeks;.employing 103 people within our workforce who used to be homeless (and many were addicted to drugs) and are now inspirational role-models; getting seriously addicted men and women into drug detox so they can sort their lives out.
The last of these would be a whole lot easier if it were not so easy to get money from the public to fund a habit.
And what makes us wretched? When another homeless person dies from a drugs overdose. Well done Julie – the dealers of London will be able to order in an extra crate of champagne this Christmas.
Jeremy Swain, Chief Executive, Thames Reach, London E1
Blame it on biofuels
Your article on rising food prices (22 December) implicated population growth, rising affluence in BRIC countries and crop failures. Why no mention of biofuels?
You noted on 18 November: "The main obstacle identified by the Food and Agriculture Organisation standing in the path of ... an expansion in food production [to meet demand] is the potentially more lucrative use of crops for biofuels and non-grain or non-food crops such as sugar, cotton and soya."
Just as global warming hasn't suddenly vanished, nor has the rise in biofuel use by the US, EU and many other regimes (which is supplementing oil production rather than replacing it.)
Top of the fatuous pops
I would like to add to the correspondence concerning the apparent dumbing-down of Radio 3.
I fully understand the need to broaden the appeal of the station to attract new listeners. Lively presenters, audience participation through email or text, frequent trails and soundbites and many of the other gimmicks found on Radios 1, 2 and many commercial stations are but minor irritations which do not really detract from the overall listening experience.
However, there is one feature which seems wholly inappropriate to Radio 3 and that is the Official Classical Chart. Hearing the presenters enthusiastically introducing a piece of music that was written maybe 500 years ago, and then telling the listener that this week it has just moved up three places is truly fatuous.
Can anyone really explain the purpose of this chart?
Greatest slurs of the year
It can't be said to have been a vintage year for the Wiesenthal anti-Semitic slur awards, if an obscure Lithuanian Holocaust denier and a moan from Christina Patterson about the bad manners of some Jewish people in her area have both made it into the Top 10 Slurs of the year ("How I was smeared as an anti-Semite", 23 December).
Perhaps at this time of goodwill, atheists like me should spare a kind thought for those people who have to spend their whole year scouring the world just to identify their top 10 anti-Semitic slurs.
With Christmas Day falling on a Saturday and Boxing Day a Sunday, the Monday and Tuesday become Bank Holidays. Can I ask why? It would make more sense to have extra days holiday during a time of year when the weather is better, and it is possible to get about more during longer hours of daylight.
Perspectives on the weather
Good nature on the slow train
On 20 December I travelled from Sheffield to Bath on four different trains. Despite the fact that two of the trains I had intended to catch were cancelled, I arrived only one hour and 15 minutes later than expected.
The staff of the railway were unfailingly helpful, informative, polite and cheerful, though they must have been working under incredible pressure. Far from suffering from lack of information, we passengers were deluged with expected arrival times and suitable trains available for our connections to various West Country destinations. On the Sheffield to Birmingham journey our manager even told us which platform at Birmingham New Street we should go to for our preferred train.
Because of cancellations, my train from Birmingham to Bristol was carrying two and a half train loads of people. I heard no complaints. We were grateful to be travelling at all. Young men gave up their seats to the older passengers, and young women fetched cups of coffee for pensioners. Strong young men carried old ladies' suitcases up the stairs, and helped them down the steps on to slippery platforms.
Throughout all this our train manager apologised profusely for the conditions, which were entirely due to the weather, and for discomfort of which there was remarkably little. He and his fellow workers of Cross Country Trains, were, in my humble opinion, doing a truly magnificent job in what was obviously a logistic nightmare.
I know I am not alone in my admiration of their work, and wish them well.
Passengers from other countries with more severe weather are amazed at Heathrow's inability to cope. My wife has flown to Toronto several times at this time of year and despite equally atrocious weather Toronto airport has been functioning completely normally.
Cold winter in a warming world
The idea that an increase in planetary temperatures could increase the severity of European winters is just one of the many counterintuitive notions accompanying the climate crisis.
While people not distracted by short-term phenomena are alarmed by the daily passing of ever more significant climatic tipping points, those who cannot differentiate between weather and climate cite each and every local cold snap as evidence that scientists' prognostications are full of hot air.
The burgeoning industry of global warming denial is largely funded by multinational oil corporations — which thus stand revealed as myopic. One would expect the world's most powerful economic entities to be capable of planning for the long run, to recognise the impact on profit margins of a world whose infrastructure, agriculture and politics have been rendered unrecognisable by climate chaos.
Their abject incompetence is weirder by far than an extra-cold European winter.
Medford, Maryland, USA
'What are they going to do about it?'
Almost 1,000 years ago King Cnut sat on his throne on the beach and commanded the incoming tide to turn back. We are told that this was to impress upon his nobles the limitations of his kingly power.
Today we expect our elected rulers to somehow "take responsibility" for extreme weather conditions. It would be more far-sighted of us to demand that they take appropriate steps to combat global warming in order to leave the planet habitable for another 1,000 years.
We at Carlisle Ski Club run a half-mile tow at Yad Moss near Alston in the north Pennines. At present we have insufficient snow to operate, it having fallen to the south and to the north of us. I would like to know what the Government plans to do about this.
Euan Cartwright, Club Chairman, Hayton, Cumbria
I haven't been out much during this wintery month. I feel very sorry for those who had no choice, having to endure the genuine hardships of being trapped in freezing traffic jams or stranded in airport terminals. But, just sitting at home, looking at the "winter wonderland" view outside, has given me a balancing perspective. So far, because I put bird feed out regularly, I have had the pleasure of closely observing seven different species of birds feeding right outside my window every day. Happy Christmas!
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