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Tuesday 16 June 2009
Letters: Cattle and climate change
Ill-informed celebs blame my cattle for climate change
After checking my organic sheep and cattle this morning, listening to curlews and skylarks wheeling over their nests in the pastures my livestock maintain and watching the bumblebees working over the hay meadows which provide their winter fodder, I opened my Independent and choked on my porridge ("McCartney urges 'meat-free days' to tackle climate change, 15 June)
Here were a bunch of ill-informed, gas-guzzling, jet-setting "celebrities", who probably fly more often to New York or LA than I drive my low-emissions car to the local market town, attacking what I do. What prize patsies they make for the coal, power and aviation industries in passing the blame for global warming from fossil fuels to the eating of beef and lamb. We should be more discerning about the quality and sourcing of all our food. It is fundamentally dishonest to take the world's most shocking examples of deforestation, factory farming and water and energy inputs, then to imply that all meat is produced by means of a hypothetical mix of all of these unacceptable methods.
In reality over half of the UK's farmland is unsuitable for cropping, so centuries of pastoral farming are to a huge degree responsible for our finest landscapes and for locking up millions of tons of carbon in our grassland.
It is the rapid acceleration of carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels which poses a threat to the planet. In contrast, emissions from our cattle and sheep have been falling as their numbers have dwindled in recent decades.
I am serious about climate change, but because I am not a "celeb" I can only act locally by, for example, heating my home entirely with fallen wood I have cut myself, using a 100 per cent renewable electricity supplier and taking, at most, one (short-haul) flight per year. Whether through ignorance or cynicism, those promoting "Meat-free Monday" are abusing their high profiles while ignoring their own massive carbon footprints. They are reducing this critical issue to a dishonest farce.
We need a new revolution
The Prime Minister is setting up "a cross-party parliamentary commission to discuss constitutional reform". That won't do any longer, because Parliament has lost its popular legitimacy. We need stage two of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. But we can no longer leave matters to the Whig magnates or the professional politicians who have succeeded them.
The British people have grown up and are fit to decide for themselves how they want to be governed. The Queen should be asked to summon a constitutional convention, with representatives selected randomly from all sectors of the community. She should instruct it to produce the outline of a new constitutional settlement, including proposals for her own future role, if any. The outcome should then be the subject of a plebiscite.
John Hall (letter, 11 June) is right. We need action, not words, on electoral reform now. It's often suggested that to change the voting system would be too complicated to do quickly. In fact it could be achieved in a few weeks.
Using either fully open party lists or the single transferable vote, new multi-member constituencies could instantly be created by using the boundaries of existing counties, metropolitan authorities and unitary councils already having two or more MPs. So Suffolk becomes one constituency returning seven Members.
Electors would have increased choice of parties, choice within parties for the first time and a worthwhile measure of local representation. The whole thing could be in place – were there the will – in time for a September election, let alone a 2010 one. In the absence of that will, perhaps we will all have to join Mr Hall in spoiling our ballot papers as the one way of making ourselves clear. Indeed, it may be time for a Campaign for Spoiled Papers for just that purpose.
B J Fearnley
Chris Dracke (letters, 13 June) wants a referendum on a choice of three alternatives (first-past-the-post, AV or AV-plus). Would the referendum itself use first-past-the-post or AV?
Amlwch, Isle of Anglesey
Bullying culture at asylum centre
The official report on conditions at Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre comes as no surprise (2 June). I have been in close contact with several people detained there, as well as having visited on several occasions.
Failed asylum-seekers are not usually criminals. They are often severely traumatised people, who should not be locked up. The environment at Colnbrook is overheated, noisy and often aggressive. It is a culture where bullying can flourish. One of the reasons for this, apart from a rather casual and uncaring atmosphere, is that many inmates have the perception that if you complain, your removal directions are speeded. Therefore, logged complaints can only represent the tip of an iceberg.
I have heard of all kinds of worrying incidents. A friend took an extra piece of bread back to his cell for his room-mate. He was told to put it back, but refused. He alleges he was set upon by 10 guards, and taken to solitary confinement for several days, during which time, as a torture victim, he was put on suicide watch. He was refused bail because of this incident and was removed to Cameroon, before he could hear the outcome of an application for judicial review.
In the face of this punitive culture, notices in the reception areas alluding to respect and co-operation are bizarre. What is needed is a searching survey, based on prisoner experiences and perceptions, followed by monitoring.
Confronted by a GCSE in pop music
Philip Hensher's account of the sample exam question in a GCSE English textbook, "Write a persuasive article for a teenage fashion magazine about whether following fashion is important" ("English should not just be a subject for girls", 8 June), reminded me of the horrors that confronted me during my own GCSEs nine years ago.
My actual exam paper presented me with a newspaper column on the ethics of animal-testing, asking me how the columnist "developed her argument". I'm sure such a columnist, when writing one of her mildly diverting weekly discussions, doesn't view her writing as the kind strong enough to endow a love of the written word in teenagers, or to inspire their critical faculties so that they learn to engage fully with a text.
But the nadir came with my GCSE exam for media studies. I was told well in advance that it would be entirely on pop music, and that there was nothing I could do to change that. We were allowed to read through the paper over the weekend before sitting the exam. I realised I couldn't possibly grapple with it, and pulled out of the course, even though all the coursework I'd spent so much time on would be void. I got my own back when my English exam required me to write about a difficult decision I'd had to make.
Rather than encourage individuality, the modern curriculum attempts to leap on the bandwagon of what it assumes to be most popular among the majority of teenagers, be it pop music or fashion. It's not hard to see how those with a love of or talent for the written word can feel unheard and undernourished.
Robertsbridge, East Sussex
Pranksters with a serious purpose
I would like to affirm, despite Tom Lubbock's statement to the contrary ("Shock and awful", 15 June), that Stuckism is not a joke or a prank, although admittedly we do make jokes and carry out pranks.
We are seriously against the Turner Prize, dead animals (badly preserved in formaldehyde or otherwise) and discarded underwear as art; seriously pro-contemporary figurative painting as art; and "have acted in the public interest", according to Sir Nicholas Serota, who has ensured that "the Tate Archive, as the national record of art in Britain, properly represents the contribution of the Stuckist movement to debates about contemporary art in recent years". There are now 195 Stuckist groups in 44 countries.
Co-founder, The Stuckists
Iran and the west: back to diplomacy
Questions around Iran's election results and condemnation of the subsequent brutal suppression of street protests are legitimate, but the fact remains that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be the Iranian president for the next four years and will be key to any peace and stability in the Middle East.
His re-election is understandably a huge disappointment to Western nations hoping for a new reformist regime, not least President Obama, who has gone out of his way to extend an olive branch to Tehran. In his broadcast to Iran and his Cairo speech Obama publicly recognised the Ayatollahs as the legitimate representatives of the Iranian people, he acknowledged Iran's right to enrich uranium and he talked openly about the CIA's role in the overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953.
By demonstrating that America was not "the great Satan" Obama must have hoped to undermine some of Ahmadinejad's populist support and help prise open the door to reformist candidate, Mousavi. That door has now been firmly shut and Western nations must once again focus their energies on negotiating with Iran with patient diplomacy.
Chair, Westminster Committee on Iran, London NW3
The fact is that there is no evidence of vote-rigging in the Iranian elections. If Mousavi had won, everyone would have been a lot happier, but he could still have been open to the same charge.
There is no evidence that Maryam, on the cover of your newspaper (15 June), is in any way representative. It is clear that Ahmadinejad has always enjoyed quite a lot of support in Iran; whether it was 64 per cent support we shall probably never know.
This whole affair smacks of deliberate destabilisation tactics of the type we have seen perpetrated by the west many times before in Iran. The situation is even more remarkable since Obama, whose government leads the cries of "foul", has just returned from a country which has had 28 years of real dictatorship. During his widely praised great feat of oratory (and I think I should say at this point that I'm a black Muslim convert), he mentioned nothing about the dictatorship that Egypt has been under for almost three decades, and was criticised very little for it.
The only real difference between Iran and Egypt (apart from the fact that Iran at least seems to be a real democracy), is that Iran is independent and Egypt is an ally (or puppet) of the west.
Muhammad Badr Badu
Match for any man
Do you think it even remotely possible that sports writers (Women's World Twenty20, 12 June) or event organisers might just recognise that Charlotte Edwards, that day's "man of the match", is in fact – dash it all, good God, arf, arf – a woman?
Unfortunately it is Roy Askew (letter, 15 June) who has the problem with his mathematics. The percentages quoted do add up to 101, but has he not heard of that very useful – and at times essential – procedure of "rounding up"?
Words and music
It is not merely the inaudibility of speech with over-loud background music that is the problem (letters, 3, 4, 6, 12 June). There is also the question of respect for the spoken word. In a recent, and largely admirable, BBC television programme about T S Eliot, the words of "The Waste Land" were accompanied by the prelude from Wagner's Parsifal. Eliot's poetry and Wagner's music demand one's undivided attention, and as a musician (who also appreciates poetry) I can't help concentrating my attention on the music. Surely Eliot's words are worthy of more respect than this?
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (15 June) does not believe that either Ronaldo or any other sportsman can possible be worth £80m. Well, he is worth that much simply because Real Madrid are willing to pay that amount, and thereby set his market value. Whether is turns out to have been a wise investment, only time will tell, but that is another matter.
West Wittering, west sussex
With all the advertising to persuade us to buy presents on Father's Day, 21 June, I could not but notice that it is precisely three months after Mother's Day, 21 March. Or is it perhaps more significant that it is nine months before Mother's day next year?
Martin D Stern
Salford, Greater manchester
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